Taking proper care of yourself after a workout is almost as important as the workout itself. From moisturizing dry lips to stretching your sore muscles, cool-down time is essential for making sure you’re ready to go next time. Here are some practical tips for staying on top of your exercise regime.
Loosen those tight muscles by giving them a good, long stretch before you start your workout and after you’ve finished exercising. The burn is a good feeling, but DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)? Not so much. You could also have a good soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts if you’ve been going at it full tilt. You’ve earned it, and your muscles will thank you in the morning.
After your workout, and even generally, it’s worth keeping a handle on your stress levels outside of your chosen sport. Doing this will keep you focused and motivated, and minimize fatigue and immune suppression that could slow you down. The little things count here. Take that extra five minutes in the locker room if you need to. Check in with yourself and see if anything’s uncomfortable. Get some chapstick for those dry lips, or a hot drink after that chilly run or bike ride.
Address any muscle tension that doesn’t need to be there by working your way down the body: unclench your jaw, mobilize your neck, roll your shoulders, and stretch out your glutes, calves, and hamstrings. You could even use tennis balls or foam rollers to massage away any tightness in your lower back and other places that are tough to reach.
Your taste buds might be crying out for sugar as you head onto the next part of your day, but don’t be fooled: the key to optimum recovery is our good friend protein. You could keep a milkshake close to hand, and a banana for that all-important magnesium. Even apples and cheese could give you the quick protein and carb fix you need to get through the next hour.
If you need inspiration, there are places all over the Internet that will give you ideas for simple post-exercise snacks and tasty, protein-filled meals. Remember that salt is also important for muscle recovery.
According to a study by the University of Oklahoma, a triple combo of salt loss, fluid loss, and muscle fatigue can cause cramps that could put you out of action. You can buy sports drinks – or even make your own – to tackle this or simply add a little more salt to your meal after a particularly hard workout.
Any smart athlete will tell you it’s not advisable to burn yourself out. As well as taking regular breaks during your workout, it’s also important to schedule in rest time so you’re well prepared for the next workout session.
Fitness experts recommend factoring in a “down” week every 3-5 weeks where you halve the intensity of your training. Pushing yourself too hard for too long can often result in Overtraining Syndrome.
How is your regime working for you right now? Are there things you really enjoy and want to do more of? Is there something that doesn’t feel quite right? Do you need to make adjustments to your prep and planning, like bringing protein shakes or sports drinks? Are you packing for the weather – sunscreen and chapstick to ward off sunburn and dry lips, wicking clothes and waterproofs for rainy day runs?
Overthinking won’t help, but going over details like these every so often will improve your workout and could really help with motivation.
Doing the same thing all the time might take some of the decision fatigue out of your exercise regime, but it’s not always good for your motivation or your muscles. If, in the time you spend reflecting, you notice that you’ve been doing the same exercises for 6-8 weeks and you’ve stopped making progress, it might be time to make a change.
You don’t have to do anything dramatic.
In some cases, just doing more reps for your sit-ups, increasing the load you’re lifting, or hiking the incline up on your treadmill will do. In others, you might find you’ll benefit from adding a couple of new exercises, or even switching something out entirely if it’s not helping any more.
Like you, and like your workout, your post-exercise routine is a work in progress, so keep up the good work. Keep track of your progress, and good luck!