You have your playlist, your new shoes, a bottle of water and your shirt is even clean this time, but are you really ready to workout? An effective and safe workout has a distinct beginning, middle and end, each of which is important if you want to reach your goals. Simply put, you need to prepare your body for exercise, then do the workout itself and remember recovery, which may be the most neglected, but important part of your long-term strategy to feel and look great.
HERE'S HOW TO BUILD A BETTER WORKOUT
GET WARM. This isn’t middle school PE. So, donning a pair of coach’s shorts, a couple of toe touches and a few windmills aren’t enough to get ready for a workout. The problem is static stretching doesn’t increase blood flow to the muscles you are preparing to work. Additionally, the old way of stretching has been shown to decrease strength when it is done prior to exercise. You’ll get better results if you get warm with dynamic moves involving a full range-of-motion in your major muscle groups.
Pick four or five of these exercises and do each of them for 30 to 60 seconds. Begin with easy leg swings both front to back and side to side. Then move into a wide-stance squat and touch by positioning your feet wider than hips-distance apart and sinking your hips until you can touch the ground with your hands. Next, raise your heart rate with side shuffles, jumping jacks, running in place or body-weight lunges. Finish with arm circles, mountain climbers, sun salutations or inch worms to target the upper body and core.
FIND YOUR BALANCE. Muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction, neuromuscular deficits and bad postural habits develop over time and are often felt where you are weakest. For instance, sitting at a desk all day can lead to a forward stooped posture. This allows the muscles in the front of the shoulders and across the chest to shorten and tighten, while the muscles of the back are lengthened and weakened. This muscular imbalance predisposes you to pain in the rotator cuff muscles. These four small muscles stabilize the top of the arm (the humeral head) in the shoulder socket during movement and dysfunction here can lead to chronic pain if it is not corrected.
In this example, your best defense against developing shoulder pain may be to balance the muscles of the anterior and posterior sides of the body. Try stretching the chest and shoulders, strengthening the back and rotator cuff musculature and working to maintain a good posture throughout the work day. My disclaimer is (as always): I am not a doctor and you should address pain issues with a board-certified physician.
Of course, most doctors would agree an important component of good posture and injury prevention is…(you guessed it) a strong, balanced core. Planks, side planks and bridges are a good place to begin because they engage the muscles around the entire core. Add single-leg balance reaches and supine marches to improve your balance and proprioception (your muscles communicating and working together).
BE STRONG. Staying fit isn’t for the weak (yes, that’s tongue in cheek), and you can make it a little easier by getting strong. Strength training can improve balance, your kinesthetic awareness (bodily sense of space and movement) and will improve your muscle mass and bone density. This makes your everyday activities easier and a week at the beach less frightening. Compliment your cardiovascular exercise with a three-day-a-week strength training regimen focusing on the major muscle groups. Vary your routines and lift heavy on the first day with few repetitions, light on the second day and go for 10-12 reps of your sets on the third strength training day. Remember to wait a minimum of 48 hours before training a specific muscle group (even abs!) in order for proper recovery to occur.
ROLL WITH IT. Finding peace and rolling with the changes in life is crucial for good health, but I’m referring to stretching and foam rolling after your workout. Time spent stretching after your workout will pay off with reduced soreness, faster recovery and greater mobility. Stretching is most effective post-workout because your muscles are warm and more pliable. Target your major muscle groups and spend a little longer than 30 seconds on your tightest areas.
Add a few minutes on a foam roller for even more benefit as you release the adhesions, which can cover the myofascial tissue around your muscle. Injury, overexertion, even extended inactivity can cause “tender spots” to appear. Regular foam rolling provides many of the benefits of a good massage. Light a candle if you need the massage room atmosphere.
REST. That’s right. Run a little slower. Do some easy yoga. Take a stroll. Respect your body by listening to the warning signs, which tell you it is time to slow down. Time spent in recovery is as important to your health as consistent exercise and a proper diet. Workouts breakdown your body and many injuries occur because of overuse and repetitive motion. Aching joints, persistent pain, unusual muscular soreness and an elevated heart rate upon rising from bed all indicate you need rest. While I encourage an active life and exercise most days of the week, alternating intense or long workouts with easy recovery days is more beneficial. The payoff is you’ll move even better in your next workout.