Sometimes all you want to do after a tough workout is hurry out of the gym so you can get on with the rest of your day. But there are small steps you can take immediately or shortly after exercise to keep healthy and set the stage for a successful workout next time. Make it a habit to cross as many of the following actions off your list every time you wrap up a workout.
1. Commit to a Cool-down
When you're especially crunched for time, you might decide it’s best to head to the locker room right after cardio. Not a great idea. A proper cool-down—where you move around at a light intensity—only takes a few minutes and helps you stay safe at the gym.
Allowing your body to comfortably come down from moderate or intense exercise provides a smooth, gradual transition away from increased heart rate. And cooling down helps prevent lightheadedness from blood pooling in the lower extremities, among other benefits.
2. Turn Off Your Workout App
Analyzing and comparing your tracker metrics from one workout to the next can be motivating—plus it helps you keep improving toward your goals. While some smart workout apps detect when you’re done exercising and stop collecting data automatically, many don’t.
Forgetting to turn off a workout app can be frustrating: The longer the app runs when you’re no longer exercising, the more messed up the metrics get. One fix is to set a standing reminder on your phone for times when you typically work out (such as a weekly fitness class or personal training appointment). The reminder will prompt you to tap the app off at the appropriate time.
3. Stretch the Muscles You Worked
You’ve heard it before, and for good reason: Stretching is an important component of fitness. Taking the time to perform a good stretch after working out—when your muscles are already warm—can help improve posture, increase mobility and range of motion, and enhance muscular relaxation. Plus, it’s nice to take a few minutes to mentally relax before carrying on with your day. If possible, tack on a few minutes of foam rolling to further iron out muscle tension.
4. Wash Your Hands
You don’t hear this tip all that often in relation to exercise, but it can go a long way toward keeping you healthy so you don’t miss workouts due to illness. A lot of people handle (and sweat all over) gym equipment, such as dumbbells, weight machines, kettlebells and bike handlebars. Before leaving the gym, wash hands thoroughly in the shower or at a sink to prevent the spread of germs.
5. Swap Out Your Shoes
If you typically wear the same fitness shoes at the gym as you do walking around town, consider tweaking your approach. Change sneakers before heading out so you get in the habit of wearing a designated pair only at the gym. This will keep your kicks feeling new and supportive for longer—and the gym floor cleaner, too.
6. Refill Your Water Bottle
It’s easy to drink water right before and during a workout because your water bottle is at arm’s reach. But people often stop sipping as soon as they move on to other things. To stay hydrated for longer, top up your water bottle as you’re leaving the gym. Keep it handy so you can drink from it for the rest of the day.
7. Have a Post-workout Bite
Aim to eat a healthy snack within about half an hour after a moderate-to-intense workout. Experts recommend a combo of carbs to replenish glycogen stores (fuel for the body) and protein to help repair muscle. Good post-workout snacks include almond butter spread on banana slices or whole-grain bread, or a plain yogurt smoothie with fruit.
8. Prep Your Gym Bag for Next Time
Preparing for your next workout just as you’re finishing your current one can help set the stage for long-term fitness success. Once you’re back at home, re-pack your gym bag right away with socks, a towel, shoes and anything else you might need. When it’s time for your next workout, you’ll be ready to grab your bag and go, reducing barriers to exercise like lack of time. Plus, knowing you’ve already prepped for the workout is a great motivator.