Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

What do a group fitness class regular, a CrossFitter and an avid runner all have in common? They each want to get the most out of their respective workouts. From fueling and warming up to enhance performance, to structuring strength-training sessions to maximize results, these nine tips will help you get the most out of your sweat sessions, no matter what you’re into.

Get Mobile Before You Get Active

To help keep injuries at bay, establishing the necessary levels of joint mobility is a must. Spend time during your warm-up focusing on the areas of the body that are designed to be most mobile, specifically the ankles, hips, shoulders and thoracic spine. You can enhance your range of motion in these four specific areas by including exercises such as kneeling prisoner rotations, arm circles, hip hinges and standing ankle mobilization in your dynamic warm-up. These will  help you to get more out of your movements once you dive into the main part of your workout session.

Don’t Cut Out Early

While you may be tempted to skip out of class a few minutes early to stake your claim at the showers, keep in mind that, just like a warm-up, the cool-down is not to be missed. After an intense workout it’s important to gradually bring the heart rate down to help minimize the risk of blood pooling in the lower extremities, which can cause lightheadedness, dizziness and even fainting after exercise. To ensure safety and to allow blood flow back to the heart to be maintained amidst significant amounts of blood going to the muscles that were just working, take time to comfortably and gradually decrease intensity at the end of your workout before you head out to take on the rest of your day.

Fuel Right Before Your Workout

To get the most out of your sweat sessions, glycogen—the stored form of glucose—is needed so your muscles can work harder and longer, as well as for your brain to function properly. Without proper fueling you may actually end up exercising less intensely, which in turn can decrease the total number of calories you burn and the overall effectiveness of your workout. Before you hit the gym, fuel your muscles and boost energy levels with a snack or meal made up of both carbohydrates and protein, ideally in a 4:1 ratio, which will increase nutrient delivery to muscles and also help aid in the rate of muscle recovery after your workout.

Minimize Rest Periods

While rest intervals allow time for recovery during strength training, and help to keep energy levels maintained throughout your workout, spending too much time meandering around the gym between exercises can have a negative impact by causing heart rate and body temperature to drop back to normal resting levels. For general muscle conditioning, spend no more than 30 to 60 seconds resting between sets, as shorter rest periods increase cardiovascular and metabolic responses both during and after your sweat session.

Roll it Out

If you’re not rolling around on the floor during your workout, you should be. Self-myofascial release using a foam roller or tennis ball addresses tissue density, relieves tension and increases blood flow. Applying pressure to commonly tight areas of the body using the tool of your choice at the start and/or end of your workout session will minimize trigger points and “knots” within muscles, ultimately helping to reduce stress, improve mobility and enhance overall movement quality.

Come With a Plan

While it can be nice to sometimes just “go with the flow,” when it comes to your workout the absence of a plan may result in wasted time trying to figure out what to do (as opposed to  actually doing something). Consider making a rough plan each week for how to tackle your exercise sessions. It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room to change things up on the fly as needed, but taking the time to construct a plan of attack for your workouts ensures that you’re systematically working toward your fitness goals while also allowing adequate time for recovery, such as at least 48 hours between tackling total-body, strength-training workouts.

Use Enough Weight to Challenge Yourself

Whether you use dumbbells, barbells or weight machines, to maximize strength development be sure to choose a weight that will fatigue the muscles you’re working within the confines of the anaerobic energy systems—which is within 90 seconds or less. Performing exercises using extremely light weights is not only an inefficient workout technique, it offers limited benefit in terms of muscle development. Moral of the story—don’t be afraid to lift heavy, ladies!

Limit Distractions

The more time you spend during your workout shuffling through the music on your iPod and checking in at the gym on Facebook, the less time you’re spending actually breaking a sweat. Limit distractions during your next workout by leaving your phone secured in your locker or, if you’re using it for music, resist the temptation to look at incoming text messages or to scroll through photos on Instagram. Instead, dedicate your time at the gym to improving your health and fitness—staying focused during your workout will help you not only stay safe (tweeting and running on a treadmill don’t always go hand in hand), it’ll also help you to work harder and get more out of your time spent being active. Plus, other exercisers appreciate not having to wait to use the piece of equipment you’re on because you’re sitting down searching for healthy post-workout recipes on Pinterest.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

As you compete against yourselves and others (which includes the clock), it can be easy to get caught up in how many reps you can do or how quickly you can move through a given exercise. While some friendly competition can definitely up your workout motivation, quality of movement often tends to take a back seat to the desire for the fastest time, the most repetitions or the heaviest weight lifted. This can also lead to poor form and possible injury, both in the short-term and the long run. Get more out of each exercise by focusing on quality of movement and working to learn and retrain proper movement patterns that ensure you stay safe while breaking a sweat, and that the muscles you’re targeting are actually reaping the benefits of the exercise.

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