There are countless training methodologies out there and various ways to reach your training goals. Regardless of your intended results or the approach you currently subscribe to, there are a few standard rules to always abide by for an effective and safe workout.
1) Always warm up. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you are going to do, your body always needs time to prepare for more intense activity. If your body is not adequately prepared for the stress you place it under, it cannot properly respond. Taking the time to do 5 minutes of light activity at the beginning of your workout will give your body—especially your cardiovascular system—the opportunity to acclimatize, allowing you to maximize your performance. You will feel like you are pushing hard if you skip the warm-up and dive right into your program, but this is deceptive. The workout feels challenging, not because you are working at your most optimal level, but because your body was caught off guard and is struggling to catch up. Those 5 minutes will help you push harder for the duration of your workout and make your workout safer.
2) Stay hydrated. Dehydration occurs a lot quicker than we think. Even slight dehydration impacts your ability to perform and can also lead to health risks such as heat stroke. Thirst is a sign of dehydration so don’t wait until you feel thirsty to grab some water. Keep up the intake consistently throughout your workout. It is recommended to start hydrating 2 hours prior to exercise and continue well after your session is over, depending on how much you sweat out.
3) Keep your legs moving. It is important to cool down and give your heart rate a chance to level off before standing still, sitting, or lying down. Keep your legs moving by doing light activity, such as slowly walking around or gently pedaling on a bike. This also goes for taking breaks during intense bouts of exercise. By all means, take time to rest your muscles and catch your breath, but don’t stand still—walk it off. If your heart rate is significantly elevated and you suddenly become stationary you are at risk of dizziness and fainting. By keeping your body slowly moving, you are helping to keep an adequate blood flow to your brain, thus keeping you vertical.
4) Never skip the post-workout stretch. Like the warm-up, people tend to skip over this component, especially when they feel pressed for time. Also like the warm-up, stretching is an essential aspect of an effective exercise program. Flexibility can affect both your exercise performance and your overall quality of life. Depending on our daily lives, we will have some muscles that are tighter than others. Exercise also causes our muscles to contract and tighten, so it is imperative that we lengthen those muscles back out at the end of our workout. Tight muscles lead to poor posture, which in turn leads to stiffness and soreness and an increased risk of injuries, both inside and outside the gym. Stretching helps to keep the body and spine in proper alignment. Tight muscles may prevent you from doing a specific exercise, not because you don’t have the strength, but because you lack the range of motion. Good flexibility will allow you to execute more exercises with proper technique—improving your results.
5) Don’t overdo it. Have patience with your body; it takes time to build strength, endurance, and solid technique. You want to challenge yourself but in a safe and appropriate way. Your body is only as strong as its weakest part, and pushing beyond its limits will only do more damage than good. This may mean that you have to build up to the exercise you most want to do, or you may need to start off with a modified version. Progressing in small steps towards your end goal will get you there faster than overdoing it and ending up injured. Not all exercises are good for everyone—this is especially true if you have any present or past injuries. Make sure you do what is right for your body and your goals.