What to Do Before and After a Workout

There’s nothing worse than rolling up to your workout realizing that you don’t have a plan – or worse, you’re missing your headphones! Skip that stress by preparing effectively for your next workout. This guide will walk you through what to do before and after a good workout.

What to do before a workout

A little prep pre and post class goes a long way afterwards. If you are planning to go to your first rowing class or your 100th CrossFit class, the proper prep will ensure you have a worry-free, safe and, most importantly, fun work out. Here are 10 steps to take before you start sweating in any class.

Pick a class and workout that suits your activity level

Are you ready for SLT or should you brush up on your Pilates fundamentals first? Have you mastered your beginner’s yoga class? Are you looking to try something new to freshen up your routine? Step one to the perfect class prep is choosing an activity that will be fun and challenging, not impossible.

Map out your route

By planning your route to the studio or gym—directions, mode of transportation (walk, train, drive) and travel time—you can determine which class time fits best into your schedule. Can you pop in to the class on your way to work or is this studio off your commuting path and best left for a Saturday morning?

Investigate the amenities

Don’t plan a first date after a hot yoga class only to find the studio doesn’t have showers (Ugh!). It’s also important to know if the studio has a changing room and if you need to bring your own gym lock. Looking to shower after class? Gym shower etiquette is imperative when using a locker room or other amenities. Make sure that you’re respectful, clean up your area and respect other’s privacy.

Pack your bag in advance

Do you need cycling shoes or boxing gloves? While some studios provide some of the gear you’ll need, such as kettle bells or weights, you may be required to BYOYM (bring your own yoga mat) or BYOGT (bring your own grip tape). If you are attending a class for the first time, it’s not a bad idea to call ahead and find out what the instructor requires clients to have on hand.

It is also a good idea to pack your gym bag the night before a class or well in advance. Scrambling at the last minute to find your missing barre socks only to discover they are still in the hamper from your last class can start you off on the wrong foot. Keep a gym bag packed with a few essentials to save time.

These essentials could include: dry shampoo, body wash, all-in-one face wipes, towel, flip flops, hair ties, comb, muscle gel, socks, underwear, T-shirt and leggings or shorts. You should also throw in a plastic bag filled with just-in-case items, such as tampons, blister pads, bandages, pain relievers and a razor. Also, pack the three to five cosmetics you feel naked without.

Fuel up by eating a pre-workout snack and stay hydrated

To maintain your energy level throughout your class, eat a small amount of fast-absorbing carbs, such as nuts, fruit or juice, 30 to 60 minutes before the workout. Drink 20 ounces of water two to three hours before class and another 10 to 15 ounces of water 30 to 60 minutes before class. It may seem like a lot of water, but showing up to class well-hydrated will help you feel stronger and allow you to workout longer. Bring along at least 25 ounces to drink during a 45 minute class and drink eight ounces of water within 30 minutes after exercising. Need ideas? Read some of our posts about healthy snacks.

Set a goal

Before you enter your class, set your goals. Whether you are planning to finally nail your inversion in yoga or mount a steeper climb in spin, spend a few minutes thinking about what you want to achieve and visualize how you will meet those goals.

Warm up right

Warming up before class will improve your performance and help prevent injury. To get your blood flowing and your heart rate up, try a five-minute jog, jumping rope or other low intensity exercise before class begins.

Your instructor will probably do a warmup and stretch; but you know your body best. Give yourself a few extra minutes before class to stretch muscles that are particularly tight or sore. You should also do a full-body dynamic stretch. A dynamic stretch takes your body through stretches in motion. An example would be to start in the push up position. Step your left foot up to your left hand and sink into the stretch. Then, raise your left hand to toward the sky. Return to the pushup position and then do a downward facing dog. Repeat while engaging the right side. You can see a video of how this is done here.

Get there early to secure the equipment, or spot in class, that you want

Whether you like to be front and center or prefer to hang near the back of the room, finding a spot where you are comfortable can put you in a positive mood for the class. You want to avoid showing up late and having to awkwardly squeeze in between two people who have already set up. Prepare to get side eyed.

Communicate with your instructor, trainer and people around you

If it is your first time in class, speak up. It’s also important to let an instructor know if you have any injuries or are pregnant. By telling the instructor you are a newbie or that you have concerns at the start of class,  he or she can provide modifications that will keep your active and safe during class.

What to do after a workout

These six tips will help you maximize the fitness benefits of your workout, restore your energy and be better prepared for your next sweat session.

Wipe down your spot

Leaving your spin bike, Pilates reformer or other equipment you used during your workout without wiping it down is a major gym foul. Many studios have cleaning wipes or towels and spray cleaner available in their classrooms. It’ll take less than a minute, so invest in the good class karma.

Give yourself a proper cool down

When you stop exercising suddenly, your heart rate slows abruptly and blood can pool in your lower body. This can cause dizziness or fainting. Doing just five minutes of light cardio after a workout will help prevent blood from pooling in the veins.

Don’t skip the stretch

Sure, sure, we all know stretching improves flexibility and helps prevent soreness and injury by increasing blood and nutrient supply to muscles. But skipping the post-workout stretch can have long-term effects. If your muscles are chronically tight, your body will be out of alignment, which creates muscular imbalances and poor posture. Your brain reads this imbalance as your body is under constant stress.

The five basic stretches to do after any workout are the forward bend, runner’s lunge, shoulder stretch, heal drop and upward facing dog. Do each stretch four times for 20 to 30 seconds.

Roll it out

Many exercise-related injuries result from tight muscles. Foam rolling after a workout can help improve flexibility, increase blood flow and circulation, and break up “knots.” And, no matter how much you stretch, the build up of fascia that creates muscle knots, won’t go away.

To roll effectively, don’t rush. Foam rolling can hurt, but speeding through your movements is a wasted opportunity. Move in multiple directions, not just up and down. It is important to use the foam roller in side-to-side and cross-friction movements as well.

Use compression gear if necessary

If you’ve just had an especially grueling class, put on some dry compression gear, such as pants, sleeves, and socks. Wearing compression clothing after exercise can help reduce toxins in the muscle, improve circulation and aid recovery. When the gear is worn for a few hours after a workout, studies show it measurably reduced swelling and fatigue.

Rehydrate after your workout

Within 30 minutes of completing your work out, drink eight ounces of water to make sure you are properly rehydrated. Sipping slowly will actually help your body hydrate more quickly. If you’re working out for longer than an hour or doing a particularly intense exercise, you’ve probably burned off a lot of electrolytes. If this is the case, drink coconut water or electrolyte-enhanced water.

Regain your energy with a power snack

Unless you are heading straight for breakfast, lunch or dinner, a post-class snack is essential. A healthy snack should be around 150 calories and and contain protein to help rebuild muscles and carbs to restore your energy.  Quick and packable snack ideas include: an apple and peanut butter, carrot sticks and hummus, peanuts and raisins, Greek yogurt and grapes or shelled edamame. Check out our summer snack ideas.

Track your progress by hand or with workout tech

With Fitbits, smart watches and an ever-growing list of fitness apps, you have lots of ways to track your training and measure your progress. By keeping track of your heart rate, calories burned and distance covered, you can compare which workouts are most effective for you. Tracking your progress can also serve as a powerful motivator. Once you have hard data to back up your sweat levels, you are more likely work hard in every class and less likely to skate through.

Repack your gym bag

Save time before your next class by replenishing used products, organizing your gear and washing and repacking exercise clothes.

Daria Meoli is a writer living in New Jersey. She loves running, spinning and yoga, but her favorite workout is chasing her kids.