1. Push Hard, But Not Too Hard
The first golden post-workout rule starts before your workout is technically even over. It’s that important! It’s hard to beat that feeling after an intense workout when you gave it your all. But if you push too hard, you’ll wear yourself down, increase your chances of getting injured, and make sticking to a consistent workout routine impossible. I’ve been there. It’s hard to get motivated to exercise when your body is still mangled from your last session But you do have to push yourself to get stronger.
How hard should you push?
Definitely past your comfort zone. Effective exercise shouldn’t be painful, but it’s uncomfortable. Try to progress beyond what you did last time, whether that means shaving time or increasing your weight, reps or volume. There’s a fine line between “overreaching” (where you want to be) and “overtraining.” When you overreach, your performance improves (1). But when you overtrain, you get fatigued, increase your blood pressure, and wreck your immune system (2).It takes some practice to find a point past your comfort zone that’s also sustainable. If you’re new to working out, start slowly and work your way up. Dealing with muscle soreness in your next workout is okay.
After you’ve worked up a sweat, it’s time to rehydrate. All that sweat from workouts can lead to significant fluid losses. William Adams, the director of sports safety policy initiatives at the Korey Stringer Institute, says you sweat out between one and four percent of your body weight for every hour of intense exercise.
How much water should you drink when you’re done?
A lot depends on the type of workout you did, how intensely you did it, and the environment where you did it (an outdoor summer run will make you sweat a lot more than swimming laps at the indoor pool).Adams has good advice about how to set a guideline for yourself. Weigh yourself right before you work out and as soon as you finish (don’t drink anything in the meantime). You want to drink at least that amount of weight in water after you finish.
3. Avoid Sports Drinks
Go to the gym, work out, and pick up a Gatorade afterward.Simple, right?
That’s exactly what a lot of other people do. They love the way sports drinks taste after a hard workout. Or maybe they’ve heard about replenishing their electrolytes – and how those drinks supposedly do it better than water or anything else. Sports drinks can be useful… but only if you’re engaging in high-intensity exercise that lasts longer than an hour. They might be just what the marathoner or triathlete needs, but for most of us they’re flat out unnecessary. It’s really tough for a normal exerciser to lose enough electrolytes to need to worry about replacing them with a beverage instead of their next meal. Yes, sports drinks have electrolytes. But they also have other chemicals and added sugars that make them counterproductive. If you’re trying to lose weight, drinking a sports drink after a workout might erase all the calories you just burned.
4. Track Your Progress
You might be able to remember how much weight you lifted two sessions ago, but how about two months ago? Not keeping track sets you up to waste a lot of time – time you could have spent getting more out of your workouts. If you want to train towards a concrete goal instead of just work up a sweat, you must track your workouts. A disorganized approach might get you some early results, but progress will taper off and you’ll end up frustrated. A good old notebook works just fine. There are also tons of new fitness applications and wearable devices (like Fit bit and Apple Watch) that make tracking your progress easier than ever.
5. Use Active Recovery
The time after a hard workout can be uncomfortable, especially if you just did heavy resistance training. All that soreness and fatigue make you want to just sit around on the couch. But doing the exact opposite – staying active – will keep your joints limber and help ease the pain. On days after tough workouts, give some active recovery a try. Active recovery is an umbrella term for any light cardio that stimulates blood flow and improves the circulation to your muscles. Several studies found that active recovery was more effective than passive recovery at removing lactic acid, which causes muscle soreness (10, 11). So, just because it’s an “off” day doesn’t mean you have to sit around doing nothing.