Think you’ve got your gym routine down to a science? Regardless of what you do in the weight room or on the treadmill, what you do after you finish your workout is just as important as the minutes you spent pushing, pressing, sprinting, and sweating. Make sure you’re not making one of these colossal fitness fails, lest your next workout end in anything less than a new PR.
1. Not cooling down
Don’t just hop off your treadmill or bench, grab your keys, and peace out. Doing so can cause delayed onset muscle soreness, increased swelling, tightness, and muscle fatigue, as blood pools in tired muscles. In some instances, stopping abruptly can cause dizziness, fainting, or nausea, so this is one of the fitness fails you can feel fast.
After you finish exercising, take 5 minutes to cool down, walking around the weight room or slowly on the treadmill while your heart rate returns to baseline. Doing so allows your body to resume normal circulatory patterns, keeping blood moving throughout the body and enhancing recovery. Once you’re done cooling down, head over to the mats for a brief bout of foam rolling.
2. Not foam rolling
Think all those people rolling their bodies over hard foam rollers are wasting their time (not to mention taking up valuable space on the ab mats)? Think again. Foam rolling reduces muscle soreness and swelling, enhances recovery, and prevents injury. If you have five minutes, you have time to foam roll- believe us, you’ll be glad you did when you can climb a flight of stairs without wincing tomorrow (not to mention, totally crush your next workout).
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling after exercise reduced delayed-onset muscle soreness to a substantial degree. In the study, trained male university students were separated into two groups, and completed two exercise sessions, separated by four weeks. Participants completed 10 sets of 10 repetitions of back squats at 60% of their 1-repetition maximum, and performed tests of sprint time, change of direction, and standing broad jumps. The experimental group foam rolled for 20 minutes immediately after exercise, and again at 24 and 48 hours post exercise. The control group did not foam roll. The experimental group performed better in range of motion and experienced less muscle soreness than the control group.
A 2015 systematic review published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that foam rolling enhances range of motion following intense exercise.
3. Eating too much
Just started exercising and already seeing gains on the scale? Turh a thoughtful eye to the kitchen. Increasing weight over short durations is likely due to post exercise water retention, weight gain, or both. And unfortunately, that additional weight isn’t muscle- at least not at the beginning.
Oftentimes, exercise does more than just burn Calories- it also makes you eat more. A lot more. And, sadly, that workout probably didn’t burn enough Calories for a Chipotle burrito. While we’d like to think that sweating in the gym gives us license to do some serious Calorie damage afterwards, most of us don’t burn nearly as many Calories as we think we do. This is largely because exercise machines take into account the number of Calories you’d already be burning just by being alive- your basal metabolic rate. That means that your 400 Calorie workout may only be burning 160-200 additional Calories- bummer.
Alas, while exercise isn’t license to go “whole hog” so to speak, it has been shown to modestly improve weight loss, and to substantially enhance weight management. Think of exercise as an “extra”, and don’t take Calorie meters on treadmills, fit bits, or other exercise trackers at face value. Instead, use minutes of exercise, miles, or another metric to gauge progress, especially if weight loss or weight management is a primary goal.
4. Not hydrating
Forget to bring a water bottle to your workout? Bad move! Hydration is crucial after exercise. Even if you’re not a sweater, exercise can cause dehydration, through fluid losses in respiration and evaporation. Water is the most appropriate hydration choice for the average exerciser. Sports drinks, coconut water, and other replenishment beverages tend to be higher in Calories than most exercisers can afford. Unless you’re running an ultramarathon or are otherwise instructed by a personal physician, stick with good old H2O.
Aim to drink a minimum of 8 oz of water fifteen minutes before exercise, followed by a minimum of 3 oz of water every 15-20 minutes during exercise. Afterwards, drink to your thirst and monitor your urine- anything darker than pale yellow signals dehydration. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, inability to regulate body temperature, and reduced energy and athletic performance.
Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).