You’ve made a commitment to exercise more and lose weight. Maybe you’ve even started working out every day. But no matter how hard you hit the gym, the real progress happens after your workout. It’s during periods of rest and recovery that your muscles repair themselves and grow. That means what you do when your workout is finished is just as important as the workout itself. And if you’re making any of these common post-workout mistakes, you could be undermining all of your hard work.
- You aren’t cooling down. Allowing yourself to properly cool down after an intense workout reduces your risk of injury. A cool down allows your heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate to return to their pre-workout levels. Trying to go from a period of high activity to a full stop can cause fainting, dizziness, muscles spasms, or cramping. After a jog or other cardio workout, finish up with a light walk to keep the blood circulating throughout your body. Three to 5 minutes is best, but if you don’t have that much time, something is always better than nothing.
- You aren’t stretching. Stretching should be another part of your cool down routine. Post-workout stretches will help prevent soreness and injury, which means you’ll be able to get back to the gym sooner. Spend five minutes stretching the muscles that you used most in your workout. If you have enough time, foam rolling is another great way to release muscle tension and prevent soreness.
- You aren’t refueling. After exercise, your body needs fuel to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue. Grab a post-workout snack that’s high in protein and complex carbohydrates. Try Greek yogurt with berries, a peanut butter and banana smoothie, or turkey and cheese rollups.
- You treat yourself to a post-workout binge. A small reward is fine, but don’t undo all of your hard work with a high-calorie, high-carb meal or a venti frappuccino.
- You aren’t rehydrating. Drinking 50 percent more water than you lost in sweat will help you recover after a workout. Don’t let yourself become dehydrated, or you could suffer from dizziness and muscle cramps. Plus, staying properly hydrated helps with weight loss. Skip the alcohol for at least 30 minutes following exercise as it can slow muscle recovery and increase the risk of blood clots.
- You don’t change out of your workout clothes. Even if your sweat-wicking gym clothes keep you dry, they could still be harboring bacteria, and that can lead to skin rashes, acne, and yeast infections. Change into clean clothes as soon as possible, and wash your workout clothes immediately to keep them from getting smelly.
- You skip the shower. By the same token, bacteria on your skin can lead to rashes and breakouts. And if you already have any existing skin irritations or wounds, that bacteria can get inside your body. Even if you don’t think you’re smelly, it’s best to clean up with soap and water after a workout. If you’re pressed for time, you can make do with baby wipes, but try to take a shower when you get home.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on April 28, 2017