Congratulations! You’re on a roll – you’ve got a basic workout plan, simple yet effective. You’ve been concentrating on your form and going light, and maybe now you want to ramp up and start to feel the burn. Fantastic.
But going in cold and doing a hard workout can open you up to injury. And walking directly to the locker room after your last set can result in tighter muscles and slower recovery (read: extra pain). Also, what you do immediately after you leave the gym can determine whether or not you grow more lean muscle.
So let’s add to our starter workout a few items that can help you maximize the benefits while minimizing the downside.
Get loose and warm
When you were in Little League or kids’ soccer, you probably stretched before your workouts or games. You probably learned it from your coach, who learned it from his coach, who learned it from his.
Don’t do that.
Stretching will actually weaken your muscles, leaving you with less strength for your workout. There’s a time to stretch, but it’s not right now. Instead, you want to loosen your joints and muscles and get the blood flowing. What modern athletes do is “dynamic stretching” – short physical movements that prepare their muscles for work.
I’ll walk you through my normal “pre-warm-up”:
- Some joint-loosening arm swings and rotations (10 swings and 10 rotations in each direction – not too fast, not too slow).
- Neck rolls, all the way around, five times in each direction.
- Straight-leg march, 10 steps kicking as high as I can, then turn around and 10 steps back. (People look at me funny when I do this. My body will have the last laugh.)
That’s it right now. I may phase in some Scorpions or Handwalks eventually. (What are they? Read more about it in this great New York Times article on dynamic stretching).
After that the warm-up proper begins. In your starter workout you’re already doing a warm-up: your five minutes of initial cardio. By the time you hit your first weight exercise, your body will be ready to work.
During the workout
Don’t stretch during the workout either (you’re going from exercise to exercise as fast as you can, remember?). But please do hydrate. If you’re working out hard, you’re losing your body’s water and it’s critical to replenish it. Bring a water bottle to your workout and drink early and often. This will also help purge toxins from your muscles.
If you’re feeling faint at any time, stop immediately. Lie on the floor with your knees up and drink some water – or better yet get an electrolyte drink like Gatorade to help speed hydration. I don’t recommend sports drinks for everyday use, because they’ve got way too much sugar, but if you can afford it, there’s now the low-sugar G2 and even some sugar-free electrolyte powders you can mix in water. Since I’ve been performing some very intense workouts I always try to have a bottle of G2 stashed in the car.
You’re not done yet
After the final weight has been lifted, now is the time to stretch. Your muscles are now a bit tight after bearing weight for you (a muscle-exhausting workout actually damages your muscles, and muscle growth is actually due to the muscles repeatedly repairing themselves) and stretching will help you maintain the muscles’ natural length, maintaining your posture and full range of movement.
Stretch the muscles you worked today. It’s also a good idea to stretch your back every day – it includes muscles that are constantly worked and that contribute to posture and your general well-being. If the gym has a stretching cage, it may list the stretches there. If not, here’s a resource at bodybuilding.com where you can enter the bodypart to be stretched and see a photo of the stretch, and again you can turn to YouTube for examples.
When you shower, go as cold as you can take it, or at least finish with cold water. Although we want muscle damage so they’ll grow, we don’t really want inflammation, and a cold shower will help reduce that.
Then, if you want to grow lean muscle, get some protein as soon as possible after the workout. I normally have a protein shake that I prepared earlier – in a shaker bottle, I combine lowfat milk and basic protein powder. If you have the dough, a “recovery drink” is even better, because it combines protein with (usually) glucose to help refuel your body. At the very least, have a snack with some protein and sugar (avoid fructose, which your body prefers to store as fat).
Make it routine
All of this may seem like a ton of details, but once you’ve got your workouts down to routine it will be second nature.
And please don’t let this additional info derail you. If all you do is the starter workout without any of the pre-warm-up or post-workout activities, you’ll still be ahead of the game and healthier in the long run.
I’m always here for questions. I want you to succeed.
And again, in case you missed it: here’s the original Simple Starter Workout.