What you do after your sweat session is almost as important as what you did during. From taking time for recovery to treating yourself well in the hours following a workout, your post-exercise behavior matters in order to see both physical and mental results.
Instead of thinking about working out as a 30-minutes-and-done part of your day, reframe your fitness commitment as a lifestyle choice that affects the rest of your waking hours. This way, you'll get the most out of your lifting routine, yoga class, run or whatever you have on deck and keep seeing positive changes both inside and out. After your next workout, remember to take the following expert advice and avoid doing these 10 things.
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1. Check Your Phone Right Away
Your work emails, texts from friends and new Instagram posts will still be waiting for you an hour after your session is over, even if you're itching to virtually check back in. That sweat-induced, endorphin-fueled high you get from working out? That will fade eventually. Instead of snapping back to reality (and the associated stress) right after your workout, give your brain a little breathing room.
"The instant you check your phone, that post-workout euphoria can vanish," says Erin Moone, co-founder of the cycling fitness franchise StarCycle. "Try and give yourself a few minutes to soak up how you feel, both physically and mentally."
2. Beat Yourself Up Mentally
Give yourself some credit for taking time for yourself, no matter how the effort goes. "I often see people give everything they've got and then as soon as they stop, they talk about how much better they could have done," says Alyssa Royse, owner of Rocket CrossFit. "Celebrate that you came in and that your body did amazing things."
You know the mood you get after a killer class, where you feel so much better than when you walked in? "That transformation inside is generally never instantly reflected on the outside," says Moone, who suggests staying away from the mirror post-class and focusing on how you feel instead.
3. Skip Stretching
When you rush out of the gym after a workout, you miss out on a really important part of the fitness process: recovery. "Working out involves breaking muscle down, with the intention to build it back up," explains certified strength and conditioning specialist Austin Martinez, director of education for assisted-stretching franchise StretchLab. "If you don't facilitate muscle recovery with stretching, injuries can occur due to overuse, leading to less optimal workouts and precipitating early fatigue."
How much stretching do you really need? Martinez advises holding stretches for at least 30 seconds and repeating each stretch two or three times, which can be tough if you're pressed for time. Remember: Some stretching is better than nothing, and knowing how to properly stretch for your body is key for recovery. Work with a trainer or trusted fitness instructor to find out what you need to target based on your body.
4. Run Errands in Your Workout Clothes
Ending your workout drenched in sweat can be a mark of accomplishment, but you want to get those soaked clothes off ASAP. "Hanging around to stretch or chat while you're dripping wet could potentially compromise your immune system," says trainer Timothy Lyman, director of training programs at Fleet Feet in Pittsburgh. "Regulating your core body temperature is critical. You'll want to give your body the ability to get rid of excess heat, which is hard to do when everything is sticking to your skin."
There's also the ick factor. "Staying in your workout clothes could put you at risk of skin or fungal infections, particularly if you work out in a communal setting with shared equipment," says board-certified physician Jessalynn Adam, MD, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center.
5. Eat a Big Meal
You've probably lost count of the amount of times that you've downed a monster burger or slices of pizza post-workout because, well, you've "earned" it. But your stomach will thank you for taking it easy after intense exercise. "While you certainly will need to give your body nourishment to repair itself, the 30-minute window after your sweat session is not the ideal time for a big meal," Lyman says. "Your digestive system takes a back seat during hard sessions and is still on high alert well after the workout is over."
Because not eating or full-on skipping a meal is also a major after-exercise no-no, make sure to pack a light snack that can hold you over. Lyman suggests eating something unprocessed, like a piece of fruit, then have a larger meal two or three hours later when your digestive system is back to standard operating procedures.
6. Down Vitamins and Supplements
When it comes to post-workout nutrition, it's super common for people to take some form of supplement to help combat inflammation and even promote recovery, according to nutritionist and personal trainer Luke Jones, founder of HERO Movement. He often sees people take vitamins C, E and A, coenzyme Q10, NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen) or products that specifically tout exercise recovery. However, these supplements may do more harm than good.
"In large doses, these compounds can interfere with how much of an adaptation your body makes from the training," he says. "By taking these products post-workout, you're essentially watering down your efforts and wasting some of the hard work you've just done in the gym."
Always talk with your doctor before taking a supplement about potential side effects and how it may interact with other medication you're on. Then, consider working with a sports medicine specialist or nutritionist to determine which supplements will work best for your body and fitness goals.
7. Sit Around
When you leave your lunchtime yoga class and head right back to your desk or flop on the couch for a Netflix binge after a long run, you're not doing your body any favors. "This is the physiological equivalent of yanking on the emergency break while you're cruising down the highway," Lyman explains. "Your body needs to cool itself down — literally and figuratively."
Exercise physiologist Omega Zumpano adds that when you sit or lie down for hours after exercising, your blood pools, making recovery more difficult. "The result is more muscle soreness and delayed recovery time," she says. Instead, try to keep your body moving in little ways after you work out, even if that means standing up every 30 minutes at work to take a lap around the office or shifting your schedule so you're not hanging on the couch — or going to bed — right after sweating.
8. Get on a Scale
Remember: no matter what the scale says, taking the time to sweat is good for your body — period. Don't interfere with positive progress by obsessing about numbers. "While we all fantasize that the super sweaty, fabulous workout we just did led to a 5-pound weight drop from last week, it probably didn't," explains trainer Jeanette DePatie, founder of Every BODY Can Exercise. "Why rob yourself of your post-workout high by obsessing about numbers on the scale?"
9. Sip a Cocktail
Drinking alcohol after hard exercise is one of the worst things you can do for your body. "With your heart racing and blood pumping, drinking alcohol soon after a workout will affect you quicker and harder than normal," explains personal trainer Phil Catudal, author of Just Your Type: The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Training Right for Your Body.
Nick Rizzo, training director at RunRepeat, agrees. "Drinking alcohol after a workout is going to immediately reduce muscle protein synthesis," he says. "It slows recovery, reduces the benefits of your workout and makes you feel even worse the next day." Take a night off booze or at least give it a couple hours, he suggests.
10. Stop Drinking Water
Most of us show up for workouts toting large water bottles with the best intentions to drink their full contents. However, Rizzo says that lots of people forget how important it is to keep drinking water after the effort is over. "The effects of your workout on your hydration levels can last for several hours," he says. "Being dehydrated will slow your recovery, reduce muscle protein synthesis and not provide your body with what it needs to help eliminate all of the waste products produced from the muscle damage of your workout."
As for how much you need to drink, Alex Robles, MD, who runs health and fitness website The White Coat Trainer, suggests following your body's cues. "Drink until your urine is a pale yellow color — any dark yellow urine indicates dehydration," he says. "Also, don't wait until you get thirsty. That's a telltale sign that you aren't getting enough fluids."