Preparing for any type of exercise workout is virtually as important as the workout itself. Without the proper mental and physical preparations, your body and mind will be ill-equipped for the demands that successfully performing a workout require.
Being in the wrong frame of mind or physically ill prepared will increase your probability of injuring yourself while, simultaneously, lowering your probability of putting in a solid workout that will actually stimulate your muscles to grow in size, strength, density and definition.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, properly preparing for a weight training workout is important for all strength trainers, not just those who consider themselves especially dedicated or advanced.
Even if you only strength train a couple of times per week for the purpose of maintaining or improving your current level of general fitness, taking the proper per-workout precautions will ensure that your exercise session is as productive and safe as possible. After all, there's nothing worse than squeezing a session of strength training into your busy schedule only to have it be ineffective, or worse, dangerous.
Preparing for a strength training workout is actually very easy. It involves ensuring proper rest and hydration, wearing the right clothing, having the right mindset and warming up and stretching. Following these considerations, you'll be prepared to enter the weight room with confidence and log a solid, highly productive strength training workout.
Ensuring Proper Rest Before a Workout
When individuals finish a workout, they often base their satisfaction on how thoroughly fatigued their bodies feel. After all, the point of strength training is to thoroughly fatigue the muscles so that they're forced to rebuild with greater levels of strength, mass and density. However, this is what's supposed to happen after the workout, not before it.
If you're feeling tired and exhausted when you begin a strength training session, you'll face many problems:
Instead, it's important to ensure a proper amount of rest the night before your strength training session. For most strength trainers, this means getting approximately 8 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. Of course, this is a case where listening to your body and knowing what works for yourself individually is of crucial importance. However, many studies have shown that the vast majority of muscle growth occurs while you sleep, so a lack of sleep will prevent you from making appropriate gains in muscle mass, density and strength.
Of equal importance is the amount of rest that you allocate to your individual muscle groups. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid working a muscle group if it's still sore from a previous workout. For most strength trainers, this means waiting approximately 24 to 48 hours in between workouts that target the same muscle group.
Having the Proper Mindset and Avoiding Distraction
The overall productivity of your strength training workout will largely depend on your frame of mind and your ability to focus. When you begin a strength training session, you should be thinking about the exercises you're about to perform, their proper form, the muscle groups you're looking to target, and how the exercises will help you make gains in muscular mass, strength and density. If your mind is instead preoccupied by worries related to work, school, relationships and other aspects of life, you'll encounter problems:
If you're having difficulty clearing your mind and focusing on weight training prior to your workout, consider meditation. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as a way of naturally clearing and refocusing the mind.
It's also important that you strive to minimize distractions during the workout itself. This means turning off your phone, telling those who depend on you that you need an hour to yourself, and disconnecting from services like Twitter and Facebook, if only temporarily. Since the nature of distractions vary so much from person to person, only you can know the proper procedure for minimizing them. Relegating your home gym to a quiet, distraction-free portion of your house will greatly minimize distractions, if you can logistically do it.
Appropriate Clothing for Strength Training
Another important pre-workout consideration is what you'll wear during your strength training session. As a rule of thumb, you should strive to wear clothing that is loose enough to not become caught in the equipment and tight enough to not impede your natural range of motion.
For many strength trainers, this means wearing an outfit akin to a pair of athletic shorts and a tank top. Of course, you can examine your existing wardrobe to see if you already have clothing that will fit the bill. Spandex is a popular option among some strength trainers because it stays tight to the skin without impeding motion. If you're more comfortable wearing something less revealing, by all means do so.
According to a recent study, men should consume about 125 ounces of water per day, while women should consume about 91 ounces. However, most people receive approximately 20% of their required daily hydration through food.
This means that you should drink at least 100 ounces of water per day if you're a man, or 73 ounces if you're a woman. In addition, if are losing a high amount of fluids throughout the day (i.e. through sweat), the amount of water that you consume per day should be even higher.
Staying hydrated is of crucial importance to strength trainers. Without proper hydration, your body will have a much harder time transporting nutrients, oxygen and water to your cells, which will diminish your energy levels and reduce the effectiveness of your weight training session. Water also provides lubrication and padding to the joints and soft tissues of the body.
Since weight training places a high level of stress on the joints, it's extremely important that they function optimally. Water also assists with digestion, and the absorption of nutrients into your blood stream.
In order to prepare for your workout, you should drink water throughout the day rather than waiting until you're thirsty. If you guzzle water immediately before a weight lifting session, you may feel bloated and sluggish. Instead, it's better to hydrate yourself gradually and continuously in the hours leading up to your workout. Keep a bottle of water on hand during your workout and sip in between sets, or as needed.
Warming Up Before a Strength Training Workout
Before you begin your actual weight training session, it's important to first warm up. Warming up is different from stretching, and should take place before your stretching routine. The purpose of a warm-up is to raise your body temperature and increase the flow of oxygen and blood throughout your body. This will prepare your soft tissues for the rigors they'll face during your strength training session.
In order to properly warm up, perform a light cardiovascular activity for roughly 5 to 10 minutes. This may involve jogging on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, jumping rope or performing some other aerobic activity you enjoy. Feel free to change your warm-up activity with each strength training session you perform. If possible, make the warm-up routine appropriate to the muscle groups you intend to target with weight lifting. For example, if you intend to focus on your lower body with today's session, consider warming up on a stationary bike or stairclimber machine.
Some of the benefits of warming up include the following:
Despite the fact that it's often lumped in with warming up, stretching is actually a separate component of your pre-workout routine.
Perform your stretching session immediately after your warm-up, as the benefits derived from warming up will enhance the benefits of stretching.
In order to properly perform a stretching routine, spend approximately 10 to 15 minutes engaging in various stretches, particularly ones that target the muscles you intend to work during your strength training workout. Stretch your muscles slowly and evenly, and avoid stretching to the point of pain.
Take deep, cleansing breaths as you stretch, and try to prevent your body from making any jerky or bouncing movements during each stretch.
Some of the benefits of stretching are listed below:
It's important to keep in mind that all of the aforementioned pre-workout strength training tips are designed for two purposes: maximizing the effectiveness of your workout and minimizing the chance of injury. These two benefits go hand in hand, since incurring an injury will certainly reduce or completely eliminate the effectiveness of your strength training program for weeks to come.
At the same time, these tips will benefit your strength training career even if you never incur an injury. After all, if you're going to spend a defined amount of time strength training, why not make those minutes as valuable and productive as possible in terms of gains in muscular mass, strength, density and definition?
Remembering all pre-workout routines and considerations can be difficult, especially for those who are completely new to strength training. As such, it's advisable to save this guide for future reference, and perhaps even post it in your home fitness area.
After you regularly strength train for several weeks, all of the aforementioned pre-workout techniques - rest, mindset, clothing, hydration, warming up and stretching - will become natural components of your overall strength training program, and remembering them will require little to no effort.