A workout begins way before you even put your trainers on - and it's the little practices before and after that count
Most of us are creatures of habit, not least when it comes to exercise. Every Saturday morning, I attend a 10.30am Psycle class. The tube is quiet at that time of day, the empty carriages occupied by tourists and young families, and a few fatigued night workers on their way to bed. I read a book, and daydream, distancing myself from the week. (Exercise is so much nicer if eased into, by degrees.) As I walk to the class location – my warm-up - I listen to dance tunes on my phone so that by the time I get there, I’m in the right, up-for-it mentality to get on a bike and sweat my way through an hour of exercise.
Our pre- and post-exercise rituals - the specific spurs to motivation, the snacks, the stretching routines - are individual. For example, I don’t eat before I exercise in the morning, it makes me too nauseous, and I always try and pick out something decent to wear, to provide an extra jolt of incentive. Post workout at Pscyle, I walk past Pret and pick up a green juice, a cappuccino (I know, I know) and a bag of nuts and a banana. After morning gym sessions I prepare eggs and avocado on wheat free toast – the industry standard.
There’s no doubt that a stricter sense of what we should – and shouldn’t - be doing to top and tail our fitness sessions could help make them more effective. Not eating before a workout, for example, might be a mistake since apparently it leads to the body breaking down muscle tissue for fuel rather than food sugars. All those stretches you’re doing in your kitchen before going for a run? Not such a good idea according to some experts, who say we risk straining muscles that aren’t yet warmed up.
Preparation is key. Use your phone as a motivator by downloading apps that track how much and how long you exercise, setting you up in competition with yourself. (An Up Band, or Nike Fuel band records the data.) Music is a foolproof way to get you off the sofa and into the gym, and is verified to improve athletic performance – downloading a playlist, and updating it every week to keep it fresh, is actually quite fun. While using a foam roller to target tight calves and thighs is a type of injury-proofing stretching that’s approved by many top trainers, including Matt Roberts.
After the gym, it’s all about nutrition and hydration. Your body is in recovery mode, but instead of hoofing down a plate of pasta – or, um, a cappuccino - we should be eating protein, and wholegrain carbs. Protein helps aid muscle recovery and growth, while grains, like current culinary pin-up, quinoa, are bursting with vitamins and nutrients. (Chuck some kale in the mix and you are one step away from Gwynethification.) Bananas are a useful source of potassium and also qualify as a good carb – though, if you’re on a no-sugar crusade, you might want to avoid. Meanwhile, protein smoothies (choose plant proteins rather than whey if you’re on a no-dairy kick), are a good way to up your quota, and offer relief from egg and chicken breast overdose.
Paola Di Lanza, who runs BodyBarre, says, “I have a Rebel Matcha Tea coconut drink at around 6.30am and I massage my tight muscles with Mio's Work Out Wonder Gel. By 8am I need a pick-me-up so I will have either a granola and yoghurt pot from Retreat Café or one of their sugar-free, gluten-free vegan muffins. When I'm in a rush, I will have a protein ball made up of seeds, protein powder and cocoa for a quick energy boost. And always water to rehydrate.”
Of her workout rituals, Lucas Hugh designer, Anjhe Mules, says, “I workout first thing in the morning, so I find it easier to have my gym kit prepared the night before. Not being prepared can make me late, or even skip a session. I have a coffee and a piece of fruit and a few nuts before I go, and if I am driving I put some energising music on. Post workout, I have a Jax coconut water, followed by a nutrition packed protein shake."
All of which proves the point that your workout begins way before you get to the gym, and finishes long after you’ve jumped in the shower. A little thought and preparation goes a long way.