At last, you’ve made it to the gym for the day. Congratulations! And since that task by itself sometimes qualifies as a monumental accomplishment, it’s important to make the very most of the time and energy you have elected to spend there. To that end, we asked a few top wellness experts for their advice on the simplest ways to make your workout regimen more efficient and efficacious—bigger, faster, and a bit more enjoyable, too. Each tip takes less than five minutes to implement, which means your favourite lame excuse can shove it.
1. Just beet it
Bringing your water bottle to the gym is second nature, but what about reaching for some…beet juice? Bar Malik, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) who serves as the New York Knicks’ director of performance, says that sipping on that red magic can revolutionise your performance at the squat rack and beyond. “Beet juice boosts your metabolism and increases focus and oxygenation in the muscles, which means you spend less time waiting to get in that zone once you walk into the gym.” Malik recommends sipping six ounces of BeetElite (available at Whole Foods) or another beet powder just before you touch your first weight of the day.
2. Reach for the foam roller
“Foam rolling for even just five minutes prior to activity will enhance performance,” says Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, and co-founder of Bespoke Treatments in New York City. Research agrees. When coupled with stretching, foam rolling can increase range of motion in the hips more than just stretching alone, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation. Giordano suggests that you focus on the areas that you’re planning to work during your exercise routine. “If you’re going to run, think lower body—quads, IT band, calves,” he says. “If full body, think all of the big muscle groups, and spend 30 seconds on each area to increase blood flow.”
3. Take a deep breath
Former pro boxer George Foreman III always makes time to breathe before hitting the ring (or the bag). “The single most important thing I learned from my father during my boxing career was how much more I could get out of each workout by simply being focused and free of distractions,” he says. “With practice, you can achieve a oneness of purpose during every workout, getting your mind right and removing stressors from the outside world.” Foreman, who now owns a chain of boxing gyms called EverybodyFights, suggests spending three to five minutes performing breathing exercises before the main event. A good way to ease into it for beginners is the 4-2-6 method: Inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for two seconds, and spend six seconds releasing each one.
4. Make a purposeful playlist
Many studies have tracked the links between music and working out, like this one from Japan, which suggests the right playlist can lower your rate of perceived exertion—in other words, it can make hard work seem not so bad after all. You’ll never regret spending five minutes getting the right music prepared, says Danielle Cote, manager of training operations at Pure Barre. “Music provides you with a perfect distraction from fatigue and the outside world,” she says. “It elevates your mood, increases your endurance, and allows you to find your mind-body connection.” Just make sure not to pull a Taylor Swift (or a Drake) and get carried away.
Keep in mind, though: The optimal tunes may differ depending on your activity of choice, so don’t confine yourself to a one-size-fits-all “workout playlist.” Particularly if you’re planning a cardio day, pay attention to a song’s beats per minute (BPM). Spin workout tracks can range from the low 60s to upper 120s, while an ideal running playlist—where you’re aiming to match your steps to the beat—will hit between 88 and 100, depending on your preferred pace.
5. Do…absolutely nothing
For five minutes after you’re done working out, commit to sitting still and taking a chill pill, suggests Anthony Chavez, director of personal transformation and mindful leadership at CorePower Yoga. “When we work out, we tax our nervous system and our physical body,” he says. “But that magic transformation, including muscle growth and fat loss, happens during our resting periods.” Instead of running back to the office or to catch the guys for beers, give your body a much-needed break. Chavez suggests building a few minutes of recovery time into your training plan before you even begin your workout. This way, you won’t be stressed about taking a little extra “you” time.
6. Meditate, meditate, meditate
The benefits of meditation and tweets from Donald Trump have one thing in common: They’re constantly trending. Incorporating ancient mindfulness techniques into fitness routines is very much in vogue, with good reason: The practice has the potential to relieve headaches, lower blood pressure, and help you get more out of your workout, as the University of Miami football players who participated in this study can attest. “By adding meditation to your pre-workout routine, you will be more focused and feel more energised,” says Khajak Keledjian, founder and CEO of Inscape. “You’ll see a difference. And soon, you’ll realize that you not only don’t have to work out as much, but can also do what you wanted to do in less time.” For meditation newbies, apps like Inscape or Headspace have rendered the barrier to entry almost non-existent. Start small with 60-second guided meditations—yep, that’s a real option—and then work your way up. Burnt sage optional.
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