If you've managed to get yourself back into a regular pattern of going to the gym after weeks of indulgence and self-ruin over Christmas, you should pat yourself on the back. It's not easy to get back in the swing of things.
But because we all know how difficult it can be to get yourself back into an exercise regime, you want to know you're doing anything and everything you can to maximise the benefit you're getting out of it. Did you know, for example, there are some behaviours - not even all directly related to the gym - that could actually be sabotaging your workout? Things like the following:
1. Not getting enough sleep
Sleep might not feel like an important part of your work out, but news flash: it is. "The time between the sheets and the mattress is where your body changes the most," notes Leo Medley, Head Coach at David Lloyd Clubs. "There are two main forms of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep). REM sleep is a lighter form of sleep which occurs as you are 'falling' asleep and prior to you waking up, and normally can account for around 1-2 hours of your sleep per night.
"Non-REM sleep is a deeper sleep where the blood flow doesn’t need to move to the brain as much due to reduced activity, and instead moves towards the muscles," he continues. "Blood provides the muscles with the necessary nutrients and oxygen to recover from exercise. In addition, growth hormones are secreted during these deeper sleeps which allows accelerated repair and growth of muscle tissue." So if you’re not getting enough deep sleep after your gym session, you won’t be providing your muscles with enough time to repair, putting yourself on the back foot for the following days. "At least eight hours of sleep per night will help you achieve your goals and will also helps to regulate your metabolism," says Leo.
2. Not drinking enough water
You naturally become thirstier while actively exercising, but drinking more water is a practice you should continue outside of the gym, too. "The body is made up of lots of cells. In order to function optimally these cells need water, both inside of them (intracellular) and outside of them (extracellular)," explains Leo. "When the body is lacking water, it becomes dehydrated. Most people determine dehydration by their levels of thirst, but at the point where you feel thirsty, the body is already dehydrated. Dehydration negatively affects your mood, concentration, memory, skin condition and basic motor skills and also effects your body’s ability to burn fat efficiently.
"In addition to keeping the cells hydrated, it is important to drink water for other reasons. Blood is the body’s very own transport system and relies heavily upon normal levels of hydration to function, a consequence of dehydration is that blood becomes thick, and viscous – therefore reducing its ability to transport as effectively," the expert adds. In short, the message is to drink water consistently throughout the day - ideally a minimum of 2.5 litres – and the water in tea, coffee or squash doesn’t count.
3. Doing too much HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training has been the workout of the moment for some time, and David Lloyd Group Exercise Manager Marie Graham predicts its popularity is likely to continue. But there's also a risk that doing too much can be counterproductive, Marie warns.
"If you do too much HIIT training - more than three times per week - you run the risk of undoing all your good work. Pushing your body to these max intensities too frequently could result in elevating your stress. As a result, your body will be breaking down excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can result in inhibiting the body’s ability to control blood sugar, regulate metabolism and increase inflammation in the muscles - all vital functions for a person who exercises regularly."
4. Not eating enough
Your body needs fuel in the form of food to perform and repair, but when your calorie intake is too low, you might be depriving it of "vital nutrients it needs to grow lean muscle mass and burn fat efficiently," explains Marie. To achieve weight loss you do need to be in a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than you expend through the day and exercise), but if your calorie intake dips too low, you face the risk your body going into starvation mode, "forcing the body to conserve food and store as fat," she adds - which is probably the exact opposite of your intentions.
5. Not stretching
At the risk of sounding like your school PE teacher, stretching is super important - so you shouldn't ignore it as part of your routine. "Stretching and mobilising is super important to not only maximise the results of your workout through improved range of motion. but will also help to reduce the risk of injury and potentially improve your performance," explains exercise manager Marie.
"Developmental stretching, mobilising and strengthening can help improve and maintain correct postural alignment and balance, not only making your workouts more effective, but improving every day functional challenges too," she says, adding that doing lower intensity stretching exercises on active recovery days "will allow your body to recover fully and bring about hormonal homeostasis to maximise on your workout gains."
6. Trying to 'out-exercise' a bad diet
Sorry folks; a bad diet is a bad diet, no matter how much you try to compensate with physical activity. It's tempting to indulge in unhealthy foods, especially when your mood can be low in January, but Head Personal Trainer at David Lloyd, Alistair Crew, explains why it's counterproductive to eat badly alongside exercising. "The calories we burn with exercise are minimal compared to the calories we take in from bad food consumption," he says. "So while you might have the best workout routine ever, if you make bad food choices post workout – including lots of saturated fats and sugars - this will undermine the time and effort you spend in the gym."
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