This article has been written by Ashwini Mavinkurve and was first published here.
The major reason why one finds it so difficult to stick to a workout or a diet is because fitness is often looked at IN SECLUSION. We often regard fitness as something that one needs to SPEND time and energy OUT of their busy lives, almost as if it’s a liability. What we often disregard is the fact that fitness is in fact one of those few things, if INVESTED mindfully in, can reap returns very few other things have the capability to. We need to alter our perspective to understand that
Fitness is a non-negotiable commitment one needs to make, to actually be able to enjoy life fully!
Optimum nutrition, sleep, emotional and mental well-being are all important aspects of ensuring a healthy life apart from working out regularly and I discuss this at length on www.fitnessbeyondabs.com. For this particular article though, I am going to focus on the 5 cardinal practices that make my workouts effective, fun and sustainable. So diving straight into them…
1. Account for warm ups and cool downs in the total workout duration
If you want your workouts to be regular and do not want injuries to hamper your progress, it is of utmost importance to warm up your body before your actual workout begins and cool down effectively with stretches after your workouts. Warming up (say jogging/brisk walking before running) helps your body realize that you are introducing your body to an exercise and not running behind that train. Cooling down helps you get into recovery by bringing your heart rate back to normal and prevents soreness of muscles.
Thus, when I plan my workouts, I account 10 minutes before and after my actual sets/laps for warm up and cool down. On days that I feel like I won’t be able to give enough time for these two crucial steps, I do not hurry. I reschedule my workouts to a time where I know I can do justice, enjoy and not just rush through it.
2. ALWAYS consume a pre and post workout meal
The aim of any workout should be to get stronger by building adequate muscle, dropping fat, increasing bone density and enhancing flexibility and endurance. Please do not workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach by believing in the myth of fast fat loss. It is an invitation to messed up blood sugar levels and heartburn. Our body is in the fasting mode for over 8 hours and subjecting it to an exercise without fuel is much less of an exercise and more of torture. PLEASE SPARE YOURSELF. Eat 30 to 40 minutes before your workout and do not forget to fuel within 45 minutes of finishing your working out. This will help prevent muscle loss, maintain good blood sugar levels (= no headaches and giddiness).
As I mostly workout in the morning (especially during travels which is more than 15 days a month), my most favourite pre-workout snack is half a banana before a short run, a full banana before weight-training day or long run and my post-workout snack is usually whatever is available for breakfast – a wholesome meal (poha, idli, eggs and bread, upma etc.). In winters, I also consume dry fruits as a pre-workout snack and in summers, a spoon of gulkand with a spoon of ghee is my go to (if it’s too hot and I don’t feel like eating heavy). My post work-out meals will also sometimes contain a nimbu-pani during summers. So the trick is to try and find out what works for you and then improvise based on how your body feels.
3. Hydrate throughout the day
My day starts with a big glass of water (plain – no lemon, honey, ginger, gold) and I am even more careful on the days that I have intense workout sessions such as a speed run, long run or weight training sessions. Our cells require water to function optimally and dehydration is an enemy of recovery. Poor recovery is an enemy of consistency and growth. Especially during the summers, it becomes even more important to constantly hydrate your body to prevent diseases accompanying heat stress.
People who know me are aware that I carry a bottle of water everywhere I go. Particularly when I am in office I keep a small bottle of water that I finish every 45 minutes and walk to the tap to get it filled (activity, break from screen time and hydration – hitting 3 birds with a single stone). On intense workout days and all days in summer, I also increase my intake of hydration sources by consuming coconut water (with malai), nimbu pani, jeera water, chaas (buttermilk), yoghurt and adding basil seeds to water.
4. Get enough & quality sleep
A very important aspect that determines workout efficiency is SLEEP, a natural bliss most people around me are deprived of. I have an entire section dedicated to this topic. However, let me cover the aspects relevant to our topic today – sleep and workout efficiency. How you recover, determines how well your body responds to the workout. Muscles break when an individual is working out, however muscles build during sleep. 7 to 9 hours of quality, undisturbed sleeps is an important determinant to the success of your workouts. I usually hit the bed by 10 PM (on weekdays) and my bed-time routine starts by 9:30 PM, overtime my body has adapted to this routine and my recovery has gotten me amazing results. In case there is a delay (long day at work or plans or writing) I set an alarm for later to catch up on my sleep.
5. Subject to progressive overload
While all the measures mentioned in this article are key to making workouts effective, if you ask me to pick that ONE principle that needs most focus to make your workouts work for you – it is to subject yourself to progressive overload. I have an entire article dedicated to this principle. This is the most important aspect of a workout – whether its cardio, weight training, pilates, yoga or any other form of exercise – If it does not challenge you, it does not change you. Our bodies and brains are beautiful, they adapt to change – our stamina, endurance, strength and flexibility grow as we subject our bodies to a new physical challenge. Walking the same distance in the same time for months and years while chatting with your best friend does nothing to your body or mind in terms of fat loss or improved heart health. Lifting the same weights for the same reps does nothing for your muscles, they grow on the initial stimulation and stop responding after a while. The key is to be mindful, 12 to 15 reps of an exercise is the maximum you should be able to perform in one set before fatigue sets in. The moment 15 reps seem easy, its time to increase the weights or reps, the moment walking 2 kilometers in 15 minutes seems easy, its time to either aim for the next kilometer in the same time or cover the same distance in a shorter time. When it comes to exercise and life, being unsettled should be NORMAL (not painful – please stop if it’s painful and avail guidance from a trainer).
I hope you found these tips useful. Do keep the feedback coming in and sharing my work with your friends and family. The encouragement keeps me going on days that I’d rather binge-watch a series than write one.