Many times we don’t think about caring for our muscles in other ways than just “pumping” them with new or perfected workout routines; but the advantages of knowing how to properly take care of your muscles include avoiding injuries and avoiding your progress to come to a halt. It’s definitely easy (and common) to hit a plateau in weight loss or muscle building when you don’t know what you’re doing. In this article I’m not going to talk specifically about avoiding a plateau but about making sure your muscles stay healthy while you’re getting fit and lean.
You decide that this year is your year to finally get those 6 (or 8) packs that you’ve always been dreaming about; you finally get a gym membership, and decide you’ll go EVERY SINGLE DAY and that you’ll work on your abs for 3 hours a day! Well don’t!! Before you do that, educate yourself first (which I hope you’re doing by reading this article). There are three things that you will be doing wrong if you take that approach.
First of all you can’t be focusing on only one body part or one muscle group all the time. If you feel that only your abs need a workout and everything else is perfect, it’s still not a good idea to work them everyday. It’s important to give yourself at least 48 hours of rest between muscle groups, otherwise you’ll overwork them. And along with that you need to make sure that you get plenty of sleep every night (or day if you work at night). Your muscle develop well while you’re sleeping because they’re getting rid of the waste in your body, which also helps your muscle contract well, so this is very important.
The second thing you’d be doing wrong is working out for 3 hours, because all you’ll be doing, once again, is overwork them. Typically a workout that is over one hour is too much. Remember, it’s not the time you put in the gym that gives you the perfect body, it’s the quality of your workout: proper lifting technique, proper form, proper sequence, correct number of sets, full range of motion, etc. That’s why they have mirrors in the gym… not just so you can flex and take pictures with your phone… And last but definitely not least, make sure you give yourself at least one day a week where you do nothing (fitness-related) but rest.
Stretching not only before your workouts, but also daily is very important; many people either don’t stretch at all before workouts, or stretch the wrong way by doing static stretches. Static stretches are basically stretches that are held in the same position for 5 to 30 seconds at a time. They are good for flexibility and should be performed once to twice a day, between 3 and 5 minutes and you only need to stretch each tight muscle once (calves, quads, traps, lats, hamstrings, etc.). They are good because they relax your muscles, but before a workout, you wouldn’t want “weak”, relaxed muscles. I’d assume that you’d want them as strong as possible. So perform these static stretches on a daily basis but never before a workout.
What you want to do right before lifting weight, using an exercise machine or playing sports, is a dynamic stretch, which is basically moving a muscle in and out of a (static) stretch; like jumping jacks, lunges, trunk rotations, etc. They are best performed at a slow pace because this is not your actual workout; it’s just a warm up stretch. Dynamic stretches increase blood flow and strength, improve workout performance and reduce injuries.
Massages should definitely be added to your fitness plan if you want to maximize your results and muscle recovery. Not only it helps with muscle recovery, but it’s also beneficial for improving your range of motion, your flexibility and your muscle tone by increasing it. It also helps in removing toxins and waste from your body. So treat yourself to a nice massage once in a while. Your body (and mind) will thank you for it!
I went to the gym once and saw a guy who was clearly lifting more weight than he could handle just to show off, and you could see his face getting darker each time he lifted, as if he was going to pass out. It’s very tempting to hold your breath while you’re lifting heavy or even doing crunches, but it’s very important to always remember to breathe freely because holding your breath can increase your blood pressure and puts you at risk of straining a blood vessel.
Don’t get too caught up on when to breathe in (inhale) and when to breathe out (exhale). The most important thing is that when you’re doing the most work on the muscle, remember to breathe. For example if you’re doing a pushup, breathe comfortably when you’re pushing; when you’re doing a crunch, breathe comfortably when you’re contracting the abs muscles, etc. Naturally over time you’ll find that it’s automatic for you to exhale during exertion, which is a good thing. For cardiovascular activities like running, make sure that you inhale more than you exhale because you want to allow as much air in your lungs as possible to increase endurance, release excess amounts of carbon dioxin and avoid cramps.
5. DRINK (WATER!!)
You’ve heard this one over and over: Stay hydrated!
Water helps your metabolism to stay regulated, it flushes the toxins in your body, it energizes you by keeping you hydrated, and in many cases in can help you hold longer until your next meal. How much water should you drink daily? Some say 6 cups, some 8 glasses, some 1 gallon, etc. The amount of water to drink varies from one person to another. The best rule of thumb to know how much water your body needs is to look at the color of your urine when using the restroom. The darker the color, the more water you need. Drink water after each snack and each meal, before and after each workout (and during), and throughout the day when you’re thirsty.
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