How to prepare for a workout

how to prepare for a workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering how to prepare for a workout? Whether you’re embarking on a brand new fitness routine from a standing start, or looking to step your regular workout up to the next level, it’s important to be physically and mentally ready for the challenges you’re going to meet. 

Our guide on how to prepare for a workout will get your mind and body ready for the next step, from getting the right mindset by focusing on the goals ahead, deciding on a best time to workout (opens in new tab), or making sure you’re warmed up and ready for physical exertion. Plus, we’ll be revealing which red flags to avoid when preparing to undertake a new or more challenging fitness routine.

Learning your muscle fiber types (opens in new tab) can help you get the most from your workouts. And if you’re looking for more ways to get the most from your workout, our guide to the best protein powder can help you find the right supplement to build and maintain muscle. Simply shake it up in the best protein shaker and enjoy it on the go.

Why is preparation important?

There’s no doubt that exercise is good for your physical and mental health. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (opens in new tab) recommends that all American adults undertake at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, combined with muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

However, poor preparation before a workout can have an impact on your performance, and your body. For example, not warming up correctly can:

  • Increase your risk of a sports-related injury
  • Put stress on your cardiovascular system
  • Hinder your attempts to meet fitness goals

A 2015 review (opens in new tab) into the importance of warming up before physical activity found that an active warm up can significantly increase exercise performance, improve muscle function and raise endurance levels. So, making sure your body is warmed up before your workout can also take your existing routine to the next level.

Mental focus and a positive attitude are crucial to a great workout too. Studies show (opens in new tab) that ‘pumping up’ a positive mindset before your workout can help to improve your performance, decrease anxiety and increase your confidence. So giving yourself a little pep talk before you hit the weights or treadmill can make an enormous difference.

Things to do to prepare for your workout

If you’re embarking on a fitness routine for the first time, these simple steps should help you get started and improve your overall fitness, so that you can meet the demands of your workout.

  • Incorporate moderate-intensity activities into your daily routine, as well as exercise. This might include walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or simply getting up from your desk every hour or so to stretch your legs and have a short stroll. This will help you burn extra calories and gently help your body get used to more activity.
  • Step your physical activity up gradually. Tempting as it is to throw yourself into the nearest spin class, you could do your body some serious damage, and dent your confidence, if you’re not physically ready for the challenge. Listen to your body and take it one step at a time.
  • Always warm up before - and cool down after - exercise. Warming up helps to gradually increase heart rate and breathing at a safe rate to the level you need for a demanding workout, while reducing the risk of sports injuries. Cooling down allows a gradual decrease in heart rate and lowers your risk of cardiovascular problems. The American Heart Association (opens in new tab) recommends warming up for 5-10 minutes, doing whatever activity you’ll be doing in your workout, but at a slower pace.

If you’re a fitness pro looking to take your workout to the next level, you’ve probably already got your warmup covered. So, your pre-workout preparation is likely to be more mental than physical. Now’s the time to take some tips from the sports psychology pros.

woman doing an at-home workout

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Try imagining carrying out your next-level workout successfully. Imagine how you’ll feel during and after your workout, along with the sense of satisfaction you’ll have once you’ve reached your goals. Keep this in mind during your workout. A 2017 study (opens in new tab) among tennis players found that visualization of goals improved focus and technique, while a 2020 review (opens in new tab) concluded it could calm athletes and help them adapt in stressful situations.
  • Mentally breaking your workout down into achievable tasks can also help to make it less daunting. It also gives you more opportunities to congratulate yourself for achieving your goals. So, instead of slogging it out on the treadmill for an hour, why not think about breaking it up with some cycling, weight-training, and rowing instead? You’ll be working different muscles and giving yourself the opportunity to say, ‘Well done.’
  • Reassessing your fitness goals as you improve your performance is worthwhile too. Your body needs new challenges to stay focused and in the game. Before your workout, have a think about what you want to achieve and how it will help you to reach your next fitness goal.

Nutrition is important in the hours before exercise. Protein just before and after a workout can help the body to recover. Try a protein powder, a handful of nuts and seeds or even a glass of milk. And make sure you’re well-hydrated before you start exercising, so drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to your workout. 

What to avoid in your exercise preparation routine

Don’t eat a heavy meal, fatty food, or high fiber foods in the three hours before your workout, as you’ll feel bloated and uncomfortable. However, it’s still important to eat. Fasting before exercise will make you feel tired and sluggish, and you won’t have the energy you need to reach your goals. A small protein-rich snack or drink will give you the calories you need without slowing you down.

Don’t stretch cold muscles before a workout. Stretching out muscles before they’ve warmed up can lead to injury and reduce your performance. Instead, do your warm-up first, then stretch out the muscles you’ll be using during your workout.

Never drink alcohol before a workout, even if you’re having a drink at lunchtime and plan to exercise in the evening. Just a small amount of alcohol can impair your motor skills and coordination, leading to a greater risk of injury. It can also cause dehydration.

If you’re trying out a new supplement, such as a protein powder or pre-workout supplement, don’t take a full dose for the first time before a workout. Instead, take a smaller dose and make sure it agrees with you, before having the full recommended dose. If you’re not sure where to start with exercise supplements, our guide to the best protein powders can help.

Need some more inspiration? Have a look through our weights at home workout (opens in new tab), which has a beginner-friendly routine to follow, or challenge yourself with some fun cardio HIIT workouts (opens in new tab)

Joanne Lewsley is a UK-based freelance writer and editor, covering health and lifestyle news and features. She mainly creates evidence-based health and parenting content and has worked with a number of global sites, including BabyCentre UK, Medical News Today, Fit & Well, Top Ten Reviews, and Yahoo!