The key to getting stronger is not only working out more, but by making the most of each session. And the best way to do that is to establish some good workout habits. The most important workout habits to master are the ones that get your body warmed up for the gym. A good pre workout plan can make all the difference.

Here are 5 pre workout habits you should add to your routine today.

1. Work Out the Kinks

Doing things such as rolling your foot on a tennis ball, or using a foam roller on your thighs before a workout serves a multitude of benefits. Relaxing the fascia around your muscles will result in a reduction of feelings of tightness across large portions of your body. Using a foam roller can break up muscle knots that impede proper muscular function. As well, foam rolling increases blood flow to the muscles being massaged, and increases the readiness of those muscles to do work.

2. Stretch Less

Surprising, no?

Traditionally, most people’s inclination before a workout is to identify a tight muscle, and hold a stretch on that muscle for an elongated period of time. Stretching is fantastic, but is best utilized after a workout, when your muscles are hot and pliable. Static stretches, believe it or not, can actually increase your chance of injury. When you stretch, you are deadening the excitability of the muscle fibers, and reduce neural drive to that area. You are essentially telling your body to relax an area, when in fact you want that area to be excitable and ready to work. Going out and trying to work hard with relaxed muscles can result in muscular imbalances, and improper muscular recruitment patterns. Now, we don’t want you to think stretching is a bad thing. Instead of holding a stretch for 45-60 seconds, hold that stretch for 10-15 before you exercise. Save the long stretches for after.

3. Move, Dynamically

What we were discussing in the point above is commonly referred to as static stretching. There is, however, another form of stretching that can and should be performed before your workouts: dynamic stretching. These stretches involve dynamically moving your limbs through space, and moving muscles through a full range of motion repeatedly.

An example would be doing arm circles instead of statically stretching your chest. A great dynamic stretch for your lower body is leg swings. Try facing a wall and placing your palms on the wall at arm’s length. Swing your right leg from side to side in front of you over and over again, increasing the range of the movement as repetitions go on. Repeat on the left leg before turning away from the wall and swinging your leg from front to back. 15-20 swings per leg is a great place to start.

These movements safely work to lengthen the muscles and prepare them to work through their full, available range of motion. Dynamic stretches also increase the temperature of muscles, and direct more blood flow to the region. The most important effect is that dynamic stretches increase neural drive and excitability of the muscles being moved. This is a very safe and effective way to increase your performance and reduce your risk of injury.

4. Eat Something

Pre-workout nutrition is very important, and could constitute a 5,000-word article all on its own. Know this: food is fuel, and your body needs fuel to perform. Your nutritional needs vary greatly based on the type of activity and the duration of the effort.

One general principle will always apply: carbohydrates and proteins are excellent things to eat before you workout. Having something as simple as a banana and a glass of milk, or a piece of chicken breast about 30-40 minutes before a run or a ride is often enough to boost energy levels and performance.

Bigger workouts require more fuel. As a general rule, the bigger the meal, the longer it will take to digest. Something like pasta and steak should be given more like 60-90 minutes to digest. The aim is to have the nutrients in your bloodstream while you exercise so that they can be used as fuel to help you feel and perform your best.

5. Hydrate

This one is simple: in the hour or so before you begin your workout, be sure to drink water. The amount varies from person to person, but having a few sips of water every 10-15 minutes is a great place to start. Dehydration while you exercise can result in cramps, and muscle spasms. Rate of perceived exertion during exercise increases drastically when you are dehydrated, meaning that moderate efforts will feel very strenuous.

Most significantly, studies show that even low levels of dehydration causes exhaustion to set in much faster than usual. So keep it simple, and drink water before and during your workouts.

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