Before the Storm: 5 Things to Do Pre-workout to Maximize Performance

You know the old maxim: proper preparation prevents poor performance. Well, it’s as true for workouts as it is for everything else.

Indeed, the time leading up to the workout mostly lays the groundwork for what will happen during it. Neglect this crucial time and you’re short-changing yourself.

With that, here are 5 things to do pre-workout to maximize performance.

Hydrate

Hydration is crucial, and if you’re dehydrated you will not be able to perform your best.

I remember going out for a run after I had a stomach bug once (threw up every ~30 minutes, but fought it off in ~12 hours). I didn’t know how dehydrated I was until I tried to run. My performance was absolutely terrible. I had nothing to give. It was a valuable lesson.

Now, you likely won’t be that dehydrated, but even mild dehydration can sap performance, and it’s not just a problem in regards to training. It’s more pervasive than that, and can reach into all areas of your life.

So the best course of action here is to focus on hydration throughout the day. By doing this, you address the problem holistically, and you’ll be ready to go for workouts by default.

Now, I won’t give you a specific number in regards to the amount of water you should drink each day. I don’t think that’s helpful at all (I mean, who is going to measure the water they drink?). On the contrary, I recommend you just be more mindful of hydration, listen to your body, and experiment. Here’s a good article that dives into this.

Warning: don’t go crazy and guzzle down gallons of water. The key is being hydrated, and not overhydrated. Overhydration can also cause issues like hyponatremia, which is too much water relative to salt in the body, and can be quite dangerous.

Find balance in regards to hydration. Listen to your body and take stock of your performance. Adjust accordingly.

Fuel Up

Same as hydration, if you don’t get an optimal amount of nutrients throughout the day you won’t be able to perform your best (unless you’re adjusted to fasting workouts, more on that below).

Given this, another holistic solution is in order: focus on nutrition throughout the day, and you’ll only need slight adjustments for the hours leading up to a workout.

What kind of adjustments do I say? Well you certainly want to avoid foods that cause digestive issues (a good idea any other time, as well). You also probably want to avoid eating too much too close to a workout. Mom’s spaghetti may be amazing, but you don’t want a stomach full of it during an intense workout (puke).

A good bet is to eat a small to medium-sized, high quality mixed meal (that agrees with you) about 2-3 hours before working out.

If you need a little kick right before the workout you could go with a (small) shot of quick digesting carbs with whey protein or BCAA’s.

A Word On Fasted Workouts

If you can train fasted and still perform your best, more power to you.

Personally, I tend to perform pretty well fasted. I’ve PR’d lifts and runs fasted (which really flips everything on it’s head for me, as I came out of the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” era. I still remember scarfing down peanut butter bagels for “energy” and to “keep my gains” before workouts. Yuck. This is a topic for another time, though.)

But in the end and as always, you’ll have to experiment yourself here and see what works best for you.

Warning: fasted workouts can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You must ease slowly into fasted exercise or you’ll have a bad time. You should also consult your physician before attempting to train fasted, just to make sure you have no medical conditions that could be exacerbated by it.

Visualize

Do the workout in your head before you even get there. This helps prime you mentally for the work to come.

All of the greats visualize…and you should too.

Take a few minutes and think about doing the movements that you’re going to do in your workout. Picture yourself as strong, powerful, and/or fast while using solid technique.

I like to picture myself as a sort of machine, moving myself and/or the weight with grace and precision.

Visualize
It starts in the mind. Visualize it before you do it.

Gear Up

Having proper gear makes a huge difference for safety, enjoyment, and performance.

Here is a list of things to have on you, in your home gym, and/or in your gym bag:

  • Proper attire.
  • Proper footwear.
  • A belt.
  • Knee and elbow sleeves.
  • Chalk.
  • Gymnastics grips.
  • Long socks (for deadlifts, cleans, and snatches).
  • Athletic tape.

This is not an exhaustive list, but whatever it is that you need, make sure you have it close at hand.

Tip: take care of your gear and it’ll take care of you. Be sure to keep up proper maintenance and cleaning so that you can get the most out of it!

Prep Your Body (Actually Warm-Up)

I know. Warming up is not sexy, it’s not fun, and it takes time.

But it’s so crucial.

If you dive into intense physical activity with no warm up you’re opening yourself up to injuries and sub-optimal performance.

What you want to do is get your body temperature up, “activate” your CNS, and prepare the muscles and joints for the work ahead.

You’ve probably had the experience of your first set or first part of your workout being your weakest or slowest…this is likely due to improper warm-up! In other words, your first set or first portion of the workout was your warm-up. Indeed, a “cold” body is an inefficient body and thus performance suffers.

Warm-Up Best Practices

You want to get nice and warm but not worn out and exhausted before the meat of the workout has even started. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Here the things to include in your warm up, why to do them, and a ballpark for how long to do them for:

Myofascial Release, ~5 Minutes.

Release tightness, ease muscle overactivity, and keep the muscles supple and pliable.

Use a “roller” and a lacrosse ball and target the calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hip flexors, low back area, lats, traps, and chest in a sort of deep tissue massage.

Keep pressure on any problem areas for ~30 seconds.

Note: we want the muscles supple, but not too supple. Don’t go overboard here, stick to ~30 seconds per muscle group.

General Stuff, ~5 Minutes.

Bring your heart rate up, bring your body temperature up, “grease” the joints, and increase blood flow to the muscles.

Pick one from here: erg (rower, bike, ski, etc.), run, skip rope, jumping jack, bear crawl.

Pick 3-4 from here: air squat, lunge (walking, back, side), good morning, pull-up, inverted row, push-up, sit-up, piked push-up, inch worm, plank to pike, hollow rock, superman, bridges, spider lunges.

Now what you choose will depend on your fitness level—for example a beginner would not do pull-ups as part of their warm-up, yet and advanced trainee might include them (but always remember that you’re warming up, not training).

Circuit through your choices any way you see fit. The movements should be controlled with good technique. Move through the entire range of motion for each movement and move quickly (but safely!).

You can also work on skill here, an example would be practicing snatches with very light weights, working on technique while also warming up (a true win-win).

Specific Stuff, ~5 Minutes.

Work through your workout with lower resistance and/or less speed, build up gradually.

This could look like taking an empty barbell, or lighter dumbbells or kettlebells, and moving through the movements your workout is based around, progressively adding or using more weight until you’re at your working weight.

Note: often the general and specific portions of the warm up can be combined, as the movements of the general warm up may actually be specific to what you’re doing that day.

Tip: turn the warm-up into a “mini workout” in which you move in different ways and practice stuff you need work on. This makes the warm-up fun and engaging, and gives it even more value.

Right before you get into the main portion of your workout you should feel warm while breaking a light sweat.

And There Are 5 Things to Do Pre-workout to Maximize Performance Like a Boss

In summary:

  • Hydrate. Focus on staying hydrated all day every day and pre-workout hydration falls into place.
  • Fuel up. Eat throughout the day and adjust slightly pre-workout. Eat something that digests fast right before the workout if needed. Only workout fasted if you’re used to it.
  • Visualize. Go through what you’ll be doing that day. Visualize yourself as strong, fast, and steadfast in technique.
  • Gear up. Wear proper attire, footwear, and have the training gear you need on hand and ready to go.
  • Actually warm-up and warm-up properly. Prime your body to perform safely, effectively, and efficiently.

-Eric