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Exercise motivation: 7 pre-workout habits to improve workout performance

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Want to have your best workout yet? These simple tips from Strong Women readers can help. 

It’s widely accepted that not every single workout is going to be your best, but sometimes we crave the feeling of accomplishment or the endorphin kick we get from an absolute killer session.

To get that, it’s not only down to what you do in the gym but also how you prepare for the workout. Pre-workout rituals are unique for all of us, and finding the perfect habit to get you in the zone takes a bit of trial and error.

We asked women to share their go-to motivators in the hope it could give some insight for those who are still working out theirs. There were some common themes, ranging from things they eat to how they dress – and we’ve broken down the seven common ways to prep for an amazing workout.  

Listen to music

We’ve written before about the importance of a good playlist, but for Strong Women reader Jenny Medlicott, “listening to upbeat music loudly either through a speaker or headphones and having a boogie really gets the endorphins going when I’m not feeling in the mood.”

The type of playlist you choose varies – but another reader says that strong women like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion or Doja Cat “inspire me to work harder”. 

Start moving 

Simply getting started is a good way to achieve just about anything. It works for one reader, who said: “Honestly, just starting to ease my body into movement usually gets me excited to get through a proper workout. Usually, that’s with a walk to the gym and a warm-up – once I’m moving and in the workout environment, I find it’s easier for me to continue.”

Another responds that “doing a bit of yoga, even if it’s just 10 mins,” helps prepare her for the session to come.

Nail the timing

Timing is everything, but know that there’s no one ‘best’ time to work out. “If I want to have a really damn good workout I plan to workout at a time when I’m most energetic – for me afternoon or evening as I get the best workouts then,” says Ceza Ouzounian on Twitter.

Mornings work best for a lot of people as it means the thought of a big workout isn’t looming over them. “Doing it first thing gets me really hyped for it! I’m at my best in the morning and I know I’ll feel amazing if I’ve done a workout before work… as the day goes on I lose interest and feel a lot more like ‘what’s the point’,” adds reader Izzie Price. 

Eat right 

If you can’t work out at your preferred time, then energising yourself in other ways is essential.

That’s where nutrition comes in for Amy Beecham, Stylist.co.uk’s news writer: “I tend to work out in the afternoons due to my work schedule, so the most important thing for me is a protein-heavy lunch a minimum of an hour and a half before I work out. Any sooner and I feel sluggish and heavy; any longer and I don’t feel the same energy buzz.”

Other people prefer different nutrients, like one reader who said that she eats “porridge or beetroot for the amino acids”. There is some research that suggests beetroot can improve blood flow around the body to impact exercise performance – maybe one to try if you really want to supercharge your session.

While the obvious go-to is caffeine, quite a few people said that it actually wreaks havoc with their digestion or energy levels. “In the four hours pre-workout I avoid caffeine – it does not agree with me – and I have a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) drink instead,” said Leah Wood. 

Think better 

Many of us have mindset hacks to get us in the mood to focus during our workout. One of which was “visualising feeling powerful and how I am going to feel after”. Studies have shown that functional imagery training – where you envision yourself performing and succeeding at an activity – managed to get non-runners across the line of a 50k ultra marathon.

Another mindset tool was the “five-second rule to action” – the idea being that you have to act on an impulse within five seconds or your brain will kill the idea. So, when you get even a thought of moving, do it right then rather than waiting in order to perform your best.

Another way to start getting excited about your training is to watch other people do theirs. “I watch videos of fitness influencers or people I respect in the gym – not necessarily to copy what they do, but to get into the same proactive mindset,” one reader says. 

Get cold 

“Cold showers really ramp up my energy levels pre spin classes (which are really high energy). I started doing this after learning about Wim Hof – which got me researching the benefits of cold showers for energy levels and managing anxiety during the lockdown in 2020. It’s definitely been life-changing,” says reader Natalie Quail.

She’s not alone – other readers report using cold showers to get them feeling energised and focused, and the technique is also a big area of scientific research. 

Wear the gear

It seems you can dress for the workout you want. Personal trainer Nancy Best says that comfortable knickers get her through tough workouts: “I can’t train well if I’m irritated by my underwear,” she adds.

For others, it’s about the fact that wearing the kit means you can’t quit. “I have to wear my workout clothes at least one or two hours earlier, otherwise, I just don’t feel hyped. It’s got to be a cute outfit that I’m excited about and makes me feel good about moving my body,” says Sravya Attaluri on Twitter.

Now it’s down to you – which ritual do you think will help you on the days you really want to perform at your best? 

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).