Craft a killer playlist. Get dressed in your workout best. Perform a light warm-up. You know what to do to get ready for an awesome workout. But there are some things you should never—and we mean never, ever—do before a workout. Like these five workout-wrecking mistakes:
1. Drink Just One Glass of Wine at Happy Hour
Any amount of alcohol before working out is too much,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Mike Donavanik. “Depending on the tolerance level one may have, it may affect some more than others—but either way, you’re looking at possible drowsiness, dehydration, narrowing of your blood vessels, impaired motor function, and a number of other side effects, which just aren’t conducive to working out.” What’s more, drinking even one glass of alcohol can lower your blood-sugar levels, which can lead to everything from shakiness and weakness to flat-out injury, says Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.
2. Chug More Than a Few Cups of Water
It’s an hour before your workout, and you just realized you’ve drunk shockingly little so far that day, so you down a bunch of water. We’ve all done it. But if you drink too much, it could backfire. Your kidneys can process close to a liter of water an hour, so if you drink more than that, you could put yourself at risk of a rare but serious condition called hyponatremia, in which the blood becomes diluted and the concentration of sodium ions drops too low, says Fear. Symptoms include a loss of energy, muscle weakness, and cramps, none of which make for a good workout. On the more dangerous end of things, it can cause seizures and coma.
Luckily, it’s unlikely that you’re going to down a two-liter bottle of water before your workout, but Donavanik recommends capping your intake even lower: at to two to three cups of water two to three hours before exercise—for your stomach’s sake. “If you have a stomach full of water and you’re doing intense exercise like sprints, jumps, and inversions, you feel that water moving around in your stomach—and it’s super unpleasant,” he says. “It can also cause you to cramp, feel nauseated, and possibly throw up.”
3. Hit Up the Indian Food Buffet
“Eating a big, spicy meal is a no-no if you don’t want reflux or heartburn during your workout,” says Fear. It doesn’t sound pretty: “Combined with jostling around, a full stomach increases the risk of acidic stomach contents contacting and irritating the inside of the esophagus and giving you that familiar heartburn sensation,” she says. “Reflux can torpedo your workout by making it less comfortable to work at your full intensity, giving you a sour taste in your mouth or even causing you enough pain to pack it in early.”
Plus, even if you somehow sidestep heartburn (lucky you), you still may have cramping and reduced exercise function to deal with. “If you start to work out while your body is still digesting food, the body now has to also shunt blood into the muscles being worked,” says Donavanik. “So now you aren’t getting enough blood supply to your stomach to help properly digest your food, and you aren’t getting an adequate blood supply to your muscles.” If you’re planning an intense workout, avoid meat, eggs, corn, and anything else that’s hard for your stomach to break down within a couple hours of hitting the gym. Stick with lighter foods, like fruit and carbs, within a couple hours of your workout, he says. Bonus: Since they are easily digestible, your body will actually be able to use them to help you power your workout.
4. Have Crazy, Wild Sex
“If two people are really going at it, sex can be detrimental pre-workout because you’re expending a lot of energy,” says Donavanik. “Not just that, but during sex, oxytocin is released, which kind of mellows you out and gives you those feel-good vibes. So if you’re planning a hardcore bootcamp workout, skip the pre-workout sex.”
5. Try to Touch Your Toes
Static stretching (think: bend and hold) before a workout is a no-go. “When you work out, your muscles need to contract as intensely and forcefully as possible,” says Donavanik. “So when you put them in a stretched state beforehand, you limit their ability to do their job efficiently. It’s like you’re taking away their tools for success.” For instance, in one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercisers who static stretched before performing a squat reduced their strength by 8.36 percent and lower-body stability by 22.68 percent, compared to those who performed dynamic stretches before getting their squat on.