Like a motor vehicle, train or an airplane, your body must undergo preparation and maintenance before any fitness journey begins, be it a simple, twice-a-week gym routine or grueling, long-term training for a marathon.

Proper warmups, hydration and nutrition are all part of any pre-workout plan.

“I like to compare it to a car,” says John Jackson, a trainer at Tulsa’s Impact Fitness. “If you’re going on a long road trip, you have to prepare those things for your car. You have to fill up with good gas. That’s your hydration and nutrition.”

A protein snack about an hour before a workout is a good food choice, says Jackson, adding that hydration should be continuous and sometimes go beyond water.

“It’s important to keep your water intake up throughout the day,” Jackson says. “If you know you’re going to have a heavier workout the next day, hydrate the day before. Electrolytes are also important, both before and after a workout. There are a lot of drinks, like Gatorade, that have electrolytes that will work.”

Jackson says a fitness instructor can help clients pick out warmup and workout plans that suit their needs. For instance, physical limitations might prevent someone from participating in certain activities.

“Everyone’s warmup is going to be a little different, just as their workout can be different,” Jackson says. “If someone has structural issues, like back problems, the approach is going to be different than someone who doesn’t have those limitations.”

“Everyone’s warmup is going to be a little different, just as their workout can be different,” Jackson says. “If someone has structural issues, like back problems, the approach is going to be different than someone who doesn’t have those limitations.”

For most people, just doing time on a treadmill or an elliptical machine should include a basic stretch to make sure muscles are ready to go.

“The soft tissue work is important,” Jackson says. “Most people – if they’re doing cardio – just some basic stretching with a foam roll is all that’s needed. But also stretch afterwards; that’s important, too.” 

University of Oklahoma Internal Medicine physician Joanne Skaggs says it’s wise to discuss any new exercise plan with a doctor. Paying attention to your body before, during and after a workout is also important. If something doesn’t feel right, take note.

“If something hurts, it’s a signal that something is going on,” Skaggs says. “If you are feeling short of breath, dizzy, feel your heart fluttering, nausea or vomiting, or experiencing pain in your chest, left arm, throat, jaw or back – those are warning signs you need to seek urgent medical care. Bottom line – physical activity is encouraged for all; just make sure you are doing it safely.”

Footwear, clothing and intensity of workouts are other considerations.

“Start slow,” Skaggs says. “It’s OK to not do a long workout or try to conquer the entire gym. Pace yourself. Take care in extreme temperatures.”

After-workout maintenance matters, too.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of rest,” Skaggs says. “Cooling down with stretching or aerobic activity in which your heart rate is lower will help your muscles from getting too tight and prevent dizziness or lightheadedness. Typically, this should last 5 minutes. Eat a protein-carbohydrate combination within two hours of exercise.”