The secret to reaching your fitness goals isn’t learning the hottest new workout craze or spending lots of money on the latest celebrity-endorsed gadget. It’s about learning to love exercise (you too, guys) because of how it makes you feel. And guess what: It should make you feel good! The right workout should leave you feeling pumped up and energized—not in pain. Read on for how to outwit some common workout mistakes that can sap the joy from your exercise routine and make it needlessly uncomfortable. Get ready to fall in love with your workout.
Own up to your shoe size. As many as 85 percent of people—women especially—squeeze into shoes that are too small, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Whether a result of vanity or simply wearing the same size year after year without being properly measured, pinched toes can lead to discomfort and even toenails that can turn black and fall off. Keep your toes safe by trying on shoes after a workout or at the end of the day (since feet swell) and making sure that you have a thumbnail’s-width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Getting fitted at a specialized athletic shoe retailer can also help you find a shoe that best matches the shape of your foot.
More: Buying the Perfect Running Shoe
Sock it to blisters. While we’re talking feet, what you put inside those shoes can make or break your workout experience. Nobody likes a blister, but if you’re still swearing by cotton socks, you might wind up with one. Not only does cotton absorb sweat, but it also loses its shape more easily than quick-drying synthetic fabrics, making it more likely to slip and slide inside your shoe. The result: a recipe for blister-causing friction. Do yourself a favor and splurge on a pair of synthetic (or natural wool) socks made to wick sweat.
Wear the right bra. Yes, you do need a sports bra, but sports bras have come a long way from the shape-crushing, uni-boob styles you may have tried before. In fact, you’ll get the best support from a bra that features “encapsulation,” meaning it supports each breast individually rather than simply smashing everything down (a.k.a. “compression. Opting for a bra that’s designed for activity will give you extra bounce control and it will wick sweat, keeping you drier and more comfortable throughout your workout. If you have a larger bust, consider styles with adjustable shoulder straps and snaps in the back for a more customizable fit.
Go for the baseball hat. You may not consider yourself to be a hat person, but when it comes to workout comfort, a simple baseball-style cap can have myriad uses. New haircut doesn’t quite fit into a ponytail yet? A cap’s got you covered. It also shields your eyes from sun and your whole face from snow and rain if you prefer outdoor workouts.
Don’t overdress. It can be tempting to bundle up when you’re heading outside to exercise on a cool day, but don’t forget that your workout will quickly crank up your internal temperature. Ironically, wearing too much can actually leave you feeling chillier about halfway through your workout when you’re drenched from all that sweat you’ve been producing as a result of too many layers! As a rule of thumb, dress as if it were 20 degrees warmer and you weren’t working out. A lightweight jacket can also offer flexibility, allowing you to zip it up or down and even take it off if needed.
Stay hydrated—but don’t overdo it. Going into your workout dehydrated can make your body work harder to keep pace. But experts don’t all agree with the common recommendation to drink as much as a half-cup of water every 15 minutes throughout your workout, regardless of thirst, which can leave you with a sloshing stomach. Plenty of factors can affect your need for H20, from the intensity of your workout to the temperature and moisture in the air, so skip one-size-fits-all recommendations and listen to your body. If you’re thirsty, sip water during your workout. If not, save a glass for afterwards. And keep an eye on the color of your urine: light yellow is what you want to see.
Give yourself credit for 20 minutes. Women tend to be perfectionists when it comes to exercise, but trying to follow a set of rules can set you up for failure when things don’t go according to plan. Forget the notion that a workout has to be an hour, or even 30 minutes to count and pat yourself on the back each and every time you take time—any time—out of your busy day to treat your body to physical activity. After all, as little as 10 minutes can clear your head and boost your energy, and it all adds up to a healthier you.
Finish with a stretch. The jury may still be out on the precise ways in which stretching benefits your health and your workout, but one thing is for sure: it feels good. That’s because stretching creates a soreness-quelling analgesic effect (that’s the reason it seems like it helps—at least temporarily—with day-after muscle pain). It’s also a relaxing way to wrap up a workout. That’s why finishing up a tough session with some gentle stretching may make you remember the whole workout as being more enjoyable—even if you pushed yourself to the max during your last sprint interval or set of squats.