Some fitness habits are obviously terrible. (Pigging out on pizza every night? Never exercising? We know the verdict.) But others—such as cutting corners on your cooldown—are much trickier to judge. You may receive mixed messages about whether these suboptimal moves actually obstruct your progress. No worries: We consulted top experts for the complete story on what you can get away with—and what you should rethink, stat (spoiler alert: smoothies!).
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You didn't stretch—not before or after your workout
The verdict: It's OK.
No need to fret if you have a get-in-get-out gym session once in a while. Just don't neglect stretching multiple times per week, advises Kevin Gary, a personal trainer and the owner of Body Space Fitness in New York City. Proper dynamic stretching before the workout activates your muscles so you can perform efficiently and reduce your risk of injury, he says. Stretching afterward helps relax your muscles and jump-start the recovery process, he adds.
Only have time for one or the other? Prioritize the warm-up: Try jogging butt-kicks to loosen up your quadriceps and slow walking lunges to activate your glutes and hamstrings. Gary recommends doing 8 to 12 reps of each.
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You don't drink water during your workouts
The verdict: Bad move!
You're likely not staying hydrated, especially if your workouts tend to be super sweaty (cycling, running, high-intensity interval training, even swimming). Drinking water helps you maintain your energy and stamina, says Leslie Bonci, RD, founder of the nutrition consulting company Active Eating Advice. "Fluid can help deliver fuel to your muscles, and the way water travels in and out of the cells of your body has an impact on muscles' contracting and relaxing," she explains. "Water also dictates the flow of electrolytes and helps keep your body temperature from dropping too low or going too high."
Here's how to hydrate: Take in 20 ounces of fluid one hour before strenuous exercise and up to 20 ounces during routines in which you're working up a sweat, recommends Bonci. And take large swigs when you down water. "The bigger the gulp, the faster it gets out of the stomach and to your muscles," she says. "Sipping takes the water longer, so you might feel uncomfortable while it's sitting in your stomach."
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You always reward yourself with a post-workout smoothie
The verdict: That's a no-no.
If you're regularly buying a blended treat after Pilates or yoga, you're probably overeating. Store-bought smoothies are often sugar and calorie bombs, says Torey Armul, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Most of these drinks can be 400 or 500 calories, and many people aren't burning that in a workout," she says.
Limit smoothies to after particularly strenuous workouts that are an hour long or more, says Armul. It's best to whip them up at home, where you have total control over the ingredients. Aim for an equal ratio of veggies to fruit (one to two servings of each), and include a protein (like a tablespoon of nut butter or a scoop of whey powder).
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You blew off the gym for a week
The verdict: Don't sweat it.
There's no reason to beat yourself up, says Rob Sulaver, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the founder of Bandana Training. You won't suddenly be unable to lift a dumbbell because you skipped a few days. Just don't allow one week to turn into two, then three. "The two-week mark is a milestone in detraining or losing aerobic development," says Sulaver. "And at about four weeks off, you'll start to notice a decrease in strength and muscle mass."
Even if you can't get to the gym consistently (carpools, office happy hours—we get it), try to carve out 10 or 15 minutes to breeze through a living room workout or online video, like this 10-minute HIIT workout you can do without a gym.
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You grab fast food one night
The verdict: No biggie!
If your clean-eating streak just went out the drive-through window, you can relax: "One bad meal isn't going to undo 15 good meals you've had over the past days," says Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietician in St. Louis. A perfect diet isn't the goal; some research shows that by deeming certain foods forbidden, you only end up craving, then eating, them more. Plus, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that planning specific cheat days—in scientific terms, hedonic deviations—may make you more likely to stick to your diet.
So go ahead, have that burger—and fries, too. Adds McDaniel, "Be present, eat slowly, and enjoy every bite so you can jump right back in the saddle after."