Exercising but not getting the health results you want? It might be time to optimize your workout with these research-based strategies.

1. Time your exercise to work with your body, not against it.

Morning is the best time to get the most of your workout.

Research continues to show that exercise timing matters. Your body’s cells are pre-programed to work better at certain times of the day. Just like your body knows when it is time to sleep and wake in the morning, it has certain ideas about when it likes to exercise. Here are a few tips:

  • Get up early. Exercising in the wee hours increases your energy and calorie burning for days. One workout = days of calorie burning. Keep this workout nice and steady. This can be a long one if you choose. Avoid high-intensity intervals (HIT) in the mornings. 
  • Squeeze it in after work. Get in a high-intensity interval work-out in the late afternoon for optimal performance and to keep those blood sugars low and regulated. HITs do not have to be long. 15 to 20 minutes is absolutely fine for these trainings. Before dinner is the best time. 
  • Avoid evening workouts. They can disrupt your circadian rhythms and make sleep difficult–not only for one night but for many. A walk after dinner is fine, but avoid that 10 mile cycling circuit.

2. Keep changing up your exercise routine.

Mix up running with swimming or bicycling to optimize your workout.

Our body gets used to the same work-outs, and you will not get the same benefit with the same exercise over time. You’re also risking an overuse injury. This doesn’t mean you can’t run every day, but it does mean add in some hills, change your pace, or add in that kick-boxing class you have been intending to try. 

3. Mix cardio and strength training.

Get the most from your workout by mixing cardio and strength training.

Are you a runner? Add in some weights. Are you a heavy weight lifter? Add in some cardio. Many people assume that the key to maintaining weight is pushing themselves in cardio exercise like bicycling, swimming, or running. 

While cardio is important to your heart health, research indicates that muscle mass plays a critical role in weight management. That’s because muscle increases your metabolism.

4. Try a 4×4 training for high interval training

A 4x4 is a research-based high intensity interval training strategy.

What’s a 4×4? It’s a particularly well-researched high intensity interval strategy that can improve heart health rapidly. You warm up,and then begin alternating between four 4-minute high intensity intervals and three 3-minute intervals of moderate intensity. It ends with a 5-minute cool down, for a total of 40 minutes. You can watch the video of how to do it here. Feel free to replace running with swimming, bicycling, or whatever cardiovascular exercise you enjoy.

5. Don’t skip the cool down.

Cooling down is essential to getting the best workout.

Whether it’s walking a couple laps around the track with your work-out buddy or transitioning to your daily yoga, research shows that six to ten minutes of active recovery enhances long-term performance. In other words, once you finish your cardio workout, give yourself some time to keep moving as you cool down.

6. Drink more water.

Water is critical for your body to get the most out of your workout.

You might not feel dehydrated, but most people don’t drink enough water already. When you work out, you’re going to lose more fluids as you sweat. Research shows this not only impacts your exercise performance, it also changes your cognitive performance. If you want to act smart after exercising, drink a couple bottles of water.

7. Get enough sleep.

Your body needs sleep to recover from strenuous exercise.

You already know you feel better when you get enough sleep, but sleep is also important to exercise recovery. Whether you’re a casual exerciser or an intense athlete, you’ll get the most out of each workout when you make sleep a priority.

8. Choose smart carbs and protein.

Healthy carbs and protein helps your body get the most from your exercise routine.

Your body uses stored glycogen in your muscles to get through your workout. When you’re finished, you need to help your body replenish its stores. Give yourself an hour (or more, if needed) to let your body recover, and then choose whole foods that combine carbohydrates and protein. For example, you might snack on a banana with peanut butter or throw some fruit into a cup of yogurt.

Get help when things just aren’t working

Exercising and not getting results can be discouraging. Try these strategies as a part of a holistic plan to improve your health. 

If you don’t have that holistic plan, make an appointment with a functional medicine practitioner. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in functional medicine. If you’re doing “everything right” and you’re still struggling with your health, whether fatigue or weight, it’s time to take the next step.