There are many things that you can do to improve the quality of your workouts, but also some big mistakes to avoid before weightlifting. Most people don’t realize that there are also many things that you should never do, especially before your workout.

These can range from small little mistakes that make you feel a little weaker or lower your rep count to much bigger mistakes that completely ruin your workout.

If you want to see optimal results from your workout, whether you’re trying to build muscle or burn fat, you will definitely benefit from this article because we’ll be going over the 6 biggest things that you should definitely avoid before hitting the gym. 

Mistakes to Avoid Before Weightlifting

1. Don’t Eat a Big Meal Before a Workout

The very first one is to never eat a big meal too close before your workout. There are a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea.

First of all, when you eat and you start digesting the food, your body will naturally direct blood flow to your digestive organs. On the other hand, when you work out, your body will naturally direct blood flow to your extremities, specifically to the muscles that you’re working. This puts digestion and exercise at competing odds.

So essentially both are fighting for more blood flow and neither gets the amount of blood flow necessary for either optimal digestion or optimal performance. So while the food sits in your stomach, you can easily wind up feeling bloated, heavy, and nauseous and you could potentially even throw up.

But even if you don’t end up in a pile of vomit, it will take away from your ability to perform at your best. Another reason why you should avoid eating a ton directly before your workout is because digestion itself requires a lot of energy. That’s why after a big meal, at a buffet, or at a Thanksgiving dinner, you feel like all you want to do is go to sleep.

You definitely don’t want to feel lethargic and tired before or during your workout. Unfortunately, not everyone digests food at the same rate, so there’s no one size fits all answer.

Some people will need more time to fully digest their food, but in general, as long as you finish eating about 2 to 3 hours before your workout, you should be okay. Just keep in mind that meals that are high in fat or just contain a really large amount of food will take longer to digest, so plan accordingly.

Another mistake revolving around taking in excess is drinking too much coffee or pre-workout supplement before you start working out. Caffeine is a very common and helpful supplement to take before your workout. There’s no doubt that it can help give you more energy, lift more weight and boost motivation as well as focus.

That’s why caffeine is the main ingredient in pretty much any pre-workout supplement on the market. The problem is that taking in too much caffeine can lead to more contractions in your colon and induce more bile production, which will increase bowel movements. This is why caffeine is known as a natural laxative, so you definitely don’t want to have too much coffee or pre-workout, or else you’ll find yourself sitting on the toilet in between your sets.

On top of that, having an upset stomach or feeling more urgency to use the bathroom will just be the beginning of your problems. That’s because if you have too much caffeine before your workout, it can create a whole slew of side effects that can legitimately ruin your day.

Some of these side effects include restlessness, insomnia, rapid or abnormal heartbeat, anxiety, heartburn, and increased blood pressure. And just one of these side effects like heartburn, for example, is already enough to significantly decrease your performance. So don’t go having cup after cup of coffee before your workout. If you’re taking a pre-workout supplement, make sure you’re taking the recommended dosage on the back of the bottle. 

2. Don’t Stretch Before Lifting Weights

The next big mistake to avoid before weightlifting is stretching before lifting weights.

Stretching Before Lifting Weights

Not all forms of stretching are bad before a workout, but most people will engage in static stretching, and that’s something that you don’t want to do until after you’re done working out. Now, for those of you that don’t know, static stretches are done by stretching or elongating a muscle and holding it in that stretch position for a given amount of time, usually 20 to 30 seconds.

An example of a static stretch for hamstrings would be to sit and reach. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is an active form of stretching where you move back and forth through a full range of motion rather than just holding one position. An example of this for the hamstrings would be a stretching drill known as Frankenstein’s.

While dynamic stretches like Frankensteins help prepare your body and your muscles for activity, static stretches do the opposite, and they tend to have a negative effect on your muscle performance if done before your workout. Studies show that runners can’t run as fast, athletes can’t jump as high, and weight lifters can’t lift as heavy after they engage in passive static stretching.

Meanwhile, dynamic stretches and exercises don’t seem to have this effect. So the truth is that, contrary to popular belief, you absolutely do not need to stretch at all before your workout. But if you do decide to stretch, go with dynamic stretches that you can incorporate as part of your warm-up and save the static stretches for after your workout when your muscles have already tightened up and it’s time to get them to loosen up and relax.

Another similar mistake is performing cardio directly before lifting weights. This is actually something that many people do as a warm-up, but there’s a good chance that it’s hurting you more than it’s helping. The main reason why is because it will once again reduce your performance and most likely force you to either lift lighter weights or reduce your reps.

This is because glucose is the main source of energy that your body uses to lift weights when you eat carbohydrates throughout the day. This glucose is stored in your muscles and in your liver in the form of glycogen, and it’s released and broken down for energy when your muscles require it.

Unfortunately, if you do cardio before you lift weights, you’ll burn through a lot if not all of that precious glucose that would have helped you push yourself and perform better with the weights.

If you do want to perform cardio and lift weights within the same workout session, then it’s best that you save the cardio for after the weight training. You’ll wind up using the glycogen to push yourself while you lift weights, and then you’ll be able to use oxygen and body fat for energy when performing the cardio.

Keep in mind that warming up by walking on a treadmill for five minutes before lifting weights won’t really have much of a negative effect. However, if you do more intense cardio like running and if you do it for longer lengths of time, like 15 to 30 minutes, it’ll definitely negatively affect your weightlifting sessions.

3. Avoid Drinking too Much Water Before Working Out

The next mistake that you want to avoid is drinking too much water before a workout. 

Drinking Water Before Workout

I’m not going to spend too much time on this one as it goes hand in hand with eating too much food or drinking too much coffee with water. The issue that many people run into is that they become obsessed with the concept of staying hydrated, and when they don’t meet their daily water target, they try to slam it all down at once before the workout.

Of course, it is good to stay hydrated throughout the day and to ensure that you’re drinking enough water. But it’s usually not a great idea to drink a ton of water either directly before or even during your workout.

The reason why is because once again, your blood flow will be directed to your extremities when you’re working out, and if you fill your stomach up with a ton of water, you can wind up feeling nauseous and experiencing cramps throughout your workout.

Your best bet to avoid this situation is to simply drink small amounts of water here and there in between your sets as your workout progresses, and then make sure that you’re drinking water consistently throughout the day so you don’t have to take in a massive amount all at once. 

4. Never Drink Alcohol Before Working Out

Moving on to the next one is pretty obvious, but it is worth mentioning that you shouldn’t drink alcohol before a workout. 

Drinking Alcohol Before Workout

Now, I know at one point or another you’ve probably felt like Superman after drinking some alcohol. This could end up motivating you to hit the gym or do a calisthenic workout at home, but I highly recommend that you don’t.

One reason for this is that alcohol is a depressant. This means that it’s going to slow down things like your reaction time, your coordination, and your balance. Not only will this make your workout less effective, but it will also make it much more dangerous, and you can wind up with a serious injury if you’re not careful.

Another big problem is that if you work out right after drinking alcohol, your blood alcohol content will still be elevated. So imagine that you’re breaking down your muscles and you’re creating tiny microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. As we mentioned earlier, your body will direct blood flow to those muscles that you’re working.

Normally that’s a great thing since the blood will carry in nutrients and energy into your muscles and carry out the byproducts that create fatigue, like lactic acid, for example. However, when you drink alcohol and work out afterward, the alcohol you drank is then carried by your blood cells to your torn-up muscles. Just imagine how bad it is for not only your workout but also for your future recovery and your overall results. Not great. 

Finally, the last issue with alcohol is that it really dehydrates your body quite a lot. If you combine drinking alcohol with a workout that makes you sweat a lot, it can lead to all kinds of negative side effects. 

5. Never Train Your Core Before Strength Training

Next, one of the biggest mistakes to avoid before weightlifting is core training. 

Training Abs Before Workout

That’s right, you should never train your core directly before a weight training workout. You see, your core is involved in almost any weight lifting exercise, even if you don’t think it is. Even an exercise like the bench press where you’re laying down still requires a lot of your core strength, not only for stabilizing your body but also for transferring the strength from your lower body to your upper body.

Your core connects your upper and lower body, so if it’s shot from a hard abs workout, even exercises that are done seated or laying down will be negatively affected in terms of performance.

There are also plenty of other upper body exercises, like pull-ups, for example, that are highly dependent on your core strength. You may not consider it, but your performance will definitely drop if you stick pullups after abs. 

On top of that, if we look at lower body exercises, not only do we create performance issues, but we also create safety issues that can easily end up causing an injury. Exercises like squats and deadlifts are highly dependent on your core strength to stabilize and assist your lower back.

If you compromise your core strength with an ab workout and then you go on to do heavy barbell squats, there’s a good chance that you will round forward and hurt your lower back. So you should never, ever perform exercises like squats and deadlifts directly after training your core. 

If you’re looking to make improvements with resistance training in general, you’re always better off hitting your core after you’ve finished lifting weights or simply leaving it for a separate day entirely. 

6. Never Take Pain Medication Before Training

Another common mistake is taking some sort of pain reliever before a workout. These can range from Tylenol to Advil to full-out muscle relaxers.

The truth is that none of these are a good idea to take before your workout, regardless of how sore you are or how sore you think you’ll be. In fact, studies show that exercising while on ibuprofen can lead to gut problems and even intestinal injuries.

It also doesn’t make much sense to take a muscle-relaxing pain reliever before lifting weights, as this can lead to an injury since your body will be slower to respond when you’re pushing past your threshold. 

If you happen to be so sore before your workout that you can’t even imagine exercising without taking a pain reliever, then it’s probably in your best interest to skip that workout for that day. If, on the other hand, you’re more so afraid of future soreness, the best piece of advice is to just suck it up because it’s not worth creating gut issues just to decrease soreness that will naturally get better over time anyway as you adapt to your workouts.

Finally, last but not least, you don’t want to take a long nap before your workout. Even though there’s nothing wrong with taking a short nap, sleeping for too long can have the opposite effect of what you’re probably looking for.

When you take a short 20 to 30 minutes power nap, research shows that it leaves you feeling more energized and refreshed. However, sleeping for too much longer than that will most likely leave you feeling more lethargic and tired than you were before taking your nap. So if you are tired before you hit the gym, feel free to take a nap.

About the Author: Jason Chapman

Jason Chapman has a degree in Exercise Science and is a personal trainer with 10+ years of experience in fitness and strength coaching. Jason spends his time with BodyCapable researching the latest strength training trends and writing science-backed, informative content. Jason likes to spend his spare time hiking, traveling, and of course training!