06/22/2012 08:22 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

6 Steps to a Perfect Summer Workout

What is the perfect summer workout?

The answer is... It depends! Your fitness history, your goals, and your unique body type will all dictate which exercises you should do, and how many sets and reps.

But there are six elements of a perfect workout that you must have if you want to get the best results as quickly as possible, with minimum soreness or risk of injury.

Step #1: Short Cardio Warm-Up

A brief bout of cardio for two to 10 minutes can cause increased blood flow, higher muscle temperature, enhanced cooling, increased hormone production, and better mental focus. Here's a very easy way to do it: Just hop on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical trainer, start with an easy pace, and increase the resistance every 60 seconds for a total of five minutes.

Step #2: Dynamic Stretching

You may have heard that stretching is optional before a workout. But that's not true, especially if you're doing "dynamic stretching," which is much different than regular stretching (which would be something like reaching for the sky, or touching your toes). Instead, dynamic stretching involves actively swinging and moving your muscles through a range of motion. For example, after your cardio, you can do:

  1. 10 arm circles in all directions
  2. 10 leg swings in all directions
  3. Walking lunges for 10 yards
  4. Side shuffles for 10 yards
  5. Reach for the sky and bend your waist from side to side 10 times
  6. Finish with 25 jumping jacks

Step #3: Foam Rolling

This is optional, but if you have a tight muscle or area that feels like it has a "knot," you should roll your body over a foam roller 10 to 20 times, applying steady, even pressure. You'd be surprised at how limber you feel after using a foam roller, which you can find at nearly any sporting goods store and also at many gyms.

Step #4: Goal-Specific Workout

Your exercise routine will vary depending on your goals. For example, if you want to become a faster runner, you could alternate each day between the workouts described in "How to Become a Faster Runner" -- hill repeats one day, treadmill intervals another day, and a steady, aerobic run on a third day.

Or, if you want to get bigger muscles, you can do a heavier, full-body weight routine similar to the one I suggest in "How to Make Your Muscles Bigger." And if you just want to burn as much fat as possible, you could do the full-body workout described in "The Best Workout For Fat Loss."

Step #5: Cool Down

Cooling down after your workout allows your heart rate to return to normal, which is important because one of the times you're most susceptible to cardiovascular problems after a workout is when you plop onto the couch or into your car as blood pools in your heart and extremities. When you cool down, you give your blood the opportunity to re-circulate, which also reduces your risk of fainting and dizziness.

A good cool-down activity is a simple walk for a few minutes, either on the treadmill or just outside. Or, you can repeat the dynamic warm-up you started with. I personally like to do about five minutes of yoga after my workout. If you still have muscles that feel tight, you can also repeat some foam roller moves on those specific muscle parts.

Step #6: Recover

Your perfect workout doesn't end when you finish your last repetition or stopped running. If you've had a tough workout, you can decrease post-exercise tiredness and soreness by having some food. While this isn't necessary for an easy or short workout, a mix of carbohydrates and protein is helpful if you've been exercising for more than an hour, or you've done a very hard workout. You can also use many of the techniques described in "5 Ways to Reduce Post-Workout Soreness," including wearing compression socks or tights, using an epsom salts bath, or taking an ice bath or cold shower, hydrating, or even using a natural topical or oral anti-inflammatory, such as magnesium oil and arnica or proteolytic enzymes and amino acids.

So the perfect workout involves more than just heading to the gym, picking up some dumbbells or hopping on a cardio machine, and working up a sweat. If you incorporate these six steps into your workout, your body will respond by becoming fitter faster, with less discomfort for you!

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. He is the author of "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body - A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape."

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