As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine.
How do I know if my workout is hard enough?
One of my private clients would ask me this question every week in our coaching session. As a weight-loss coach my goal is to get my clients results, but also to make sure they’re not too hard on themselves. It’s a fine line: Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your workout is effective or if you need to push yourself more.
When a client is questioning the intensity of their exercise routine, I lead them through this check in. If you find yourself wondering if your workout is tough enough, ask yourself these questions:
1. What do I hope to accomplish with my fitness routine?
In order to evaluate if your workout is hard enough, you need to have a clear goal in mind. How can you tell if a fitness routine is challenging enough to help you see positive change if you aren’t sure what changes to look for? It may be a physical goal, like weight loss or toning, or the desire to have more energy, reduce stress or sleep better. Take a few minutes to sit down and list out the specific goals you hope to accomplish by committing to an exercise routine.
2. Did I push myself to my max effort at least once?
Check in with yourself during your workout: Is there at least one time when you felt you pushed yourself to the max? This will look different based on the type of exercise you are doing. If you’re spinning, you may feel winded from a hill or a sprint and need recovery time. In yoga, your thighs may burn from holding warrior pose. You may feel like you need a minute to catch your breath after your walk or run. If you feel you’ve hit your max effort at least once, it’s a good sign that your workout is challenging enough. I encourage my clients to feel this way three times throughout a 20-minute workout, so make it a goal to increase those bursts that get you close to your max output.
3. How do I feel after my workout?
At the end of a workout, do you feel like you have more to give or are you completely exhausted? Neither of these extremes is ideal. As a personal trainer, I want my clients to leave their workout feeling like they have accomplished something, but with more energy and a better mood. If you feel like taking a nap or collapsing on the couch, your workout is probably too hard. A good workout should invigorate you, not deplete you. On the flipside, if you feel like you could’ve kept going or like you didn’t accomplish much, it’s a good indication that your workout is too easy and you can push yourself a little harder.
4. Do I see changes in my body and strength?
Noticing changes in your body is a good sign that your workout is challenging enough. If your jeans fit looser, you use a smaller hook on your bra or a shirt is easier to button, these are all signs that your body is changing. An increase in strength is also a good indicator you are working hard enough. If you’re able to hold a plank longer, run faster or complete a set of squats with less of a burn, these are all signs that your strength is increasing, which means your workouts are working!
5. Am I making progress toward my goal?
Now it’s time to revisit those goals you identified. With weight loss, are you losing at least 1-2 pounds a week? Have you noticed an increase in your energy or your mood? Check in with yourself every few weeks and assess whether or not you’re making progress toward your goal. If the answer is no, it may be time to up the intensity of your exercise routine. But one word of caution: Pushing your body too hard can also cause a plateau. A workout routine without proper recovery built in can hinder our progress. So if your workouts have been intense, but your body hasn’t responded, it may be time to back off. Do gentle yoga or a slow Pilates routine. Trade the hour-long spin class for a 30-minute leisurely walk. Reducing the stress placed on your body may be the thing you need to recover and start seeing progress.
More of your questions, answered!
My low back is always sore. What type of workout should I do?