How Do You Know if You Had a Good Workout

When someone decides to workout, they do so for any number of reasons – for esthetics, performance, heart health – but ultimately, they want a good workout to work towards their goal. But what constitutes a good workout? It depends, on a lot!

Let’s Get Some Basics Down

Whatever your goal, nutrition plays a significant role in achieving those fitness goals. As we previously talked about in our Diets Work Until They Don’t article, keeping track of your calories is important. That way, you know the reason behind any decreases and/or increases in weight. It’s all about burning more calories than you eat for weight loss. For increases is muscle size (not the same as strength), it’s about increasing calories. Consistency with your workout routine is also important. It is well documented that having good nutrition coupled with exercise is the best way to achieve weight loss goals. The goal is to exercise an hour a day. And to keep those results realistic and for the long term, having a good relationship with food and being active has to become a lifestyle, an everyday conscious choice – not something you do in a hurry to get ready for spring break or make up for indulging during the holidays that started back in October. It’s all about a balance so that you can live a life of moderation, not elimination – where a day of enjoying the holidays with your loved ones won’t derail your progress or make you feel like you need to add 3 hours to your workout time. Making it a lifestyle won’t make you feel like you have to choose between exercise, making good food choices, enjoying the holidays or your vacation – you can do all three.

Getting Your Workout In

It’s often the image of an extraordinarily fit person lifting big weights or doing what seems to be acrobatics without any effort that creates the expectation that you need to do exactly that to get the results you want. That you need to ‘kill yourself’ working out to achieve any results. But is it necessary? Not at all! The type of workout you do is dependent on your goals, your consistency, your mindset, your commitment.

Most importantly, this type of ‘go until I throw up’ approach often discourages people from being consistent. Secondly, it’s not healthy. High level athletes, who have to workout 5 hours a day at high intensities to stay at that elite level, don’t workout the same year-round. They take weeks or some months off because the body can’t sustain that type of extreme work. The body needs time to recover otherwise, injuries and even burnout are common results from working at those intensities.

Let’s be clear about muscle soreness. It often happens that you may become sore and sometimes you are so sore that you have trouble sitting on the toilet for days. Being that sore must be a good thing, that your workout was a success right? Yes and no! Muscle soreness isn’t the best measure of how effective your workout was. Soreness can be a sign that you’re challenging your body in new ways, using previously underused muscles, and increasing your workout’s intensity in a significant way. But, more often than not, it is a sign that your workout is all over the place, you aren’t progressing toward any one goal, there isn’t any consistency, there is no routine and that your body may actually need some recovery time.

 What is a Good Workout

The answer to this question for us depends on a few things.

  1. What is your goal?
    Giving your workout meaning or something to work towards helps with motivation and consistency. It gives you the why to keep showing up to your workout. Maybe it’s to lose weight or compete in a local track meet or simply to feel and look good – but goals keep you going. If your goal is to throw up after each workout, that’s your choice – the safety, sustainable aspects of that approach is a topic for another conversation – but why is it that you want to feel like you need to throw up? What is your end goal?
  2. Does your workout work towards your end goal?
    Every movement needs to have a purpose and that purpose is to help you achieve your goal and ultimately, it’s to have a good quality of life. If you are working on improving strength, then movements should be about improving strength. Not strength conditioning, not muscle mass, not randomness, but strength. There’s a difference when improving strength vs strength conditioning– read our Strength vs Strength Endurance article to know the difference- and make sure you’re doing the right things to work toward your goals. If you are an athlete trying to improve speed and you are lifting too heavy or not addressing the plyometric aspect of sprinting, or just running as fast as you can all the time, is your workout working towards your goal, not likely! If your workout is randomly having you do mindless movements, why?  Your time is valuable, make sure you aren’t wasting your time by doing things that don’t help you reach your goal, and worse, leave you injured.
  3. Is your training plan progressive?
    Workouts should start where you are – your experience, abilities – and build you up. Whatever your goal, your workouts should progress – day one should not feel like a max out or time trial session. But day 100 shouldn’t still feel like day one either. It’s about progressing safely so that workouts can feel challenging but not so challenging that you feel like death after every workout. This applies to movements, reps, time, weight. Should you be doing barbell squats if you’ve never done them or have had a back injury? No! Squats are great, but just like any movement, they need to be implemented safely, progressively. Many times, the popular movements make it into workouts, but does everyone need to be doing snatches, clean and jerks, muscle ups……absolutely not! Conventional, traditional, and best practice movements are most often best and safer. There’s a reason certain power lifts are in the Olympics – it takes year…YEARS… to properly execute them – not a weekend course! So not every exercise movement that exists or is the latest buzz, fad, etc needs to be part of your exercise plan.
  4. Can you quantify your progress?
    The same way you need to keep track of your caloric intake to affect your weight, the same way you need to track your workouts to affect your progress. It’s helpful to know what weight to use now vs in a few weeks. It’s helpful to know how much to increase your weight, reps, sets, even conditioning time because it should not be an arbitrary number. How do you know if you are getting faster, stronger, leaner? You need quantifiable data. And a key component of quantifying progress is repetition. Your workouts should have some of the same movements so those can be an accurate measure of progress.