What makes a good workout? What makes a bad workout?
Those are often questions that people seem to struggle to find the answers on. Now, what it really comes down to is it depends what you’re trying to get out of your workout – but in this article I want to cover some definite things that you will want to look for within your training sessions to show you if you’re truly getting the most out of your exercise, or if your exercise maybe the best of you.
The first thing you want to address is “what are your goals?” For most people the goal of exercises to improve some sort of health metric. The first thing you want to watch is your improvements in day-to-day activities. Often times, clients will tell me that they noticed something in their life became easier after they started working out with me. These are things like, lifting boxes, carrying bags from the grocery store, or hiking with friends on hikes that used to make them fatigue faster.
Now, I am a big fan of tracking some sort of health metric. Whether it be your actual weight lifted during a weightlifting session, your time to complete a certain cardiovascular exercise like 1/2 mile run for example, or just your overall number of push-ups you can do without taking a rest, being able to measure something allows us to manage that something.
If you are getting stronger overall, it is safe to assume that your workouts are benefiting your life. However, strength is not the only thing that improves with exercise. Certain indicators of health you may not be aware of without going to your doctor or getting blood work done on regular intervals. For example, strength training and exercise overall has been shown to help with blood sugar management and lower fasting glucose levels for everyone, but this is especially beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes – regardless of any weight loss.
Speaking of weight loss, this is also something that can be measured and show improvements in health assuming you have weight to lose. However, the scale can be a very tricky metric and also a very psychologically challenging metric for some individuals. When it comes to the scale, I personally recommend looking at a moving average overtime instead of comparing day-to-day fluctuations, because the scale will almost 100% of the time fluctuate up and down throughout the course of a week, and this can drive many people nuts.
Also, I’m not a fan of relying on exercise alone for weight loss, but rather for improvements in health markers of which I have already mentioned some of them. Strategic weight loss, more specifically fat loss, should be done in conjunction with improving your overall dietary habits to lose body fat.
On a more acute level, after a training session you should feel like you did work. You don’t need to be soaking in sweat, shaking with weakness, crawling out of the gym, or feeling like you need to find a bathroom immediately. The day after a training session, or sometimes two days after the training session, your muscles should feel like you did work. A little bit of soreness in the muscles is totally fine and is to be expected. When that soreness becomes pain, or seems to move into the joints, this could be a sign that you are overdoing it or potentially performing an exercise incorrectly or overtraining.
If you are just starting your exercise journey, my goal is always to start slower than faster. If you’re working with a good trainer, you should feel good after the first session, in potentially a little sore the next day or two period you should not be stuck on the couch I sing every joint in your body. A good trainer should also perform some sort of assessment or consultation to cover your injuries and potential limitations through exercise, but that’s a different article altogether for a different audience.
Now onto the bad.
If you are always super sore, dreading going to your workouts, and feel like your quality of life is not improving, your workouts are definitely doing more harm than good. While you will have days where you maybe don’t feel like going to the gym, or you are a little stiffer than normal, overall you should notice your quality of health improving.
I see this most often when people jump into workout routines that maybe their bodies aren’t quite ready for. These might be very high intensity bootcamp classes, or training sessions that maybe the client used to do a couple of decades ago but has taken some time off from exercise. A well tailored program by certified personal trainer in either a one on one setting or a small group setting is most ideal for anyone starting out or if they are dealing with injuries.
So if you have been working out regularly, run a quick assessment on how your life has changed since you’ve started exercising. Do you feel like you can do things easier, or is your life harder? If you’d feel like you’re training is not improving your life, you definitely don’t want to stop working out altogether, but it may be time to reevaluate your goals and have a conversation with your trainer or group instructor. If you aren’t working with any fitness professional and you feel like your progress has stalled or declined, I highly recommend investing in a fitness professional. After all, this is your body that we’re talking about, and you only get one of them.