Sure, your workout left you sweaty and sore. But does that mean you’re working hard or hardly working? Actually, neither is a good way to measure how effective your workout was. Here’s why:
Sweating = Good Workout?
Let’s take a look at sweating as a sign of workout success. If you look at everyone’s post-workout glow on Instagram, you might agree and even think you must have burned a lot of calories. While it’s true that you may have lost some water weight, it’s only temporary. The moment you start rehydrating, you’ll gain it back.
Some may also claim that getting soaked in sweat while you’re working out in a hot room, perhaps doing Bikram yoga or hot yoga, will add to the number of calories you burn. However, that’s up for debate too.
A Colorado State University study showed that a 90-minute class burned the equivalent of one hour of brisk walking. (The fresh air you get with a brisk walk is another bonus.) And, you can burn calories during activities where you don’t sweat much – such as swimming or working out in winter.
Soreness is also not necessarily an indicator of a good workout. After all, if you haven’t worked out in a while, it’s easy to get sore when you’re not even exercising your muscles at full capacity. Running and walking may not make you sore (unless there were hills involved) but you’ll still get stronger leg muscles over time.
Now that we know that being sweaty and sore are not good indicators to go by, here are six ways that you can really tell if you’ve had a good workout:
1. You feel an endorphin rush.
Working out should make you feel good. Yes, you’ll feel like you pushed yourself, you’re tired, but you’re also feeling like you accomplished something.
2. You hit your heart rate goals.
This is really an accurate, objective way to define workout intensity. The American Heart Association says you can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For moderate intensity, exercise at 50% – 70% of your max heart rate. Your breathing should be quick but you’re not out of breath. For vigorous intensity, hit 70% – 85% of your max heart rate. You’ll notice that you can’t say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath. So, if you find yourself having a deep conversation with a friend while you’re working out, odds are that you’re not pushing yourself enough.
3. You sleep better.
You should notice that you’re sleeping more soundly, and not waking up in the middle of the night. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how exercise helps but they know it decreases insomnia.
4. You struggled to get through those last reps.
Every workout should challenge you – just to the point of muscle fatigue. You know that moment when your muscles feel like jelly? If you noticed yourself slowing down in the final minutes of a class, it was a success. Drink water and rest while your muscles recover. Note that if you keep going past this point, you risk injury.
5. You’re more limber.
Although you could be sore or feel stiff immediately after your workout, you should also notice your body becoming more limber and flexible with a better range of motion.
6. Lastly, you’re getting stronger!
It may not be noticeable right away, but over time you should see an improvement. Maybe it’s that you can lift a little more weight now, run faster or jump higher. Some pros use a scale of one to ten to measure their “rate of perceived exertion” or RPE for short. It’s a way to rate how hard you think you’re working. The higher the number, the tougher it is. Once you can crush that eight or nine on your scale, it’s time to set new goals!
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