We all know working out is good for you, right?

It increases lean muscle, decreases body fat, improves insulin sensitivity, increases bone density, improves heart health, improves cholesterol ratios… nothing you probably haven’t heard before. However, too many people are blissfully unaware of how to effectively gauge the effectiveness of their workouts. So here’s how NOT to do it.

OMG look at how much I sweat. Awesome workout!

Pump the brakes there, Sparky.

While sweating indicates that your body is attempting to cool itself due to an increase in body temperature, the fact that you do so after a workout doesn’t always mean it was an effective session.

Some people sweat a lot. Some don’t. The point we’re trying to make is that how much you sweat varies for everyone and it has no indication on your level of exertion. Sweat is simply your body’s way of cooling itself. It has very little correlation to how effective your training was. If this were the case, exercising outdoors in the summer would result in far more effective workouts compared to indoor sessions. Too bad it doesn’t.

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via GIPHY

Ok, but I burned soooo many calories! Incredible workout!!

NOPE.

Ok, this is slightly more indicative of a quality training session than sweating is, but not by much. Going into a workout with the sole goal of burning calories is like going on a road trip without a destination. Yes, hooray, you’re driving… but where are you going, exactly? (Translation: Yes you’re burning calories… but what’s the end goal?)

Training, scratch that, quality training should bring about multiple positive adaptations, not just a calorie burn.

If burning calories is your only goal, here are several workouts that meet your criteria.

  • Non-stop burpees for an hour.
  • A few barbell snatches every minute on the minute for an hour.
  • Dodge knives being thrown at you for an hour.
  • Put your car in neutral and push it into oncoming traffic for a few miles.

You will absolutely burn A TON of calories by doing all of these things for an hour. But we sincerely hope you can see the stupidity in some of these things (and sarcasm).

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Burning calories!

If you don’t possess the adequate mobility (and even if you do), hundreds of burpees and snatches will destroy your shoulders and back in the process. It will leave you debilitated and in pain. Coincidentally, dodging knives and pushing a car into oncoming traffic will also probably result in similar outcomes. But you burned a lot of calories! YESSSS!

Even if losing fat (which requires you to burn a lot of calories) is your main priority, quality training should bring about several ‘under the radar’ positive adaptations. Does your training also help improve mobility? Improve movement quality? Do the movements, exercise selection, exercise order, and training parameters in your workout help create a healthier, pain free, more-efficiently-operating version of yourself?

Remember, a third grader can create a workout that will burn a ton of calories… but we doubt you’re gonna hire him as a coach.

I am WIPED OUT. I CAN BARELY WALK!! AAAAWESOME WORKOUT!

Just stop. Stop it.

With the rise of social media, the popularity of brutal, ‘sexy’ workouts has boomed in the last few years. These are the workouts that, in all honesty, do a great job of motivating and inspiring people because they portray hard work, grit, and kicking ass. Who doesn’t love to see this? Nothing gets you jazzed up quite like it.

But here’s the thing. These types of workouts are the rare exception in a well constructed training program… not the norm.

In order to see positive adaptations from working out, you need to allow your body ample recovery time to heal itself from hard workouts.

This is the basic principle of progressive overload and it’s the basis for all training programs. You work hard, recover, establish a new fitness baseline, and are now capable of doing more the next time around.

But when you do nothing but hardcore, ‘can’t walk afterwards’ workouts without ample recovery, you’re just going to beat yourself up, make your joints cranky, and watch your results plateau. Extreme workouts are not only hard on your joints and muscles, but they also take a toll on your central nervous system. This can result in feelings of sluggishness, feeling worn down, and just not performing like you’re accustomed to.

A good rule of thumb is to not perform intense workouts more than 2 days in a row. Anything more than this and your recovery likely won’t match the strain you’re putting your body through. A huge calorie burn is not worth putting your body at risk for sustaining injuries.

“Remember, any workout can make you tired. But good workouts make you better.”

– Coach Chris (that’s right… quoting myself in a post that I, myself, am writing)

Yesterday’s workout was great! I’m so sore! It hurts to sit!

DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, are the micro tears you create in your muscles after performing intense bouts of exercise. While this might be an OK marker for hypertrophy, or muscle growth, it still doesn’t indicate that you had an effective workout.

Muscle soreness is a more common indication that you put your body through a stimulus that it’s not used to. So if anything, the extreme soreness you experience after a very hard workout is simply your body saying, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED YESTERDAY?!”

This means you can experience muscle soreness from gardening, bowling, and anything else in between. If your body isn’t accustomed to the volume, type, or intensity of the stimulus, there’s a solid chance muscle soreness can occur.

Powerlifters would probably be sore after taking a Zumba class. Yogi’s would probably be sore after taking a Crossfit class. A cyclist would probably be sore after swapping their bike for a kayak. That doesn’t mean it was an effective workout for their particular goals.

So when you’re trying to decide if your workout was a good one, don’t fall into the trap of thinking these are the best indicators.

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