Is Your Workout Too Hard, Or Not Hard Enough?
When it comes to working out, that’s always the question – is what you are doing too hard? Or is it not hard enough? And how will you know?
This is especially true for someone new to fitness. After you’ve been active for a while however, you get to know your body. You get to know what it can handle and what it can’t. Of course, nobody wants to get hurt, and nobody wants to feel so sore that they can’t walk the next day. But sometimes people need to push themselves in order to see a change.
So how WILL you know? As I said, if you are new to fitness – or if it’s been a while – you may not know. Your best bet in this case is to do things in slow progression. Start with a light weight or a short time. See how that goes. Even when you are doing a particular exercise, if you are not sure about the proper form, go slow. That way if something suddenly feels bad, you can stop. Once you learn the technique, you can then exert a little more energy, push a little harder. The key is advancement, though there will come a time when even that wanes – I mean, most people are never going to bench press five hundred pounds. At some point, it becomes about changing one’s activity so you can keep your body guessing. Staying static will actually set you back, and you don’t want that.
Here are a few things to consider…
Sweating – Yeah, you want to sweat when you workout, though how much depends on the activity, and how much you sweat normally – everyone is a little different in this regard. Some people sweat a lot; some people, not so much. Be careful though. Don’t let your “I just don’t sweat a lot” attitude stifle your workouts. My personal philosophy is that unless you are sweating to the point that you need to mop your brow – at a minimum of a few times during your workout – then you probably aren’t working hard enough.
Also keep in mind that the fitter you are, the easier you will sweat since your body becomes adapted to regulating its own temperature. By no means should you think that sweating is a sign that you are weak or out of shape. It means just the opposite. So if your hair hasn’t moved, and your shirt looks the same as it did when you started, then chances are you could stand to crank it up a notch or five.
And I don’t want to hear, “Oh, but I’m getting older. My body just can’t do that much anymore.” That’s bullshit. I had the pleasure of teaching senior’s fitness classes for many, many years, during which numerous men and women in their eighties participated and worked just as hard (if not harder) than some of my younger participants. Don’t make excuses.
Breathing. As a fitness instructor/ trainer friend of mine always says, “If you are not breathing hard, you are probably not working hard.” Again, what is hard? There are different ways to determine this, but my favourite method is the “talk test”. During your warm up or cool down, you should be able to turn to the person next to you (assuming you are not alone) and say a few short sentences like, “This is a blast. I’m having so much fun,” without feeling the need to really catch your breath. During the middle part of your workout, you should only be able to say a few words – “This is fun” is enough. There may also be a few times when you don’t feel like saying much of anything, but these times will be short-lived. You can’t keep up that level of training for very long.
Muscle soreness. In the beginning, if you’ve never done any sort of exercise, then your body is probably going to feel a bit different. You are asking it to do things it’s never done before. But how different should it feel? Like you can’t walk different? No, obviously, that is not the goal. It wouldn’t do you much good anyway, because then you’d never be able to do anything else.
Having said that, sometimes – just sometimes – you may need to push yourself a little TOO hard in order to know where that line is. What will happen? You need to find out, just not on a regular basis.
There is also something called “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – DOMS” that you should be aware of. This means that when you exert effort you are not used to exerting on a particular set of muscles – say your legs for example – you can expect them, two or three days after, to feel a little bit sore and lethargic for another two or three days. Expect this any time you significantly change your routine. The discomfort should go away though, after which you should be able to get back to what you were doing.
So that’s it. Basically, when it comes to exercising, I’d say that you should challenge yourself. People tend to greatly underestimate what they can do. I’ll give you an example – if I think I can do 20 pushups, then force myself to do 30 or maybe 40. I’m not going to die. If I can’t move my arms in two or three days time, then I’ve learned my lesson, and for my next workout, I’ll only do 25. Remember…