What makes for a good workout? Ask 10 people walking out of a fitness centre and you may get 10 different answers.
Unfortunately what many consider to be an effective workout may not be the case. Below are 8 common answers given by regular gym goers as to what makes for an effective workout. At the very end of this article I’ll distinguish between these 8 common answers and what may be a better may to assess our workouts.
8 Reasons People Say They Had an Effective Workout
Reason #1. Lots of Sweat
This answer is given a lot. And whenever we see someone in a movie or tv show that is exerting themselves there needs to a spray bottle close at hands and sweat stains all over their outfit.
But does sweat equal work? Or instead is it an indication of the body’s ability to cool itself?
Think about sitting in a steam room. But you’re not exercising. And you’re not even moving. And let’s say you’ve got a bottle of water with you. There’s a really good chance that after 10 minutes of sitting in the steam room you may have some sweat on your brow.
Does this mean you did a workout in the steam room? Obviously it doesn’t. It just means the body was doing its job of trying to cool itself down.
So sweat may accompany an effective or intense training session but it also might mean your body is doing what it should to regulate temperature.
Reason #2. Volume
You can think of this in a couple of ways. One can mean the audible noise produced during a workout. And the other can mean the reps times the sets performed. Let’s look at each.
The first one has to do with the noise produced. And over the years I’ve never been a member of a gym that didn’t have at least one member that needed to yell during every set. You know what I mean? The ‘hey look at me, I’ve got a lot of weight on the bar and need you to notice’ guy.
Chances are this guy was all about show and probably used spotty technique to move the weight from A to B. And because he was loud he got everyone’s attention and some may have thought he’s training hard and that’s effective.Most likely he was just annoying.
The other type of volume means reps times sets. 5 sets of 3 reps equals a volume of 15. There are some people who believe that unless you are doing 10 sets of 10 reps you are wasting your time. And while I understand the benefits of brief periods of higher volume training I’m more inclined to seek out the minimal essential dose. In other words if 4 sets of 3 reps is equally effective as 5 sets of 3 reps then 4 sets wins. Period.
Reason #3. Post Workout Pain & Discomfort
Have you ever felt some tightness or soreness after a workout? Maybe a day or two later? And secretly have you enjoyed this soreness and used it as a physical reminder of what you accomplished in the gym?
I won’t lie. I used to be that guy. I liked doing a chest workout and then feeling soreness when poked in the chest. It’s as though I could actually imagine my chest growing in between workouts.
But what are we chasing? Is it results? Or is it pain and discomfort? Because it’s very easy to make a client sore or as I like to say ‘it’s easy to whip a rented mule’.
But if we’re not getting fitter, stronger, more powerful or changing the shape of our bodies than what’s the point? These days I love it when I do an intense training sessions, hitting PBs on my lifts, but feeling no soreness the next day.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that being sore for days on end after a workout is an indication of effective training. If anything this puts the breaks on your development and limits what you can do next.
Reason #4. Being Spontaneous
To me it’s like finger nails on a chalk board when people go to the gym without pen and paper. I start thinking ‘Do they have a plan? Do they know what they did last time? Will they remember the small details of this workout?’
And the answer is probably not. Which is unfortunate. Because it delays results and increases the chance of injury.
Last summer we had an intern that worked with a powerlifting coach when at school. He said this coach kept no written records and would tell each lifter what to do on a day by day basis. This can’t be true but it gives the young lifter the wrong impression regarding traning and results.
I know a training plan is not etched in stone and may need to be amended slightly from day to day. A client may come in after driving back from Vancouver and have a tight back so maybe we don’t deadlift or deadlift as intensely. Or someone else may be late getting out of work and only have 30 minutes so we will do a metabolic circuit. so there are times when we may need to deviate from the plan.
But this is completely different from having no plan at all. Or from writing workouts the day of rather than training programs a year ahead. Spontanaeity or working from memory should be a red flag and works for no one.
Reason #5. Feels Like Work
For many people going to the gym is a chore. It is intimidating, there may be discomfort and sweat. In other words it can be unpleasant.
And sometimes people begin to associate something that isn’t fun as being work. So besides going to the gym they might also think of doing yard work or helping a friend move.
But the truth is many activities can be both effective and enjoyable. Think about a hard day of skiing at the hill. Or competing in an adventure race or triathlon with friends. This are all physically challenging yet a lot of fun.
The best solution is to try a number of activities and find the one you enjoy the most then train for that.
Reason #6. Marathon Sessions
I probably don’t have to elaborate this point too much. We’re all familiar with the research from Dr. Gibala related to the benefits of short duration, high intensity training compared to long steady state exercise.
If anything the longer the session the less intense it probably is. Ideally if you can keep your workouts between 45-60 minutes you’re doing just fine. And if you have less than this amount of time than the research shows there sre still huge benefits. But don’t fall into the habit of 2-3-4 hour training sessions thinking that more is better.
Reason #7. You Work with a Cheerleader
All of the guys reading this blog are thinking ‘how is training with a cheerleader a negative?’ What I mean by that is that sometimes people will rave about their workouts. And when friends ask them what makes them so special they may respond by saying that (insert cheerleader’s name) is so much fun and makes training enjoyable.
This is awesome! This is what our industry is lacking. We need more passionate people to get excited about getting others in shape.
But if that is all the coach or trainer brings to the table then they are doing a disservice to their clients. There needs to be record keeping, and tracking, and feedback, and cueing, and correction and constant regressions and progressions to set the stage for an effective session.
It’s no surprise Richard Simmons is a house hold name. But do we know Richard Simmons for his zaniness? Or for the amazing results he got with his clients? Think about this the next time someone at the watercooler at work tells you about their amazing fitness class instructor that just has so much energy. This is great but is there more to it?
Reason #8. Heart Rate Data
Now hear me out before you jump to conclusions on this one. First of all, I’m all for using heart rate monitors to track and monitor your workouts. It’s a great tool and one of the better ways we can assess intensity and improvements in fitness.
That being said we need to understand it is one tool that is providing an estimate of our heart rate at a particular point in time. And depending on the quality of the monitor it may over-estimate energy expenditure. Here’s how.
Some heart rate monitors come with a feature that displays how many calories you burned during a workout. But some of these monitors cannot distinguish between elevated heart rates from physical exertion compared to other times our heart rate is elevated.
For example, if I hide behind the door and jump out and scare you your heart rate will spike. And your heart rate monitor will correlate this increased heart rate as work when in fact the shock of being surprised is not equal to doing step ups at the gym.
In the next post I will discuss some factors that should be used to evaluate your workout. These will be the ones that do determine an effective training session.