How To Tell If You're Working Out Hard Enough, And How To Fix It If Not

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Laura Trott of Great Britain warms up on day three of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup at Manchester Velodrome on November 3, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Any form of exercise is awesome, but make no mistake: All exercise is not created equal. As Health magazine explains, if you're trying to figure out how to tell if you're working out hard enough, or you don't feel like you're getting much out of your exercise anymore, it's likely time to reevaluate your regimen. All of our bodies are beautifully different, which means we will all respond differently to exercise, so you may need to do some experimenting to find what really works best for you. You'll also need to check in with your body again after a few months to make sure you're still challenging yourself and staying on track towards your personal goals — whatever they may be. 

Any exercise is great if it makes you feel happy and healthy, but you likely won't get the results you want if you don't have a clear idea of what it means to you to get fit. Your first mission is to decide what your fitness goals actually are: Do you want to feel more energetic? Build more muscle? Lose weight? Whatever you personal reasons are for working out, take a look at your current exercise habits and see if they really align with that goal. Walking around the block every day may be perfect for you if you're brand-new to working out, but it's probably not enough if you are aiming to run a marathon.

It can be incredibly frustrating and disappointing to feel like no matter how often or hard you work out, your body isn't responding the way you want it to. Your mission from now on is going to be to work smarter, not harder. You absolutely do not need to be exercising every day or training like a professional athlete to get real results, so be sure to rest your body when you need to. You'll be able to feel better just by paying closer to attention to how you're working out. Here are five signs that indicate you're currently not getting a good enough workout, along with tips on how to fix that to get the most out of your exercise routine.

1. You're Not Sore The Following Day 


Your muscles won't and shouldn't feel sore after every single workout (according to the American College of Sports Medicine, this is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS), but you should still have occasional days where you feel the work your body put in from your previous workout. Don't push your body to the max every day, but instead aim to go your hardest once a week or so. To achieve that "good sore" feeling, you'll need to challenge your body more than usual. Try increasing the intensity (turn up your resistance or try a heavier weight), extending your overall workout time (run for 45 minutes instead of 30), or stay in a challenging position for longer (hold that tree pose as long as possible).

DOMS shows that you are using your muscles in ways they aren't used to or to more extent than usual. DOMS is a result of your body repairing tiny microscopic tears in your muscles created during your workout, which will then heal to become stronger than before, leading you to perform better the next time you do that activity. When you do feel sore, give your muscles some TLC by taking time to stretch, foam rollget a massage, or soak in a bath with Epsom salts, as Shape magazine suggests. (And remember, sore-pain is good, but pain-pain is not.)

ProSources Foam Roller, $19.99, Amazon

Dr. Teal's Lavender Epsom Salt, $11, Amazon

2. You Can Talk Normally Throughout Your Workout

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If you can hold an entire conversation with your BFF about last night's date during your morning run together, you need to increase the intensity of your workout. Guidelines from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion state that you shouldn't be able to say more than a few words without needing to take a break. A low-intensity workout, such as yoga or walking, is wonderful occasionally, but you'll also want to incorporate high-intensity workouts where you can't easily chat to get the best results in the quickest amount of time. Not being able to hold a conversation indicates that you've reached your target heart rate (see more below), which means you're improving your overall fitness by enhancing your aerobic capacity, according to UC Berkeley. Improving your aerobic capacity means your cardiovascular system is able to deliver more oxygen to the body’s cells during exercise, keeping your heart healthy.

Vinyasa Yoga For Beginners With Kanta Barrios, $1.99, Amazon

Ripped With HIIT, $1.99, Amazon

3. You're Not Reaching The Right Heart Rate

Chances are you have no idea what your heart rate is when you work out. Ideally, you want your heart rate to be between 64 and 76 percent of its maximum during moderate exercise, and between 76 and 90 percent of its maximum for vigorous exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 25, your max heart rate is 195. Your ideal target range for moderate exercise would then be between 125-148, and for vigorous exercise you would aim for a heart rate of 175. The easiest way to track your heart rate is by wearing a heart rate monitor (many fitness trackers include this handy feature). But if you don't have a monitor, you can also pause during your workout and check your pulse. Put your index and middle finger on your wrist and count the number of pulses in 60 seconds. 

So if you're feeling discouraged with your workouts, fear not. Try out one of these solutions and switching things up will seem totally worth it after a week or two.

Fitbit Charge Heart Rate Wireless Activity Wristband, $137, Amazon

Polar FT60 Heart Rate Monitor, $79.95, Amazon

4. You Do The Same Workout Every Day

If you do the same workout routine again and again, you might not be getting the most from exercise. Your body is amazing in that it adapts to perform whatever physical tasks you put it through. As a fitness instructor, I see it all the time as clients adapt to new exercises I suggest, but it also means that if you're doing the same workout day after day, you're body is happily going through the motions. You have to push your muscles to produce real change by working them in constantly different directions. According to Women's Health, you should try changing your workouts every four to six weeks.

Essentially, you have to stay one step ahead of your body and keep throwing new challenges its way to keep it continually adapting. Besides, exercise can feel like a chore if you're someone who doesn't really enjoy it, but it's actually much more fun to vary your workouts and will produce much more inspiring results. Try to mix up your favorite workout routine by doing something new that will also target areas of your body you normally don't use as much; for example, if you normally live at your CrossFit box, try signing up for an indoor cycling class to add some cardio to your strength training. 

Gavin VELO Cycling Shoe, $39.95, Amazon

5. You Don't Notice Any Changes 

If your goal is to lose weight in a healthy, positive way, good for you for making that decision for yourself. Try finding healthy ways to keep track of your progress if this is the case, like paying attention to how your clothes fit, rather than tracking a number on a scale. If you're not seeing any difference here, you may need to switch things up. It's even more important to remember, though, that your before body is equally as beautiful as any "after" body, and remember to keep your goals realistic and reach out for support from friends as you continue on your fitness journey. They can keep you accountable but also hold up a red flag if you're becoming too concerned with how your body looks instead of your overall health, which should always be your primary reason for exercising.

Images: FaceMePLS, CherryPointzilupe/Flickr

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