Today we are talking about the effort level behind your workouts, as it’s a popular topic out there. Are you working out “long” or “hard” enough to see results?
If you’re reading this, then I need to pause for a virtual high five because you are probably already on some type of workout routine. This is a huge step, so don’t brush over that.
Good for you for getting out there and showing up! Now let’s answer the questions …
Am I working out long enough?
Am I working out hard enough?
You’re probably in one of two camps:
- You are working out consistently and aren’t feeling challenged.
- You are two months into the same routine, wondering where the results are.
It’s not always easy to find the sweet spot of training where you feel challenged enough, but not overtired, and where you are steadily feeling better and stronger over time.
Hopefully this post helps!
Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to remember that exercise itself is a stressor on the body. It’s important to have a variety of low-intensity formats included in our routines to avoid overtraining and enable our bodies to work smarter, not harder to see progress along the way.
(This is how we grow! Don’t be afraid of adding a low-impact workouts like yoga, Pilates, barre, bodyweight workouts etc. into your weekly routine.)
So, how do you know if you’re working at an effort level that keeps you progressing in the right direction without overtraining?
Here are some of my tips …
Invest in a heart rate monitor or watch that summarizes your effort levels during a workout.
(I promise this is not an advertisement for a heart rate monitor, but it’s the most important, so we’re digging in deep on this one!)
If you really have no idea about how hard you’re working during a workout, a heart rate monitor will show your heart rate and exertion level whenever you look down. Seeing these numbers in real time (while you’re working out) can be very helpful in hitting long-term goals. Some math is involved with this, so this is my best at breaking it down as easily as possible.
Two things you need to know here is your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and an introduction to tracking your heart rate zones. The point in doing this is to avoid under-training or over-training, and to make sure that your efforts are on the levels they should be with recovery.
If you don’t know what your maximum heart rate (MHR) is, you can use this formula:
220 – age = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).
Since I am 35, my MHR is 185. This isn’t the be-all and end-all since it does not take genetics or your current training level in to account, but it’s a great place to start and adjust based on how you feel. So, this tells me that the highest my heart rate should get during a workout is 185 bpm.
From there, you can break down the zones of effort levels and know when you might be training a little too hard for maximum results. (This is where Orangetheory and the theory of hitting the orange zone for ideally 12-20 minutes per one hour workout came from.)
While Orangetheory coaches encourage you to hit the “orange zone” at 84-91% of your MHR (for me this would be 155-168 bpm), the typical Heart Rate Zones are as follows:
- Zone 1: 50-60%, (VERY LIGHT) this is a very comfortable effort level where you have the most control, think warm up and cool down.
- Zone 2: 60-70%, (LIGHT) this is a relaxed effort that still allows you to hold a conversation. This zone improves your general endurance!
- Zone 3: 70-80%, (MODERATE) this training level is uncomfortable but still doable. It makes moderate efforts easier and improves your efficiency.
- Zone 4: 80-90%, (HARD) this is very uncomfortable, but not your max effort. You should still be able to say short, broken sentences here.
- Zone 5: 90-100%, (MAXIMUM) this is your maximum efforts – think sprints on a treadmill or intense, short interval training.
After calculating your estimated MHR, you can determine your different heart rate zones by multiplying that number by the percentage for each zone. For example, to find 85% of my MHR (185), I would do 185 x 0.85 = 157.
(And this is why the number flashing on your tracker is helpful to see. That number is your heart rate in beats per minute during that specific moment of the workout. If I’m at 157 bpm, I should be doing something pretty intense to be at 85% of my max – like a jump squat versus a standing biceps curl.)
It might seem confusing at first, but once you find your numbers, you can write them down and make notes on how you feel around each one. This Target Heart Rate Chart has additional tips on what to look for and how to adjust accordingly!
*Phew, that was a long one! The rest of the tips get much simpler.*
Change up the type, intensity, and duration of your workouts.
If you’re consistent in showing up for your workouts, but you are doing the same workouts week after week, you’re going to eventually hit a plateau in growth. Over time, you should be feeling stronger, fitter, and/or start seeing changes on the scale or how your clothes fit. If not, you might need look at your program and give it a revamp.
Get out of your comfort zone, try a new type of workout, try different frequencies and even reconstruct your plan around how you feel.
Are you completely whipped after an hour of jumping around, then sore for days? You could probably ease back a bit. Are you finishing your workout feeling like you could do the whole workout again right then? Then it’s time to amp it up in intensity or choose longer workouts.
At the very least, your routine needs to include low-intensity workouts along with your high-intensity days, stretching and recovery, and at least one rest day per week.
Workouts do not have to be an hour or more to see results.
How long should your workouts be? It depends. Every person, situation, and goal is different to be able to answer this the same all around.
The American Heart Association recommends 75-150 minutes of aerobic activity, as well as two strength-training sessions per week. That could be broken down to any of the following routines:
- 30 minutes of power walking/jogging 3x per week + 2 strength sessions
- 40 minutes of spinning 2-3x per week + 2 strength sessions
- 45 minute jog/run 1x per week + 1 HIIT workout + 2 strength sessions
- 20-30 minutes on elliptical 2-3x per week + 2 strength sessions
- 15 minutes jump rope 5x per week + 2 strength sessions
These are just a handful of examples with a general goal of staying fit, and the point is to find something that interests you and roll with it! Run if you like to run, swim if you like to swim. Decide how many days per week you want to do these activities and then base your days and goals for strength training around them.
Rest between sets!
It’s easy to get into a habit of getting in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, and in turn, rushing through circuits without any rest time between sets. You get into a move, move, move type of mindset, and this isn’t necessarily good for growth.
Yes, there is space for this type of intensity in a 40-minute HIIT workout or quick 5K on the treadmill, but the same rules don’t apply when you’re lifting heavy things or concentrating on building strength. Your muscles need time to recover, and even a minute to rest in between exercises can give your body the reset it needs for muscle growth and better results.
Save longer workouts for the weekends.
Schedules vary, but people generally have the most free time on the weekends. If this is true for you, it could be key to consistently plan a longer strength training day or longer cardio session (I love my outdoor weekend runs!) on days where you know you will have more time.
This leaves more wiggle room during the week if something extra falls onto your plate for work or some of your workouts unexpectedly get cut short. Plus, moving and taking your time to shower, cook a hot meal or enjoy more time to relax afterwards makes it feel more like a treat. I highly recommend giving a weekend workout a try if you never have!
I hope this helps you assess your workouts to see if you’re putting in the right amount of effort and time into them. Exercise is a form of self-care (and free therapy for me!), and results are important for those who use them as motivation to keep growing, too.
Just remember that the road to success is not liner. We all have ups and downs along the way, but we should eventually see the results that we’re looking for with the right programing.
If you need any help with formulating an ideal workout routine for you and your goals, please reach out! I offer services just for this and would love to chat with you.
Thanks for checking in today, and I’ll see you back here in the morning with a new set of Friday Favorites!
You might also like:
- Tips On Finding Time To Work Out
- My Go-To Workout: Push, Pull, Squat
- Six Fitness Facts That Might Surprise You
- Cardio vs. Strength Training: Why You Should Do Both