How Can You Tell If You're Working Out Hard Enough?

James Logie
Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Are you pushing yourself as hard as you can in your workouts?

If you pay attention to commercials, social media, and fitness influencers, you may feel that every workout should result in your having to crawl out of the gym.

The thought seems to be that if you aren’t giving 110% in your training — you’re depriving yourself. But this is a dangerous approach.

You want to train hard and efficiently, but still leave yourself wanting more.

I’ve been a personal trainer for more than half my life, and it’s fine to have those sessions where you have nothing left to give — but they shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

Too much intensity may lead to excess fatigue, sickness, or injury that can have a negative impact on your future workouts.

This is a look at the problems that may come from too much intensity, but some signs to look for to know you’re training in the best zone.

The Problem With Extreme Exercise

Unless you’re a world-renowned elite athlete, you don’t need to train like one.

If you’re looking to boost your fitness, gain some muscle, and lose some body fat, you’re better served by moderate-intensity exercise, and above all: consistency.

Extreme exercise without recovery can suppress the immune system. This can lead to illness and the inability to fight off disease and infections.

Excessive exercise can actually affect gut function and result in leaky gut syndrome that can cause autoimmune diseases.

Along with that, long-term extreme exercise can lead to potential cardiovascular problems.

You don’t want to exercise to such extremes that you cause the breakdown of the body through immune system problems.

Physical and structural problems from exercise that is too intense, such as joint and nerve problems, tendon damage, strained muscles, and inflammation can happen.

When you over-exercise — and don’t include sufficient rest — it can become a one step forward, two steps back scenario.

How Do You Know if You’re Training Effectively?

As mentioned, it’s fine to have those few sessions to go all out — just keep them sporadic.

They also serve another helpful purpose: they let you know when you’ve done too much.

This way you’ll know how to recognize the signals of a workout that has gone too far instead of cutting it off when you’re still feeling good.

If a workout makes you puke — you’ve gone too far. But you’ll recognize the signs that lead to this and know when to stop short in the future.

But you still want your workouts to be effective. How can you know if you’re training at the right intensity and not overdoing it?

If you are doing some simple cardio, looking to lose body fat, and boost your fitness, here are a few indicators from your body that you’re in the right zone.

1. Audible breathing

When you’re working out at the proper intensity, you should be able to hear yourself breathe.

You don't want to be gasping for breath, or panting heavily, but hearing yourself inhale and exhale means you’re probably at the correct intensity to boost your cardiovascular fitness and burn some body fat.

2. Sweat

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be sweating buckets, but you should feel warm when training at the correct intensity.

Everyone’s metabolism is different, and you may sweat more than average.

This is fine, but you still want to listen to your body cues. If you find yourself overheating; slow down the pace and remember to keep drinking water consistently throughout your workout.

If you are exercising outside in warmer weather — and are sweating more than usual — an electrolyte sports drink can be beneficial to replace those lost electrolytes.

Normally, sports drinks are not necessary, but in intense heat — they do have their place.

But for a regular session, you should feel warm with some sense of perspiration. You don’t need to be drenched in sweat to show you’ve had a successful workout.

3. The Ability to Talk

If you are working out with someone else, doing a hike, or going for a jog, you should just be able to still carry on a conversation with them.

If you are gasping to get words out, you may be at too high an intensity.

If you’re doing any form of intervals or circuits, you wouldn’t be talking throughout, but during the recovery phase, you should be able to eventually have a conversation before the next round starts.

Remember the importance of breathing during your exercise. Whether this is steady-state cardio, or something more intense — be aware of your breathing.

We often hold our breath without realizing — especially during intense exercise — and you want to nip this in the bud.

You probably remember “in through the nose, and out through the mouth” from high school gym class — and this is the most effective breathing pattern for exercise.

Breathing in through the nose is paramount for exercise. It leads to better performance and more oxygenation of the lungs and muscle tissue.

Our noses have a compound called nitric oxide, or NO, embedded in our sinuses. It is stimulated by the warm, moist air that is inhaled through the nostrils.

The NO flows into the lungs and it oxygenates your blood 10–15% more than when you breathe through the mouth.

Be aware of your breathing, and make nose breathing a priority during your workouts.

4. Dry Lips

If you find yourself licking your lips to re-moisten them, you’re probably at the correct cardio intensity to be gaining the best benefits.

You will often subconsciously re-moisten your lips without realizing it, so try to pay attention to these various body cues that help show you are training effectively.

Again, remember to hydrate throughout your workout.

The American Council on Exercise says that you should consume 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before your workout, and 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

Remember to sip your water and not to chug it. Downing water too quickly can lead to cramping.

Final Thoughts

Training intensity is important, but you need the right intensity. Overdoing it can just set you back.

Not only can it suppress the immune system, but you don’t allow proper recovery for your body when it is constantly being broken down.

This leads to sickness and injury, both of which will prevent you from training.

You need to always listen to your body and recognize the signals for when you may overdo it. Do you feel a burst of energy on some days and feel like picking up the pace? Go for it.

Are you feeling a little drained because of an awful night's sleep and work stress? Maybe best to tone down the pace — or add another rest day.

Your body knows what you need, so start listening to it.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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