How to tell if your workout is *really* working or if you should switch it up


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Working out is kind of like dating: You want to be in a place with your fitness routine (and relationship) that makes you feel steady but not too comfortable. Just like you want your SO to surprise you, challenge you, and keep you on your toes (AKA ditch the sweatpants every now and then)–same goes for your workouts.

Designing a fitness routine that you like and that gets you closer to your fitness goals takes time and patience. Fitness pros like Kevin Mejia, trainer at the celeb-favorite Dogpound Gym in New York City, usually have a standard recommendation for the kinds of workouts they advise clients to do each week (for Mejia, it’s 2 to 3 strength and conditioning workouts, 2 core and cardio days, and 1 active recovery day). While this structure may vary from trainer to trainer (and it also depends on your specific fitness level and goals), most pros agree that coasting through the same workout over and over is a bad idea.

But how do you know when things are getting too comfortable and when it’s time to shake things up in your routine? Sure, it’s not difficult to spot early signs that your fitness routine is working (hello, sore muscles). But what happens when you do the same barre, yoga, or bootcamp class week after week? I set out to find out if workouts become less effective when you get better at them. Here, how to find out if your workouts are getting you the most bang for your buck.

How to tell if your fitness routine is working

It seems simple, but the most obvious sign is soreness. But don’t take that idea and run with it just yet…it’s a lot more complicated than soreness alone. “I don’t think that feeling soreness is a determining factor in gauging the quality of your workout. The best way to tell if your workout is working is by paying attention to how you feel,” says Lauren Kleban, fitness trainer and founder of LEKFit“Feeling more energized throughout the day, increased endurance and even the ability to lift things easier than before working out, are all excellent ways to know that your workout is really working,” says Kleban.

Naturally, if you’re new to working out, you might be sorer than, say, someone who’s been at it for years, but even then it’s not the only way to know. “Usually those who are starting their fitness journeys will experience a lot of soreness,” says Mejia.  “A lot people think if they’re not sore at all the next day after working out, then they didn’t have a successful day in the gym. But this isn’t true,” Mejia says. Which is why it’s good to use a few other tools to help gauge where you’re at, like say, setting specific fitness goals. 

“Goals are so important when creating your fitness routine or program. For example, if you max out a bench press on week 1 of your workout routine at 100 pounds, and then on week 3 you can get more than one rep at the same weight, it means you’re getting stronger. Things should feel hard or tough to do and as you advance those same things should be easier and easier,” explains Mejia.  

When it’s time to change up your workouts

Whenever your workouts start to feel easy or boring, it might be a good idea to consider integrating different workouts into your schedule. “You should mix things up as often as possible, even if you continue with the same method or concept, you should make sure that your mind and body are constantly and actively engaged in what you are doing,” says Kleban. “This means, switching up weights, moves, and music.”

One simple way to level up your workout is by constantly increasing the weight you use during workouts. Maybe you always grab the 5-pound weights at class because you know you can lift them, but as you grow in your abilities, you should be able to lift more and more. Worst case scenario you can only do one rep and then next time, you’ll try to do two. “It is crucial that you are constantly increasing the amount of weight you are using in order to prevent any workout plateaus and of course, your ability to use these heavier weights is an obvious indication that your workouts are working,” says Kleban.

“If you notice the workout you did last week isn’t strenuous on your body, you’re adapting to what you’re doing,” explains Meija. “This is the cue to when you should start switching things up.”

Changing things up every week is a good idea, since, according to him, you should be trying to confuse your body. “The human body is incredible and it quickly adapts to stress on it. Trying to confuse your body as much as you can will help you find success in your fitness journey. If you do spinning 3 times a week try switching one of those classes with boxing,” advises Mejia.

If you’re looking for advice or more ideas, it never hurts to have a chat with a trainer or instructor at your favorite class. Ask them what other types of workouts they recommend that complement what you’re currently doing. After all, keeping your body guessing and getting out of your comfort zone every now and then is a good thing.

Stamina and endurance are two things that you’ll want when you level up your workouts, here are some tips for beginners. And not sure if you’re working out enough? Check out this stair-climbing test that can tell you.

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