You go to the gym. You do your cardio and hit some machines. You even do some free weights. By all accounts you're doing all the right things. Sure, you might never have zombie-slaying abs like The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan, but you're on the right track, right? The sad truth is that most gymgoers could get more of a workout by doing a push-up for every zombie decapitation they cringe at on Sunday nights. Are you one of the gymgoers who expends more energy getting to the gym than in it? Here are three ways to check to make sure you're actually working out and not just wasting an hour a day in neon spandex.
The Cardio Conversation
Doing your daily cardio is a great thing, but if you can hold a conversation through your entire effort on the treadmill or elliptical, you're not really working out with any conviction. Toronto-based personal trainer Nathane Jackson, CSCS, author of Nathane Jackson's Whole Health Revolution (coming later in 2016), told us that "during high-intensity intervals or speed runs, if you are able to talk to your training partner, you are definitely not training with enough intensity." But there is an out to help keep the conversation flowing. Jackson told us that you can still chat during periods low-intensity efforts (like your recovery periods when doing intervals) or when doing steady state cardio. By talking, we mean asking your friend if she wants to get a shake after your workout, not a full conversation about life, love, or Gossip Girl.
Skimping on Recovery
A good workout is only as good as the recovery you allowed yourself after your last training session. If you aren't rested, well-fed, and approaching your workout with the optimum capabilities that your body can muster, you won't have a good effort. How do you know if you're resting and recovering well? "If your next session rarely feels like a chore, chances are you are doing all the necessary things to help with recovery, including such factors as sleep (quality and quantity), adequate nutrition, and stress management," according to Jackson.
Your Plan Sucks
We hate to be the ones to tell you, but just going to the gym and putting in some time won't produce results. Without a solid plan or a trainer to help direct you on your path to better health, you won't see results. Instead, you'll get complacent, slowly decreasing your commitment while lowering the number of sets, reps, and sessions until the only lasting impact of your efforts in the gym is the unused gym membership fob on your keychain. Jackson told us that "if you are training with proper form and trying to progress a little each session (via reps, sets, load, frequency, decreased rest time between exercises) your muscles will grow, strength will increase, and your posture will improve." It won't happen overnight, but the progression will be obvious to the naked eye very early on and that will spur you on to continue to do more each time.
If you can pass these three tests, congratulations! You're actually working your workout. However, if you aren't planning your workouts and getting the proper recovery and if you opt to dictate your life story to a friend when you're doing cardio, you may as well stay home.