How to know if you're getting a good workout

Feeling the burn for days? You may be working too hard. Our personal trainer reveals the three top three ways to tell if your workout routine is effective

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Each week personal trainer Barb Gormley answers your most pressing fitness questions.

How do I know I’m getting a good workout? What are some indications?

When I’m working out at my local gym, it seems there’s always one person reading a magazine while pedaling leisurely on a bike, a person lifting weights that are way too light, and another person engaged in a long chat break with a friend. And elsewhere in the gym, I know there’s someone else pushing herself so hard (in a spin class, for example) that she’ll be too sore to ever come back for a second visit.

Whatever your fitness goals are, you have to challenge yourself – not too little and not too much – if you want to see results. You also need to commit to your workout and leave the distractions (like that magazine) at home.

I tell my clients to ask these three questions to get the intensity just right:

1. Did I break a sweat (or at least get really warm)?
The sweat test tells you if you’re revving up your body’s metabolism and pushing it to do more than it’s used to doing. You don’t need to be dripping in perspiration (in fact, this is likely a sign that you’re working way too hard, unless you’re doing hot yoga!). Some people tell me that they just don’t sweat. What I’ve found is that some people sweat a bit less than others, but the amount of sweat is almost always directly related to the intensity of the workout.

2. Did it feel challenging and fun?
When you find an activity you enjoy and you exercise “hard, but not too hard,” you finish with a sense of accomplishment and look forward to doing it again.

If you have trouble pacing yourself, try an instructor-led exercise class (that matches your fitness level, of course) where the instructor sets the intensity. Or register for a walking or running clinic where the leader gradually increases the distance over time. On your own, try intervals of hard and easier work; for example, swim one fast lap then one slower lap. If you’re into gadgets, set a heart rate monitor to beep if your heart rate gets too high or too low. Or treat yourself to even just one session with a personal trainer.

3. Do I feel energized now that I’ve finished?
By the time you’ve stretched, cooled down, showered and had some water, you should feel fantastic and be walking with a spring in your step. If you feel exhausted and are calculating how you can squeeze a nap into your agenda, you’ve driven yourself too hard!

Barb Gormley is a certified personal trainer and freelance writer based in Toronto. Contact her at

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