Unless you're drenched in sweat and barely making it up the stairs, you haven't had a good workout, right? While in some cases (like after a HIIT workout or leg day) that may be the case, you don't want to be completely and utterly decimated after every single workout.
While the signs of a good workout are usually personal and depend on your overall training goals, there are a few things you can consider when assessing your training sessions and planning for the future. These aren't the be all, end all when taking stock of your performance, but they're a handy measurement of your effort.
1. You're a Little Sore or Stiff
One surefire way to know you've had a good workout is when you feel that dull ache in your muscles and you just know you're going to be sore the next day. You might even be a little sore or stiff immediately after an intense workout, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs when exercise causes microtrauma to your muscle fibers. When you train with heavier weight or at a higher intensity level, your muscles undergo some temporary damage, which your body repairs, building stronger muscle. So soreness can symbolize progress in the gym.
Especially if you're perpetually sore, you may want to reduce your exercise frequency and take some more rest days. In this case, certified personal trainer SJ McShane recommends you rest, drink plenty of water or go on a light walk.
2. You Feel Like You Pushed Yourself
Do you feel like you really earned your cooldown and post-workout stretching session? Good for you! While measuring your heart rate is a good tool to measure intensity during your workout, your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) can help you measure your efforts afterward.
RPE is a scale that allows you to gauge how hard you feel your workout was on a scale from 0 (no exertion) to 10 (very, very strong exertion), according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Ideally, your workout should land between a 3 (moderate exertion) and a 5 (strong exertion).
However, if your session felt below or above this "ideal" measurement, that doesn't mean you had a bad workout. Your training should be tailored to your personal goals, rather than a general scale, McShane says. For instance, an entire session of stretching or mobility work may feel low on the exertion scale but is necessary for muscle and joint health.
3. You're in a Better Mood
Ever heard the saying, "You're one workout away from a better mood"? That's because a sunnier disposition usually means you've had a good workout. While you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals, called endorphins and serotonin, according to the ACE. Typically known as a "runner's high," this endorphin rush isn't specific to running and can happen during and after any type of exercise.
If you're feeling positive, energetic or find yourself on cloud nine, you've hit the exercise sweet spot, says McShane. This is why exercise can be helpful in relieving stress or anxiety. It may not cure your bad mood, but it's usually a step in the right direction.
4. You Get a Good Night's Sleep
If you have a restful night slumber after your workout, you've probably had a successful sweat session, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A good dose of physical activity can improve your sleep quality and sleep length.
On the flip side, though, trouble sleeping isn't necessarily a sign of a bad workout (though perhaps an indication of bad timing). Often, vigorous exercise right before bedtime can actually hinder or impair your sleep, according to Harvard Medical School. Especially if you perform high-intensity interval training right before bed time, you may struggle to fall asleep. So schedule your workout more than an hour before lights out.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "The Lactic Acid Lowdown: Clarifying Common Misconception"
- Academy of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal: "Sore and More"
- ACE: "Monitoring Exercise Intensity Using Perceived Exertion"
- ACE: "Your Brain on Exercise: The Neuroscience Behind a Good Workout"
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Exercise Affects Sleep"
- Harvard Medical School: "Does Exercise at Night Affect Sleep?"