How to know if you actually got a good workout

So you made it to the gym. You ran, you lifted, you sweated, you worked. As far as you can tell, you did alright. But when you've made it back to your locker with your workout done and dusted, how do you know if you actually had a good one?
Is it the post-workout ache which we often find so satisfying? Well, if you're feeling physically broken after a workout, that might not actually be good for you. Pain doesn't always lead to gains, and judging the effectiveness of a workout by how much it hurt may be leading you down the wrong route. Instead, we've listed seven ways you can tell if your workout was really a good one.

1. What does your heart rate tell you?

For an effective cardio workout, science generally agrees that your heart rate should reach three-quarters of its maximum. And how do you work this out? Your maximum heart rate is 208 minus your age multiplied by 0.7.
208 - (age X 0.7)
And yes, it's OK to use a calculator for this! Once you have your maximum heart rate, find three quarters of it to get your optimal heart rate in beats per minute. Aim for this as your best measure of cardiovascular fitness.

2. How quickly do you recover from intense activity?

If your heart is healthy and working well, it'll recover more quickly from intense exercise. In your rest periods or during exercises of lower intensity, check to see how long it takes for your heart rate to decrease. If it slows quickly and regulates itself, that's a good sign of cardiovascular fitness, which comes as a result of effective workouts.

3. Can you hold a conversation?

If you work out with a friend and find that you can maintain a conversation throughout your exercise, chances are you're not pushing yourself to your limits as much as you could. It should be difficult to chat without getting breathless, although we also don't want you pushing it to the other extreme and challenging yourself so much that you can barely breathe, let alone say a word. Find a happy medium which feels challenging yet sustainable.

4. How are you sleeping?

If you're physically tired the night after a workout, chances are it was a good one. Exercise should make you fatigued, but again, there's a balance to be found. If you're sleeping soundly, that's great! But if you still find yourself tossing and turning, that can be a sign of overtraining. The post-workout hormones flooding your body may keep you alert for longer if you really go at it hard. Try not to work out too close to bedtime or push your body too intensely if this is the case for you.

5. Are you staying on task at work?

We know that exercise has not only physical benefits, but mental, too. Working out has been shown to improve concentration and focus, so if you get a morning or lunchtime workout done and find yourself more engaged throughout the rest of the day, you're certainly on track. Great news for you, your productivity and your career!

6. Are you focusing on quality over quantity?

It can be easy to assume that going to the gym more often equates to better results. But if you're pumping iron or pounding the treadmill for hours at a time, six days a week, you're not necessarily optimising your workouts. High-intensity interval training has been shown to be more effective at getting desired results. It's about intense bursts of exercise and switching up your workouts to maximise the calories you burn both during and after exercise.

7. How hungry do you feel after you've worked out?

It's normal to feel an increase in appetite after you've worked out. Following a massive expenditure of energy, your body will need to refuel and you may find yourself craving carbohydrates and a substantial meal. This is a sure sign that you've worked hard.

How do you generally feel after a workout? Did any of these points particularly stand out and make you think? Let us know in the comments!

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