How do you really know if your workout is benefiting you? Are you judging it by how you look physically, how much weight you’ve lost or gained, how strong you are at certain exercises, or from its popularity because everyone else is doing it? You may not like what I’m about to say but sometimes the truth hurts, and when it comes to exercise and fitness, there’s a lot more hurt than you think.
Over 24 years in the fitness business, I’ve personally witnessed thousands of people who look “healthy”, but on the inside, they’re just the opposite. If you look fit and act fit, does that mean you are fit? The answer is NO, and it’s not even close. The thing is, some of the fittest looking people you know like exercise class instructors, personal trainers, and endurance athletes are some of the ones who are the least healthy. Does that shock you? Oh they definitely look the part, but if you ran them through an MRI machine or asked them how often they experience pain in their bodies, you’re going to see my point very quickly. The bigger issue is; these are the same people from whom millions learn how to exercise. So where does that leave you? How do you know that workout you’ve been doing day in and day out is healthy or not? It’s really very simple, and your body will tell you everything you need to know.
I’m going to give you three indicators from your body that will definitely let you know if your workouts are truly beneficial and healthy or it’s running years off your life. Let’s take a look at each of them and see if anything jumps out at you.
Level of muscular soreness – One of the most damaging mistakes most people make is judging the effectiveness of their workouts by how sore they get during the days afterwards. There are a lot of people who do not experience soreness or the level of soreness they want, so they go into “beat up the body mode” and keep increasing the intensity of their workouts until they are so sore they have a hard time moving. I know you’ve heard people talking about how good their workouts were because they couldn’t even walk the next day or they couldn’t even wash their hair without pain. I’ve also heard many instructors and trainers seeking praise for making their clients experience this too. This is exactly what you don’t want to happen to your muscles and if your instructor or trainer is responsible, walk away and don’t go back.
So how do you know what a healthy level of soreness is? Moderate soreness that does not last more than 72 hours and does not interfere with your normal activities is ideal. If your level of soreness is causing you to take pain medication or an anti-inflammatory, is causing you to modify how you walk, sit, or any normal use of your body, or last more than 72 hours, you’ve done way too much and you need to reduce your workouts. Don’t do more, do something different. Now, what about those joints?
Your Joints – I bet you at least 80-90% of people who exercise on a regular basis have some form of joint pain, with many having chronic pain. What the heck is wrong with this picture? This is the biggest problem in exercise; people destroying their joints by the way they exercise. This is also the biggest reason I wrote my second book, “A Body To Die For, the painful truth about exercise”.
It’s one thing to see someone doing an exercise incorrectly or using too much weight but it’s altogether another thing to see an instructor or trainer standing right beside them letting them do it that way. And, I see it all the time. When you experience pain, it is a guarantee that something is wrong and when it comes to exercise, that pain is more than likely self imposed. A healthy body does not have pain, no matter how healthy it looks and if you have pain during and after your workouts, you need to stop and change the way you exercise. The next time you’re in the gym, ask a class instructor or trainer if they ever have joint pain during or after they exercise. When they say “yes”, ask them why. Now I have a question for you: How’s your heart?
Your Heart – There’s not a more important muscle in your body, doesn’t it make sense to keep track of it? Talking about a strong indicator of being fit on the inside, your heart rate will definitely tell you if you are on the right track with your workouts. The truth is, taking heart rates before, during, and after exercise is as common as exercising correctly; it’s just something most people don’t do. Taking a heart rate is one of the simplest yet most valuable pieces of exercise information any person can have. All it takes is finding your pulse, counting it for six seconds, and adding a zero to the number of beats you counted. If you don’t take heart rates, how do you know what effect your workout is having on your heart? It’s simple; you have no idea.
You could have a serious issue and never know it until it’s too late, or you could be harming your heart by the way you exercise by exceeding safe heart rate ranges. You heart could also have a hard time recovering from your workouts and staying at a higher rate because you did too much or on the other hand, you might not be challenging your heart enough for it to get healthier. The only way to know is to check it daily and to check it often. Here’s another question for you: How many instructors and trainers keep track of their client’s heart rates or their own heart rates? Yep, that’s another question for you to ask.
So there you have it, the three indicators of whether or not your sweat inducing, muscle pumping, weight banging, or class stepping workout is truly healthy, or it’s prepping you for your joint replacement surgery coming soon, that bulging disc waiting to happen, or both. Exercise does not equal health; you have to make sure you’re doing it right. That means not exercising so much you can’t walk right or lift your arms, it means not banging or popping your joints into a life of pain, and it means always communicating with the most important muscle in your body; your heart. Do these things and you’ll be awesome. Don’t do them and you’ll end up like many others; looking and acting fit, but feeling more like that out of order machine with a busted cable that never gets fixed.
– Bobby Whisnand