3 Easy Steps to Test If Your Workout Is Tough Enough

woman working out drinking waterSometimes, you head to the gym on a very specific mission: a mission that was the result of a snack sesh gone rogue. (First, it's one cookie. Then, it's 18 bite-size pretzels. Next, a whole bag of Tostitos, and shoot, suddenly your go-to workout tights feel a little more than "snug.") For many of us, on a post-binge mission, the workout goal is simple: Burn as many calories as possible to reverse the damage done.


In the process of Operation Calorie Burn, your eyes are glued to the calorie read-out on your cardio machine of choice. The reality: It's very unlikely that calorie readout is anywhere near correct.

"You have to be wary about calorie readouts on a cardio machine," says Ben Wegman, coach at New York City's The Fhitting Room. "There are so many factors, including your age, body weight, body fat percentage, even your experience level, and overall gauge of fitness that can impact how many calories you burn to a workout. It's very unlikely you're giving a machine the data it really needs to give you an accurate read. There's a lot of room for error."

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Translation: If your typical indicator of a good workout is a calorie readout, it's time to reevaluate.

The goal: To work out in a way that feels obtainable, but doesn't throw you straight on your backside. According to Aaron De Jong, Lululemon ambassador and founder of the Vancouver studio Movement 108, it's important to remember that a workout is personal. "Your response to exercise is yours alone," he stresses.

De Jong suggests that you ask yourself these three important questions to determine your workout intensity:

1. How's your breathing? "If it feels easy but you're breathing hard, it's hard!" says De Jong. Reality check: If it feels hard but you're breathing easy, it's actually not taxing you that much. As long as you have the proper form down, you may just be surprised how much weight you can lift.

2. Where's your heart rate? Your heart rate will be a much stronger indicator of consistent effort than a machine saying that you're at "level 10." With that said, your target heart rate will differ depending on how hard you're working. If you know your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age), that will help you determine your target exercise heart rate.

During moderate-intensity activities, aim for 50 to 69 percent of your maximum heart rate. During hard physical activities, heart rate will be between 70 percent and 90 percent of your max. If you're having a tough time, check out this helpful exercise heart rate calculator.

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3. What's your perceived exertion? This one's a bit trickier, but the better you know your body, the better you can respond to stimulus. "Hard work creates discomfort which creates change," says De Jong. "Find your edge between discomfort and enjoying the activity."

Your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is calculated between 1 and 20, according to the American Council on Exercise. With 0 being no exertion whatsoever and 20 being a very, very hard workout, focus on grading how you feel during that specific workout.

For most, a light jog may feel like a 13, or somewhat hard. Ultimately, what's most important is that you're not like "OMG, HOW DO I CONTINUE?" during your sweat sesh. The exercise isn't impossible -- it's just intense enough to get you results.



 Image via iStock.com/vgajic

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