How to know if you’re training hard enough?

strong faceless sportsman lifting dumbbell in gym

This is something that bothers at least beginners at the gym. There might be some misconceptions about how one should measure the effectiveness of the training. Maybe you’ve thought that your muscles should be sore the day after every time you hit the gym, and if they’re not, you weren’t training hard enough. Perhaps you thought you should always push your sets to failure to achieve maximum results or that you should train every day. These thoughts can be misleading, and you might end up in a vicious cycle where you’re trying to train even harder to get results when you’re really doing the opposite.

On the other hand, you might think that just going to the gym and doing something is enough to make progress. You might also think that hitting the gym once every week is good enough. Then you realize that a year has passed, and you’re still picking up those same dumbbells as when you started. So how do we find a balance? How can we know when we are training hard enough? Let’s go through the basic concepts.

Progressive overload

It basically means that you should do a little more than you did last time. This leads to continuous progress and you pushing yourself to the limits. You should always train harder than you did last time. To achieve this, you should start tracking your workouts, so you know where and how to improve from the previous time.

The most obvious improvement method is increasing weight, but this might not always be a viable option because increasing weight might be too much. Luckily, this is not your only option, and you can do more by simply doing more reps. Even doing one rep more in a set is an improvement to the previous set, and you know you’re making progress.

As you become a more advanced lifter, you’re going to hit limits even with these, and you just can’t add more weight or reps. However, there are other ways to push yourself forward. Firstly, you can make the workout harder just by simply reducing the resting time. You’re making the exercise harder by giving your muscles less time to recover. Another way to increase the challenge is to perform the movement slower and really focus on that lift.

How often and how hard should I train?

Your muscles need time to rest. If you’re training every day you’re probably training too much. Targeting muscle groups 2 times a week is pretty optimal, giving them time to rest for 2-3 days between workouts. Remember, you’re gaining the result when you’re resting. Building a gym program is a little more complicated than just dividing muscle groups by this rule and you should really consult a professional trainer to make a program to maximize the results you want. You can also buy a program online. When you find a suitable one, just search for reviews and comments about the program you’re about to buy to make sure you’re making a good decision.

Training your sets to failure isn’t a good idea either. You need to do this to learn where your limits are but doing so every time will make you just fatigued and doesn’t really give you any extra. With compound movements, like squats or bench presses, you might even hurt yourself. Instead, you should leave those sets a couple reps short. You might have stumbled on a term called RPE which is an acronym for Rate of Perceived Exertion.

RPE 10 means you’re training to failure; you simply can’t do more reps. With compound movements, you’re probably good with RPE 7-8, meaning that you would leave 2-3 reps in the tank. With more isolated exercises, a reasonable value can be 8-9, as you can do so more safely. In order to know where your 10 is, you need to train to failure sometimes and find your limits but do this safely with someone spotting.

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