You’re showing up and working out, but how do you know if you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough at the gym? If you’re putting the time in, but not seeing or feeling the results of all the hours spent grinding it out on the treadmill or in the weight room, you might be wondering if your effort is enough.
While techie gadgets like fitness trackers and exercise apps can help you stay focused, you sometimes need other ways to gauge your progress. INSIDER asked three fitness experts to share some ways you can tell if you’re pushing yourself hard enough when sweating it out at the gym.
1. You’re breathless during cardio
We all know that cardio workouts should make us sweat, but a better measure of an efficient aerobic workout is your breathing.”
(Photo by Meghan Holmes)
For instance, Thornhill told INSIDER that at the end of a high-intensity cardio push, if you were having a conversation with another person and you could only say a few words in a breath, you’re pushing yourself appropriately.
However, if you’re new to fitness, he said it’s best not to get breathless too often. Instead, Thornhill recommended working your way up to sustaining mid to high levels of intensity for longer periods of time.
2. You measure the intensity by using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
One way to gauge intensity while working out, said iFit Trainer Mecayla Froerer, is by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Using a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the absolute hardest you can work, Froerer told INSIDER that you can take inventory of where you’re at and how you are feeling.
If your workout is supposed to be a HIIT style workout, you’ll want to work in the 8-10 RPE range (anaerobic). Additionally, if your workout is scheduled to be a recovery workout, you’ll want to be in the 1-4 RPE range. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
3. You’re seeing and feeling progress
If you’re feeling better, lifting heavier weights, moving faster, or recovering quicker, there’s a good chance you’re pushing yourself in the gym. But if you’re still feeling the same after putting in the time, Thornhill said you can up the intensity by increasing your resistance or weight incrementally, reduce your rest periods between HIIT (high-intensity-interval-training) sets, and increase the number of times you work out during the week.
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4. You’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness can happen after an intense workout. In other words, Thornhill said you know you’ve pushed the limits if your quads and calves are sore after a run, or your biceps are sore after a rigorous set of bicep curls.
“Tiny microscopic tears will develop in those muscles (don’t freak out, it’s totally normal) and your muscles will repair themselves and get stronger as you rest and recover,” he explained.
5. You feel some level of discomfort while working out
Strong effort and some discomfort go hand and hand, explained Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. He told INSIDER that you generally want to feel some level of discomfort (even minor) and pushing hard through a workout will cause that exact feeling.
(Photo by Danielle Cerullo)
“Pushing hard will create more ATP, your body will need extra oxygen, and so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles,” he explained.
As the heart rate spikes and the body requires more oxygen, Carvajal said lactic acid starts to flow through the muscles, mainly in the legs and arms. “That’s what is usually described as the ‘burn’ and is exactly what you should be reaching for,” he added.
6. You’re thinking about the reward
If you exercise on autopilot, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking about your “why,” which often leads to a lack of effort and disappointing results in the gym. That’s why Carvajal said to remind yourself before, during, and after the workout “why” you’re doing this — what is your reward?
(Photo by Victor Freitas)
“You may find it beneficial to have a mental or even physical picture of your reasons for working out hard, and focusing on this will help you to push through even when it’s tough,” he explained.
7. You’re excited to exercise
It’s normal to have days when you want to skip the gym. But if you’re coming up with excuses and finding reasons to ditch your workouts, you might actually be bored.
Hitting a plateau in your exercise routine can lead to a decrease in your fitness level and a lack of motivation to push yourself when you are working out. Consider hiring a trainer or taking a fitness class. Having an expert guide you through your workouts can help to ensure that you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisInsider on Twitter.