Could your workouts be stronger? Check for these five signs of solid training.

The line between a decent and great workout can be thin, but look for these signs to determine if you should make changes to your fitness routine. And remember, a good workout is totally dependent on your current fitness and wellness goals, so it won’t be the same for everyone.

1. You sleep better

A good workout that expends a significant amount of energy can help you sleep more soundly, so if you find yourself catching higher quality Zs after a gym session, it may be a sign that you had a good workout. Research shows that regular and acute exercise sessions have beneficial effects on total sleep time, efficiency, onset latency and quality.

2. Your heart rate is elevated

This may sound obvious, but to get a good cardio workout, you need to elevate your heart rate. The less obvious part of the equation is exactly how much faster your pulse should accelerate. Everyone has a unique maximum heart rate, however 220 minus your age can be a good starting indicator to find yours. However, know that this provides only an estimate and standard deviations can be 10 bpm or so from this number. When your heart rate rises above certain thresholds, known as heart-rate zones, your body metabolizes energy differently.

To get a good cardio workout, you want your heart rate to rise to at least 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, to what is considered the fat-burning zone. For an excellent workout that improves your athleticism and endurance, aim to keep your heart rate between 70 and 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.

3. You have a high perceived rate of exertion

Ask yourself, and be honest: do you feel like you’re working hard? If you don’t feel like you’re challenging yourself, you might want to step the intensity up a bit. Try performing more difficult progressions of exercises you normally perform. For example, if bodyweight squats are a part of your regular training routine, try weighted squats. Run farther on the treadmill or increase the resistance on the elliptical. Also, performing traditional movement in new ways will elevate your heart rate, such as changing the direction of a lunge or building multiple movements together.  Adjusting the intensity even a little can take your workout from mediocre to highly effective.

Unsure about whether you’re pushing yourself? Since “challenging” is fairly subjective, a good way to gauge your exertion level is with the talk test. When carrying on a conversation becomes slightly difficult, that generally represents a moderate level of exertion. If you’re only able to say a few words before catching your breath, you’re likely training at a strenuous level.

4. You improve over time

As the weeks pass, are you able to increase the amount of weight you lift, distance you run, or otherwise improve your performance? If your fitness level seems stuck, you may be working out at a maintenance level and need to increase your intensity.

For example, maybe lifting 10-pound dumbbells was challenging when you started your fitness routine, but now you can pump out reps with no sweat. That’s a great sign that you’ve gained muscle, but now you need to bump the weight up to 12 or 15-pound dumbbells if you want to continue progressing. Let the challenge of constantly setting higher goals motivate you as you strive to perform better every time you step in the gym. However, never increase load without ensuring proper movement mechanics first.

5. You feel sore after your workout

After a challenging workout, particularly a strength training session, you’ll often feel a little sore the next one-to-three days. While being sore should not be the goal, it can be a training effect and can be an indicator of a good workout, but it’s important to recognize the difference between soreness and pain. Pain may indicate an injury or movement compensation that needs to be addressed. If you feel a sudden, sharp discomfort in a localized area — for example, an intense pain in one knee that occurs while performing a squat — you should stop your activity. If the pain does not cease, rest the injured area until the pain subsides and see a medical professional.

Soreness, on the other hand, can be a sign that you had a solid workout and your muscles are now repairing themselves, which is how you gain muscle mass. Soreness can be defined as mild to moderate discomfort that usually sets in several hours to a day after your workout. Unlike pain, which is limited to an injury site, soreness will generally be felt across most or all of a muscle or group of muscles that were used in your workout.

If your training sessions aren’t having these results, consider altering your routine or working with a personal trainer to develop a fitness plan that challenges you.

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