Are You Working Out Hard Enough?

Kelli from Fitness Blender echoes my sentiments when she says that there isn’t any point to working out if you aren’t giving it your all. But how do you KNOW you’re working out hard enough and not just half-assing it?

Contrary to popular belief, sweating is not a good indicator of effort. You can sweat sitting still if it’s warm enough, and I can work my ass off in the middle of winter and not break a sweat, so ignore that “sign”. Here are some good ways to figure out if you’re working out hard enough:

You can’t hold a conversation.

KWl6pqTIf you’re breathing hard enough that you can’t hold a conversation, then you’re really working it. If you can chit-chat amiably while working out, work out harder. You don’t want to work out so hard you can’t talk at all, but you want to be breathing heavily. Some people I know (*cough* you know who you are) feel like they aren’t working out hard enough if they don’t feel like they could puke at any second. I prefer not to take it quite so far. The CDC has a great guide for this.

Your heart rate is elevated.


Now the best way to see if your heart rate is elevated (and get an accurate reading of how many calories your body is actually burning) is to use a heart rate monitor. I have one, but it sorta sits on my drawer because the idea of strapping something around my chest first thing in the morning is unappealing to me. Yes, my heart rate monitor is old school. And probably has a dead battery. So what do you do if you don’t own a heart rate monitor? The Mayo Clinic has a great guide:

How to determine your target zone

To determine your desired target heart rate zone, use an online calculator. Or, here’s a simple way to do the math yourself. If you’re aiming for a target heart rate of 70 to 85 percent, which is in the vigorous range, you would calculate it like this:

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiple that number by 0.7 (70 percent) to determine the lower end of your target heart rate zone.
  • Multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.85 (85 percent) to determine the upper end of your target heart rate zone.

For example, say your age is 45 and you want to figure out your target heart rate zone for vigorous intensity exercise. Subtract 45 from 220 to get 175 — this is your maximum heart rate. To get the lower end of your target zone, multiply 175 by 0.7 to get 123. To get the higher end, multiply 175 by 0.85 to get 149. So your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise intensity is 123 to 149 beats per minute.

How to tell if you’re in the zone

So how do you know if you’re in your target heart rate zone? Use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise:

  • Stop momentarily.
  • Take your pulse for 15 seconds. To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.
  • Multiply this number by 4 to calculate your beats per minute.

Here’s an example: You stop exercising and take your pulse for 15 seconds, getting 33 beats. Multiply 33 by 4, to get 132.  If you’re 45 years old, this puts you in the middle of your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise, since that zone is 123 to 149 beats per minute. If you’re under or over your target heart rate zone, adjust your exercise intensity.

Yes, it’s math! Deal with it!

Repetition Goal


What if you’re doing strength training and you don’t really breathe heavily or have a greatly increased heartbeat? Does this mean you aren’t working out hard? Of course not! When you’re focusing on the slow, controlled movements of strength training, repetitions are more important than breath or heart rate. The chart above shows goal reps for each type of muscle workout. Hypertrophy is the muscle-building method of strength training, used to form larger muscles, and this is what I focus on. When I can do too many reps of a movement with too much ease, I up the weight on my kettlebell to continue on.

So how do you measure your exertion? Are you working out hard enough?! Let me know in the comments!!!


4 thoughts on “Are You Working Out Hard Enough?”

  1. One of the things I like about my running program is that different workouts hit different effort levels. It’s all running, but each run has a different goal in terms of building fitness and strength: Tempo runs are done at 85%, long runs are easy effort and meant to build endurance over hours, and hill and speed training pushes you to 90% for short bursts to build strength. It’s all a nice balance that makes you stronger all together.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on A Measured Life and commented:

    There are 134 days until Memorial Day weekend begins in the United States. For those of us who want to hit the beach, that’s 19 weeks to get your body bikini ready! It may sound like a lot of time, and it’s plenty of time to get into shape, but you have to start NOW. Here’s a post from last winter that will help you maximize your workouts!


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