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Are you Doing the Right Workouts?

Questions to Ask to Assess Your Workouts


Updated January 25, 2013

Are you Doing the Right Workouts?
Getty Images/Barry Austin

Starting an exercise program can be confusing, even with (or, maybe because of) the information out there telling us how to get started. We know we're supposed to do cardio, lift weights and stretch, but one question is much harder to answer: How do I know if I'm doing this right?

There's no perfect answer to this question because the answer is specific to you: Your goals, your fitness level and your expectations. If that's the case and you don't have a trainer or other expert to help you out, how can you tell if you're doing it right?

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out if you're on the right track.

1. Am I Following the Basic Exercise Guidelines?

Thanks to organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine, we have some guidelines in place to give us a framework for our workouts. Now, do these fit everyone? No. Do you have to follow them exactly? No. How much exercise you need is different for everyone. However, you can compare your program with these basic guidelines to see where you stand.

Cardio Recommendations

  1. Frequency:
    • For Better Health or Beginners: At least 3 times a week
    • For Weight Loss or More Advanced Exercisers: 5-7 days a week
  2. Intensity:
    • For Better Health or Beginners: Moderate intensity - Moderate intensity is about a Level 5 on this Perceived Exertion Scale, 70-80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) or at a level where you're working but you can still carry on a conversation.
    • For Weight Loss or More Advanced Exercisers – A variety of intensities that include:
      • High Intensity - Level 8-9 perceived exertion, 80-90% of your MHR or working at a level where you're breathless. Example: High intensity interval training (HIIT). Suggested schedule: 1-2 times a week.
      • Moderate Intensity - Level 5-6 perceived exertion, 70-80% of your MHR or working at a level where you're just out of your comfort zone but can still talk. Example: Cardio Medley Workout. Suggested schedule: 2-4 times a week.
      • Low Intensity - Level 3-5 perceived exertion, 60-70% of your MHR or working at a comfortable level. Example: A long, slow bike ride. Suggested schedule: 1-2 times a week.
  3. Duration:
    • For Better Health or Beginners: Working up to 30 minutes of continuous movement
    • For Weight Loss or More Advanced Exercisers – 30-60 minutes, depending on the intensity of your workouts. High intensity may be 20-30 minutes, moderate workouts, 30-60 minutes and low intensity, 60 or more minutes.

Strength Training Recommendations

  1. Work All Muscle Groups – Your strength workouts should include exercises for the entire body, including: The lower body, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps and abs

  2. Work Your Muscles 2-3 Nonconsecutive Days Each Week - How often you train will depend on the program you're following, but you want to avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row. Below are a few examples of how to schedule common strength training programs:
  3. Sets and Reps
    • For Beginners – 1 set of 8-12 reps
    • For Intermediate/Advanced - Multiple sets (2-4) of 6-12 reps, depending on your goals
  4. Use a Challenging Weight - We only get stronger and build muscle when we use more weight than our bodies can handle. That doesn't mean you should pick up a weight you can't lift at all, it means choosing a weight you can only lift for the desired number of reps. If you're doing 10 biceps curls, you want a weight that will allow you to do 10 reps with good form. The last rep should be very difficult, but not impossible.

  5. Use Good Form - Lifting weights is only effective if you do the exercises with good form. Good form will be different depending on the exercise, but it usually means having good posture, doing slow, controlled movements rather than swinging the weights and keeping your abs engaged during each exercise.

Flexibility Recommendations

You have much more wiggle room when it comes to flexibility, because you can stretch any time. What you don't want to do is skip the stretch at the end of your workout because being flexible can actually help you avoid injury, increase your range of motion and help you relax. A few basic tips for stretching:
  • Stretch your muscles after your workout when your muscles are warm. Stretching cold muscles could lead to injuries
  • Avoid bouncing. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds and, for the best flexibility results, do each stretch 2-3 times
  • Stretch the muscles you used during your workout with a focus on any chronically tight areas like the lower back, hips and hamstrings
You know the basics of an exercise program and you may have some general parameters to follow, courtesy of Exercise GuidelinesYou probably know the basics of an exercise program: Cardio, strength training and flexibility workouts. The confusing part is figuring out how often, how long and how hard you work at each of these elements. How much exercise you need is different for everyone,

Next Question: Am I Getting Results?

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