5 Ways to Know Your Workouts Are Working

Success is a great motivator when it comes to fitness. But, it’s hard to notice physical changes when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror every day. On a positive note, there are a few ways to figure out if your workouts are actually effective and helping you to reach your fitness goals.

There are a ton of ways to know your workouts are working. Measuring your heart rate and keeping data can show improvements in strength and endurance. Taking body measurements can help to visualize fat loss and muscle gain. Weighing yourself is important, but it’s not always an accurate judge.

The method that works best for you will depend on your fitness and body composition goals. So, let’s go into a bit more detail about how each method is effective and when it seems to be most beneficial.

1. Measure Your Heart Rate

According to the American Heart Association, the best way to improve your cardiovascular endurance is by exercising within your Target Heart Rate Zone (THRZ).

First, here’s a look at how to calculate your target heart rate zone.

  • 220 – [Your Age] = Max Heart Rate
  • Max Heart Rate x 0.5 = Low End of THRZ
  • Max Heart Rate x 0.85 = High End of THRZ

When you exercise within your THRZ for at least 15 to 30 minutes at a time, you’re putting a little more strain on your heart. Since it has to work harder to endure this type of exercise, your heart will eventually become stronger and more efficient.

With a more efficient heart, you’ll be able to pump even more blood throughout your body with each and every contraction. That means your resting heart rate might also be lower when you’re not exercising.

The best way to tell that you’re boosting your endurance by measuring your heart rate is by having data to compare.

If you ran an 8:00 mile and your heart rate reached 130 beats per minute, but now your heart rate only reaches 119 beats per minute for the same distance and speed, your endurance and heart health have both improved.

If you want to keep seeing results, there are two things you can do: Increase your speed or increase how long you exercise.

2. Record Related Performance Data

Taking note of performance data during workouts is a great way to keep track of how much you’re improving in terms of fitness.

Depending on the type of workout you’re doing, this data can prove that you’re stronger, faster, or have greater endurance.

Here’s a look at the type of data you’ll want to keep track of and what each might mean.

  • Increased Sets & Reps: Greater muscular endurance
  • Increased 1RM or Weight Lifted: Greater strength and/or power
  • Lower Pace: Greater speed
  • Longer Distance or Time Covered: Greater cardiovascular endurance

If your goal is to build strength and muscle mass, it might take anywhere between 6 weeks and a few months to see gains.

By noticing that you can lift heavier weights, it shows that you’re stronger, even though you might not be able to physically see more muscle mass.

This type of data can do wonders for your motivation.

Better yet, you don’t have to create your own complicated spreadsheets to keep track of this data. There are plenty of fitness apps that’ll do this for you (though, you can just record it in your phone’s notes app).

3. Take Accurate Body Measurements 

Whether your goal is to lose body fat or increase muscle mass, your indicator for success will likely be your appearance, right?

Since you’re the one seeing yourself in the mirror every day, it might not feel like you’re actually experiencing changes.

Taking accurate body measurements is a great way to get a gauge on how your body is changing, even when you can’t see it.

Here are the types of body measurements you might want to keep track of.

  • Waist
  • Hips
  • Chest
  • Thigh
  • Calf
  • Upper Arm
  • Forearm

For each, you’ll be measuring the widest (or centermost) area of each body part.

If your goal is to gain strength and muscle, you might want to take your measurements while you’re flexing these muscles.

Even though you want to see improvements now, you won’t see any noticeable changes for a little while. So, measuring yourself every few weeks or even once a month is a great way to see just how much you’re improving.

Remember: Your body measurements might fluctuate a little over time. Don’t be discouraged if you see that your waist measurement has gone up, especially if you’ve eaten a lot that day.

4. Compare Before & After Images

Before and after images aren’t just for Instagram posts. They’ll actually provide you with a glimpse of the physical changes that have occurred in your physique in the last few months.

The issue is that you won’t see really noticeable results in a week or two, so this is more for long-term comparisons.

To see the true difference between the images, you might want to choose a specific pose and outfit that you plan to recreate. That way, you can see the exact changes that you’ve caused by working out.

5. Weigh Yourself

Even though you’re extremely preoccupied with the number on the scale, your weight isn’t the best indicator of your health.

Gaining weight doesn’t always mean that you’ve gained fat and losing weight doesn’t always mean you’ve lost fat.

So, don’t weigh yourself every single day no matter how difficult that is to do.

The major reason for that is the psychological factor. If you’ve been pushing yourself to the limit at the gym and haven’t noticed any changes in your weight, you might become discouraged and give up.

Here’s why what you’re seeing in the mirror doesn’t always match what you see on the scale.

  • Water retention. Even though you feel like you’ve lost a lot of weight, your body might be retaining a little extra water after exercise. With that said, the extra few pounds you’re seeing on the scale might just be water weight.
  • Body composition. The issue with scales is that they only measure your weight and don’t accurately measure your body composition. Even though you’ve lost 5 pounds, there’s no way for you to know whether it was muscle, water, or fat.
  • Muscle weight. Muscle doesn’t actually weigh more than fat, but it’s definitely denser. Even though you look skinnier, your weight will go up if you’re participating in a resistance training routine and packing on muscle mass. 

The composition of your body should be more important than the actual number that appears on the scale. So, measuring your body fat percentages through skinfold calipers or bioelectrical impedance would be a better solution.

If you do insist on weighing yourself, once a week should be okay.

Final Thoughts

No matter what your health and fitness goals are, you want to see progress right? The good news is, there’s basically an endless stream of methods for tracking your progress.

Here are the best practices for each of the methods we reviewed.

  • Heart Rate: Best for measuring improvements in endurance
  • Performance: Best for measuring strength, power, speed, and endurance
  • Body Measurements: Best for measuring minute physique changes
  • Before & After Images: Best for seeing long-term results
  • Weight: Best for convenience purposes