How do you know if a workout is right for you?

How do you know if a workout is right for you? It’s a topic we don’t often discuss, but I think we should.

Let’s be clear: There are so many workout programs, services, trainers, gyms and studios you can choose from. It’s a little bit overwhelming for the average person … How are you to know where to start? How are you to know what’s good for you? And how are you to know whether or not you should stick with something even if you don’t love it at first?

Because here’s the deal: If you listen to a friend or an Instagram influencer, you’ll be very confused. Everyone who likes a particular workout program will tell you the one that they do is the absolute best. But we are all different people, and we have to remember that we all have different likes and different needs. There is no perfect workout program for all people.

If you want to get a little bit more clarity, I’ve got you covered today in this post with some questions you can ask yourself, while deciding if a workout is right for you.

How do you know if a workout is right for you?

How do you know if a workout is right for you by A Lady Goes West

For the ease of explanation, I’ll use the word “workout” below to mean “workout program” at times. When I refer to the workout you are doing, I don’t mean repeating the exact some one, but the same type of workout, via a workout program.

Do you like to do your own thing or do you like to be guided?

If you like to do your own thing …

If you are someone who likes to do your own thing, but you want to make sure the moves you are doing make sense, then you may do well following a loosely guided training program.

This would put a little bit more of the responsibility on you to check your own form and get your body doing what it needs to do without much cueing. An example of a training program could be something as simple as all of the different programs on Kayla Itsines’ Sweat app. In these workouts, you are given a move and repetition range, and you have to do the rest yourself on your own time, before going to the next screen on the app. I tried out one of the workout programs on the Sweat app, and I actually enjoyed it. (You can review my thoughts on Kelsey Wells’ PWR program from the Sweat app here.) 

You may also do well following a training program created by a personal trainer who runs training groups and provides you a framework of moves and repetitions to do on certain days. But of course, check that trainer’s credentials before signing up, as not all trainers are created equal. These types of situations include having certain workouts you need to do throughout the week to continue making progress.

Let’s be honest, these are not always fun workouts, but they typically have a specific goal and can bring great results if you stick with them. But if you like to have a lot of fun with your workouts, you may not get that in this instance. These are solo sessions, with no music and no pizazz. 

If you like to be guided …

If you are someone who likes to show up and follow a leader, then you’d be an ideal candidate for a studio class, group fitness class or a virtual fitness class situation. In this instance, you can choose from a variety of things, like classes on Les Mills On Demand, classes on the Peloton app, classes on POPSUGAR Fitness, or paid studio subscriptions like MNT Studio, Barre3, LEKFit, P.volve and more. And maybe you are even lucky enough to hit up some outdoor bootcamps right now too, due to the whole COVID situation.

Follow-along class workouts are fully coached with music, so you just do what they tell you to do and listen for instruction. This is a great option for a beginner all the way to an advanced exerciser. If you’ve never tried a follow-along workout, I’d say give it a go. It can be for all levels, depending on the program.

Fun fact: I have a follow-along workout option coming out soon that I’d love for you to try with me, as well. So make sure you’re tuned in to find out about that.

Personally, I like to do follow-along workouts. I definitely do my own thing at times, but unless I’m teaching a class or creating a class, it feels good to just show up and focus on the completing the moves that someone else gives to me. Plus, oftentimes these “class” workouts are WAY more fun.

How do you know if a workout is right for you by A Lady Goes West

Have you tried the workout more than once?

Yes, we can to trust our guts and go on instinct. However, with new workouts, you may need to give them a little bit more time before throwing in the towel.

Sometimes, when you try something for the first time, it takes so much mental and physical capacity to keep up or understand what you’re doing, that you may not be able to fully appreciate it. In fact, if you don’t get into the right positions for moves, you won’t even feel the full effect either.

That’s why, I would always recommend trying a new workout or class at least two, or hopefully three, times before deciding if it’s something you want to move forward with.

From there, you can see if there’s a glimmer of hope or not. Also, actually do the workout all the way through both times before deciding, don’t just watch it and sit there judging it.

Do you feel challenged, but successful?

I think that every workout you do should make you feel challenged, but successful. And that can even apply to easier active-recovery-day workouts. Maybe it is challenging for you to slow down and move through yoga stretching without going hard. That’s a good thing.

You should be able to complete most of the moves in a workout properly, perhaps struggling through some. In addition, you should be able to understand your instructor, and you should be able to know how to execute most of the moves safely. You should feel like you are tired at the end of a set. In fact, sometimes, you should work all the way to fatigue/failure, because that’s usually when the big changes happen. But you shouldn’t fail in every set, because that’s a sign the workout is too tough.

And you shouldn’t feel beat down and disappointed at the end, you should feel accomplished, even if you are tired.

Does the workout align with your goals?

Do you need to work on your mobility and flexibility in order to live a more comfortable life? Are you preparing for an upcoming race or physical event? Do you need to build muscle to support bone density and healthy aging?

Ask yourself all these questions and see if your workouts line up.

For instance, if you are rehabbing from an injury, then you probably don’t want to jump into full-body high-intensity interval training program from Beachbody On Demand. And if you are pregnant, you may not want to do a ton of Pilates on your back that requires crunching and holding tough core positions.

However, if you are having a lot of back pain, then Pilates could be super beneficial to strengthen your core. And if you’re working to improve your cardio capacity for an upcoming event, cycling or a cardio HIIT program could be just what you need.

Or perhaps your goals are just to be healthy and move your body … then it’s up to you to choose workouts that feel like they are meeting your needs.

Does the workout align with your schedule, current responsibilities and lifestyle?

If you’re a busy working mom juggling a million things, please hear this: You do NOT need to work out for a full hour every single day. You can get results and feel amazing from 30 minutes, four or five times a week, as long as the workouts are effective.

In fact, I wouldn’t recommend committing to full-hour workouts if you don’t think you can reasonably fit them in, without skimping on sleep, work or family time. Yes, I do think prioritizing workouts is important, but I don’t think you have to do an hour or more a day. Don’t tell yourself that only an hour will do, because that’s not the case. Take a 30-minute Les Mills GRIT class, and then you’ll see that 29 minutes is plenty, plenty, plenty.

This point is simple: Be realistic with the time you have available to devote to your workout program. Don’t sign yourself up for more than you can do. A little goes a long way.

How do you know if workout is right by A Lady Goes West

What is your body telling you? Does your body feel good or totally sore and unhappy?

Your body will tell you a lot. You have to really listen to it.

If you wake up totally stiff and sore from a workout, then it was pretty tough. And if that happens over and over and over again, then that may be a sign that this workout is a little too intense for you. And you may need to do this workout less often.

While yes, it’s GREAT to be challenged and have growth (and to be sore every once in a while). But if you are continually beating yourself down so much that you’re uncomfortably sore — that’s a sign you may need to pull back. Side note: This point doesn’t count for performance athletes or those preparing for a physical event. Because in those cases, soreness and intensity are expected and must be dealt with with professional recovery methods.

You definitely don’t want to continue a workout that causes you any joint pain. This could be a sign that you are doing the moves improperly or that your body isn’t ready for it.

In fact, if you’re just starting out, I’d stay away from a lot of jumping and impact too.

Listen to your body and adjust as needed. You will be uncomfortable if you are trying new moves, growing, strengthening and getting more fit. But there is a difference between being challenged and being defeated.

Find the right workout by A Lady Goes West

After doing the workout for a while, are you getting results?

Results do not necessarily mean weight loss.

Results means this: Can you finish more full-range repetitions in the workout now than you did in the beginning? Do you feel stronger? Do you feel more flexible? Can you jump higher? Are you able to complete more push-ups on your toes? Lift more groceries? Has your posture improved? Are you feeling more energized throughout the day?

These are all results (non-scale victories, or “NSV”), and they go far beyond the size of your waist-line.

I happen to think that performance-related goals are more telling. If you are getting some of those, then that is a good sign that a workout program is working for you. As a bonus, oftentimes aesthetics will follow performance.

Do you enjoy the workout?

Life is too short to do exercise that you hate.

I enjoy almost all the exercise that I do, outside of Les Mills GRIT Strength, but I only do that once a week. It goes by so quickly, and it makes me feel really strong. I don’t love it, but I do enjoy moments of it. Otherwise, I love all the other workouts I do. They are fun. They make me energized. Even if my motivation is lacking, I know that once I start, I’ll have a good time.

If you hate all movement, then I guess this point doesn’t apply to you. But you should be able to get some form of enjoyment from your workouts. Whether you have fun during the workout, or you push through it and then feel amazing afterward. Somehow, someway, you need to feel good about the work you are doing. If you don’t have any joy/pride/achievement, then I think you need to move on to something new.

There are SO many fun and effective workouts to choose from, so keep looking if you haven’t found one yet.

You guys know I’m a big fan of the workouts on Les Mills On Demand, as well as on the Peloton app. But I think you’ll also have fun with the workouts I’m going to share with you soon too. The point here is this: Don’t settle. Keep trying and keep moving.

Is a workout right for you by A Lady Goes West

A few more tips …

  • Make sure you are varying your workouts, and try not to do the exact same workout every single day. Even though plenty of studios will tell you it’s safe to do their workouts every single day, it’s not a good idea to any single workout every day. If you use a program like Les Mills On Demand or Peloton, there’s enough variety that you could choose something from each service to do each day. But from a more specific class, you wouldn’t want to do it day after day without a break or without a change. You can read more in this post about how to schedule your week of workouts.
  • After a while, you may be ready to move on from a workout program, and that’s okay. Just because you love something and it gets you results for a while, doesn’t mean you should stick with it forever. That’s the beauty about the fitness world, because there is so much to choose from. You can move on to something new and come back to it.
  • Consider your equipment and space needs. If you have minimal space and minimal equipment, then I’d recommend finding a workout program that doesn’t require much. Fitness doesn’t have to be complicated, so don’t feel like buying a bunch of stuff is necessary in order to get in an effective session. Pilates usually requires a mat and can be done in a small area. Whereas Les Mills GRIT Athletic requires a bunch of space, a bench and a plate. Choose options that make sense for you and your situation. You can read more in this post about how to work out at home safely and effectively.
  • Get the help of a personal trainer if you can. There is a reason people pay money to work with a personal trainer, either virtually or in person. You can get valuable movement assessments to see how your body is functioning. And you can learn about your areas of weakness that you need to focus on, as well as get tailored coaching. When you have the support of a trainer during at least a few sessions, you may be able to get even more out of the rest of your other workouts too.

Thank you for reading this post answering the question “how do you know if a workout is right for you.” I’ll be over on Instagram sharing from our little vacation in Tahoe this week, so come find me over there. Have a great day, my friends!

Other posts you may like …

Questions of the day

Have you ever struggled to find a workout that you like?

What’s a workout you love to do?

What’s a workout you do not love to do?

How was your weekend?

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Ashley! I like to do follow-along workouts myself too. More often than not, I feel like I learn so much more in this type of workout rather than trying to pull something together on my own. I’ve really enjoyed doing different yoga workouts over the years. You are right about trying the workout more than once to see if it works for you, I had to do that when I first started yoga classes, and I’m so glad I did! I hope you have a great trip, enjoy!

  2. This is such a great and informative post! Life is definitely too short to turn to exercise that you don’t generally love. I prefer to complete a structured strength program with a few group classes thrown in as my “normal” training schedule every week, but that is when I have access to a gym. I have really been loving follow-along workouts during this season of quarantine!

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