What is a good workout?

Copy of bake bread(7)“It was a good workout”.  That statement is often followed by a “but…”
I don’t have time for it anymore, I cannot afford the membership, I hurt my back, I was so sore I couldn’t move the next day, etc…

What you consider a “good” workout can actually be slowly draining your motivation and your ability to get what you want from exercise.   Lets take a look at some common qualities often used to describe a good workout:

  • Feeling a “good” sore:  What exactly is a “good” sore?   Science tells us muscle soreness is not a sign of any extra benefit from exercise.  It does not mean you  burned more calories, or melted away fat or built more strength or muscle mass.  It only means you did too much too soon.  It also means you will probably move less the next day.  So in reality there is no such thing as “good” soreness.  Just your body trying to tell you to increase more slowly.
  • Makes you sweat: Sure it feels like you are melting fat away, or ridding your body of “toxins” (whatever that is), but sweat simply means your body is cooling itself off.  That’s all.  Sweat does not mean exercise is any healthier, or better for your body in any way. Sure the scale will go down. That is because the scale measures everything.  Seeing lower numbers on the scale can be exciting, but don’t let that fool you into believing that sweaty workout gave you any more benefit than the not so sweaty workout.
  • Gets your heart rate up: The focus on getting your heart rate up during exercise does have science behind it. However, some key information has gotten lost in the heart rate hype created by fitness marketing.   Heart rate during exercise an indicator of what might be happening in the body,  not the ultimate goal of cardio exercise. Many things affect heart rate that have nothing to do with challenging your stamina.    If getting your heart rate up was the ultimate goal, drinking coffee would be a “good workout”.  Just because an exercise gets your heart rate up, it does not automatically mean you are getting your cardio.
  • It worked for…:  Our bodies are amazingly unique.  Our goals for exercise are too.  If an exercise program is marketing around its success with certain types of athletes, that is a red flag. It may be a perfectly good workout for that sport, but if you are not training for that athletic event it is not the right workout for you.

These and other common descriptions of a “good workout” miss the mark for the purpose of exercise.  For a truly good workout, start with what you want from exercise.  If your answer is weight loss, dig a bit deeper.  I may be going out on a limb, but I would bet you don’t want to get to your goal weight but not be able to do all the things you are looking forward to being easier.     Getting to a certain weight or size is not the ultimate goal, it is the method for getting what you ultimately want.   How do you want to feel and function as a result of losing weight?  More comfortable in your body, able to do more activities with ease and confidence?  The specific way you want to feel and function better is  your true goal.

Now, design exercise for that purpose.  Exercise in the way that leaves you feeling better now, not at some magical weight in the future.  Exercise in a way that will improve the specific types of movement you want to make easier for your body.  Walk continuously if you want to be able to walk more.  Strengthen the movements you want to improve such as learning how to squat in the way your body was designed so it does not hurt your knees or back to lift something up or get off the couch.     This is what exercise is about.  To help your body feel and function better in some way, now.  Not just when you lose weight.   There is no magic formula or suffering period required. No need to trick or force your body to do something because it is “supposed to be a good weight loss workout”.   A good workout works with the way your body is designed to function best each and every time.

Bottom line:  If an exercise leaves you feeling or function better right away, it is a sign of a truly good workout.

Keep Moving, Be Well


Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.



by | July 18, 2018 · 7:07 pm

3 responses to “What is a good workout?

  1. Love it.. Great advice. Thank you!


  2. Pingback: What it means when exercise makes your weight go up | Keep Moving Weekly

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