How to gauge how great a training session was

This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; personal trainer and fitness writer Adam Willis

We’ve both at some point experienced that euphoric feeling after having a great training session, and hopefully it’s a feeling you experience at least once a week.

But what made that session feel so great for you?

Sadly, all too often people gauge how great a training session was based upon:

how sore they were after the training session

how tired they were after the training session

how sweaty they were after the training session

But the reality is that these 3 things are terrible ways to gauge how successful a training session was and experiencing any of these 3 does not mean you’re more likely to achieve your training goals.

Why are these 3 things poor ways to gauge a great training session?

How sore you were after the training session

Experiencing a little bit of DOMS [Delay Onset Muscle Soreness] is usually a good thing. It can show you that you’ve challenged your body beyond what it is used to. 

However, high levels of DOMS, you know the sort, DOMS that impacts your day-to-day for 3-5 days post-training session is not a good thing, nor does it mean your training session was successful. If you’re struggling to go up stairs or get off the toilet for days after a leg workout it firstly tells me that you did too much in that training session and your body is struggling to recover from it. 

Your body should be able to recover from a training session within 48-72 hours, so if you still have DOMs beyond this you did too much in that one training session and need to reduce the amount of training you did the next week to allow for a more suitable training stimulus and one you can recover from. 

Having DOMs lasting beyond 48-72 hours can actually negatively impact your overall training results, as it means your body has more to recover from than it currently has the capabilities for, and more importantly, it reduces your performance and ability to train that muscle group again that week, and when it comes to strength and hypertrophy, your ability to train a muscle group 2-3x per week, at a high level of performance, is very important for training success.

How tired you were after the training session

Being tired after a training session tells you very little about how successful that session was because no training adaptation is created based upon how tired you are. Being tired just means you created a high level of fatigue or did something that got your heart rate up. Neither of which are directly correlated with achieving a certain training outcome. 

A phrase I use often is “Doing 100 burpees will make you tired, but 100 burpees won’t make you stronger, build more muscle or increase your endurance”. 

Unfortunately, being tired doesn’t mean you’re getting better or making progress. Plus there are many other contributing factors that may also be making you tired such as your sleep, diet or any stress you may be under. 

How sweaty you were after the training session

Sweating is your body’s mechanism to help decrease your core temperature. So how much you’re sweating is purely based upon how hot you are, and is total individual to you, rather than an indication of a great training session. 

If your goal is to get stronger, being sweaty at the end of your training session doesn’t mean you got stronger, it just means your body had to regulate your core temperature due to the climate that day, how warm the gym was and how much the exercise you performed increased your core temperature.

So, if those 3 things are bad indicators of a great training session…

What 3 things are good indicators?

You incrementally made progress in some way compared to a previous session

To get training results you must strive for incremental progress across a training phase. You must challenge your body in some way to improve by creating a stress that is 1-5% more than you’ve asked of it recently.

When it comes to strength or hypertrophy, were you able to increase any of your weights, reps or sets this week compared to last week or earlier in the training phase?

When it comes to endurance or conditioning, were you able to run, cycle or row the same distance as last week faster, or perhaps you did the same distance and/or time but with a lower average heart rate?

Are you working towards your first chin up? Were you able to perform eccentric only chin-ups this week with an 8s eccentric compared to last week’s 6s eccentric?

If you incrementally made progress in some way during your session, that was a great training session.

You improved your lifting technique in some way

This one often gets missed as an indicator of a great training session. If you improved your lifting technique compared to a previous session you’ve progressed your skill in that movement. That progression means you have a more efficient technique and will likely lead to more incremental progressions in weight and reps etc

If your technique improved, even if the weights you used were slightly less than with poorer technique, you’ve made progress and that was a great training session.

You moved the needle forward in some way and got closer to your goal

This one kind of covers “everything else” when asked the question “Did you do something during the session that got you closer to your goal?”

Sure, the 2 points above are going to be huge contributors to gauging how great a training session was, but often by constantly focusing on them you can forget or miss the small stuff that still helps you move the needle forward.

Perhaps you were more diligent with your warm-up or mobility work. 

Maybe you tackled an exercise you feared or learned a new exercise. 

Perhaps you just approached your training session with more confidence and self-belief than in previous weeks.

If you moved the needle forward in some way compared to previous training session, this shows you had a great training session and are making strides towards your goal.

So, when you finish your next training session and review how well it went ask yourself…

✅ did I make incremental progress in some way today?

✅ did I improve my lifting technique in some way today?

did I move the needle forward in some way today?

If you answer yes to any of the above, you can say with a high level of certainty that you had a great training session and made progress towards your goal in some way.

Focusing on those 3 things will do more for you training progress than soreness, sweatiness or tiredness ever will.

How to gauge how great a training session was was last modified: May 20th, 2022 by Adam Willis

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