How Hard Should You Push Yourself During A Workout
You’ve been going to the gym consistently and even exercising at home whenever possible but you’re still not noticing any dramatic changes… maybe poor diet is to blame, or wrong supplements or even bad form during workouts, but maybe, just maybe you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
Although some physical activity is always better than nothing, if you want serious gains, more strength as well as self-confidence, you need a specific workout plan, persistence, patience and yes, you need to push yourself hard. But how hard is hard enough? Is going to the gym three times a week enough or are you supposed to drive yourself into the ground to call it a workout? Neither – because pushing hard is different for everyone.
How Hard is Hard Enough
If you’re a regular gym goer, you’ve probably noticed two kinds of people in there – laid back, scrolling-through-their-phones while working out type of people, and hard-core, almost-puking-from-working-out type of folks. Who do you think is pushing it hard enough? The answer is – neither. None of these people are training right. Sure, you’re supposed to be able to catch your breath after each set, but talk on your phone or scroll through it while working out? That just means you’re nowhere near giving it your best. Likewise, if you feel like you’re about to puke after you’re done with your workout, you’re not pushing it hard – you’re pushing it wrong.
Unsurprisingly, there is a happy medium – a place where you’re training super-hard, building strength, muscle and endurance, but you’re not overtraining and driving yourself into the ground. But how to get to that happy medium? It’s easy – know yourself.
It may sound like a cliche, but it’s true – knowing yourself, meaning, knowing what you want to accomplish with your workouts, where you want to be in a year’s time and what your limits are, as well as how much you’re able to stretch them without causing yourself unnecessary pain and maybe even injury, is what this is all about.
What Are You Training For?
Say you’re training for a specific event – maybe you’re a beginner boxer, getting ready for the first fight and you want to improve your agility and increase your arm endurance and strength, as well as lung capacity. Your training will be much different from a training of a dude who just wants to look and feel better. What you’re training for should dictate how hard you should push yourself.
But make no mistake – even if your goal is not particularly ambitious (maybe shed a couple of pounds and build some muscle), you’ll benefit greatly by pushing yourself harder than you normally do. And even if you already think you’re pushing yourself hard, it’s highly likely you’re not. There was a study recently that showed we all overestimate how hard we exercise. This is not only bad news for our overall health, but for our physique too – if you’re not pushing yourself close to your limits, your results can only be modest. But if every time you hit the gym you give it your best? Healthier heart, less fat, more muscle, increased stamina and more self-confidence.
The Benefits of Pushing Yourself
Obviously, exercising hard has many benefits, and the one we mentioned above are only some of them. Perhaps the most important benefit of pushing yourself close to your limits, though, is increased mental strength.
Let’s be real here for a bit – life is unlikely to get any easier. In fact, the older you are, the harder it gets. There are more and more people depending on you, bills are getting more expensive, work hours are getting longer and vacations appear to get shorter. There is no escaping difficulties of life, no matter how hard you try. So instead, why not try getting harder yourself?
When you push yourself hard during your workouts consistently, there will come a time when you’ll become used to being uncomfortable but still able to push through it. In other words, the more you push yourself, the more comfortable you’ll be being uncomfortable. And this right here is called mental strength. When you are mentally strong, you’re able to deal with difficult life situations more easily. And this is no small feat – with mental toughness comes a specific type of self-assuredness that can immensely help you in life. From small things, such as talking to the opposite sex without being crazy nervous, to big things such as staying alive in life-threatening situations like being lost in a jungle. Mental strength is everything as it gives you confidence in yourself and your ability to accomplish difficult things.
So think about this less-obvious benefit the next time you feel like complaining in the gym – taking the easy route when it comes to working out will not only lead to a weaker body but a weaker mind as well.
How to Push Yourself Harder
Alright, so clearly, pushing yourself to the max has numerous benefits. But how to do this without going overboard?
First of all, realize that most people (most likely you included) under-train, meaning they rarely, if ever, push themselves to their limits. This is because, to put it bluntly, people are naturally lazy. We all like to take the path of least resistance and that most definitely includes our fitness journeys. You may think that going to the gym regularly is the same thing as pushing yourself, but it isn’t – getting up and going to the gym is the bare minimum. What you do in the gym is what counts.
So how to go harder? It’s easy (no pun intended) – make sure you’re not exercising alone. Either work with a personal trainer or with a workout buddy. Wonder why this is important? Just think back to your high school days – if you’ve ever played basketball or any such sport, you can certainly remember what it’s like not to give up even when you’re about to collapse. A coach who challenges you, screams at you and cheers you on was all you needed to push yourself just a little bit harder. And even if the coach was not enough, you had your team who you didn’t want to let down. And that’s exactly what you need today, at the gym, to give it your best and push yourself to your limits and a little beyond.
With a personal trainer or coach by your side, you’re guaranteed to workout harder than you would alone. Even a motivated gym buddy can help push you harder.
But even if you exercise alone, you can make sure you’re giving it your 100 percent by being focused and determined. Keep your priorities straight and concentrate completely on what you’re doing at every moment. Turn your phone off or on airplane mode, leave the small talk with other gym goers for later and focus fully on the workout. And when you feel uncomfortable and ready to quit – that’s when you push yourself even harder.
How Not to Overtrain Yourself
So we’ve covered it all – how hard is hard enough, the benefits of pushing yourself, and finally, how to go about pushing yourself harder. But this blog wouldn’t be right if we also didn’t talk about the dangers of pushing yourself too hard.
The “no pain no gain” motto is absolutely true when it comes to fitness, but there is such a thing as too much pain. You should always strive to push past your comfort zone, but that pushing shouldn’t feel like crippling soreness and not being able to walk after leg day. Here are some common signs you’re overtraining.
- Sore all over, all the time
Feeling a little sore after a new workout is completely normal and to be expected. But if you are weeks into a consistent workout routine and you find yourself feeling sore all over, something is likely wrong with your workouts. You may be overtraining yourself or not stretching properly and enough – whatever it is, it’s wise to take a step back and take it easy.
- Your joints hurt
While some muscle pain after a good workout is welcome, joint pain never is. If you ever feel joint pain anywhere in your body, stop what you’re doing and rest for a few days or however many it takes for the pain to completely disappear. Then, and only then, ease back into your workout routine but double-check before each exercise that you have proper form.
- You want to vomit
This one should be obvious, but unfortunately, it isn’t for many gym goers. Some people believe you should push yourself so hard that you vomit after a workout session. In fact, they see puking as a badge of honor, of being hardcore. Well, listen up – puking doesn’t produce any muscle growth but it does make you lose electrolytes, and as a result, the ability to continue training.
If you exercise so much that you feel an actual need to vomit, take it as a clear sign you’re pushing yourself too hard.
- Overestimating How Hard We Exercise, Well – The New York Times