10 Tips To Make Sure You’re Working Hard Enough In The Gym

Today I want to talk about exercise, or more accurately, training with real intent (with a goal) and intensity (with appropriate effort to complete the goal). You see, there is a difference between exercise and training.  Training for a goal is defined as “preparation with the purpose of an action”.  Whereas exercise is defined as “work or effort”.   It’s important to make the distinction because they are usually considered the same thing. You see, you can exercise every day but never reach your target goal unless you train.

Some people wonder why they can’t lose weight in spite of countless hours on the treadmill and in the weight room.  While there can be many reasons for the lack of progress, at some point you have to ask yourself . . .  “Am I really working hard enough?  How hard do I really need to exercise?  Am I just exercising or am I really training for my goal”?

“Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Half effort does not produce half results. It produces no results. Work, continuous work and hardwork, is the only way to accomplish results that last.” – Hamilton Holt


Here are 10 ways to determine if you’re working out hard enough or just going through the motions: 

1. Your facial expression remains static when you work out.

man doing a pushupLet’s face it ( pun intended), when we work hard our face is the gateway to our emotional state.  If  you are truly straining your body (to create an adaptation in the body) then it should be reflected in your expression.  If you look relaxed, then you probably are.

2. I can’t hear your breathing.

If I can hear a pin drop within a 20 square foot radius of where you are working out, then you are not training. Focused exercise requires focused breathing.  I’m not talking about advanced power breathing and the inappropriate grunting that is prevalent in most gyms, but I should at least be aware of your presence if I’m standing next to you.

3. Your thinking about anything other than the task at hand.

I see this all the time.  You know the lady on the leg press loaded with 50 lbs, knocks out 50 reps, all the while being completely engaged in her favorite romance novel.  The gym is not a place to relax, it is a place to work hard and then get on with your life.  This is especially true in the case of novice trainees, where skill acquisition is of paramount importance; you need to focus on what you are doing.  This brings us to #4 . . .

4. You spend most of your workout session talking to your trainer.

Most people don’t have time to exercise often enough, why would you want to waste any of that valuable training time? As a Vancouver personal trainer, I can tell you that people hire me for so many different reasons.  I was always perplexed by this since I feel that I only have one job . . . to ensure that their training needs are being met.  I didn’t realize that my armchair psychology degree would need to be used so much.  Seriously though, if you’re busy gabbing it’s no wonder you’re not getting results.  Your trainer is not a friend or a workout buddy.  Your trainer is a means to an end.  Of course, if you hire a trainer for something other than this, more power to you, just don’t be surprised when the scale doesn’t budge.

5. You are not progressing week to week.

Unless you are very advanced, you should expect to see some progression each week; if not every workout.  This could be in the form of more reps, more sets, more weight, more distance, less time, etc.  Whatever the progression format, if you are doing the same amount of work on your program as you did last week then you’re not training. Of course, progression can be stunted for other reasons not relevant to this post but not working hard enough is usually a big one.

6. You don’t practice proper pre/post nutritional practices.

Most of us are aware that what you get out of your workouts is mainly dependant on what you put into your body.  This affects your performance during the workout, after and even affects the outcome of your next workout.  It should be clear that if you don’t eat before you work out and don’t nourish your body afterwards with wholesome nutrient rich foods you’re not really training. This is the point most people don’t grasp, and as long as I live I’ll never understand why.

7. You work out 2x per week or less.

 It is a fact that you will need a certain frequency ( sessions/week) of exercise to make changes in your body. While this varies from person to person I can tell you from experience that anything less than 2x/week will result in permanent stagnation.  Unless you are advanced or work pretty darn hard you will not progress. Sure, maybe some weeks will be more productive than others, but at the end of the year you will be right where you started, in spite of  the 52+ hours of exercise you received. You need a higher frequency, at least in the beginning, to learn the exercises. Weight training is a skill. To get the most out of weight training you need to be proficient at it.  Would you practice the guitar for 1 hour a week? If so, would you expect to be any good in a year? Of course not.

8. You are able to count backwards from 100.

If you can do this while exercising then you either aren’t really training or you’re going to get yourself hurt at some point. You should be able communicate but there should be a little stress in your voice. You should strive to maintain a heart rate zone of 130-160 bpm for most individuals.  Although a generalization, this is true most of the time.  Unless you are professional sloth or 90 years old you should at least aim for the lower range and work your way up. In these zones you will experience some degree of  discomfort making communication laborious at best and impossible at worst. This is, after all,  the whole point of training; to place the body in a stressful environment to spur an adaptive response. So get that heart rate up.

9. You don’t track rest periods.

You need to be disciplined about limiting your rest periods to a specific amount of time. Even though you worked out for an hour today, maybe you only accomplished 60% of the intended task because you were busy doing something else.  Someone who times their rest periods is definitely training. This can sometimes become too obsessive with some individuals but it demonstrates that you are focused and care about your results.

10. You’re watching T.V.

 This seems obvious but just take a look at all the gyms with a T.V. installed right in front of the treadmill. Forget about the potentially dangerous aspect of this for a minute and answer me this . . . can you seriously not take 1 hour of your day and be free of the idiotbox?  It doesn’t help, it distracts.  If you go to the gym to watch the news or your favorite talk show then you now know why you are fat.  At the risk of repeating myself;  the gym is a place to work, to suffer a little, to have some fun and forget about your day-to-day life.  Get your priorities straight and train properly.


OK, now that I got that off my chest I need to say one more thing.  You want just the right balance of effort to disrupt the body a little and do it at an appropriate frequency. If you’re doing any of these  10 things, you now know why things may not be working.  If you don’t want to get stronger, more muscular, leaner and more fit just keep going through the motions and hope for the best.  By the way, it is also  possible to work too hard in the gym.  Just check out the video below to see what I mean….

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.


Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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