Doing the rack

What makes a good workout?

You go to the gym week in week out, rarely missing a session and always noting how much you are lifting, adhering strictly to form and so on. When you finish your session and you leave the gym, how do you rate your workout? How do you determine if you’ve had a successful workout or not? It’s very hard and subjective to define what makes a good workout but here are 6 aspects to consider when looking back on your training session.

Doing the rack

Feeling sore the next day

This is my favourite. I know that if my muscle feels sore the following day, then it must have been really pushed beyond its comfort zone. When you lift weight or do a new intense physical activity for the first time or after a long period, your muscles will most likely feel sore the day after and probably for several days after that. We all know it’s because that muscle wasn’t used to this level of activity. Now imagine if you feel sore after using a trained muscle group…

Lifting more

Another easy way to judge the success of a workout. If you squat 100kg today and a week later you can do 110 kg for the same number of reps under the same conditions, then your muscles have definitely improved. However, if last week you did the squats as your first exercise and this week as your last exercise but used the same weight, you’ve probably improved as well because you managed to lift as much while being in a more tired state. So think carefully of the conditions when comparing how much weight you are lifting.

Sufficient volume

If you go to the gym, do 1 set of curls and then pack up and go home, you’ll agree with me that you didn’t do enough to call this a workout. How about 10 sets, 20 sets? It gets a little tricky to measure what volume is enough. But if you feel tired at the end of your workout, if the targeted muscle is thoroughly tired, then you may have achieved a sufficient volume.


The time spent exercising is also quite meaningful. You can run for a sprint or a marathon. The marathon runner will burn much more energy and tax his body more. You can lift weights for 10 minutes, do a few sets of squats and go home, or work for a full hour at squats, benchpress, deadlifts and so on. Be careful, spending more than an hour in the gym can lead to overtraining.


Time spent exercising and volume of exercise by themselves don’t mean as much as when they are combining together. The intensity of a workout is the amount of exercise you do in a specific time period. So someone could do 10 reps in 15 minutes or 10 reps in one hour. One hour sounds a long time to exercise but if you do only 10 reps and spend a long time resting, you are not pushing yourself much. You could be working out for only 15 minutes but if you do exercises back to back with no rest, you will generate a very high intensity.

So to up your workout intensity, decrease your rest period. Too often, I see people in the gym spending more time on their mobile phone than exercising.


Perhaps a simple but effective way to judge how hard you train is by determining how tired you are when you walk out the gym. If you feel as if you could do another 20 minutes of exercises, then maybe you didn’t push your self hard enough during your training time. If you are so thoroughly exhausted you can’t walk up the stairs easily for e.g., you know you pushed yourself very hard.

So there are more ways than one to determine if your workout has been sufficiently challenging. Which one do you prefer?

We'd like to hear your thoughts...