By now, you’re a regular at your local gym, studio, or running trails. You’re consistent and always make time to fit in a workout—yet you’re still plateauing. Any exercise is better than none, but it’s important to know when your workouts have gotten too easy. Read on for four major tells that it’s time for you to take it up a notch.
You’re no longer working towards a goal.
Setting goals, both short- and long-term, is integral to a successful workout regimen. When you have something to work towards, you’re able to identify the steps it takes to get there, as well as notable progress along the way. When you’re no longer working towards something or have lost track, it’s easy for your workouts to become too unchallenging.
“The best way to tell if your workouts are too easy is to have a couple of goals in mind,” says Aaptiv Trainer Mark Sayer. “The workouts could be too easy if you are no longer moving towards these.” In other words, if you have fitness goals it’s paramount that you check in with them often. If your workouts aren’t pushing you towards those goals, it’s time for an upgrade.
You’re sticking to the same routine.
Finding a workout you love is a great feat—it gets you moving and keeps you consistent. It’s especially rewarding if you begin to see results. But in order to keep your progress on track, you need to switch up your workouts. When you perform the same movements at the same intensity over a long period of time your body begins to acclimate. Eventually, it stops responding to the exercise like it did before, if at all. If you’re doing a workout that used to make you huff and puff to no effect, it’s become too easy for you. Congratulations! It’s now time to up the difficulty level, add in some modifications, or try something completely new.
Sayer recommends using the SAID (Specific Adaptations from Imposed Demands) principle when selecting your workouts. This sports science term means that when your body is put under any form of stress it begins to make adaptations that allow your body to better withstand that form of stress in the future. Basically, this means that to get better at any one form of exercise you have to consistently raise the level of difficulty. Find the sweet spot between too easy and too difficult. Then, continually raise it to keep up with your body’s adjustments.
You’re easily distracted.
We’ve gone to great lengths to discuss distractions at the gym and the importance of tuning into your workout. Sometimes distractions are out of your hands (say, the loud person on the treadmill next to you or the gym being completely packed), but other times they crop up when your workout isn’t challenging you enough. If you find yourself zoning out to your phone or the television, chances are that your workout isn’t having much impact—now or later. Also, consider if you’re able to talk throughout your routine. Having a gym buddy or attending a group class is nothing to scoff at. But if you’re able to hold a conversation while you work out, your heart rate isn’t high enough. Take your efforts up a level and save the chit-chat for post-gym drinks.
Soreness and exhaustion aren’t indicators.
“I can’t stress this enough: do not place soreness and exhaustion on a pedestal,” Sayer tells us. “If you are moving towards your goal, but not crushed after your workouts, great! Soreness is primarily indicative of a new training stimulus, not necessarily the training’s efficacy.” While feeling sore can also be an indicator of pushing yourself extra hard during a workout, it most often is a result of trying something new.
In no case, though, is it a tell of a good or challenging enough workout. Take it from April Oury, founder, president, and physical therapist at Body Gears Physical Therapy, who we’ve spoken to in the past about this topic. “If you aren’t sore the day following a workout, you’ve likely already conditioned your body into that workout routine, pattern, or movement,” she says. “Soreness shouldn’t be the determining factor of whether or not you had an effective workout. As long as you know you did the reps, you did the time, and you did the full motion, you had an effective workout.”
Instead of aiming to ache after every exercise, think back to the last time that you were sore. If it’s been a while, it’s probably time to change up your workout—but not necessarily its difficulty. Take your current goals into consideration and focus on muscle groups you haven’t targeted in a while.