There are many factors to consider when developing a quality exercise program: personal preferences, current fitness level, health status and personal goals among others. As a trainer, I assess a quality exercise program not by how many reps, how much weight or how “hard” the program is perceived to be; rather, I question if the program meets a person’s fitness level and if it aligns with their personal goals.
In a sense, I evaluate an exercise program the same way that I evaluate a meal at a restaurant. To me a good meal does more than make me feel full: the service, how the food tastes, how the food looks and the environment are all important factors. In an attempt to draw a parallel, a “hard” workout is like a meal that makes you full. Being full doesn’t mean that the food tasted or looked good and believe it or not performing a “hard” workout doesn’t mean the workout will yield the results you may be looking for. Instead of thinking about how much you can do in the gym, try to consistently improve how well you can perform exercises in the gym.
On a day-to-day basis I’m frequently approached with questions such as:
“How many reps?”
“How much weight?”
“Which exercise is better?”
“Are machines bad?”
In all honesty, none of those questions will help you crack the code to reaching your fittest potential and achieve your exercise goals. The amount of repetitions is an arbitrary number- a number doesn’t tell me how good the repetitions were. The weight is always relative- more weight isn’t necessarily better and is only one way to make an exercise harder, try increasing time under tension by changing the rate at which you perform an exercise. There is no such thing as a hierarchy of exercises- the mechanics of movement will dictate the muscles working in the body (i.e. a squat is a quadriceps/glute/hamstring exercise for some but for others it’s a trigger for knee and back pain). Machines when used properly are incredibly valuable- as a trainer I can manipulate the resistance profile of a machine so that it can match a person’s strength profile (come in and talk to me if you would like to learn more about this).
So if you are someone who has been working “hard” in the gym and has yet to see the results you are looking for take a step back and try to answer these questions:
“How do the exercises you are performing feel- are you in pain the next day?”
“When you perform an exercise/movement what muscles do you feel working?”
“How do the exercises that you are performing help you achieve your goals?”
“Does your diet reflect your exercise program?”
I understand that these questions may be hard to answer but these are the questions that a quality exercise program addresses. Like a good meal, it is the quality not the quantity. If you really want to take your fitness to the next level make sure your workout is addressing the qualitative aspects of fitness as opposed to the quantitative aspects.
Josh Keuster is a Personal Trainer (ACE) with a BA in Communication Arts and Global Heath. His training sessions focus on strength training, weight lifting technique and total body conditioning.