What does a successful workout look like? Should you be dripping in sweat or lying on the floor after each workout? No, absolutely not. There’s definitely a time and place for grueling workouts that demand a lot from you. But a successful workout isn’t defined by how much sweat you produce or how many calories you burn. Rather a successful workout is one that best suits your body’s needs that particular day and you leave the gym better than you were when you arrived. The word “better” is very subjective and can mean a variety of things including: being stronger, having better endurance, better mental headspace, enhanced technique/form, and many other forms of improvement. Do what’s best for you to make it a success.
In order to have a successful workout, sleep, nutrition, and other factors outside of the gym all contribute to what you are able to do during each particular workout.
Let’s say you get 4 hours of sleep, for whatever reason, and you come in to workout in the early morning. You’re probably exhausted and your body isn’t well rested. Even the most caffeinated pre-workout won’t magically fix the state that your body is in. So, scaling back a bit might be what is best for you in that instance.
Here’s another scenario for you. You just worked a long eight hour shift and head to the gym after work. It was crazy at work and you didn’t have a chance to sit down and eat your lunch. All you’ve had since 6 AM is a small snack and only a cup of water. Doing a long, sweaty cardio session probably isn’t going to go very well for you since your body has depleted energy levels and you are more than likely dehydrated. This would be a good day to switch things up to a lighter (more sustainable) cardio, or even take the afternoon off and go eat a quality meal.
If you are in a car all day or are cooped up in an office chair, your body is more than likely stiff especially in your hip flexors and or low back. On days where it is exceptionally stiff, spending extra time stretching and doing mobility exercises will have a much more positive impact on the body than attempting to lift heavy weight. It isn’t always sexy or the most glorious thing to do, but if it makes your body feel better and move better it is absolutely worth it. One day away from lifting heavy or doing intense cardio will not “mess with your gains”.
All of these scenarios can be flipped, however. If you do have great sleep over the course of a few days, weeks, or months, have quality nutrition and hydration, and take care of your body the 23 hours outside of the gym, you might be able to ramp things up a bit. Add an extra mile to your run, throw on a couple more pounds and go for a PR on a lift, or even push your limits a little more if you’re feeling good. This doesn’t mean you need to do any of these things but this would be the time and place where you could allow yourself to overreach in training a little bit.
It might sound cheesy or cliché, but if you ask yourself after every training session (of any kind) if you got better, and you are able to truthfully say yes, then that would be considered a successful workout. An easy way to determine if you were successful is to focus on specific category and try to improve in that one area. A few categories you could focus on are (like previously mentioned): Strength, Endurance, Mental Health or State of Mind, Technique/Form, and many others. Test this out the next time you exercise and see if you are able to improve yourself for the better.