So where can you find a happy medium, a middle ground? Effort levels in the gym are undefinable and subjective. Many gym inductees are told to rate their exertion levels on a scale of 1-10 when performing cardio, of course the perception of exertion relies on a number of variables and is not a sustainable method for gauging your effort levels, so what to do?
I’m of the opinion that for the most part, hard and intense trumps all, whether you are doing weights or cardio. Unless you’re lucky enough to not have to work for a living, most of us have limited time to train, and with this in mind, short, though, intense session are the most efficient and will provide the most benefit to us.
But what does intense mean?
Rather than assigning some kind of arbitrary number to your exertion level, I prefer to use physical signals. Is your heart racing, are you sweating, are you failing on all your sets? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then chances are your effort levels are more than adequate.
If you really have your foot on the pedal, you may experience some other unsavory but nevertheless harmless side effects of hard training. When going heavy on compound lifts, particularly deadlifts, you may see stars, feel like you’re about to redecorate the floor with your pre-workout shake or suffer from temporary loss of hearing.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule, during strength based workouts, these physical cues may not be as prominent due to the shorter sets and longer rest periods required, though you will feel fatigued in a different way.
When it comes down to it, effort is totally subjective and no one but you knows exactly how hard you are working. What is certain, is that if you breeze through every workout on cruise control, your results will be fleeting.
The good news is that 110% effort is not required day after day, in fact it is beneficial to back off when you feel your resources are being stretched, just be sure to pump in regular intense sessions.
In simple terms, the loftier your goals, the harder you will have to try in the gym. Here are some common goals and the kind of effort and commitment levels they require;
Gain Muscle/Lose Fat
This is the holy grail of training and some even argue that it’s impossible to do both simultaneously. If you want to be in with a fighting chance of getting big and ripped however, you need to be on song with your nutrition and training, preferably squeezing in two, intense sessions per day.
If your aim is simply gaining muscle, you have it a little easier, but not much… Your sessions need to be intense, but only from a muscular fatigue point of view, you have the luxury of being able to rest slightly longer between sets, and training everyday is by no means necessary
If this is your goal, you need to be constantly vigilant with your nutrition, which takes a fair amount of effort in itself. From a training point of view, metabolism is key in this case, intense workouts are not essential, so long as you ensure your metabolism is constantly stoked by staying active. Semi-regular high-intensity interval training will of course speed up your progress.
Whatever you do in the gym, approach it with gusto and passion. Don’t stand around chatting or adjusting your vest in the mirror for minutes on end, leave your phone in the locker room, and DON’T read while you’re performing cardio. Keep focused on what you are doing in the here and now and your workouts will be more rewarding and effective.