These are signs that your workout is effective — even if you aren't sweaty or sore, according to a personal trainer

a group of women high-fiving in the gym after a workout
A good workout should leave you feeling good, even (or especially) if it's challenging, according to a personal trainer.PeopleImages/Getty Images
  • You can make the most of your workouts by knowing your goals ahead of time to measure progress.

  • Signs of a good workout include feeling energized after, and being able to challenge yourself more.

  • Be wary of workouts that promise too much, and don't worry if you aren't sore or sweaty.

Putting in long hours at the gym is hard work, and it's normal to want reassurance that your efforts are paying off, but results can be slow to show up.

Fortunately, you don't have to wait months to know if your workouts are working for you, according to Jess Brown, founder of The Glute Recruit and a personal trainer with a decade of experience.

Pay attention to immediate "green flags" of a healthy, successful workout session by noticing how you feel after exercise, she told Insider. A good program should allow you to see improvements in strength or stamina over time, and continue challenging yourself in the gym without burning out, Brown said — and you don't necessarily need to be sore or sweaty after.

The effectiveness of a workout depends on your goals

When it comes to seeing results from exercise, there's no one-size-fits-all metric of success because people can have a wide variety of different goals, according to Brown.

"For example, for someone that is looking to become stronger - their marker for progression could be them being able to lift heavier weight from when they first started. For someone that has a goal of weight loss, a marker of progression for them could be that their clothes fit them better," she said.

An important first step in getting the most out of your workouts is to identify what you hope to achieve, and prioritize what matters most to you, whether that's hitting a squat PR or simply getting healthier.

If you're not sure where to start, hiring a qualified professional is a good investment that can help you avoid wasting time and energy on workouts that don't have a clear plan.

"I always recommend working with a personal trainer because they can point you in the right direction as to which workouts are the best personal prescription for your fitness goal," Brown said.

You should feel good after working out

Whatever your goal is, Brown said a great workout should leave you feeling accomplished and positive, even if it was tough.

"You should feel good and energized after a workout. Exercise increases endorphins which are known to boost your mood and energy," she said. "It shouldn't feel like a chore."

In contrast, a red flag of an unsustainable or potentially unsafe situation is workouts that are exceptionally unpleasant, such as those that take an extreme amount of time or require you to work out on an empty stomach, according to Brown. There's a difference between challenging yourself and being miserable or risking injury — and if you're not sure or have a previous injury, it may be best to consult with a physical therapist.

You should be able to challenge yourself more in a workout over time

The key to seeing results with a workout is a concept called progressive overload, which means prompting your body to adapt and build back stronger by increasingly challenging your muscles over time.

A good way to tell if you're on track is to keep a record of your workouts so you can notice when the same exercises feel easier, or you're able to add more weight or reps.

"Even the slightest bit of progression counts as success," Brown said.

a woman with curly hair lifting dumbbells in a gym, wearing a red T-shirt
A good sign of workout success is if your workouts start to feel easier, allowing you to add weight or reps over time.Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

You should be able to stick to your workouts long-term

Building muscle or improving your fitness takes time, so any single gym session is less important than being consistent with exercise over time.

A reasonable time frame to see significant progress is about four to six weeks, and a program that makes big promises in a short and very specific time period is unlikely to be realistic, according to Brown.

"Unfortunately a lot of these workout programs target people's insecurities and furthermore, the body doesn't respond well to quick fixes and it can do more harm than good in the long run," she said.

Getting sweaty doesn't always mean you had a good workout

It's normal to get sweaty when you're hitting the weights or raising your heart rate on a run or bike ride, but you don't need to worry if you're not drenched in sweat by the end of a session.

Sweating alone isn't a sign of an effective workout, according to Brown.

"It's been debunked. It's just your body trying to cool itself down," she said.

A man in a sweat-soaked shirt and gym shorts with his hands on his hips, looking tired after a workout
If every workout leaves you exhausted and drenched in sweat, it may be time to rethink your routine.FlamingoImages/Getty Images

Being sore isn't always necessary to see results in the gym

Forget the old saying of "no pain, no gain" — chasing soreness won't help you get better workout results, Brown said.

While it's important to challenge yourself over time and some post-workout discomfort is normal (especially for beginners), it's not necessary to get a good workout, and too much soreness can actually get in the way of your routine.

"It seems that most people feel that they need to be sore in order to have a successful workout but that's not the case," Brown said. "If your body is very sore and the soreness lasts for more than 72 hours, dial down, take a rest day and focus on recovery. Remember sometimes less is more."


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