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5 Signs that You're Not Working Hard Enough in the Gym

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

So you've been working out consistently for a while, and you're not sure whether you're really doing all that you can to ensure you maximize your gains.

Maybe you're starting to see slower progress, and starting to wonder whether you're training hard enough to stimulate proper results. Whatever your case may be, you've come to the right place.

It's important that you know the indicators of a lack of effort, and can determine whether you're actually on track to reaching your goals, or need to look at how you can be spending your time better.

Ultimately, hard work, dedication and consistency will be the driving factors of your progress towards your fitness goals, no matter who you are.

In this post, we'll go over 5 telltale signs that you could (and should!) be working harder in the gym.

Bear in mind, if you find that some of these apply to you, this does not mean you will not make any gains at all. It simply means you may be limiting yourself in terms of what you're getting out of your time in the gym.

Fit and athletic woman doing shoulder stretch and preparing for a workout

The 5 Signs That You Could be Training Harder

You're Never Sore After Your Sessions

One of the first and major signs you should look for is your experience with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs). Even if you haven't felt it in a while, everybody that's worked out will have experienced it before. Probably the most right after the first ever training session.

Trainees often start to feel the soreness 6-8 hours after their workout sessions, and it can last anywhere between 24 and 48 hours.

For most people, our bodies do adapt to the training we do, and we start to experience DOMs to a lesser severity than we did towards the beginning of our fitness journeys. For example, after a year of consistent lifting, your upper body will start to feel less tight than it used to after a 'push' or 'pull' day workout. There seems to be an exception for legs when it comes to this, but I digress.

And while DOMs is a very painful and unwanted experience to many (unless you're a masochist), it serves as an indication that you hit your target muscles properly.

Now, research has shown that just because you don't experience DOMs after a workout session, that does not mean the workout was effective. DOMs should not be the only method you use to gauge the effectiveness of your training.

However, never experiencing DOMs does serve as an indication that you probably should be training harder in the gym, or out on the sports field/track.

If you've gone weeks or even months without ever experiencing DOMs, especially after a leg day, you likely need to take a look at what you're doing and find a way to increase the intensity of your sessions.

At least every couple of weeks, you should wake up the morning after a workout, feeling tight and sore. Because like we said, DOMs does serve as a pretty good indicator of hitting the muscles hard.

Bear in mind, if you're specifically training for strength, you do not have to experience DOMs in order to gain strength. We're more so talking about athletes and regular lifters who train to build muscle.

You Rarely Take Sets Close to Failure

Muscular bodybuilder doing machine row to train his back and working very hard to achieve a high workout intensity

The next sign that you should look for is the intensity of your individual sets in the gym. Or if you're an athlete, you should be pretty damn tired after your workouts unless you have a good reason not to be (such as training again immediately the next morning, or you have a specifically lower intensity session).

If you're looking to build muscle and look fitter, most of your sets that you perform in the gym should be taken within 3 reps of failure.

Now, if you're specifically lifting heavy for strength gain, you can lift further from failure and still see gains. Because as long as you're lifting heavy and getting more comfortable with it, you'll get stronger.

But if you're wanting to look fitter and stronger, then yes, you do need to train close to failure. At least to a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) of 7 most of the time. For strength, an RPE of 5-6 is still enough for gains.

A good way to determine your true ability in terms of muscular failure would be to simply pick a comfortable weight, take a guess of how many reps you can do, and then actually take the set to absolute failure.

Or, you can do a one-rep max test every so often to know how heavy you should be lifting during your working sets. (Don't do this before a session, as it'll affect your performance).

But as you keep lifting for longer, you'll naturally get better and better at gauging how hard you're really working. I see many beginners stop as soon as the reps start to slow down, when in reality they could've grinded out at least another 3 reps.

If you need a one-rep max calculator, and also a table of how many reps you're likely to perform relative to your one-rep max, use the calculator by ExRx here.

So find a way to know how hard you're working, and make sure that you take most of your sets within 3 reps of failure.

This is because, training close to failure (not TO failure) allows for us to tear the most muscle fibers, without compromising future performance. Essentially, training close to failure allows for optimal gains.

And if you're not doing it, you're likely to be leaving gains on the table.

You're Always Watching the Clock

When you work out, all of your focus should be on the training that you're doing. During your sets, you should be focused solely on the weight that you're moving and executing it with perfect form. You should not be worrying about the time remaining in your workout (unless you have an event to go to, of course).

Some athletes might describe it as being in a trance, where you're so focused n your workout that you lose track of time, and sometimes even your surroundings. All the distractions around you seem distant, and you've only got eyes on the weight you're lifting.

That's the mental state that you should be in, most of the time in the gym. Not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, and definitely not watching the clock so that you can get your workout over with and out of the gym.

You're Making No Progress

Another very clear sign that you're not working out hard enough would be a lack of progress either in the mirror, or in your performance. If you haven't seen physical changes in your body in a long time, you might need to reevaluate what you're doing and find a way to train harder.

And if you're not sure, take a look at the scale.

Or see if your clothes are starting to fit better. If absolutely nothing has changed, and you've been going for a decent while, you likely need to work harder.

This applies to athletes too. If your performance hasn't increased at all, and you're been training consistently for a decent while, you need to step up your game. We all have bad days, but that should not be a reason for us to lie to ourselves when things aren't going our way.

If this sounds like you, but you're sure that you've been training at an intensity that should be delivering results, it might be time to switch things up a little. Our bodies will adapt to the stress that we place on them, and every 8-12 weeks, you should look to switch up your training routines and program.

This doesn't mean you have to pick a completely new workout split and schedule.

You can run Push, Pull, Legs for three years and see great results. However, you should look to change things up a bit. Maybe you switch to the Pendlay row instead of the classic barbell row for a while.

Or maybe you incorporate more free weight work if you want to build more functional strength. However, if you do really want to shake things up, try out a new split!

Strong female powerlifter preparing for a sumo deadlift in training

Many lifters have noted that switching to new splits like full-body training from a classic Push, Pull, Legs split has been the catalyst of sparking new gains that they never knew they needed. That might just be what you need too!

If you would like to check out our programs, (including some free ones), click here.

So if you haven't made any meaningful progress in the last while, you either need to increase your workout intensity, or switch things up a little if you're sure you're training hard.

You Never Apply Progressive Overload

The last major indicator that we have for this list, you never apply progressive overload to your workout sessions. This will go hand in hand with not making any progress in either the mirror or your performance, and it's equally important to look out for.

Progressive overload is the act of adding difficulty to your workouts over time, as your body adapts and gets stronger.

This is necessary as it's the only way you'll be able to continue to give your body a challenge and stimulate more growth. There's no point lifting the same weight for the same number of reps, over and over again. You won't make any new gains.

So look back at your past couple of weeks of training. Have you added any element of progressive overload? This can come in the form of lifting more weight (even for less reps, your body will adapt), doing more reps on the same weight, adding an extra set to some exercises, or decreasing rest periods.

If you notice that you haven't applied any progressive overload, that's a problem. You need to start doing so. In order to continue making gains and ensure you're making the most of your time, you need to apply more and more of a challenge. There is no way around it.

And if you don't apply any progressive overload, you'll notice that the workouts start to feel easier and easier. This is not what we want at all.

Wrapping It Up

Overall, it can be hard to gauge how hard we're really working sometimes. But if you take a look at these 5 signs, and you notice that you're showing two or more of them, then you likely need to take a look at how hard you're training and find a way to increase intensity.

You certainly do not want to be limiting yourself and what you get out of your time spent in the gym, simply due to being lazy or a lack of knowledge.

If you would like to gain exclusive and limitless access to all of our blog posts, start your free trial with Gympulsive Pro today and let's move towards making you the best possible athlete that you can be!


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