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Is What I’m Doing Even Worth It? Making Your Workouts Work For You

Kim: Welcome to episode 78 of the Fitness Simplified podcast. I’m your host, Kim Schlag. On today’s episode, I’m going to be fielding a question from a member of my Instagram fam. Kathy wrote in very frustrated with her workouts. Is she lifting heavy enough? Is she lifting long enough? When she starts to lift heavier and longer, she feels frustrated, doesn’t like it, so she cuts back, and then she’s worried it’s not effective and maybe she should just give it all up and just walk already.
[00:00:31] So we’re going to be talking the specifics of what makes an effective workout. We’re also going to be talking about the mindset piece of working out and how to make your workouts work for you.
[00:00:42] Let’s go.
[00:00:46] Okay. So starting out this episode, I want to have a little disclaimer: I have quite the cough going on. I’m actually going to get a COVID test. I don’t think I have COVID. I think what I have is I was out in the rain too long this weekend and I’m just not feeling well. But, I’m going to get a COVID test just to be on the safe side. Point being, I might cough uncontrollably during this episode. Doing it anyway, doing it anyway. Messy action is what I’m all about.
[00:01:12] All right. So with that disclaimer, let’s jump into this question that Kathy’s submitted. I’m going to read her question exactly as she wrote it and then take it piece by piece.
[00:01:21] Here’s what Kathy says: “A question. I go from building my weights and time up to an hour — so heavier weights, heavier and heavier, longer and longer workouts — to being turned off. Too much pressure on myself and not wanting to lift weights anymore.”
[00:01:39] Okay, so I’m not totally clear which piece is pressuring her or if both is feeling like a lot of pressure. As in, “Wow. This workout is long and I have other things to do, “or, “Wow. This is really heavy weight and I really don’t like lifting heavy heavy weights.” 
[00:01:54] “So, then I go back to super short, 20 to 30 minutes and not too heavy.”
[00:01:59] Okay. So she ends up reducing it. She doesn’t want to lift weights anymore.
[00:02:04] “I don’t want to lift weights anymore. I go back to super short, 20-30 minutes, not too heavy. And my question is, ‘am I receiving any benefits or should I just quit and do walking, no weights?”
[00:02:16] Okay. So, starts off, lifts heavier and heavier, longer and longer, feels pressure — either time pressure or just the pressure of,” I don’t actually like lifting really big weights,” decides “I don’t really want to lift at all anymore,” cuts really far back — 20-minute workouts, 30-minute workouts, not heavy workouts — and now she’s questioning, “is this effective at all? And should I just quit and forget about lifting weights and walk?”
[00:02:42] So, let’s unpack this.
[00:02:45] The first piece we’re going to talk about is this mental piece. She kind of gives this false dichotomy: either what I’m doing is effective — like, it’s totally effective — or it’s not effective at all and I should just quit. There’s a whole lot of middle ground in there and that’s what I want to find today. 
[00:03:03] Workouts can be customized to you. You don’t have to fit you to the workout. So the first question for Kathy to ask herself, and for you to ask you, is “what is my goal?”
[00:03:17] What results, what benefits do you want?
[00:03:20] So Kathy said, “am I receiving any benefits?” The question I would have her ask herself is, “what benefits are you looking for?”
[00:03:27] ]Is your goal maximum strength? Is your goal hypertrophy — muscle-building? Is your goal just general strength and longevity? What is your goal? And that’s how you’re going to judge whether what you’re doing is effective or not.
[00:03:42] Then the question is, “what type of workout — how long of a workout, how much volume — what do I need to reach that goal? Now, for most of those goals, there’s a whole range of possibilities for length of workout and how you’re going to structure your workout.
[00:03:59] If the goal was maximum strength, like, “I want to lift as heavy as possible. I want to be as strong as possible,” there will be the need for lifting super heavy weights. Right? You’re going to need to lift a heavy barbell, one-rep max, two-rep max, three-rep max, low rep range, higher weight. If max strength is the goal, that is the best way to achieve that.
[00:04:24] So that answers her point of, “do I have to lift that heavy?” If max strength is your goal, yes, you do.
[00:04:31] Now going along with that: if max strength is your goal, you’re also going to need more time because lifting in that way, training in the one to five rep range, necessitates longer rest periods. So when I do a heavy barbell back squat, when I do a heavy bench press, when I do a heavy deadlift, when I am working on my chin-ups or my pull-ups, when I do those things, I use a two to three minute rest period between each set. That takes time.
[00:05:01] So if you’re doing three sets and you have two minutes between each, that’s six minutes of rest just there, not even including the actual time setting up and the time performing the lifts. So yes, that does take some more time.
[00:05:15] If max strength is not your goal, you do not have to lift that heavy.
[00:05:20] You do not. You’re going to have to lift heavy — and we’re going to talk about what heavy to you feels like — but you do not need to be setting up barbells, you do not need to be lifting in that one to five rep range if max strength isn’t your goal.
[00:05:32] Now, I do think that lifting heavy is beneficial. Actually, that’s totally misstated. It’s not that lifting heavy is my opinion, it is how you change the shape of your body. But heavy is going to be relative to you. And it doesn’t have to require lifting in the one to five rep range at all.
[00:05:54] So what is required to get the goal of looking shapelier, feeling healthier, building muscle?
[00:06:04] What research shows us is that you can build muscle across all rep ranges. You can do it in that lower rep range I was just talking about, that one to five, you can do it in the more moderate rep range, more like the eight to twelve, and you can do it in higher rep ranges, more like above twelve.[00:06:20] When we’re talking about what is most practical, what is actually going to fit in your life? A really good sweet spot for you to put most of your lifts is in that eight to twelve rep range, because if you’re going to be working in that higher rep range, if you’re going to be trying to work with reps of 15, you’re going to have to lift heavy enough — and we’ll talk about what that feels like in a minute — to get to 15 reps and it’s going to take longer. If you’re doing 15 reps of everything, 20 reps of everything, it’s going to take longer.
[00:06:50] Now there is an endpoint60-second for how light you can lift and still see results. So you want to be at least at 20% of your one-rep max. If you’re lifting 30 reps of something, 40-50 reps of something, it’s likely too light for. And think about how impractical that is for your time.
[00:07:11] So we’re going to have you structure your workout so that most of your lifting is going to be in that eight to twelve rep range. Some of it can be in that higher rep range — I absolutely program for my clients a few things in the above 12 rep range, 15 reps, 20 reps. I use it sparingly. I use it towards the end of a workout for these more accessory-type lifts, and it is very sparing. That is not the bulk of their workout.
[00:07:38] I also do use that heavy rep range, that one to five rep range, for some of my clients. That is always their first move to the day — one or two, for some people, moves. So those would be things like a heavy back squat, a heavy barbell deadlift, it could be a chin-up variation, it could be a bench press variation. So there would be one to two of those exercises at the beginning of their workout.
[00:08:06] They would have longer rest periods. Like I said, two to three minutes. Moving on through the workout, or just starting if they’re not going to do that piece, they would start with exercises in the eight to twelve rep range.
[00:08:20] And these would be multi-joint exercises, compound exercises. We’re talking things that would be variations of rows, variations of chest presses, pushups, shoulder presses, overhead presses, military presses, deadlift variations, squat variations, lunge variations. Those kinds of things would make up the bulk of their workout in the eight to twelve rep range. 
[00:08:54] And then at the end, we would put a little sprinkling of those things in the above 12 rep range.
[00:09:00] Now the time of rest with these exercises can be lower. 60 seconds is totally fine doing that. I would suggest you time your rest, 1) to make sure you’re getting enough.
[00:09:11] When you take rest for a long enough period of time, and you don’t make everything into a giant circuit and your heart rates up and all of that, when you’re not chasing that you actually have the ability to push harder during your sets. And being able to push harder, that intensity is what is going to help you lift heavy enough for you. And that is going to be what changes your body and builds muscle.
[00:09:38] So what does it feel like to lift heavy enough for you?
[00:09:41] Let’s give an example: let’s say your training plan calls for eight reps of a single-arm dumbbell row. Can you picture what that move looks like in your mind?
[00:09:53] You’re going to select a weight. Now, right out of the gate you might have no idea what is an appropriate weight for that exercise for you at this time period. Just pick something. You can start very light. Pick something, do it for eight reps. You might immediately realize, “okay. I way undershot. This is too light.”
[00:10:11] Grab another weight. You might immediately realize, “this is way too heavy. I can’t use good form” or “I can use good form, but I really can’t get this weight up for more than a few reps. I’m not anywhere near eight reps.”
[00:10:23] Okay, put that down and grab another weight. You plug and play until you find the weight that is going to get you to hit eight reps — remember, that was the given rep range. You want to shoot for eight reps — and by the time you get to rep eight, you could do one, possibly two more reps with good form, but you couldn’t do three.
[00:10:46] That’s what you’re looking for: good form, getting to true eight reps, one more good rep left in the tank, possibly two.
[00:10:54] If you feel like you could just keep going and going, that weight is not heavy enough for you, so you need to get a heavier weight. You can do that the next set, pick up that heavier weight. What you’re going to want to focus on is every set should feel like that. You don’t want to be pacing yourself.
[00:11:13] I do talk to a lot of clients and they’re like, “Oh, well I picked a lighter weight because I want to be able to do that the next set.” Uh uh, worry about the next set on the next set. Each set you should be trying to get to the end of that rep range using as heavyweight as possible with good form.
[00:11:32] You also need to be aware that over time you’re going to be able to lift heavier weights. So just because 15 pounds was the perfect weight for you this workout does not mean that next workout it will be. And you need to be very present and conscious with each and every set to focus on how your form looks and how that weight is feeling. If it is not taxing you enough by the end of the set you need to up the weight.
[00:12:00] So that is a really important piece of the, “how do I change my body” puzzle?
[00:12:06] All right. So, you can spend a lot of your workout in that rep range, eight to twelve rep range. So bringing it back to her question of, ” can I do this in 20 to 30 minutes?” Yes, you can. If you’re going to be doing that heavy rep range, that one to five rep range, it might be hard. You’re not going to be able to do it in 20 minutes and have enough volume lifting heavy and then adding some more of these eight to twelve rep range. That would be crazy to try and get that in.
[00:12:34] Could you possibly get one super heavy lift in in the one to five rep range and then a couple of accessory lifts in 30 minutes? You could. It would be way more realistic to do that in 45-50 minutes, for sure.
[00:12:47] Now, if you don’t want to do the one to five rep range at all, you’re going to keep your rest periods in that 60 second range, you could get 20 minutes in. 20 minutes is really the low end, I would say. Doing 30 minutes? Absolutely. You could do that. You absolutely could. You’re going to want to really focus on using as many of those compound, multi-joint lifts as possible and not focusing on things like working biceps and triceps and delts and doing band work for your glutes, and those kinds of things. Kind of drop tha
t stuff off and really focus on the meat of the workout — rows and pushes and pulls and those kinds of things. Pulldowns, pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, those kinds of things. Focus on that.

[00:13:38] It’s not about the time you spend, it is about how you spend your time. Whatever amount of minutes you have, use that time wisely. Pick your heavy lifts, work them hard, take appropriate rest times — don’t just blast through it — and you will be able to see results.
[00:13:58] You’re going to need an, a volume over the course of the week. And so if you’re going to do a 30-minute workout, maybe see if you can get 30-minute workouts four times in a week. All of my clients work out either two, three, or four times in a week. Very few workout two. The people who work out two are really people who it’s, “either I can get two in or I’m getting none in. I can’t do more than two,” and I would rather have them do something than nothing. So they do two workouts in a week.
[00:14:26] Most of my clients fall in the three or four lifts per week category. Three lifts per week, it looks like this: lower body, upper body, full body. You could also do three full-body days. What I find tends to happen is you are just really sore. If you have a full-body day on Monday and then it’s time to lift again on Wednesday, you might still be really sore from your squats and your lunges and those kinds of things — and your chin-ups — from Monday, and so Wednesdays lift might not go as well. You’re just really sore.
[00:15:05] Whereas if we do lower body Monday and you’re not doing lower body again until Friday, you’re less likely to be so sore. So that’s why I do lower body, upper body, full body. But three full-body, just as appropriate.
[00:15:17] If you’re going to do four lifts per week: lower body, upper body, lower body, upper body, spread throughout the week like that.
[00:15:30] Now, her very last part of the question, “is it even worth it or should I just give up and go walking?” Really falls into that “all or nothing” mindset, right? And so how do we combat that? We let good enough be good enough. And we do this naturally in other areas of our life, right? So if you are late to work one day, you don’t just quit your job, right? If you yell at your kids one time, you don’t just think, “I’m a terrible–” well, you might think “I’m a terrible mother,” hopefully you get over that. You’re not going to give your kids up for adoption because you have a temper problem, you’re going to work on your temper problem, right? And so this feels really natural in other aspects of our life, so talk to yourself in the same way about your workouts.
[00:16:20] If what you can give right now is 20 minutes, then what you give is 20 minutes and you give your best for those 20 minutes. And you don’t worry about, “well, what if I could go for 60 minutes?” And “I should only go for 60 minutes.”
[00:16:35] Stop should-ing on yourself. Do what you can do with what you’ve got. It is still worth it.
[00:16:41] Stop the overdramatic thinking that leads you to, “it’s either the best, most effective possible, or it’s nothing.” Most effective is what you can make fit into your life.
[00:16:56] All right, I think I’ve hit the whole question there. Plan your workouts. Now look, I will say it is really difficult to program for yourself if you have not done this before. For me, I’ve studied programming for years. I can quickly put a program together. I know what makes up an effective workout program. And it’s something that we can continue to talk about here. I would suggest either getting a program made for you specifically or using a program that is pre-made.
[00:17:24] I have six-week lifting programs on my YouTube library. I have at least two. I will link them in the show notes here so that you can see them. Using a plan and sticking with it is key to getting results. If you’re always jumping around, if you’re doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, “I do this thing from fitness blender one day, and I pick this swipe workout another day,” you’re not going to see the results you want.
[00:17:53] Progressive overload, which means doing more work over time, requires consistency with the lifts you do. And so when I write my client’s programming, they get a new program every four weeks. Realistically, I could wait and give them a new program every six weeks or every seven or eight weeks. People tend to want more variety than that, so I go with every four weeks. But I will tell you, their programs don’t look wildly different from month one to month two to month three.
[00:18:20] Every week they’re going to be doing some form of a row. Month one, maybe they’re doing a standard single-arm row month two, they might be doing that row with a pause on their chest, or they could be doing it with a different grip. Same thing with their squats, maybe month one they’re doing a goblet squat, and month two they’re doing a dumbbell front squat, or they’re doing a goblet squat with a pause. I don’t shift things wildly.
[00:18:48] And during each month their goal is to get better and better with each exercise over the course of that month. So they take that goblet squat from week one, they nail their form, and they start upping the weight. They start nailing their pause if there’s a pause and they work every week to get better and better and better at it through week four. Then we switch things up.
[00:19:08] And again, it’s not like we start from scratch. It’s still the same types of moves. And they do the same thing, they spend week one getting familiar with the exercises, and then over the course of the month, they spend time and energy upping the weight, nailing their form, boom, boom, boom, all across a month.
[00:19:25] And that is what you need to see progress, to see results.
[00:19:31] I hope this has helped. Hit me up with any questions. If you have a question you would like to have me answer on the podcast, you can email me or you can DM me on Instagram. Thanks so much for being here today.
[00:19:51] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational.
[00:20:02] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in it, it would mean so much to me if you would go ahead and leave a rating and review on whatever platform you are listening to this on. It really does help to get this podcast to other people. Thanks so much.