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I'm lifting weight in order to improve my physical appearance.

But I'm unsure whether I'm doing enough or not enough. Can I use the soreness of my muscle to gauge? The advice is somewhat contradictory-- on one hand it's a myth to say It’s not a good workout unless you’re sore the next day, on the other hand it is said that you have to be a little uncomfortable during and after working out.

So which is which? how can I tell whether I'm weight-lifting hard or not hard enough? How do I know that the amount of strength training that I do is "just enough" to maintain my physical appearance, or it is actively improving it?

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First and most important of all, you need to ensure that you are working the targeted muscles of each exercise. This probably sounds dumb, but are you flexing and engaging your muscles while working them out? This is kind of hard to avoid if you are keeping good form, but not impossible.

The second thing you’ll want to do is to ensure that each strength training set that you do brings you to or close to failure while also ensuring that you keep good form in each and every rep. This is true whether you are doing 3 sets of 12, 5 sets of 5, or anything else. Every set, failure. Every rep, form.

If you are doing those two things, then it won’t matter if you feel sore or not. You’ll be challenging your muscles and forcing your body to adapt.

  • How to tell whether your muscle is close to failure? For all I know maybe your muscle can still take it but your mind already giving up – Graviton Nov 19 '18 at 2:37
  • It takes discipline and experience. Discipline to push beyond mental barriers, and experience to know when enough is enough. For the time being (and as long as you wanted really) it would be beneficial to simply seek to reach failure. So you have a primary goal of good form, a secondary goal of failure, and a tertiary goal of failure within a certain rep range. – JustSnilloc Nov 19 '18 at 12:53
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I'm lifting weight in order to improve my physical appearance.

But I'm unsure whether I'm doing enough or not enough.

This is a very common scenario in every sphere of human endeavour, which is good for us because that implies it is well-understood. One common approach is the process consisting of the steps that I'll detail below:

Step 1 - Establish baseline. You want to get a measurement of your starting point. For this particular situation, you'll probably want to take some photographs of your physical appearance.

Step 2 - Do something for a while. With the baseline established, you'll then do... something. The important thing is to do the same thing, and to do it long enough -- both of which are often more difficult than they sound for many people in your situation. As a pure stab in the dark I'd suggest sticking with one programme for at least one month; recommendations of two or three months are not uncommon.

Step 3 - Take new measurements. You want to see if what you're doing is getting you what you want. So take more photographs.

Then you'll need to compare the original baseline with where you are now. This is usually difficult for people evaluating their own physical appearance. Asking others to provide a less-biased evaluation may be helpful.

Step 4 - Make changes to what you're doing in Step 2, if you want to make any, and repeat the process.

That's about all there is to it -- but the devil is in the details.

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    This is also an excellent method for handling calorie intake – JacobPariseau Nov 20 '18 at 19:58
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The key is to basically judge off of how your body feels. When you finish each set how do you feel? The general rule is that you should be able to finish your first set with mild discomfort, any middle sets should start getting increasingly more uncomfortable and your last set should be a maximum and intense effort just to complete it with good form.

My personal rule is that I should feel at least some discomfort in the area I am working out after the workout. The muscle should feel tight and maybe some mild soreness immediately after. If you stretch and cool down properly afterward it is more or less normal to have minimal soreness the next day. You want to be sure you stress your body enough so that it feels the need to build up and adapt and grow muscle. Personally I try to push as hard as I can and then do everything I can to make sure that I do all I can through nutrition and rest to make sure my muscles rebuild.

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