{the life} What Makes for a Great Workout

by Rachel on April 17, 2012

rachel yoga bagMy yoga class last night was fantastic. As I was packing up my things, as I was driving home, as I was chatting with Eric, I just kept thinking one thing: Wow. What a great workout. And that made me think…what actually do I mean when I say that a workout was great?

I’ve been thinking about it some more and I’ve come up with a list of the characteristics that define a good workout for me.

Rhythm. A good workout starts when I feel like the class is in sync and moving with the same rhythm. I think this is why workout music has always been important to me, whether I was running alone, teaching a spin class, or doing Core Fusion. It sets the tone, yes, but it also makes it easier pace yourself and to anticipate the next move or change. Most of the yoga classes at my studio are free of music, but it really is true that sometimes the class moves with a collective breath. Even if there’s no music, everyone inhaling and hitting her upward-facing dog at the same time makes me feel like we have rhythm and I love that.

Good people. Other people can take a workout from mediocre to awesome. Some days it’s a fun instructor who keeps everyone laughing; other days it’s a class filled with people that I just feel connected to for one reason or another. And sometimes it’s just being able to be solo when I want to brainstorm alone or work through something.

Achievement. Sure, we never want things to be easy, but there are workouts when the achievement is just getting through the door. Then there are workouts when the challenges feel overwhelming. But the best workouts for me are the ones when it’s just like “Challenge accepted.” When something seems difficult — or actually is difficult — and I do it anyway, I walk away feeling really strong and proud of myself.

Release. Release is when I get lost in the workout and start to play to my edges a bit more. It’s like something else just takes over and I push through without even asking myself first. I usually know I’m there when I find myself cheering, whooping, or just exhaling with a huge force after I’ve pushed through a really tough moment. When the workout is over and I have that sort of JBF hair/look on my face and I feel like I lost control during the workout a bit…yep. That’s release.

Flow. If release comes from letting yourself get lost in the moment, flow is about being totally present. I first became aware of the concept of flow when I was running a lot, training for the Disney Marathon. Flow is, to me, the most special and the most elusive thing I’m after when I’m working out. It’s that moment when I’m not concerned with anything but the present; I lose track of time because I’m truly enjoying myself in the moment and everything feels easy. I don’t even think “I don’t want this to end” because I’m not even thinking about the fact that it could end. It doesn’t happen very often when I’m working out, but when I hit a state of flow, it’s amazing.

That’s my list, but I’d love to hear yours! What defines a great workout for you?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Claire @ Live and Love to Eat April 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

I agree mostly with the “Flow” point – I know it’s a GREAT yoga class when it feels like it flew by, and a not-so-great class when I’m staring at the clock!


2 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie April 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

I agree with this list completely with the exception of Good People, I prefer working out alone and even if I take a pilates class, I stay in my own world. It’s the only time a day I have 100% to myself – no texts or calls or emails or roommates or friends or boyfriend – and I relish that!


3 Rachel April 17, 2012 at 9:58 am

Oh totally — but that’s why I said sometimes “good people” just means you! Some days you’re just your own best company!


4 Katrina @ 'Sota is Sexy April 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

I really identify with the “Achievement” aspect. Nothing puts you in a better mood or gives you a self-esteem boost like conquering a difficult workout. I always strive to leave my workout having no regrets — I don’t want to wish I had given more or feel disappointed that I didn’t push a little harder.


5 madeline reoch April 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

You have the yoga bag you’ve been talking about forever! Love it!!


6 Rachel April 17, 2012 at 9:57 am

Yes, I splurged with my Christmas money!

And thank you!! :)


7 Bronwyn April 17, 2012 at 9:49 am

I have to agree with the achievement part. I love a workout, but I absolutely love the sense of achievement I get after I do a really tough workout, and do it well. And flow is great too, I love when a workout flies by.


8 deva at deva by definition April 17, 2012 at 10:33 am

For me, it’s achievement and release. Sometimes, a good workout can be completing a ten mile run. Other times, a good workout can mean a three mile run done really fast because I’m emotional over one thing or another. When I am lifting, good workouts are ones where I get in, get it done, and get out. No nonsense. When I can zone out during a workout and get into it, that’s when it gets good.


9 Caitlin @ This Bride's Joyride April 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

It’s funny, I always used to prefer working out alone but after taking some great spin classes, bar method classes, etc I realized that the right instructor, or a great class atmosphere can leave me walking out feeling like I had a fantastic workout experience. Sometimes that feeling is better than when I had a great run and met some goal pace or distance!


10 Jan April 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Sounds like all the things that characterize a good sex workout, too. ;-)


11 Mel April 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Achievement is usually a huge reason I like a workout – but I totally agree with your description of (and the importance of) Flow! I recently switched to working out to podcasts instead of music and I feel like my work outs have been on point! It seems a little counter-intuitive, but I’ve realized it is the only way to keep my mind occupied. Since I have something to listen into, my body is a lot more focused on the movements! (I think they’ve said that’s why it’s actually a good idea to doodle during meetings?)


12 Katie Cummings April 17, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I love when I get goosebumps after I finish a great workout!


13 [SMASH] April 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I’ve definitely gotten goosebumps have surviving a really brutal turbo kick class. Glad I’m not alone in this!


14 Jen April 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm

You linked back to your Disney Marathon post, so I went there, and just how apropos is it that you mention wishing to actually see Prince Eric? Now, I’m not sure if you meant the Disney character, but if you weren’t dating Eric at the time, well, then I think you got your wish.

As for the post — agreed entirely! I would add another section: “Clarity.” Oftentimes, for me, a good workout means I have not only taken care of my physical self but have made sense of a situation, or something has clicked, or something mentally has in some way shifted. “Clarity” sort of goes along the lines of “Release,” but I do think it could be a category unto itself.


15 Rachel April 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

HA! You know when I first met Eric, all my grandma had to say on the matter of me moving across the country for him was, “Well, his name is Eric and Prince Eric has been Rachel’s favorite since she was a little girl.” But at the time of the marathon, it was the Disney one…I met the real-life one about three months after that!

And I get you on “clarity,” and I actually do think it’s different from release. It’s more of going in with some sort of problem or goal and by the end, you’ve found your way through it. I think release sort of sneaks up on you, but clarity takes work.


16 TeriLyn [a foodie stays fit] April 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I feel like flow & rhythm impact all the other components of a “good workout.” I went to a yoga class on Saturday that had good postures but the instructor was so awkward and kept pausing like she was trying to figure out what to do next. It ruined the class for me!


17 Nikki April 17, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I’d be interested in seeing an article about how your fitness has evolved. this one is clearly (mainly) about yoga -which I also love!- but there were a lot of steps to get here. I’m currently mixing up yoga, spin, and body pump, and I have completely let go of my love of running.


18 Sarah April 18, 2012 at 9:43 am

I agree! Having just completed a marathon (weeeeee!!) I know my workouts are about to change. I’ll be doing different workouts, and I’ll have different goals, and different measures of success. In the time I’ve been reading, your goals and the type of workouts you love have evolved a lot too – and I always love hearing about it! The process of finding something that is perfect for you – and then making it fit into where your life is now – can be daunting, but is also fascinating.


19 Linda April 18, 2012 at 12:22 am

I can definitely relate to “flow’. I can’t remember a time that I don’t force myself to have a workout yet whenever I decide and begin, the hard part is deciding to stop. Although difficult sometimes, I find working out one of the most fulfilling activities in my life.


20 Emma @ BITE | Boredom Is The Enemy April 18, 2012 at 5:32 am

Love the idea of Flow. The treadmills in my gym are in front of a row of mirrors, and I know I’ve gotten there when I forget about how my I look while running (sometimes “dayummm,” sometimes “dammit”—either way, kinda distracting) and start savoring how strong I feel instead. (P.S. Obsessed with your blog. I think this is my first time commenting, but I’m a huge fan of your writing and have long shared your affection for the phrase “sorry I’m not sorry.”)


21 K @ The Chic Teach April 18, 2012 at 6:26 am

I think my best workouts are the ones where I just leave feeling better than I came in! Whether that’s stronger, happier, calmer, or stretchier…


22 Dean Joseph April 18, 2012 at 8:00 am

First off as a guy I enjoy your posts for your writing style. It has influenced how I write in my classes. It’s intelligent, fun and gets to he point. I can agree wih this post whole heartedly. Yesterday at the gym I was doing my crow pose and played around a little and ended doing a handstand! Like you said its about finding that edge and pushing it! Keep up the good work.


23 Megan C. April 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

I think the release part is a big part of what makes a workout successful to me because I feel like so many things cause stress and tension in life that I want the release. What I love is when I don’t feel like working out but I do it anyway and it is awesome. I love at the end of a yoga class or a gym workout when I just feel stronger because I did it.


24 [SMASH] April 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Because my favorite athletic activity is soccer, it’s easy for me to love the workout. It’s my favorite sport, such a passion of mine, and reminds me about how I missed it all those years I was without it.


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