As someone who has trained thousands of people and has witnessed many people completely change their lives I have to say I love what I do. I get to coach people through a journey of total positive self improvement. One of the biggest things I try to instill in my clients is having the right intention.
A lot of gimmicky fitness products and programs will try to lure the end user in by using buzzwords like "burn up to 1,000 calories per workout" or "only 30 minutes 3X per week" and the beloved " really targets those trouble spots". Here is the deal, having the right mindset when undergoing a training program is just as if not more important than the training itself.
Below I have listed some short-sided pitfalls that can cause added and unnecessary stress to your program. Avoid these pitfalls and your program shall flourish as a result. Go time....
1. How many calories you burn in the workout
This is the tried and true way to convince someone that your program is "the bomb". Tell someone eager for fast results that they will burn a cagillion (oh it's a number) calories in your 40 minute workout and you have suddenly opened the Pandora's box to the ultimate wonderland. Here is the unfortunate thing... Calorie expenditure during a workout is not a good indicator of how successful the program is.
Instead the focus should be on the achieved intensity of the session and how adequately you pushed yourself. What I mean by this was did you work movement patterns that challenged your body adequately, required immense focus and precision, and pushed you out of your comfort zone? If yes then the session was probably of high quality even it it only burned 500cals. As coach Martin Rooney would say there is a big difference between training and getting really tired. Improving the body's ability to perform demanding strength based work will always be the key to success in a workout program.
2. How fast you can finish the workout
The fitness industry is a funny animal. While there are some sub cultures in fitness that are geared around banging out workouts in the fastest amount of time humanly possible there are others that promote 5-6 days of week in the gym at an hour a pop and occasionally multiple sessions a day.
The answer really is, the program and the focus of the work (your goals) should dictate the duration of time you spend training. For example, if you are doing a program rooted in building immense strength your sessions might be longer due to the need for longer rest intervals and higher demand of work. Conversely, if you are doing workouts that are composed of high intensity sprint intervals your training time might be significantly reduced as the training effect will be realized much more quickly.
The program and the training session should dictate the duration of training and not vice versa. Focus on achieving a high quality of work and completing the days objectives safely.
3. How sore you are the next day
This is something that is still touted by fitness seekers everywhere as a signifier of a great session. People will say, "man I am so sore today, that workout was killer!" and while soreness gives you the mental sense that you accomplished an effective workout it can be a false indicator. Let me explain..
Lets say for example I did a workout where all I did was an hour of bicep curls and triceps press downs. Now undoubtedly my arms will be pretty sore the next day. However, spending all that time beating the you know what out of the tiny muscles in my arms does not qualify as a quality workout. Whereas I may choose to do some kettlebell swings followed by an intense sprint up a huge flight of stairs for 4-5 sets and may not be debilitating sore the next day but the metabolic impact of that workout will be much more significant than "arm day".
4. What muscles you are working
This correlates to the previous point somewhat but I would like to explore this concept as well. Muscle isolation exercises tend to be a misdirected focus in a program that is looking to gain a big bang for your buck.
The majority of strength drills I do with my clients include deadlifts, squats, swings, snatches, cleans, overhead presses, rows, and plank variations. The movements recruit a ton of muscles at one time and train the body as a unit not as a segmented system of parts. Remember, exercises that recruit multiple muscles at the same time train the body to function better and provide a better metabolic boost than isolation exercises therefor dynamic movements should be your focus not targeted muscle drills.
At the end of the day the best programs are those that put a focus on gaining a high level of strength, providing an outlet for high intensity cardiorespitory conditioning, and include dynamic & technical lifting patterns that improve the body's athletic potential. This composes a much more well rounded program and puts the focus on long term development vs short term satisfaction. Keep your focus on the big picture and keep your results coming in a big way!