When it comes to exercise, we all want to feel like our workout was effective. However, more often than not, we’re looking for signs in all the wrong places. Just because you never broke a sweat or only worked out for 30 minutes doesn’t mean your workout wasn’t successful.

It’s tempting to gauge how hard you really worked by measuring things like sweatiness or the numbers on your watch, but instead, you should focus on how you feel over time, especially if you’re looking for progress.

Here are five misconceptions of a good workout and what to look out for instead.

Muscle soreness
Most people gauge how good a workout was based on muscle soreness, but not all workouts are meant to build muscle strength. “[Muscle soreness] simply means that your muscles were slightly damaged and are responding with inflammation, a natural part of the healing process,” says trainer Henry Halse CSCS, CPT. “However, it’s very subjective. Your body can amplify the feeling of soreness if you had a bad night’s sleep or are under stress. This makes it a poor gauge for the difficulty of your workout.”

Rather than focusing on how sore your muscles feel, look at how you feel holistically, suggests trainer Heather L. Tyler. “Do you feel better after working out and not regret the choice to exercise? That’s a better indicator you’re on the right path,” she says.

Sweating (a lot)
“It’s true that our bodies sweat to release heat, and that exercise uses energy, which creates heat,” says Tyler. “But other factors can contribute to excessive sweating too: weather and environment, the type of clothing you’re wearing, how hydrated you are, hormone levels, and genetic predispositions.” A better way to see how hard you worked is to check if your heart rate is elevated, suggests Tyler.

Working out for at least an hour
There’s no longer a hard and fast rule that a workout has to last an hour or longer to be worth it. In fact, a short workout can be very effective for your training goals, whether you’re doing high-intensity interval training, a brisk walk around the block, or a quick core routine. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great benefits to prolonged, less intense exercises though. “If working at a high intensity isn’t right for you, I’m a big proponent of walking to do everyday chores, playing in the pool, and doing one long hike, soft run, or walk a week,” says Tyler.

Throwing up
Some have wrongly touted that working out in such high intensities that you end throwing up is an effective workout strategy. “In truth, it’s a sign you’re overtaxed, unable to continue at the current level, and need rest,” says Tyler. “A better sign of an effective workout (especially when working high-intensity) is checking that your heart rate is in the right zone.” There are formulas to follow for more individualized numbers, but a general indicator is around 175 for short high-intensity bouts and 150 for long-duration aerobic exercise.

Burning lungs
A good workout doesn’t mean you should be in pain. “A burning sensation coming from your lungs might mean that you’re not having a good workout,” says Halse. “It’s an indication that your bronchioles are inflamed and shrinking, restricting airflow to your lungs. If you feel this, check with your doctor to see if you need an inhaler when you exercise.”

When working out, there’s no need to focus on arbitrary rules. Instead focus on how you feel, like the energy you get from a good workout, the feeling of your heart rate rising, and the joy of just knowing you moved your body.

xx, The FabFitFun Team