So you’ve set the time aside to get to the gym, you’re parked, changed, watered and ready to go. Now what? If you’re going to spend the time at the gym, make sure it counts. There is such a thing as exercising too hard or too much, but most of us are not at risk of doing so…witnessthe countless gym-goers catching up on the latest celebrity tabloid or highlights from last night’s hockey game as they “work out.” The truth is, what most of us fall victim to is exercising at too low an intensity to produce the desired effects. If you want to lose fat, tone muscle and improve your cardiovascular health, you must push your body. Not to its absolute limits, but far enough to make it a bit uncomfortable. When your body gets uncomfortable, it pays attention. The body does not like to play games that it can’t win. It is, in short, a poor loser. If you put your body in the position of doing something out of its comfort zone, it will respond in two ways. First, it will pay you back with some sore muscles the following day. Then, as it repairs those muscles, it will grow stronger and fitter to better cope with the next workout. You have to stay one step ahead of that body of yours if you hope for change. One of the simplest ways of ensuring you are challenging yourself enough is to do the Talk Test. The Talk Test is as solid a method as any, and it requires no equipment or professional help. Simply say something. If you are too short of breath to speak even a sentence, slow down and lower the intensity. If, on the other hand, you can easily carry on a conversation, kick it into gear because you’re not working hard enough to reap the rewards you seek. You should be somewhat challenged to talk when you are exercising in your target heart rate zone, needing more breaths than you would normally but experiencing no shallow breathing, dizziness, pain or nausea. As you get fitter, you will find you can talk more easily doing the same exercises that used to make you short of breath. When that happens, it’s time to add some variety to your cardio program or step up the intensity to get yourself back to your target zone. It’s your reality check. Don’t waste your work out time.