Keeping track of your progress is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, however, it is one of the most important things you can do to assess if you are working towards your goals, if you are improving or if you have hit a plateau and need to mix up what you are currently doing. Progress looks differently to everyone and depending on your end goal: it should. A large portion of the population seek to improve their health and aesthetics which are great goals to have, but these people also tend to simply use the scales to assess their progress.
Whilst the scales are the quick and easy way to assess aesthetic progress; the issue is the scale is a number that can fluctuate hourly, daily, weekly, monthly. Your bowl movements, water intake, exercise, time you eat at, water retention, travel, if you eat a high volume meal, as a female your period or menopause can all affect and change your weight. So whilst it can be a progress measure it is possibly one of the least accurate methods. Moreover, the scale number doesn’t tell you if you are stronger, fitter, more mobile ect..
So just what our better progress measures that we should focus on?
My number one progress measure is the improvement in your performance and strength in the gym. Many people overlook the fact they’ve gone from being able to do a bodyweight squat to a barbell squat, or from doing a 20 kilo deadlift for 8 repetitions to then being able to do 40 kilos for the same repetitions; or from running 1km with walking intervals to running 1km straight. These are all indications you are getting stronger and building some muscle; that you are getting fitter and overall getting healthier.
How to know if your performance, strength and overall health is improving? Write it all down! When you are in the gym have a notebook or use your phone and write down the exercise you did and the amount of sets and reps you did and at what weight and how you felt; write down how much you ran and how long it took you as long as with how you felt. Overtime you will see the numbers change and you will see “how you felt” doing each exercise change and that will be a great way to see improvement.
My second progress measure is photos and how you feel in your clothes. We instinctively turn to numbers when tracking progress, however numbers only tell part of the story. Sometimes the scale weight doesn’t move but your body composition changes completely. If you are strength training, you will be building muscle, which will no doubt change your body shape even if the numbers aren’t moving. So if you start exercising, pay attention to how your clothes fit and feel on your body. If your clothes are feeling looser, or you suddenly need to wear a belt, these are great indications that you are progressing
Moreover, whilst the first picture is not always easy, taking before and after pictures and having them side-by-side can be rewarding down the road. Pictures will show you exactly how you look, and you will most likely be pleased with the changes you see which will help you detach from wanting to see precise numbers. You want to take three photos: the first one being face on to the camera with your hands down by your side, the second one being the same thing but with your back to the camera and the final picture is side on with your hands raised straight in front of you. Take some more pictures 4 to 8 weeks later (try and get the same lighting and wear the same clothes for accuracy) and compare them.
My third progress measure is measurements. If you need numbers then measurements are the way to go. This is more time-consuming data point but it will be a better and more precise progress measure than the scales. Measurements, unlike the scales, will also be able to indicate body re-composition. Sometimes the scale don’t move, but our waist is getting smaller, our back and our legs have built up some muscle which gives us that hourglass shape for females or the V shape for males. Moreover by increasing our muscle mass , we will naturally reduce our fat mass, therefore measuring our muscle dimensions is a great way to see how much muscle we have gained. All you need here is a friend (preferably the same one every time for accuracy purposes) to measure your left and right bicep, chest, waist, hips, left and right quad and left and right calf. For best results / seeing bigger changes, do the measurements every 4 to 8 weeks. Remember, building muscle and changing shape take time, so if you do measurements every week, chances are you won’t see much progress.
My fourth progress measures are the progress in how you feel day to day. Have you gone from walking 2000 steps a day to 5000 because it just feels easier? Are you walking up stairs with more ease and less breathlessness? Are you more mobile everyday? These are great indicators that you are becoming healthier and fitter in day-to-day life. Furthermore, if you ask anyone who is getting into exercise if they are feeling more energized most of them will say their stress and energy levels have both improved, their mood is better and their sleep quantity and/or quality has increased. These are all progress measures we tend to overlook, but these are great ways (and possibly the most important things) to assess whether you are improving your health… and if you are improving your health on the inside, the outside will follow.