Last Updated on November 24, 2017 by Jeff
I believe one of the reasons many people struggle staying consistent in their training routine is because they’re not tracking their progress properly.
Some people simply don’t track at all, while others are looking at the wrong things. Or reading them out of context.
Many are looking at it in a very black and white way.
“Am I at the end result I want?”
It’s a yes or no question, and the answer is going to be no for 99.99% of the time.
By asking questions like that, you’re not setting yourself up to succeed. You’re simply proving to yourself the limiting belief that you can’t do this.
You can only hear “no” so many times before you internalize it as the default belief.
Progress, Not Perfection
The aim should be to make progress on a consistent basis.
You’re not asking,
“Am I there yet?”; but rather asking,
“Am I closer than I was before?”.
That is the only thing that matters. Have you moved in the right direction?
If you have, that is great. You’re on the way to achieving your goals, and you should celebrate every little win along the way.
If you haven’t, then you know that you need to change something up. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, or that it’s not possible – it only means that what you have been doing isn’t working.
Maybe you need to adjust your plan?
Maybe you haven’t been following the plan?
You won’t know if you’re not tracking your progress. All you can see is that you’re not there yet. You look up at this monumental task ahead, and you feel so far away from achieving it, it kills your confidence.
Me vs Me
It’s important to only compare yourself to yourself.
If you look at other people, your friends, people in the gym, or worse – people on Instagram; you are always going to be disappointed.
The fact is everybody has a different situation to you.
They don’t have the same training history, genetics, life situation, etc. etc.
You can only do the best that you can do. That means letting go of comparison with other people and focusing only on what you can do to become better than your past self.
Tracking Progress In The Gym
Let’s look at the 6 ways you can measure your progress; and the pros and cons of each.
None are inherently better or worse than any other. It is very dependent on your unique situation, and what is most important to you and the goals you have set.
For best results you should be tracking across multiple areas, to build the most rounded picture of what is going on. The more information you have, the better informed your thinking will be.
Weighing yourself sometimes gets a hard rap in the fitness world. While it is true that bodyweight is not reflective of how much muscle you have, versus how much fat; and lots of variables will alter weight – such as water levels and it’s natural fluctuations – it still has validity.
If your goal is to lose weight, you need to be tracking your weight.
I don’t suggest using it as the sole measure, but combining it with other data points to get an accurate reflection of what is going on.
For accuracy try and keep the environment the same every time you get weighed:
- Use the same scales
- Wear the same clothes
- Get weighed at the same time of day (preferably first thing in the morning before eating)
- Track how it changes across time; don’t give too much significance to any single reading
Photos are great for assessing progress in a ‘real’ way.
Numbers are just abstractions. You can see which way you are moving based on a number, but you can feel it when you look at two photos side by side.
Nothing is as motivating as seeing the old you and the new you next to each other. As progress is made in small increments it’s easy to forget how far we have come.
Capturing the moment in time with a photo allows perspective, to look at the reality of where you came from, and where you are now.
For best results with photos:
- Use the same camera, lighting, background, outfit, etc.
- Compare photos on a monthly basis (anything more regular makes it difficult to see changes)
- Put them side by side on the screen for a real comparison
Body composition analysis
Body composition analysis will give a clearer picture than bodyweight alone, as to what exactly your body is made up of.
The percentages of fat to lean tissue are more important for both health, and how you look than bodyweight alone.
Body composition analysis can range from simple body fat calipers, or bio-impedance scales; up to hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scans.
The latter being much more accurate but much more expensive.
The simpler methods like body fat calipers and bio-impedance scales are not totally accurate, so you want to look at them in combination with other variables.
You also want to compare them across time, and not read too much into any individual reading. They will never be totally accurate, but they will show you patterns of whether you’re moving in the right direction or not.
Keep a training journal
Keeping track of your workouts is the best way to see if you’re getting fitter and stronger.
Simply record your sets, reps, workout times, etc.
This one is pretty black and white, you can look back and see if you’ve done more weight, more reps, etc. which shows progress over time.
It’s a good habit to record your workouts because it gives you data and understanding of what works for you.
Something the CrossFit community do well is they have a few ‘core workouts’, which are pre-defined and repeated on a relatively regular basis.
If you have improved your ‘Fran’ time, you are fitter or stronger than you were before.
You can do this with any kind of workout if you’re not into CrossFit.
Really, it’s the same principle for someone recording their 10k run time and then trying to beat it the next time around.
This final measure is more subjective than the other but in many ways the most important.
It’s perhaps harder to quantify, but you should look at how much you are enjoying your training.
If you enjoy working out, you’re going to be inspired to do more, to push yourself more; and you will be more consistent in doing it.
If you’re not enjoying what you are doing, the chances are you won’t keep doing it for long. Therefore, it makes sense to track and maximize your enjoyment. It will correlate with consistency over time, which is the key to long-term success.
Individually none of these measures will show the full picture, but in combination, you can get a pretty good idea of what is going on.
Having this data to hand empowers you to be in control of your outcomes. You can see what is working, and what needs changing.
You have the base to know what to change because the data you collect shows you. A little bit of effort in tracking your outcomes really will set you up for success.