Making fitness progress is so exciting, what's more challenging is when we feel like we're doing everything right, and the fitness results we're looking for just aren't showing whether on the scale, in the mirror, in performance, or how you're feeling.
The remedy for stagnant progress is tracking your fitness progress. Tracking fitness progress well will help you evaluate your fitness programming and lifestyle - for what's working and what may need improvement.
As simple as it seems, tracking your fitness progress is a great way not just to keep moving forward, but to move forward with purpose and intention towards those amazing fitness goals you're after. Before we dive in, I will first introduce the idea of why you should look at all the angles for your fitness progress instead of simply counting your weight on the scale.
In this article, I will share my top 6 tips for making real progress that I've learned from years of experience working with clients just like you; these tips will help you to put your goals into action.
To Scale or Not to Scale?
A lot of people opt to measure their progress with the scale. And while for some, that can be incredibly encouraging, for others, it can be confusing and can even fail to validate the progress that is occurring right before their eyes.
One of the biggest misunderstandings in the fitness industry is that making progress is equivalent to seeing a smaller number on the scale. The truth is, when participating in a fitness program, your body is most likely undergoing a variety of changes.
Often, losing fat can also be accompanied by gaining lean muscle mass. And gaining muscle is a good thing! It's what will give you that tight, and 'toned' look most people who want to lose weight are after.
An increase in muscle mass will increase your metabolism, burning more calories even when you aren't working out. Plus, as you gain muscle and get stronger, you will be able to perform better and progress in your workouts.
However, muscle does weigh more than fat, even though it takes up less space. This can tip that number on the scale higher and make it feel like you aren't making any progress.
The point is, the scale is just one limited way to measure your progress, and while it can be a great tool, it shouldn't be the be-all and end-all for measuring fitness progress.
If you find the scale helpful and motivating, use it! But if it's bringing you down, know that there are many other ways to track your fitness progress, that are not only true measures of improvement; but may also be a more accurate depiction of progress.
Keep reading for 6 other great ways to evaluate your fitness progress.
6 Ways to Track Fitness Progress
Taking measurements can be not only a good indicator of fat loss but also a good indicator for those training to see hypertrophy (building bigger muscles). The method is simple, just take a standard measuring tape, and wrap it around the area of interest. Common areas to measure include calves, thighs, hips, waist, and biceps.
Important things to consider are being sure to hold the tape in the same spot each time you make these measurements. You can do so by choosing a marker, such as a belly button placement on the torso, to make sure your measurements are consistent. The tape measure should be tight but not squeezing.
2. Body Composition
Body composition tests are similar to scale measurements but provide much more useful information about your body's changes. A scale can tell you how much you weigh, but a body composition test can tell you where that weight is coming from (AKA. fat, muscles, or bone).
There are a variety of body composition tests out there, the most popular being Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (or BIA). There are multiple types of BIA tools available on the market, and most are relatively affordable. If you don't want to make the investment, many gyms and nutrition shops offer free testing.
3. Progress Photos
As small changes occur in our bodies over time, it's easy to fail to see how far we've truly come. Progress photos or gym selfies can provide that side-by-side comparison that helps us see the changes for ourselves.
Take photos from the front, back, and side in the morning when you wake up. Choose tight or minimal clothes so you can really see what's going on. And no posing (sucking in your stomach is hard to replicate and doesn't qualify as progress).
4. Clothing Fit
Whether your goals are to get leaner or to gain some strength and bulk, watching the fit of your clothing can be a good indicator of change. You can tell the way you are changing if your clothes get looser or tighter, or especially if you find you need to get new clothes.
Even if you haven't reached your end goal - if you need new clothes, get new clothes. Feeling comfortable and confident in that skin is an important part of basking in your progress.
5. Fitness Performance
I recommend finding a workout you can use as a fitness baseline. It could be the same running route, a circuit, or even testing your weightlifting max with particular exercises like squats or bench press.
Whatever it is, choose something directly related to an area of fitness you're working towards improving your performance in, and use it to test where you're at every few months.
Are you able to run farther or faster than you could before? Can you lift more weight than you could a few weeks ago? That's no small feat, give yourself some credit- you're making progress!
6. How You Feel
Oftentimes when participating in a fitness program- you'll notice that you feel good. You might be a little sore- but that's often accompanied by a happy body, positive attitude, better sleep, and more energy to carry you through your day.
Beyond that, the overall goal is to feel good in the body you're in, right? Regardless of where you're at in your journey, improving your body image along the way and appreciating your body for everything it allows you to do daily is a huge and important transformation that you should be proud of.
Are you feeling good? That's a win! Are you feeling more grateful and positive about the body you're in? That's a double win!
How Often Should You Track Progress?
What you decide to track may impact how often you decide to check in.
For weigh-ins, body composition tests, measurements, or progress photos, I would recommend 2-4 weeks since it usually takes that long to see any significant changes.
For fitness performance, I'd recommend setting a date on your calendar every 4-8 weeks to retest from your baseline.
It is a bit more ongoing as far as the progress for clothing fit and how you're feeling. With clothing fit, you'll notice with each day as you're putting your clothes on how they may begin to feel different.
To measure changes in how you're feeling, I'd recommend taking a more structured approach - either jotting down how you're feeling daily or weekly to monitor changes over time.
Which Fitness Tracking Method is Right for You?
Before determining which elements of your progress to measure, I recommend determining your overall fitness goals. Once you've nailed down your goal, it will be easier to decide what to track.
For example, if your goal is performance based, tracking your weight or body composition may not be as important or motivating as, say if your goal was to lose weight.
Oftentimes, selecting a few units of measure will help validate your progress more than just one. For example, some weeks, you may not lose weight, but maybe you felt great during your workouts and more positive about your body.
Progress ebbs and flows; it's important to remember that you and your body are not machines. A well-rounded picture of your progress will help you to not get down if you have an off week in one area and keep moving forward with your head up.
Throughout this process, I can't encourage you more to stay in tune with yourself. Listen to your body and mind and honor yourself along the way - after all, this is all about becoming a better, healthier you!