Today’s post is on a subject that’s so simple and straight forward, it hurts to write it. In fact, if anyone is serious about making changes in their life, tracking progress and setting baselines should be the FIRST thing you do once you have set your goals. It doesn't matter how great the programme or how good the intentions are, if you can’t measure how far you've come from a week ago, a month ago or even a year ago, how will you know where you are today?
Tracking, journaling, recording or whatever else you want to call it can help you measure progress, give focus, motivate and help stay organised. This can apply to more than just an exercise log.
Your Body– The scales are the worst way to measure body progress for most people. Hopefully if you are reading this, then you know how important some form of strength training is to EVERYONE. This means that you will be building muscle and muscle occupies less space than fat and a lb of muscle will burn more calories than a 1lb of fat as it’s more metabolically demanding. This means that you will burn far more calories day to day if you utilise part of your training regimen to build muscle. However it also means that the scales could stay the same or even go up slightly in the beginning. But don’t panic! Because muscle occupies less space you will look smaller and more athletic. So the best way to track body progress is through the 3 methods below.
- Take Photos: In shorts or something like a bikini for ladies. Take one from the front, side and back using a mirror or friend/family member. You don’t have to show anyone, just take them and keep them safe. Every 2-4 weeks, take the same photos in the same place with the same light and roughly at the same time. Your body can be affected by many factors, so replicating the same scenario will give you the best comparable results.
- Measurements: Remember we said the scales could stay the same or go up but you could get smaller? Measuring certain areas on the body can give you black and white evidence of this progress taking place. Measure every 2-4 weeks at the same spot on the body and note it all down. You can measure neck, shoulders, chest, biceps, waist, hips and thighs. This also works for those trying to gain mass too.
- Body Fat %: A little bit more of a challenge to measure but again a great way to how progress. If you are building muscle, you will burn more calories at rest and thus lose body fat. You will look good in the mirror and body fat % will decrease. Get a professional to do it for you using callipers or better yet, ultrasound. Do not use those funky machines you get in shopping centres as they are not accurate.
Food– Pretty much all studies on calorie intake show that we always underestimate or under report how many calories we eat day to day. Add to that the fundamental principle we need to adhere to is calories in vs calories out, you can see why some people’s weight loss goals can become a struggle. First thing to do is figure out how many calories per day your body needs at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This tells you how many calories your body burns each day just to function. From there you can use the Harris-Benedict formula to find out how many calories your body needs when activity level is taken into account, so by the end you will have a number that tells you how many calories your body needs to MAINTAIN current weight.
From there you can then hit this number each day if you’re already happy with where you are or add/subtract depending on goals. Start conservatively at first, adding or subtracting 200-300 calories from your original number. Adjust as required with the aim of losing/gaining 1-2lb per week. Any more and I would say you've added/subtracted too much.
This is where tracking comes in. Record everything you eat AND drink each day for 5-7 days. How do the calories match up? If they aren’t where they need to be then your weight loss/gain goals won’t be where they need to be, it’s that simple. Yes food quality is important, but if you first haven’t addressed calories in vs calories out it won’t matter!
Once you have developed a routine you can keep tracking if you feel it helps or just stick to the routine so you know exactly what you are eating day to day. It doesn’t need to be a chore and apps like My Fitness Pal are great for doing all of the above for you and having it on your phone means there’s no excuse for not recording. You don’t need to starve yourself, cut out carbs or top eating the nice foods. Just adhere to calories in vs calories out and get 80% of your food from good whole sources and you’re set!
Workouts– It’s frustrating how many people I know who don’t track their workouts. There are two simple principles we must adhere to if we want to progress in exercise. They are progressive overload and use of volume. For the body to adapt it needs to be challenged to force adaptation. That means more weight on the bar, less rest, more reps, move further or work out longer. However this should be done in a progressive manner such as adding a couple of kg on the bar each week or running an extra 5mins each week allowing the body to adapt at a rate where recovery is maximised and injury risk reduced. How will you know what you need to do today if you don’t know what you did yesterday or even last week?
If you squatted 100kg for 3 sets of 5 reps last week then you should be aiming for 102.5 or 105kg this week. If that’s not possible you could do 100kg for 3 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 3 reps, all are a step forward from the week before. Once simply adding weight to the bar or running further becomes too difficult or you hit a plateau, you then need to look at volume of training. However if you’re not logging your sessions how will you know when you hit such a plateau? Volume basically means you will need to do more within a given session to keep forcing adaptation. This could be more reps and sets, or it could even be doing 2 runs spread over the day. Tracking workouts means progress, but it also gives you focus and direction each session. You know exactly what you have to do and it will save you time in the gym. Again there are plenty of apps and programs for this or you could use my favourite, the trusty notebook and pen.
Recording and tracking progress cannot be underestimated and is vital for all health and fitness goals. It doesn't need to be complicated or complex, it just needs to show you and drive you to be better than you were yesterday.