How to track and measure fitness progress

Since we started Lifestyle Updated, I’ve been dipping my toe in several industries, successfully or less so. What I came to realize, through sheer amount of repetition I guess, is that the best strategy for being successful is simply being aware. Having awareness about your pace will bring things in perspective, allowing you to make changes and therefore improve. In fitness, the same formula applies.

Fitness Awareness

Every long term goal, in both business and personal life, requires continual commitment. Take my word for it, since I’ve learned this the hard way.

But unless you are Buddha, it’s hard to stay on track for months on end. Even more so when performance indicators are vague, i.e. nobody is measuring your pace. To make things worse, your own mind, being your enemy, will often give a reassuring tap on the shoulder, changing the criteria in accordance to your mood.

You can be stuck in a yearlong plateau, and never even notice!

In fitness, things can be less severe, but the same mindset applies nonetheless. You can be working out, one routine after another, without any noticeable difference on your physique. I’ve been there, and it’s very disheartening. And while scratching your head may offer temporary results, I’d suggest following a different maxim:

What gets measured gets improved!

Some 40 years ago, this quote originated from the analytical mind of Peter Drucker, the legendary management consultant. The premise, however, has existed thousands of years before. It is what guided the birth of the scientific approach, the agricultural revolution, and every major human progress in between. If you want to move forward, you have to understand where you are, and what speed you are going with.

Measuring – depending on your approach – can give you volume of information on trends, progress and plateaus. These, in turn, would allow you to make hypotheses, predictions, and better understand the process.

Take Bruce Lee for example – he kept a journal of everything he ate, and every exercise he did. Or even perhaps someone like Time Ferriss – he, too, loves measuring and tracking. Most bodybuilders are keen on journaling as well. Just visit any forum and you’ll get the idea.

What’s extremely fortunate though, is that unlike the past, where measuring and keeping a log were mostly manual, the market today supplies a broad palate of tools, and fitness equipment. You can buy a fitness tracker, or a heart rate monitor; download an app or subscribe to a journal service; or even have performance monitors built in within your fitness machine of choice. 

Measuring fitness stats

Fitness Measure

There are many ways in which you can measure fitness progress. The average Jane, for one, starts by measuring her weight. Some will try measuring body fat percentage, and others will take at size around their waist, or maybe bicep, depending on what goal they are after… You can even measure muscle tissue, but the process is slightly complicated – using math to subtract, and gauge a fair estimate, is therefore ok.

Then, as opposed to measuring anatomy, you can measure performance as well. Speed, power, acceleration, agility and endurance… all come into play, and you have to be creative.

The goal, at first, is to have a baseline – a starting place every progress will be compared against. Measuring is only productive if you have a broader context. For that purpose, point A is required.

So try to decide which stats you are willing to track, and write those values down. You can use a journal or an app, but we will talk about this in a minute. I even know some people who never actively track their progress, but instead take certain measurements at specific dates in time. So regardless of whether you are disciplined or not, this current measurement will remain nonetheless.

How to track fitness progress

Once you have your base measurements calculated and written down, you should go ahead and set a tracking schedule. Weekly, or daily, you are going to repeat some of those measurements.

I, for one, do this continually in order to track the quality of my sleep. Every morning, right after getting out from bed, I take my Samsung and use their native health app in order to record and rate my sleep. And while this allows me to reflect, daily, on my sleeping routine, bird view perspective is a sight to behold – when I got the first monthly set of data, the problems with my sleep were obvious, and I knew where to intervene.

How about frequency?

Fitness Stretching

The more fragmented your tracking, the more info you get to work with. Similar to my sleep tracking, you will know which days of the week tend to produce a certain trend, and understand why that is so.

Daily tracking, in my opinion, is recommended when it comes to fitness, weight loss, and performance. Not only you’ll have data to work with, but you will learn about your body even more.

That being said, some stats are to be tracked daily, and others can be tracked weekly. While performance indicators are best checked once per week, other measurements like weight and waist circumference can be performed daily.

Measure input just as you measure outcome

While knowing where you are headed is really helpful, tracking your work is even more so. Having access to both groups of information allows you to make predictions, pose hypotheses, and improve.

If you are doing great over the course of every weekend, it is crucial to understand why. Tracking your input – exercise, food, and sleep – can help you see a correlation.

If you notice, weeks in a row, that your waist is slimmer every weekend, you might want to know what you are doing right over the weekend. Keeping track of input, therefore, promotes such awareness.

Bruce Lee tracked and recorded every set and rep, every hour of sleep, and every meal analyzed by its nutritional value. While you don’t have to be so scientific about it, you can at least write the name of the meal, and how many of them you ate throughout the entire day.

You can do the same thing with exercises as well – write the length of every workout session, the number of circuits, different exercises, and the number of sets. It gets different for every activity, but there must be a way to measure it and record it.

For cardio, I suppose, you can write the name of the activity, record duration, and maybe even heart rate measurements. Fitness trackers are great as a low budget, affordable solution, but you can even simplify things by measuring time or distance in a less nuanced way.

You can measure quality of sleep as well, mostly by recording data in 4 sepparate columns:

  • Time you went to bed
  • Time you woke up
  • Hours slept
  • Quality of sleep (marked on a scale of 1-5, or 1-10 if you think you can be more objective)

Log everything into a fitness journal

While apps and online services seem readily available and simple to use, they are never intended for the long run. We forget passwords, change phones, become too lazy to keep track across dozens of online tools.

A paperback journal, therefore, is the ideal option.

Documentaries depicting Bruce Lee’s life speak about his journaling habit, and I’ve watched several videos where Tim Ferriss reveals dozens of notebooks, dating back from his days in college.

Bruce Lee Image

Even celebrities like Rayan Reynolds, when they work out for bulk or a shredded six pack, record their exercises, down to set and reps, and closely track their food, sleep and even water and vitamin intake.

Beachbody, a popular fitness company, took notice of this and developed several ways to track progress including “max-out time”, number of repetitions, or even a simple subjective measurement like “I’ve nailed it” vs. “Completed the workout”. Nowadays, they’ve even integrated more sophisticated online tracking and recording into their Beachbody on Demand workout library. We insisted on doing the same with our own fitness program, and users seem to love it.

But despite spending hours of my day in front of the screen, and on the net, I too, am not too comfortable with the ever-growing array of online tools. Old-fashioned as I am, I still prefer the notebook.

If you share the same fixation over a more tangible medium, and love the feeling when pen touches paper, then buy yourself an empty notebook and start recording.

Your statistics will refine over time, and you will know exactly what to track. At first, however, do yourself a favor and stick with the basics. Sleep quality, food, supplements and hydration, accompanied by length of fitness sessions, type of exercises, sets and reps… Depending on your workout you can track distance, speed, calories burned and even as specific measurements like rowing split. Whatever you do, make sure to keep your pace for at least a week, and remain dedicated to your tracking, measuring and recording.

After a month or so, you will have enough data to draw conclusions, and as time goes by your game will improve, burning more calories, losing more weight, building more muscle, and performing better across the board.

Wrapping this up, I’d like to know whether you have any experience with measuring progress, and perhaps even an advice to share. See you in the comments!

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