If you’re serious about losing weight, building muscle mass or getting fit then tracking your progress is one of the most important things you can do outside of the gym. Tracking your fitness progress isn’t just the domain of professional athletes it’s easy enough for anybody to keep a journal which keeps check on their program and records any progress.
The market for personal wearables, specifically fitness trackers like those devices by FitBit, Apple or Android watches has boomed in previous years with recent figures by consumer reports showing 12 percent of U.S. adults own a fitness band or smartwatch of some kind. Another study by Juniper Research predicts the fitness tracker market will almost double by 2021 when over one-in-five Americans will sport some type of fitness tracking advice in an industry that will be worth over $20 billion in sales.
Obviously as we aim to get fitter, there’s an interest in tracking and recording any progress, with a smart device by itself being just one of many tools you can use. Technology can be used to track progress but so too can traditional measuring devices like weighing scales and an old fashioned pen and paper.
Do You Track??
If you’re going to the gym every night but not recording your progress, how are you meant to know if your program is working? You may feel more energized or think you’re looking better, but these are all subjective and may just be your mind telling you what you want to hear to justify the commitment to your exercise.
Stepping on the weighing scales every so often you may think you’re tracking your fitness, but you can weigh different amounts at different times of the day and unless you’re recording the data it doesn’t offer a consistent record of your progress.
Tracking your fitness may be as simple as carrying a little notebook and a pen in which you write down the reps you’ve achieved at the gym. You’ll often see many bodybuilders with a notebook or carrying a tatty piece of paper on which they record how many weights they’ve lifted in different exercises. In cases like this, tracking your progress isn’t only a check on your fitness program but can also be a safety method preventing you from overtraining or damaging your muscles.
It may seem tedious recording too much data, but the more statistics you can keep a record of, the more you can know if your fitness training is having the desired effect.
Weight, vital measurements, body fat ratio, number of reps, total weight lifted, number of sessions at the gym and your VO2max are just a few of the stats that you can record in your notebook to track your fitness progress. The more data you record the more efficient your fitness tracking will be. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways you can properly track your fitness progress.
Why Should You Track?
Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, educator and author is quoted as saying “What gets measured gets managed”.
We can’t improve upon things unless we’ve recorded the previous level of it. Tracking progress can help develop a plan and measure whether you stick to it.
Put simply, tracking progress is the method of recording, either mentally or physically writing down, your previous fitness or health achievements and workouts while looking to improve as time goes by. One of the main reasons many people often give up their training or fitness regime is they don’t feel they’re achieving their goals or feel they just aren’t progressing. But the big question is, how do you know if you’re improving or not when you’re not tracking your progress and have no previous benchmarks to compare with?
Benefits of tracking include:
- Allowing you to work out which routines or exercises work best for you.
- Helping you make and stick to a plan; tracking your progress you’ll know exactly how fast you have to run or how many reps you need to increase by to improve and push forward.
- Accountability; tracking makes you accountable for your fitness regime and is a reminder of your goals.
- Helping vary your routines and stop them from becoming stagnant or hitting a plateau.
- Offering motivation and instant gratification; looking back at what you’ve achieved and how much closer you are to your goals can help inspire you.
- Setting new goals; when you feel you are close to achieving your goals you can further move the goalposts and results.
If you’re serious about making changes in your weight or fitness levels tracking progress and making plans as you work towards your eventual fitness goal is vital to your success. Whether you’re a seasoned fitness enthusiast or just starting out on your road to personal improvement, ignoring your current or past training achievements can give you sub-standard results. In turn this will affect your will and desire to continue with any fitness regime.
Tracking your progress isn’t just about losing weight but can also help if you’re training to competitive goals like running a marathon or competing in a weightlifting contest. Many professional athletes have personal trainers who track their fitness progress and recommend future plans. Fitness programs can be adjusted if you’re working too hard and can prevent the possibility of activity related injuries like torn ligaments or even more serious health issues like a heart attack or overtraining your body.
I Have a Smartwatch, Surely That’s Tracking My Progress?
Many people seem to think that simply buying a FitBit or similar fitness tracker will be all they need to track their progress. Although they offer many valuable statistics like distance covered, time spent on an activity and in some cases heart rate or calories burned, by themselves they’re little more than a motivational tool. If you’re not recording the data you may as well be simply looking in a mirror and saying to yourself “yes, I did good today”!
The idea of continuously monitoring the workings of our body rather than just once a year at our annual physical, appeals to many people. All these different gadgets record our steps, some record sleep too and the more advanced models can also work out other metrics like your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature and even body weight or body mass. The main problem is the accuracy for tracking your progress.
We tend to just believe what these devices tell us too much. If you were to wear three different brands of fitness trackers for the day, each would definitely show a different number of steps. And as for sleep recording, many sleep experts argue your quality of sleep is indicated by your brain waves and not the movement of your wrist.
A Wired magazine report in 2012 showed the only way to get an accurate read on calorie burn was to use an indirect calorimeter, which uses a face mask to measure your oxygen consumption and usually costs between $30,000 and $50,000, not $99 from your local tech retailer! For motivational purposes accuracy isn’t essential, a band on your arm can simply be a nudge in the right direction.
One study that looked at the effects of wearable technology, especially dedicated fitness trackers, on the long-term weight loss of young adults with a BMI between 25 and 40 compared the results with a group who used standard methods of training and weight loss. Over 24 months, using wearable technology was seen to be less effective than behavioral intervention on its own and actually showed less weight loss.
Although other studies have show modest weight loss success with using technology based systems, the long-term failure may explain why as many as 29 percent of smartwatches and 30 percent of fitness bands get abandoned by their users.
Sometimes the Old Fashioned Methods Are the Best
Keeping a journal with a trusty pen in a notebook can allow you more freedom to record what you want when you want than many new fangled bits of technology can. You could use your smartwatch to record your time spent exercising (although to be fair, you could do that with a traditional watch too) or it may have GPS which helps you record the distance covered (again a feature you find on many other devices too like smartphones or even an old fashioned map!).
You can use the figures recorded by your fitness band or the meters on gym equipment to record your progress in your little notebook or even enter them into an accompanying app which acts as a progress record.
Using a notebook allows you to decide exactly what categories you record and add extra categories which often you can’t do in a premade app or program. If you feel recording your emotions could help you understand your progress it’s simple to add a comment after your stats when writing things down.
Plus it’s much more user friendly than pushing many onscreen buttons and going through page after page until you find the one you need (if ever sometimes!). The only app that was identified by the University of Florida as meeting more than half of American College of Sports Medicine guidelines was Sworkit which offers some of the most comprehensive statistics recording of any app.
Simple methods like taking a photo, weighing yourself on a set of scales at the same time daily, using body calipers or a tape measure to record your body fat and body measures or a watch or pedometer can be used to record your statistics just as easily as a smartwatch or app. Plus a written record in a notebook or even as a chart on your kitchen noticeboard is much more visual allowing you to check your progress more quickly and clearly.
Tracking Your Progress with a Journal
A journal can be as simple as recording your daily steps or how many calories you’ve burned with the aim of increasing these figures to improve your health. Just walking 30 minutes a day can be enough to improve your fitness and can have many health benefits including reducing your risk of chronic disease. The amount of data you record is totally dependent on you and how committed you are or what your specific goals may be.
Journaling helps keep you more focused whether it’s just fitness goals, workout habits or even tracking your nutritional diet. You can add data as you go along that may further improve your progress and help reach those goals, which may also advance as you further progress. Plans to start a journal can include:
Begin by buying a sturdy notebook that will last and survive the batterings of being thrown into a gym bag or bundled away in your shorts pockets. A Moleskine notebook can be perfect as their hard covers are very durable and they’re a little book you can be proud of when showing off your achievements.
Start by creating goals for yourself and writing them in the front of your journal. Try recording how you’ll feel upon achieving those goals. Looking at your written goals gives you more motivation and you can even rewrite them if necessary.
Record your workouts in this journal as well as tracking your food and nutritional plan.
How Do You Feel?
Adding how you feel emotionally and physically can help you pinpoint which parts of your fitness or nutritional diet are working and which ones are easier to stick with.
Add a record of how your clothes feel or fit and how they look on your body. Especially when working out to lose weight, continuing to do this throughout your program can be another indicator of results.
Feel free to add anything else you feel is important. Stress levels, sleep patterns, obstacles you face, success and failures can all be a way of tracking your progress.
As well as recording your emotions about your workouts, record your everyday activities and how you feel in general. Do you feel like you have more energy in the day? Are you feeling stronger or do you have more staying power? How do you feel about your food and nutrition?
Many fitness trainers recommend using a bullet journal as a method of recording and taking notes with bullet points at the core of it. The following Youtube video shows how you can use bullet journaling to track your fitness progress:
Weighing Scale or Body Fat Monitor to Track Your Progress?
The most common way people tend to measure their fitness progress is by using the trusty old bathroom scales, especially if your main goal is to lose weight. While bathroom scales shouldn’t be used as your only source of tracking your progress they can be a great tool when used in combination with other tracking methods.
As your body weight fluctuates throughout the day due to the food you consume, your activity levels and daily water balance fluctuations, the weighing scale may not give an accurate indication of your progress. In addition, a scale doesn’t tell you the difference between muscle and fat, gaining weight may be a positive sign of progress as you’ve gained it in muscle rather than fat.
Measuring your body composition is a far better way of tracking your progress when fat loss, muscle gain and improved health are your goals. Although many scales can’t measure body fat or muscle mass they only offer an overall picture of your total body fat rather than focus on specific areas of the body. More importantly they can also have a high margin error of over 5 percent, more traditional methods like skin fold calipers are much more accurate.
Calipers maybe one of the most simple methods of assessing body composition but it can be an effective and affordable way to track your progress. Bioelectrical impedance testing for body fat is becoming more affordable with many at-home devices and are much easier to use yourself than calipers.
Hydrostatic weighing completely submerges the body based on the Archimedes Principle that the volume of an object is equal to the object’s loss of weight in water. Although this method is very accurate, with bone and muscle weighing more than fat, it can be very uncomfortable and quite expensive at $40 to $60 a session.
The gold standard of body fat measurements is the DEXA scan which uses X-ray beams and measures the absorption of them to determine bone mineral, density, lean body mass and fat mass. Unfortunately DEXA scans are quite rare and not offered by too many places or around the clock either. This high level of accuracy also comes at a price with the average session costing $100 or more.
Circumference Measurements as a Way of Tracking Your Fitness Progress
Circumference or girth measurements can be used both to track your increased bulk when muscle building and to record weight loss too. It’s one of the cheapest methods, accurate and can be customized to give success reports on any part of the body defined by the subject. All that’s needed is a standardized flat, flexible measuring tape and your trusty notebook and pen.
Measuring the following areas of the body can be a good indicator of changes in your body composition and progress of your fitness plan:
- Waist (usually 1 inch above your navel or at the narrowest part of your torso).
- Abdomen (your belly or around the belly button).
- Hips (stand feet together and measure at the widest part of your buttocks).
- Biceps (upper arms).
Make sure the tape measure’s pulled taut and straight around the area you’re measuring and record both the right and left of each limb. When repeating and tracking progress be sure to measure at the same location for each body part to guarantee readings are consistent and accurate.
Take More Photos
Smile, it’s selfie time again!
Taking photos of yourself before, during and after your fitness program can be one of the best ways of visualizing your fitness progress. It may be hard at the beginning of your fitness plan, when your body is out of shape or carrying excess fat, to look at a photo of yourself but as you progress checking out newer photos and comparing with the original photo can make it worthwhile.
Try taking photos of your body from every angle. Seeing yourself in different perspectives can help show you or maybe a fitness expert any potential muscle imbalances or injuries you may have as well as revealing a lot about your posture. To see your progress take photos throughout the duration of your workout program and when you feel you’re not advancing enough look at the photos for motivation. Put in your journal these photos can be a reference guide to your progress.
Recording Your Workouts to Track Progress
Of course none of the above statistics are much use unless you know how you achieved them. A weight loss or slimmer waist may be a result of eating healthier or drinking less rather than just increased workouts. Recording both your food and workout plans can help you achieve your goals.
Recording your number of reps or the weight you lifted combined with girth or body fat measurements can help you track the progress of your bodybuilding (as well as looking more pumped on photos). One of the main reasons we weight train at a gym is to force the muscles to tear themselves and rebuild, causing them to become stronger and ultimately bigger. By documenting your workout you can plan how you’re going to progress further without risking unnecessary injury.
If bodybuilding’s not your main priority there are many other ways you can track your progress. For endurance athletes like cyclists or runners this can involve recording your distance or maximum speed. Recording your speed could be over a preset distance like 100 meters or breaking the run down into specific sections. Making a note of the times for each section of a run can help you adjust your training accordingly. There are many ways you can track your workout, but that’s a subject for a whole other post, we’re looking at how to properly track your fitness progress.
Tracking Will Improve Your Fitness Progress
Don’t throw away that Fitbit or iWatch just yet, much of its data could be used as part of a tracking plan for your fitness progress. Rather than just let all those stats disappear into the cloud or a huge online community, make a record and add them to your fitness tracking journal.
Properly tracking your fitness progress isn’t only about losing weight, that would just be a simple chart on the wall next to the bathroom scales. Recording your progress can help you to achieve whatever goals you originally set faster and more effectively. Planning to track your fitness progress is the first step on the path to success.