3 Hacks to Track Your Fitness Progress
On the Internet, it’s become commonplace to read seemingly impossible headlines such as these, narrating the stories of people who achieve drastic results in a insanely short period of time. Of course, when we hear stories like this, we naturally ask ourselves: “What exercises did they do?” or “What did they eat?” In response to our questions, the bloggers give us a specific regimen or a list of foods, and we attempt to incorporate these into our own lifestyles.
However, many of us, at least in my experience, tend to forget that every person is different, and that each of these workouts or nutrition plans was likely tailored specifically for a specific person. When we fail to take this into account, we are often surprised when we “did everything right” but just can’t replicate their results.
Realizing the necessity of a personalized and tailored fitness program can be overwhelming to many because of the sheer number of easily accessible program options currently available. To keep from being overwhelmed it is important to consider the one activity that all the people who successfully achieve their fitness goals do:
They write EVERYTHING down.
Because I am somewhat of a fitness junkie, many of my friends have asked me how to devise work out plans. I have watched as many embark upon their fitness journeys for about a month or two, and then lose sight of their goals. I have also watched many others stick to their plans and achieve their fitness goals.
Failure to track progress leads to deviation from tailored fitness plans, which then inhibits individuals from attaining their overall fitness goals.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking, “Hang on, I have a friend who works out all the time and she looks great, but she doesn’t write anything down”. Yes I’ve encountered many of these people as well. In fact, I actually have been this person before.
The difference with these people is that many of them have been exercising for years and have the experience to know exactly how to build their routines and nutrition programs for the best results. Additionally, because they have been exercising for years, they have the discipline to stay in pursuit of their goals most of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend started out just as I am suggesting you do: with writing everything down.
My cofounder and I started FeverFit with the intention of helping people exercise in a way that best benefited them. Moreover, we hope to help people easily achieve their desired results on their own time. I genuinely care about our users achieving their goals through our service, so I knew that I needed to provide them with more resources than just our site. I hope that people use this blog as a tool when they embark upon their fitness journeys.
So, I knew that I had to format my blog like I would format a workout: I would start with the foundation, and the blog would track my progress as feverfit and our following grew. It seemed only right to blog about tracking progress as the foundation for a good workout, because that is exactly how I hope to keep track of both my workouts, and my company.
The Biggest Tracking Mistake: Traditional Scales are Liars
Most people use traditional scales to track their progress; however, stepping on a scale everyday may not be the best way to track the way your body’s changes throughout a fitness program.
For example, let’s say you start a new exercise regimen tomorrow and decide to weigh yourself after every workout session. If you are trying to lose a sizable amount of fat and simultaneously build muscle at the same time, you will likely do cardio and strength training. When you step on the scale after every workout, you will almost definitely be disappointed to find that your weight isn’t dropping as nearly as fast as you hoped.
Traditional weight scales don’t tell you the source of the pounds you are gaining and losing. They could be muscle, fat, or both. This can be incredibly problematic if you have a specific fitness goal to gain 10 pounds of muscle in the first month.
There are many biometric scales currently on the market that not only measure your weight, but also body fat percentage, muscle percentage, BMI, along with various other metrics. These scales take measurements using a technique called bioimpedance analysis (BIA) in which a small current is passed through your body during each reading. BIA scales tell you much more about your body than traditional scales; however, even these scales can inaccurately measure trends if not used properly.
I like to make mistakes so you don’t have to, so I bought a BIA scale of my own, and I’m detailing best practices and common mistakes I make while using the scale.
Before we discuss the specifics, it’s important to keep in mind that you will get the best results if you track your body composition using multiple methods. This way you reduce error from any of the individual methods, more accurately see what your changes look like, and can determine what is working in your routine.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not beneficial to take measurements every day. Taking measurements daily will only make you obsess over your changes, and you can easily become fixated on the slightest change, good or bad. The human body is extremely complex and weight can change a lot throughout the course of a day for many reasons. Most of these are completely normal and do not usually reflect changes caused by fitness routines.
Instead, I recommend taking measurements 2–3 times a week. You want to make sure you record these measurements at the same time each day so that you recreate the same conditions for your body each time to the best of your ability. For example, a great time to measure yourself is the morning, before eating breakfast.
Here are some great ways to measure:
1. Use measuring tape — This method is cheap as you can easily buy measuring tape for a couple dollars from the nearest Walmart, Amazon, or your local craft store. Measure yourself in the morning before breakfast. I know some of you may be tempted to measure yourself after a weightlifting workout. That is okay as long as you are not using post workout measurements as your baseline. For this method, it’s important to measure as close as possible to the same location on each body part every time you take a measurement. You will be taking circumference measurements of each of the following:
- Neck — Pick a spot to measure and measure at the same spot each time
- Shoulders — Keep both arms at your sides and measure at the widest point shoulder to shoulder
- Chest — Lift up your arms and wrap the tape measure around your chest (just above the nipple) then lower your arms
- Arm above elbow — Pick left or right to measure, or measure both each week. If you measure your arm while straight then you will put the focus on your tricep since they contract when the arm is extended. If you measure while your arm is bent, you will put the focus on your biceps. You can measure biceps and triceps individually if you like, but if you don’t care, just make sure you are consistent. If you measure with your arm straight, measure with your arm straight every time.
- Waist — Wrap the tape around your waist at belly button level each time
- Hips — Measure at the widest part of your hips
- Thighs — Follow the same procedure as with arms.
If you’d like, you can also measure your forearms and calves, but for most people the list given above should suffice.
2. Use body calipers to measure your body fat — Body calipers can be bought for under $10. This method is a little trickier than the last but the key is to focus on getting consistent measurements. Here is an article from BodyBuilding.com that does a good job of explaining the measurement process:
3. Use a BIA scale — As I mentioned earlier, BIA scales provide you with a plethora of helpful metrics to track your body’s changes. The important thing to remember when using these is to measure at the same time each time you measure and to recreate the same conditions for your body. Many of these scales have companion apps that record your progress over time, making your job extremely easy. BIA scales are a little pricier, ranging anywhere from $30 — $100+.
4. Take Pictures! — This is by far the easiest method. Simply stand in front of the mirror in a bathing suit, underwear, or fitness wear if its form fitting. Take a picture of your front, and then take another of your profile view. If you are into strength training you can also take a picture of your back (you might need a friend to help you with this one). I would recommend taking pictures only once a week. Its tough to see changes on a day to day basis since you probably look at yourself in the mirror everyday so you will be more likely to notice the changes if you take pictures weekly.
Keep an exercise log! Since most of us have smartphones these days, its so easy to pull up an excel sheet, Google Sheet, or Google Doc while at the gym and log your exercises. If you’re old fashioned then buy a journal and a pencil and take them with you when you exercise.
If you’re just doing cardio, record the activity type and the duration. If you want to track the calories you burn, you can look up the number of calories that are burned for most cardio activities on the Internet and figure out how many calories you burned during a session. If you are weightlifting, write down the number of sets and reps you do for each exercise.
Logging your exercise will remind you each week what you need to do to be better than the last week. It keeps you accountable. You will have more purpose when log each activity.
Do you know how much you’re really eating? For most people the answer is no. When it comes down to weight loss, the simple truth is that you won’t lose weight unless the number of calories you burn is higher than the number of calories you consume. For weight gain it is the opposite. If you can’t figure out your nutrition, then you likely will not achieve you fitness goals.
For some people quality of nutrition is a problem. However, you have to get the quantity right first before you can fix the quality. I know that the general population is not made up of bodybuilders, so you don’t need to count every calorie for the whole duration of your fitness program, but you should pick out at least a week or two weeks at the beginning of the program to count EVERY SINGLE CALORIE.
If you do this once, you will become much more aware of your intake and your nutrition choices. Once you understand that, you can start limiting your calories if you need to.
There are many helpful websites that contain huge databases of food along with nutritional content that can help you count your calories.
How Do You Track your Fitness Progress?
What have you tried that works and doesn’t work? Have any suggestions that I can add to the article? Do you have any questions on how to properly track your progress? Respond in the comments below.