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Progress Tracking

Why Is Progress Tracking So Important?

Progress looks different for everyone. It depends on your end goal. Some areas where people seek to make progress include aesthetic, performance, and health.

Aesthetic goals often include losing a certain amount of weight, fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, or finally seeing muscle definition on your arms. Performance goals may include squatting your bodyweight, doing an unassisted chin-up or 10 push-ups, or improving the time it takes you to run one mile. Common health goals are lowering triglycerides or getting blood pressure to normal range (120/80).

Think back to the last time you planned a road trip. What were the two things you needed to know before you started?

  1. Where are you right now?
  2. Where are you going?

Once you were on the road, you needed to know where you were in relation to where you started and your destination. You needed to track your progress.

Tracking your progress helps you answer two questions:

  1. Are we there yet? Knowing your goal helps you identify the steps necessary to get there.
  2. Are we going in the right direction? Are you moving closer to or further away from your goal? It’s important to know, so that you can adjust your course if you’re going in the wrong direction.

When Tracking Fitness Progress Does More Harm Than Good

Sometimes other things in life take priority over tracking your fitness progress, and that’s OK. If you’re busy juggling work, kids, helping out at school, and maybe also caring for a sick loved one, it’s possible that meticulously tracking your progress might not be high on the priority list (or on the list at all).

Consider doing a cost/benefit comparison. What does it “cost” you to track your progress? And is it greater than the benefit you get from tracking?

If tracking fitness progress will greatly increase your stress or weighing yourself regularly is going to trigger negative emotions and self-talk, then guess what? Tracking your progress isn’t for you, or isn’t for you right now. Simply put, if the cost is way higher than the benefit, don’t do it.

Missing Your Success

If you don’t track your progress you may miss your success.

Yes, might sound crazy. How can you miss success? Since progress comes slowly it’s easy to forget where you were and how far you’ve progressed. You’re so focused on moving forward that you discount how far you’ve come.

Big accomplishments (like losing 10 pounds or doing 10 push-ups) simply become the new baseline, because it took weeks or months to get there. Without specific written goals and progress tracking, you won’t get to celebrate or take note of your successes as you unconsciously move the finish line. A goal of 10 push-ups morphs into 20 push-ups. Then at some point you lose motivation, and might feel like you “failed” because you only can do 18 push-ups.

How to Get More Results in Less Time

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, download our free guide to get started.

How To Measure Your Fitness Progress

There are a lot of different ways to measure your fitness progress and picking the best one for you is going to depend on your goals and what you’ll consistently use. Tracking something that doesn’t relate to your goal isn’t going to work.

Similarly, the tracking method also needs to be one that you can easily use. For example, if you are not tech-savvy or don’t use your smartphone for “everything” like some people do, using an ultra-high tech iPhone app to track your progress is probably not going to be your best tracking method, no matter how much others might rave about it.

If you want to reduce your body fat, you can track your progress by measuring body fat percentage, taking pictures of yourself, taking girth measurements, and seeing how certain clothes fit every few weeks.

Taking pictures of yourself is a great way to see the very gradual changes that you might not notice when you’re seeing yourself in the mirror every day. You need to do it regularly, and it’s most helpful when you do it exactly the same way each time. If the friend who takes your pictures is someone you only see every few months, that might not be the best arrangement. Ideally you’re having progress pictures taken a little more frequently than that. If you change the lighting, distance from the camera, clothes, background, or other elements when you take the pictures it makes it harder to see progress because there are other things in the photos that have also changed.

Here are some ideas for tracking fat loss:

  • girth measurements
  • scale weight
  • body fat testing
  • pictures
  • clothing

If you’re working on making health improvements, and want to track your progress, speak with your doctor to see what they recommend. Some of the more common measurable health markers include:

  • resting heart rate (right when you wake up)
  • blood pressure
  • blood cholesterol
  • triglycerides
  • fasting glucose
  • fasting insulin
  • hormone panel

Lastly, if you’re tracking performance-based or workout progress, these are some of the things you might want to track:

  • 5-rep max of a particular exercise (squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.)
  • number of push-ups or chin-ups completed
  • 1 mile run time
  • vertical jump test

Accessory Measures

There are things that will affect your aesthetics, performance, and health progress, but they’re not the types of things most people think of tracking. Things like:

  • stress levels
  • energy levels
  • mood
  • sleep quantity and quality

When was the last time you heard someone say, “My New Year’s resolution is to sleep more and improve my energy levels?” Well, OK, maybe some people have actually made those their New Year’s resolutions, but it’s not common.

If your progress has slowed down or stopped, tracking your sleep and stress levels will give you some insight into what’s going onOften times when progress has stalled, people look to lower their calories or bump up their exercise regimen for the solution, when it may be their lack of sleep or stress levels that are causing progress to come to a screeching halt. In fact, sleep deprivation for just a single night has been shown to decrease calories burned by as much as five to 20 percent, and when you’re stressed, you may find yourself skipping or shortening your workouts, or more susceptible to junk food cravings. Tracking these accessory measures of progress can help you pinpoint what’s really going on when progress stalls

What are the markers of fitness progress?

Outcome vs. Behavior Goals

Another important thing about tracking fitness progress or workout progress is tracking things over which you have direct control, as well as what you want to achieve.

Outcome goals are what you want to achieve. You want to get to Los Angeles. That’s an outcome goal. Filling up with gas and driving 200 miles a day in the direction of Los Angeles is a behavior goal, that if done consistently will likely get you to your goal—Los Angeles.

You want to be able to do 10 push-ups?

You want to lose 10 pounds?

You want to decrease your blood pressure by 5 points?

Those are all outcome goals and you should track them, but you don’t have direct control over them.

However, you do have control over behaviors that, if done consistently, make it more likely that you’ll achieve your outcome goals. Those are called behavior goals.They are the goals over which you do have direct control.

If you want to do 10 push-ups you may need to train three times a week. You have direct control of whether or not you do your workouts .

Another behavior goal is eating six portions of vegetables a day, which in conjunction with a few other behavior goals, can lead to the outcome goal of losing 10 pounds. You don’t have direct control over the amount of weight, or the time it will take to achieve it, but you do have direct control over eating more vegetables. Eating more vegetables consistently will help you get to your outcome goal of losing the weight.

Consistently hitting your behavior goals will help you get to your outcome goals.

How to Get More Results in Less Time

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, download our free guide to get started.

Best Way To Track Your Progress

Once you have identified your outcome and behavior goals, the next step is figuring out what about these goals you want to track and how you will track it.

You can use either electronic or physical trackers. Electronic ways of keeping a training log include different planners (iPhone planner, Google docs), a specific app or website, spreadsheet, an e-journal. Keeping a workout log in a physical calendar, a journal, or a piece of paper or  is perfectly OK, too. Whatever you will actually use consistently is best.

Tracking Performance

At GGS, some of us keep a training log in a physical notebook, some of us use a Google spreadsheet, and some of us use a workout log app. The point is that we document the details of our workouts in some way, and keep a record of our behavior goals and outcome goals.

When tracking performance improvement goals, behavior goals can be things like doing a specific workout plan and following a particular recovery strategy.

In your training log, you can jot down everything from the date of the workout, the weather, how you slept the night before, you mood, and your resting heart rate that morning. Once you start the workout, along with writing down your reps, weights, and rest periods, you can note other things, such as aches, stiffness, or notes next to each exercise describing how you feel (Feeling great, or a little “off”? Write it down!)

Example:

Friday, March 15, 2016

Cloudy and raining.

Slept okay about 6 hours feel tired (6/10)

Mood: meh (5/10)

Resting heart rate: 68 bpm

Dumbbell Reverse Lunges dumbbells (goal reps 12 per side):

Set 1 (2 X 25 lb dumbbells); Reps: 12 (right)/12 (left). Note: Right 🙂 Left 🙂

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 2 (2 X 25 lb dumbbells) Reps: 11 (right)/ 11 (left). Note: Right leg felt weaker. Left 🙂 stopped at 11

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 2 (2 X 25 lb dumbbells) Reps: 11 (right)/ 11 (left). Note: Right leg felt weaker. Left 🙂 stopped at 11

Use ‘test days’ to track progress of your outcome goals. Sometimes when you train you don’t do a specific exercise—say, unassisted chin-ups. You do assisted chin-ups, inverted rows and other things that will help you do a chin-up, but you don’t do an actual unassisted chin-up. In those cases it’s good to ‘test’ yourself every three to four weeks to see whether you’re making progress toward your outcome goal.

If you’re keeping a physical training log, you can write your outcome goals on the back page, with testing dates, where you can check in on how your progress is going.

Example:

Outcome goal—3 single-legged squats by August 1, 2016.

February 1, 2016

1 left leg

0 right leg

March 1, 2015

1 left leg

1 right leg

You can easily keep an exercise log like this with a spreadsheet on your computer too, or simply a piece of paper you keep in our gym back. Remember, track your progress in the way that is easiest for you, that will ensure that you track consistently. If that’s a notebook, great. If you prefer to use your phone, go for it. If you want to create a spreadsheet on your computer and print a copy out to take to the gym, that works, too.

Tracking Weight loss

Similarly, you can track weight loss outcome and behavior goals on paper, or digitally. One example might be create a simple weight loss tracker spreadsheet to track your outcome goal on your phone or computer, and keep your behavior goals on a piece of paper on the fridge where you can quickly note each day’s results (for example, placing a checkmark on the paper for each portion of vegetables you eat that day).

And remember, you can also track things like sleep, mood, and energy, which all contribute to your long-term success with the outcome goals.

How to Get More Results in Less Time

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, download our free guide to get started.

Using Your Fitness Tracking Information

Tracking the information is one thing. Using it to see progress, troubleshoot plateaus, and figure out your next steps, is another.

Say, for example, that you hit a plateau with all your weights at the gym, and even notice that you’re starting to lose strength, you can look back at your journal and see how you got there. Perhaps your sleep hasn’t been very good, your mood has been kinda grumpy, and your resting heart rate which is normally in the 60s, was elevated for days before your performance started to suffer.

In combination, these are all clear signs that you might need to shift your focus toward recovery for a little while. If you always log your workouts and a lot of the details mentioned above, but you never really look back and evaluate to see any patterns or things that start to look a little “off” you might miss important signs that might have helped you avoid the plateau in the first place.

Tracking can not only tell you if you’re making progress, it can help you connect dots to find the answer rather than randomly trying different things if something “stops working” for you.

Dealing With Plateaus

Somewhere along the way, you’re probably going to stop seeing progress. This is also known as plateauing, or hitting a plateau. Everything is going great and then it just stops. By tracking your progress, you’ll be able to truly tell that your progress has plateaued, rather than just slowed down. Tracking progress will also help you figure out what to do to get things moving again.

Say you want to be able to do 10 push-ups, and you’ve been stuck at five push-ups for the past month. If you’re tracking your progress, you might see that in the first month you went from one push-up to four push-ups, then over the next month you managed just one more to get to five push-ups. If you look closer at your workout progress you notice that you started out doing push ups three times a week, then two times a week, and lo and behold your plateau happened the same time you dropped to one time per week. Now you know what you might need to do to start seeing some progress with your push-ups.

Or maybe you hit a plateau with your weight loss progress. Looking back, you realize that your work stress has been through the roof, and instead of cooking at home, you’ve been eating out for most of your meals. Perhaps this behavior change has something to do with the plateau.

Tracking progress toward both your outcome and behavior goals gives you clues to why you’ve plateaued and what might work to get you past it. Usually, a plateau happens because you’re not consistent with the behavior goals.

Check Marks And Stars For Motivation

A great thing about tracking progress is that once you see a string of days in which you’ve made progress you want see more of that. Seeing two weeks of check marks that show you’ve done your workouts, or that you’ve eaten your vegetable portions makes it more likely that you’ll do it again today. You want to keep that streak going.

If you give yourself a star for every two-week streak then you have to keep going—for the star! It’s how we’re wired. It’s human nature!

Famous comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, was asked how he got so good. He replied that “to become a better comedian you have to write everyday.” How did he manage to write every day? He had a big calendar and drew a big red X every time he wrote. His goal, “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like see that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

If you don’t break the chain of your behavior goals you will get to your outcome goals.

How to Get More Results in Less Time

Free GGS Blueprint

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, you just have to understand the Blueprint and be willing to trust the process.

 


If you'd like to know:

  • How much you should exercise
  • What to do for exercise
  • How to put it all together into a plan that works for YOU

The good news? It's simpler than you think!


Additional Resources

  1. Cadmus-Bertram LA, Marcus BH, Patterson RE, Parker BA, Morey BL. Randomized Trial of a Fitbit-Based Physical Activity Intervention for Women. September 2015Volume 49, Issue 3, Pages 414–418 http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(15)00044-6/abstract
  2. Tracking for Health, Pew Research Center
    http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/01/28/tracking-for-health/ 
  3. Spring B, et al. Integrating Technology Into Standard Weight Loss Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine 2012;():1-7.
    http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1485082

How to Get More Results in Less Time

Free GGS Blueprint

Understanding how to get more results in less time so you actually enjoy exercise and can have a life outside of the gym isn’t hard, you just have to understand the Blueprint and be willing to trust the process.

 


If you'd like to know:

  • How much you should exercise
  • What to do for exercise
  • How to put it all together into a plan that works for YOU

The good news? It's simpler than you think!


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