Tips to track your progress
Making progress comes with training and adopting healthy eating habits consistently along with getting enough sleep and recovery time on a regular basis. The rate of your progress. There are no shortcuts to this game guys - no matter what the health and fitness gurus tell you.
So you've set yourself a goal for the year but you want to see how you can measure progress or may not be sure which progress tool works best for you and your goal. In this article, I'll go into detail 5 ways that are both simple and common.
1. Training Log
For every training session, write down every bit of detail about your training session. It may include the exercises you performed as well, the number of sets & repetitions, the load you were lifting with. The training log can be a memo on your phone or a notepad you carry with you.
Over time, the log will help see if your training programme is effective or not. The more detailed you can be, the easier time you'll have of keeping yourself. You'll also have more training modalities/If you want to go into further detail, record other aspects of your training such as recovery periods between sets. I even note down if I was wearing lifting straps for some of my heavy/strength-focused days.
I've been logging all my strength/resistance training sessions for the best part of a year and it always amazes me when I look back to see how much I'm lifting compared to at the beginning. It gives me confidence having the knowledge that I am making sufficient progress towards where I want to get to.
2. Progress Pictures
Take pictures from day 1 of your fitness journey and then regularly take pictures before or after youe workouts as you go along.
Are your muscles more defined and vascular than before? Do the love handles or excess stomach fat you had in your first pic less visible in the following pictures?
Take pictures from the front, back and side. Keep the pictures consistent in terms of the pose, location, camera, lighting and position within the location itself and I'm probably stating the obvious but NO FILTERS. We don't want your fitness journey to be a lie! The more factors you can keep consistent the more accurate the progress pictures will look
A good rule of thumb or rate i would say is every 4/6/12 weeks. For the sake of consistency I would personally stick with either just pre-workout pictures or post-workout pictures and don't mix it up. Although of course if you're training and eating well consistently and frequently then the results will still show regardless. The pictures do not - again - lie!
3. Video analysis
One of the qualities I don't see enough people mentioning when it comes to measuring progress is technique. How well you are performing a particular exercise and how much better you are moving compared to when you is just as important as the number of sets or repetitions you are doing. This is especially when it comes to injury prevention as many injuries occur as a result of improper form.
The simple act of getting a camera and recording yourself whilst training and seeing if your technique is proficient for a particular exercise compared to the standard.
4. Health & Fitness Assessments
Health and fitness screening tests are also great and insightful ways of tracking progress. They're also a great opportunity to identify any physiological or medical issues or restrictions with regards to mobility and movement.
Whichever assessment or test you'll use to see your progress will depend on your goals of course. If your goal is related to body image such as muscle gain or weight/fat loss, then skinfold calipers or body composition scales are likely the way forward. Those two are among the most accurate and reliable body/anthropometry measurements that are cost-effective. Body Mass Index (BMI) is an alternative that's also cost-effective you can use but not as accurate . More on body measurements in a future post hopefully!
Concerning performance related objectives, If your goal is related to increasing strength then perhaps 1RM/3RM tests would be the best judge of it. If it's improving power then a vertical jump or broad jump test would be the option to go with. If it's mobility or trunk stability then functional screening tests like overhead squat or active straight leg raise (ASLR) are what you'll be looking to do. Record the scores and keep retesting on a regular basis.
Although be mindful with how regularly you perform the tests. Perform them too often then it can be detrimental to motivation if you don't see the results you want. Perform them too rarely you may not be tracking your progress sufficiently. Personally a screening ie measurement every 4-6 weeks is a good rule of thumb I'd recommend sticking to.
5. Food journals/diary
In fact your goal may be not specifically related to training or body composition but rather one with emphasis on nutrition.
If it's the latter then it would be handy get yourself a hold of a food journal. Note down the meals you had each day. Go into details such as amount of meals, portion of meals, type of food and fluid intake. Like with progress pictures, the more information provided the better. The food journal can be hand-written or done with calorie-tracking apps such as MyFitnessPal. There are countless of those apps out there and are effective for tracking your macro and micro nutrient intake and your overall calorie intake.
Imagine being able to go back to your meals at the beginning and compare them with the meals you're having at the present. Those comparisons would be telling of the new eating habits and how sustainable they've been.
We've covered ways to keep on top of progress towards a wide range of goals from functional, fitness performance-related goals to health and nutrition ones. I would recommend using more than just one tracking method to make results more reliable and would provide greater clarity.
Not all of these methods will work for everyone. For some none of these will work for them but it's important to find the ones that works for you and apply them.
As for progress itself everyone will progress at different rates. Some people will progress fast (e.g. newbie gains), some will be more gradual and slow. Many factors including your lifestyle/daily routine, health circumstances, environment and even your social circle will determine the level of commitment you put towards optimising your training and nutrition and thus your rate of progress.