When it comes to fitness or really anything in life that you are trying to accomplish, seeing improvements on an ongoing basis is invaluable. This is the tool and key to helping gage how far you’ve come, where you’re at now and how much more you have to do in order to complete your goal. Being able to “measure” your progress is not only essential to move you further, but it’s also a huge motivator that can allow you to push past any potential roadblocks. The question is: How can you actually track this regularly?
In terms of being fit, in shape and having a great bod there are thankfully several ways that you can see how well you are doing and decide whether or not you need to make a change. In general, you have to be constantly challenging your body with intense exercise and proper nutrition to support your workouts (this is fairly obvious to say the least). However, if you are always doing the exact same thing week after week, the progress will slow or stop altogether at some point. Typically after four to six weeks, your body will get comfortable and stop responding to your regiment; this is why trainers and health experts advise that you change up your routine on a monthly basis on average. You want to keep your body guessing and push it to get stronger with each gym session and each meal.
Instead of waiting to reach a plateau, an alternative would be to set aside a specific day and time each week to see if you’ve made any progress from the previous week. For many , we step on a scale to see the pounds that may have been lost or gained, but this is only part of the picture. Weight scales don’t tell you your body fat, they don’t know how much is water weight and they don’t take into account things like restful sleep, stress, hormone fluctuations, etc. That doesn’t mean you should just toss it out; it is good tool especially for those who are just starting out and have a lot of overall bodyweight to lose (i.e. more than 30 pounds). It can though be a little misleading. When you start a new training program or you start eating a better diet, in the beginning you will see huge changes each week. The scale will show that you are dropping 5 pounds, 10 pounds or so on, for the first little while and of course it feels great to see that number go down, but as I said it will slow down at some point and that can lead to some serious discouragement.
Instead of just relying on one thing to demonstrate any changes, consider a different approach. One option is to take photos of yourself each week (same day, same time) and do weekly comparisons. This was something that I was doing during my 12 week fitness challenge and it was a huge help. I found myself getting very frustrated about half way through and felt like there was no change, but when I looked at my weekly photos from day one, I saw the improvement and kept going. Being able to actually see the progress in front you is something amazing and it definitely helps when you may not be feeling your best. On the other hand, the photos can show you areas where you need to work on more or areas that you have either a hard time adding muscle to or that take forever to drop the fat. This will allow you to make changes accordingly. Another option is to go with how your clothes fit. If you are trying to lose body fat, obviously you look for how much looser your clothes sit on your body each week. If you are trying to gain mass and muscle then look for tightness in how your fit in certain areas like your booty or your quads or shoulders. A third option is to take into account how you feel physically in terms of your stamina and strength, during your workouts and also throughout the day. Ask yourself if you are able to lift heavier each week, do a few extra reps and up intensity of your cardio. Check your heart rate, pay attention to how out of breath you are or how sore/tired your muscles feel after exercising. All of these strategies can give you an idea how well you are doing and if it’s time for you to kick it up a notch.
There are so many other methods to check your progress that it can get confusing. You can try to calculate your BMI or BMR, use calipers, BodPod or measuring tape on certain areas, but some of these can be inaccurate or expensive and hard come by. Even the machines at your gym that measure your heart rate or calories burned tend to be somewhat off, so don’t rely on just one thing. Always keep in mind that we need to be challenged in order to grow and improve and get stronger, not just physically. When things do start to slow or halt completely, really take time to consider why this is the case and remember that there are so many things and outside factors that can have an impact on you. Have you been under more stress lately? Are you getting a restful night of sleep? Is your schedule slightly off this week? Did you deviate from your diet or try some new foods or ingredients or a new restaurant? There are so many little things that can influence how well you do, so don’t get too discouraged, just pinpoint what it is and look at how you can alter what you are doing.
It is so important to have a clear goal for what you want to for yourself; this lets you set a plan and have a vision for where you want to be. As you get closer to achievement, your motivation can really kick in and help propel you to get there and keep going. You may on other hand shift your goal as you go along and maybe come across other things you want to accomplish. When I first started working I wanted to be lean and loved cardio and felt like that was my thing, but once I started weight training and seeing how amazing it shapes the body and how strong I have become, my goal and regiment started to change. Now my focus is more towards lifting weights to build more and shape myself in a certain way. It’s a good thing to change gears as time passes as we are all changes as are our priorities. So remember to set your goals, find effective tools to track your progress and when you’re ready, move on to your next big thing.
Start It, Finish It