There’s no better feeling than that which comes after a good, exhausting workout. But how do you know if your workout was actually effective in keeping you on the path towards achieving your goals? In order to see the big picture, we must gauge the effectiveness of our fitness regime in the long term.
Whether your goal is weight loss, muscle gain, or both, the same principle applies: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Tracking your progress is a simple but effective way to get you on the way to reaching your goals, as training specialist Christian Soetebier explains.
What does a successful fitness regime look like?
Before you start tracking, make sure to align your measurements to your goal. For example, if you want to lose body fat, you should find a way to measure this precisely. The same is true if you want to gain muscle. In science, this is called “validity”, i.e. measuring what you want to track.
The other principle to apply to your tracking is reliability. This means that your method of choice should produce similar results under consistent conditions. For instance, your weight can fluctuate by up to 2kg throughout the course of a day. You’re obviously heavier right after a generous meal, so you should make sure to weigh yourself under similar conditions each time.
Perhaps the easiest method of tracking changes to your body is through your weight. However, this is also the worst way to track progress as it can’t really show you how your body composition has changed. How much you weigh says little about your body composition; you may still weigh the same, but have lost fat and built muscle. Monitoring your weight alone doesn’t take body composition into account, therefore this isn’t a valid way to determine whether your fitness regime is working.
Body fat percentage
Measuring your body fat percentage has become increasingly simple; many body weight scales can actually measure your body composition via a weak electric current. There are also a lot of coaches proficient in taking caliper measurements to calculate your body fat. While the validity of the exact measurement you’ll obtain from these methods is questionable, they’re comparable if taken under the same conditions every time.
Physically measuring the circumference of a body part is a very low-tech way to track progress, but can be effective if you’re targeting the physical appearance of certain areas of the body. Simply use a measuring tape and track how the numbers change. However, make sure not to do this straight after a workout; the so-called “pump effect” that occurs immediately after training means that your muscles will be slightly bigger for a short time.
This is one of the best methods if you simply want to look better. As the saying goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words”. Progress photos, when taken with the same lighting conditions and at the same time of day, can really enhance your fitness journey by showing you exactly how you have physically changed over time. Don’t get disheartened; photos taken only a week apart are unlikely to show much change, but over a longer period of time, you’ll start to see more obvious results.
How you feel
As you progress with your fitness regime, your times will likely improve and your PB’s will get faster and faster. While an improvement of a few seconds might not seem like much, it’s a surefire sign that you’re progressing. Looking back over your history of PB’s for a certain God is a good way to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
Many of us get fixated on the numbers – more reps, more weight, less fat, more muscle. And while tracking data regularly is effective and can ensure that you’re headed in the right direction, what really matters is how you feel. If you can feel yourself becoming happier, stronger and more confident, you know you’re on the right track. Likewise, how you feel physically is important; if you find it takes you less time to recover after an intense training day, it’s a sign that your body is adapting to your fitness regime.
There are multiple data-based methods by which you can track whether your fitness programme is doing its job, but the most important indicator of how close you are to your goals is how you feel and how you perceive yourself.