As we travel down our individual fitness paths, it’s essential that we track our progress because it:
- Shows us measurable results that encourage us to keep pushing forward.
- Helps us make smart changes to increase our results instead of us haphazardly choosing a new workout or a new diet at random.
- Gives us the information we need to set smart, measurable milestones.
Also, that sense of confidence we feel as we see our progress measured out cannot be understated! Constant progress is a true motivator to help us turn our momentary interest into a lifelong passion for health
Why Bathroom Scales May Not Be the Best Monitor
Many of us instantly think of a bathroom scale when it comes to tracking our health, buth bathroom scales actually don’t tell the whole story. In fact, a bathroom scale could tell us the wrong story!
For example, if we’re committed to lifting weights and eating a healthy, balanced diet, we may feel discouraged when we step on the scale because our numbers haven’t changed very much. That’s because we may have lost a lot of fat while simultaneously toning and gaining lean muscle, so our total body weight may not have shifted like we expected.
Compare that to someone who goes on an unhealthy juice cleanse and does hours of chronic cardio. This person may see a dramatic weight loss drop, but he or she may not look and feel their healthiest.
While a weight scale can be a helpful tool, there are three other ways to track our health progress. If used together, they can give us a holistic picture of the steps we’ve taken towards fulfilling our true fitness potential.
1. Shoot Weekly Progress Photos
We see ourselves multiple times every day in the mirror. As our bodies change, we observe those micro changes as they happen and may not realize just how much our bodies are actually improving.
Instead, take a photo at the start of your fitness journey, then snap a progress photo once a week thereafter. As we review our photos, we may be suddenly surprised at our before-and-after appearance!
For the most accurate progress photos, we must ensure we:
- Wear as little clothes as we’re comfortable wearing in a photo.
- Choose a location and time, then use that same spot and that same time in each photo.
- Keep the lighting consistent. If we took a photo with the ceiling light on, then take another photo a week later with the light off, the photos will not accurately portray our progress.
- Space each photo at least a week apart. This allows ourselves to see the biggest changes.
2. Keep a Health Journal
Our strength and mental health are key indicators of how healthy we are beyond just our physical appearance. Use a journal or one of the many digital fitness apps on the market to track metrics such as:
- How much we’re lifting. Are we able to lift heavier and heavier weights over time?
- How many repetitions we do when we’re lifting. Can we maintain or improve how many reps we do?
- How long is our stamina? If we’re doing cardio, can we improve our distance, speed or the length of our workout?
Try and measure the same types of workouts to accurately gauge how our physical strength, agility and endurance are improving. Example fitness tests that we can do once a week to compare our progress include:
- The number of pushups or pullups we can complete in a row.
- The average speed or time it takes us to complete a specific run, such as a 5km or 10km run.
- The length of time that we can maintain a set speed on an elliptical or stationary bike.
Don’t forget to monitor how you’re feeling, both mentally and emotionally. We should log them in our journals alongside our physical metrics to ensure we’re taking care of our health on all levels. Example questions to ask include:
- How are my energy levels?
- How am I sleeping?
- How comfortable do I feel this week in my own skin?
- How does my skin and face look?
3. Calculate Body Fat Percentages
A traditional bathroom scale can only tell us our total weight. It can’t tell us how much fat we’ve lost, which is a metric that many of us care about for appearance’s sake. Body fat is also a marker for our overall health and has been linked to health risks like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
In contrast, increased muscle weight has been linked with benefits like a faster metabolism.
There are multiple ways to measure body fat, one of the most common being skin calipers that pinch and measure our fat at specific points around our body. Accurate assessments typically require an expensive caliper in the hands of a trained expert, such as a certified personal trainer. However, a cheap caliper can also work for tracking progress as long as we’re consistent in how we use it!
Follow the instructions that come with the caliper. Typically, personal trainers will measure fat at our thighs, chest and abs, then plug those numbers into a calculator (try this free online calculator from the American Council on Exercise).
Body fat measuring caliper
To figure out how much fat and lean muscle you have:
- FAT: Multiply your body fat percentage by your total weight. The result is the pounds of fat you have. For example, if you’re 15% body fat and weigh 200 pounds, you have 30 pounds of fat.
- MUSCLE: To find out how much lean muscle you’ve gained over time, you’ll need to track your fat percentages for a while. Say you’re 200 pounds and have 15% body fat in Month 1 (30 pounds of fat, 170 pounds of non-fat mass). Then in Month 3, you still weigh 200 pounds but now have 12% body fat (24 pounds of fat, 176 pounds of non-fat mass). By subtracting the difference, you can estimate that you gained 6 pounds of muscle!
Together, taking progress photos, logging results in a journal and calculating body fat and lean muscle mass can help us get a good grasp on how our hard work is paying off!