Even if you are not competing and you go to the gym because you like the feeling afterwards, or you love the idea of becoming as strong as hell, most of us want to see some kind of progress. That’s why in my opinion monitoring progress during your fitness and health journey is one of the most important factors for long time motivation and adherence. How else are you going to assess if the things you did actually lead to results? If you have no plan how to do it best, this article is for you!
Body Weight and other measurements
Measuring your body weight is simple: just step onto a scale. The difficult part is not obsessing over your daily weigh-ins as your weight can fluctuate from day to day wildly. There are many factors for this, which are sometimes difficult to discern:
- Nutrition: what you ate during the day can impact scale weight, especially the last meal of the day. Meals high in fibre, carbs and salt are notoriously prone to let your weight go up by binding water.
- Training: a hard training session causes quite a lot of inflammation, which also causes water fluctuations. For example it is not uncommon to weigh in half a kilo or heavier after a hard leg training session.
- Hormones: women frequently report weight fluctuations of up to 3kg especially on the second half of their cycle. This is all water, so don’t stress out!
- Stress and sleep: high amount of stress and bad sleep can increase cortison levels, which disturbs your water homeostasis.
- Bowel movements: if you didn’t go to the toilet for a day, don’t be surprised if you weigh in heavier than usual.
There are probably even more factors to body weight fluctuations than this, but this makes clear that you must not obsess over single scale readings! Instead track them, calculate weekly averages and monitor long term progress. I know, this is not always easy, especially if you wake up at 05:00, hungry like a bear, step unto the scale, still sleepy and sore and somehow your are 2kg heavier than yesterday. Relax, breathe, and push the bad feelings away. Don’t let the scale ruin your day: the weight is just a number and you are more than a number!
Similar to your weight, you have to approach other measurements like hip and waist circumference. Try to make everything as standardised as possible and to take measurements at exactly the same spot. Skinfold measurements are particularly susceptible to this and even small mistakes lead to vastly different readings. Also remember that fat distribution is individual and not every measurement is useful for gauging progress.
I hate taking progress pictures. Not because I don’t want to see myself, but I somehow find it difficult to make good quality pictures that are actually useful to measure progress. Yes, it is somewhat of an art, but if you keep these key points in mind, we can do it:
- Use a tripod: sharp pictures are a must-have to being able to see progress from week to week. Changes are subtle, and a blurry pictures makes them impossible to discern. Also remember the spot you position your tripod and the exact distance to you. Use marks on the floor if you have to (put a sticky tape there).
- Mind the lighting: lighting plays a huge role in how you look on a picture. Try to find a lighting that is not too bright and not too dark. Make sure the lighting is about the same whenever you take a picture. Daylight is usually preferable, but for example during winter times, it may be difficult to make a daylight picture in the morning.
- Standardise time: take your pictures at about the same time, especially in relation to your workout and your last meal as both of these factors can make you look quite different due to pump and bloating.
- Posing: the poses you choose can make a big difference, so make sure to always make the same poses. Front relaxed, back relaxed and side relaxed are the bare minimum. Back and front double biceps is always nice to have as they show back and arm muscles better. Always include a pose that emphasises the muscles you want to improve the most!
Despite my dislike of progress pictures, don’t make the mistake of not taking them! Pictures are incredibly valuable to document progress. It is also very motivating to look back to old pictures and see how far you already have come. Don’t take this possibility from you!
This seems obvious, but it is often forgotten as we tend to get caught up in tracking progress with other ways of measurements. If suddenly all your clothes are wider than they used to be, you have lost weight! A belt is also a great way of measuring weight loss, but the jumps between two holes can be rather far apart and take some time to achieve. I have seen clients stalling on weight loss (on the scale), but regularly needing to buy smaller pants. For this, there is only one explanation, and this is: you have built muscle while losing fat!
The holy grail of serious trainees: strength gains! As strength is directly related to muscle mass, strength gains are always a good hint for muscle growth. If you did 50kg x 9 on the leg extension a month ago and now you do 50kg x 14, our quads almost certainly grew in size. This is also the reason to keep a training log: it makes progress obvious! If you just go to the gym and do something, this may be fun short term, but you have no idea if you actually improve. Keep a log, stick to a good plan, be patient and grow.
Strength is also a skill and improving the skill of lifting is often refered to as technique. Improvements in technique are often difficult to discern if you are not used to it and don’t know what to look for. Working on technique often makes it necessary to reduce the weight you lift to allow proper execution, which can be frustrating at times. But keep in mind that good technique will pay off long term as it will keep you injury free and sets you up for better progress later down the line. It may be nice to “bro-curl” 50kg, but is this even working (and growing) your biceps … ?
Body Fat Tests
To keep it short, body fat tests suck. Yes, all of them! Even the “gold-standard” methods can produce large variation in body fat readings, so I would advise you save your money and use the methods discussed above.
Lifestyle improvements are often quite tricky to track, but for the general population probably the most important goals to reach for. No amount of training, protein and omega3 will give you results if you still smoke and get drunk every weekend. Often those lifestyle factors are rather painful to implement, like “quit smoking”, but remember that you are working on the very base of health! Start with low-hanging fruits like upping your step count and then tackle larger goals. You can apply the progressive overload system you use for the gym the same way with lifestyle goals. Just do it!
Are you struggling with a boring diet or are you not enjoying your training anymore? Contact us and let us talk how we can reach your body composition or strength goals and let training and eating be fun again!