Is It Working? (How to Track Your Progress)

You’ve got a goal you want to achieve, right?

Maybe you’re looking to put 10 pounds of muscle to your frame.

Maybe you want to cut to 8% body fat and have shredded abs.

Or maybe your goal is to add 50 pounds to your deadlift.

All desirable goals.

Now, let me ask you something…

How do you measure your progress towards these goals?

Are you doing weigh-ins? Body measurements? Photos?

How are you tracking your food intake? Online using an app? A spreadsheet? Food journal?

What about your training? Are you logging your workouts and keeping track of progressive overload?

 

Thinking to yourself – “Oh, I don’t really do any of these things”?

Well, I have to tell you… you’re making a big mistake, and seriously undermining your results…

 

Why Is Tracking Progress Important?

Having data figures to work with from tracking progress is extremely important as it forms the base from which you can make objective decisions.

Have you progressed over the past 4 weeks or not?

Your tracking system should clearly be able to answer this.

It’s impossible to know how well a program is working if you’re just taking a haphazard approach and not tracking anything.

You won’t be able to identify areas of your program that could use improvement.

You wont be able to decide what the the next step is with any kind of logical reasoning.

You’ll never make it to you’re desired destination. Let alone know if you are even heading in the right direction.

If you want to take control of your body, it’s critical that you have systems in place to track and monitor progress. This way you can evaluate what’s working, what variables may need to be changed, and make necessary adjustments, so you can continue progressing towards your goals.

 

What Should You Track?

There are a number of different variables to consider, but we are going to cover the top 5 that will give you the best ‘bang for your buck’…

1. Body Weight

Tracking body weight is a good measure to use to gauge long-term progress.

Worrying obsessively about scale weight in the short term is often counter-productive as weight will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, based on a number of factors including:

  • Water retention
  • Sodium intake
  • Carbohydrate intake (glycogen storage)
  • + many others

Seeing fluctuations like this can mess with your head, which is why some people actually need to back off and worry less about the scale.

Practical Application:

Weigh in on a weekly basis (as a minimum).

When weighing in, make sure the conditions are the same. The best thing to do is weight yourself first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, and after using the restroom.

If you are more advanced, you may consider daily weigh-ins — taking a weekly average of your weight each day throughout the week, to get a more accurate measure.

Keep in mind, the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are limitations.

For example, the scale won’t tell you whether weight lost is coming from lean muscle mass or fat stores.

And muscle growth will also hide fat loss, so you can’t rely on it as a sole measure of progress.

 

2. Girth Measurements

Taking girth measurements is a good way to track progress of individual body parts and monitor body composition.

Measurements worth noting are:

  • Shoulder (both arms down at your side – widest point from shoulder to shoulder)
  • Chest (taken just above the nipple line)
  • Upper arm
  • Waist (at the belly button for consistency)
  • Hip (measure the widest part of your hips)
  • Thigh (left or right – largest part)
  • Calf

 

Waist measurements are a good indicator of how body fat levels are changing as most people tend to store fat around that area of the body.

If you’re goal is to build muscle, ideally you’ll want to be gaining 1-2 pounds per month, with your waist measurement remaining relatively the same.

If your waist size is increasing substantially, you’re likely gaining fat too quickly and will need to adjust your food intake accordingly.

If you’re goal is to lose fat, obviously you’ll be aiming to bring your waist measurement down. As a general guideline, an inch lost on your waistline will equate to roughly 1% of body fat lost.

Practical Application:

Take measurements every two weeks.

You’ll probably feel strange and awkward doing this at first.

You may doubt your accuracy.

That’s okay.

Simply do your best and be consistent.

I’d recommend getting yourself a Myotape/Orbitape as it makes self-measuring easier and more consistent.

 

3. Progress Pictures

Seeing how your body has changed over time will motivate you and keep you going, when the going gets tough.

While numerical data is important, pictures will allow you to see the changes behind the numbers.

Practical Application:

Take progress pictures every 4 weeks and save them for comparison purposes.

When you see yourself in the mirror everyday, it can be difficult to see any subtle changes taking place. But with the comparison shots, you’ll be able to clearly see the changes in your physique.

In order to ensure consistency, be sure to always take pictures with the same conditions. This includes:

  • Lighting
  • Camera/camera angle
  • Time of day
  • Pose

 

What kind of pictures should you take?

  • Front shot (full length is best)
  • Side shot
  • Back shot

 

4. Workout Performance

Showing up in the gym and choosing a few exercises that look fun or you feel like doing on a given day is not going to take you very far.

You need a plan.

You need to know exactly what you are going to do and how long it will take you.

This is where training journals and training records come in.

Although often underutilized, they are an invaluable tool, and critical for evaluating progression.

If you know exactly what you did in your last workout, then you’ll know exactly what you need to do this workout in order to improve upon the last.

 

Practical Application:

At the minimum, track your main lifts and record the weights you used, as well as sets and reps completed.

Remember that you must subject the body to a stimulus that exceeds the stimulus the body receives on a regular basis — and to which it is accustomed to, in order to elicit favorable adaptations such as increased muscle size and strength.

Continuing with the same stimulus, means no further adaptation.

 

5. Nutrition Intake

Getting on the right side of the energy balance equation is critical whether you are trying to lose fat or build muscle. This starts with controlling your energy intake – aka caloric intake.

In order to accurately know how much energy you are taking in, you have to have a system in place to track it.

There are a lot of apps that make it easier than ever and do all of the heavy-lifting for you, so there really is no excuse not to get it done.

Practical Application:

The app I personally recommend for tracking is MyFitnessPal.

myfitnesspal2

Once you have a handle on overall caloric intake, you’ll also want to consider the breakdown of macronutrients – protein, carb, and fat intake to make sure you are getting a proper balance for optimal health and performance.

Learning how to track your macronutrient intake is an invaluable skill to have, and is really not as difficult as it often made out to be.

I’ve put together a comprehensive step-by-step guide for you below:

==> How To Count Macronutrients

Simply winging your diet – even if you’re sticking to ‘healthy’ foods, and hoping you will end up with the right caloric intake from a balanced breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fats is about as likely as winning the lottery.

 

Reflect, Analyze, And Adapt

Hopefully this post has given you some insight into how to measure your progress more effectively, and why it is important if you want to achieve the best results possible.

When you have real, objective data to go off of, you can begin to make results-based descisions, as opposed to emotional based decisions.

Remember, everything works for a period of time, but nothing works forever.

If you’d like to continue to make progress, you will need to evaluate your efforts along the path toward your goal – make adjustments to training and nutrition, so that every week, and every month, you are always moving the needle forward – one step closer towards your goals.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I’ll go over how to manipulate variables when progress has stalled.

In the meantime, pop any questions in the comments below.

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