Like business, in order to track progress, you need metrics. In order to see growth you need something to compare it too.
There is a couple of ways to track progress:
If your goal is to gain strength, (who’s isn’t?) this is a good method to use. Recording all your weights used and for the reps you lifted them. It doesn’t get simpler than this. You can go old school and use a notebook and pen or you can get fancy and use an app. The app I am currently using is called Gym Hero. It saves my workouts so I don’t have to keep typing it out every time and it will remember the weight I used the last time I performed the same exercise. It also allows me to post what I did to Facebook after. Regardless if you use pen and paper or an app, the important thing is you can see over time the amount of weight used has gone up or if you are at a sticking point. And that is the main goal.
Body Fat Measurement
I could write a whole article on just different ways to measure one’s body fat. Skin calipers, bioelectric impedance, hydrostatic weighing and x-rays are a couple of methods to measure body fat. Skin calipers are by far the cheapest way to go about this. However, this technique requires a high level of accuracy of the person doing the pinching.
Bioelectric impedance which can be found on some scales and hand-held devices is also pretty cheap comparatively but the accuracy isn’t anything to brag about. Readings can vary quiet a bit within a few minutes.
Working our way up the price tag ladder we come to x-ray, or more specifically Dual Energy x-ray absorptiometry. This method takes dual energy x-rays of the patient and measures the absorption, which translates into accurate measurements of bone density, muscle, organs and fat. Without saying this comes with a high price tag and the equipment is not readily available everywhere.
By far the most accurate and most available method to use are hydrostatic weighing. Hydrostatic weighing involves getting dunked in a tank of water and weighing yourself to compare against your weight out of the tank. Accuracy is high but also maybe a bit more expensive than the other methods. Hydrostatic weighing is considered the standard to which all other methods are compared.
Many people trying to lose weight track by scale measurements. If you are trying to lose something you should be tracking that thing. Make sense right? Well that is true there are lots of variables that go into the number that you see on the scale. To try and optimize the accuracy here are some best practices.
First, weigh yourself at the same time of day, everyday. My suggestion is first thing in the morning after you pee. Your stomach is empty and this is as close as a true weight measurement as your going to get.
Next, try to keep your water consumption consistent from the day before. If you are only weighing yourself once a week, your water levels will drastically alter how much you weigh. I’ve seen a 2-3lb difference in myself solely based on water weight.
While we are on the subject of water weight, the amount of carbs you consumed the day before will also contribute to you retaining more water thus increasing your weight. For every 1 gram of carbs you eat your body retains 3 grams of water. If you consume 150 grams of carbs you body will retain 1 pound of water.
Remember the last time someone told you that you are full of shit? Well that also adds to your weight. If you haven’t gone in a few days, that can add a pound of two to the scale.
Last and certainly not least a good cheap way to track progress is…
The Gym Selfie
Laugh if you want, but a weekly picture can be a nice visual reminder where you started and where you are on your journey. Now I wouldn’t suggest making the duck face but a simple topless (or sports bra) picture with overhead lighting can do wonders. I say overhead lighting because you are more able to catch the shadows of your muscles with overhead lighting. Lighting straight on washes everything out especially if you can make Casper look tan. Gyms have really good overhead lighting (surprise, surprise) and bathrooms as well.
Whatever way you choose to track progress is the good way. The bottom line is you need some data to compare where you are now to where you were.