“Number, Numbers, Numbers, Math, Math, Math” – Gaige
Using stats and such for your progress
When it comes to health, fitness, and progress the more you can quantify the better off you will be. Now you don’t want to lose your mind trying to track all of your metrics (unless you were potty trained at gun point and that is how you roll). The key is to track what you are the most interested in progressing and getting a realistic view of how quickly or slowly these metrics will change. Everyone probably remembers their physical fitness testing from elementary school and possibly middle school, that’s a good example of periodical quantification of performance changes. Do you need to go climb the rope or go do the shuttle run? No, but some tests can give you an idea of your changes, before I talk about some good tests for your average trainee, I need to talk about one important factor to remember.
Specifically the test retest reliability. What this means is that you can test this same variable over and over again and you should always get consistent results, this doesn’t mean you are actually accurate. So reliability means that each time you test something your results will be close enough that your measurement variability won’t be adding in a bunch of error. If you were sighting in a gun, this would be your grouping, a tight grouping means you are reliable, but it doesn’t mean that you are accurate. The bullet holes might be tight, but way off the bull’s eye. This can be ok, if your goal is to be perfectly accurate then get a better test, but for most of this will be fine.
An example here would be a scale that constantly weighs you two pounds heavier than you are. This is not a deal breaker in itself, because it constantly weighs you that amount you know what you need to correct, and either way when your weight shifts you know that you have made progress one way or another. Where people go wrong is they lose reliability be weighing in on multiple different scales. If one scale weighs you heavy and another light it can be easy to seem like you have lost or gained huge amounts of weight in a short time without having a constant scale to track your weight.
Body weight calisthenics
Push ups, pull ups, and sit ups for total number of reps or amount of reps you can do in a specific period of time will be a good metric to track your progress. If you can do more pull ups you will be dead to rights stronger or leaner simply because you are lifting your total body. There is no way around that. An issue with body weight movements is the fact that they can get to the point that the reps are stupid high (100 or more) or you literally can’t go any faster to crank out more reps in a minute. At this point we move to the next part:
Every time you lift it can be its own test (and lord knows when you are young that really is every time you train). Barbell training is great because you can add in small amounts of weight to keep showing progression. Each time you lift a heavier load than you have before congrats you are now stronger. This is true of not only the heaviest load you can lift for one rep, but also for two, three, four, etc. I know lifters that track every rep number 12 and under for weight lifted PRs. This is an easy way to quantify your progress, and typically when you have pushed up a specific rep PR it will push your other PRs (unless you are doing reps over 15 or so because let’s face it, that’s cardio). Be sure to only count the work you do with good technique. The goal is not to slop your way to a PR.
Total bro move here, but take a flexible tape measure and track your chest measurement, waist, hips, neck, thigh, etc. By tracking multiple girths you can literally see the areas where you are expanding or contracting. Don’t do this post training since this will just give you can inflated number due to da pump. If your waist measurement is staying the same and your chest is increasing (especially if you are male) safe to say you are putting on muscle. If your waist measurement is increasing and your chest and hips are staying the same, congrats you are an American and probably just getting fatter. The good thing about taking circumferences (sometimes referred to as girths) is it keep your from obsessing over the following metric:
I really don’t like this metric simply due to how weight obsessed most people can be. At the end of the day your body comp is way more important than body weight, but if this is what you have then this is what you do. By using the same scale, at the same time of day with the same amount of clothing on you can get reliable testing methodology that can give you results that you can use to show progression or regression accordingly. I just want to throw as a word of caution here that the scale doesn’t differentiate between fat mass and lean mass. If you gain a pound and that is muscle good work, but that might freak out some folks that are trying to stay small. The opposite will be true of a person trying to carry large amounts of muscle, so using the scale in conjunction with the circumference measurements will be a better indicator of how things are progressing. Body weight will never be the end all be all, this should never be the only indicator you follow. Go back and read that previous sentence again. It is only useful to follow when you have other indicators to go with it.
This is a testing method that I’m a giant fan of, looking at changes in body fat over time with the added information of body weight really tells the tale of the tape of training effectiveness. In our lab at Eastern we have a bod pod, Tanita scale, and DXA scanner. All of those methods can give great amount of information of body composition and different levels of accuracy, but the key to keep in mind is to make sure that you are testing with the same method every time you come in. The more that you can control extraneous variables (like hydration status can heavily effect your results here) the better information you will get.
Not sure these things exist. Just kidding, but tracking your day to day energy levels, mood, anxiety, and so on can be a good indicator of how your training and nutrition is going. Turns out burnt out people aren’t as enthusiastic about training and life in general. A good way to avoid this is to follow and measure your mood as you go through your training cycles. The body is always right, and a lack of enthusiasm to train can be a good indicator that you are overreaching (overreaching can be a very good thing and a necessary thing for higher level trainees to keep progressing). So you can use a simple Ligert scale here or any type of mood inventory you find online and then pick a day each week (or multiple days) where you fill it out and then track this over time.
This is an easy way to do two things everyone enjoys at the same time; be vain, and see your progress. Most of us see ourselves multiple times in a mirror every day so it is easy to not be able to see your own progress. Take a picture in the same clothes with the same lighting (and the same pose for that matter) from the front and side. Do this once every few months and you can see what way your body is shifting with time.
Bringing it all together
Once you have this data the easiest way to break it down is simply to graph it (yeah math teachers people do need their algebra). A simple scatter plot will suffice to give you an idea of how things are changing with time. You can even add a best fit line to get an even better indicator of which way you are making your progress with time given how fast/slow your progress is coming. Lots of fun ways to break down data here. I might put together a simple video on this at some point.