Calories, inches, pounds lost, pounds lifted, pounds gained, miles traveled, vertical elevation climb, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), miles traveled, tears shed… there are lots of ways to measure the progress of an exercise program. I’m less interested in how you do it, and more interested in that you’re doing it.
There are a plethora of apps available to those who are looking to track their training. Then there’s the old favorite, the training journal. Tangent: I just Googled that phrase, and people are selling “training journals” for $23.41 online. A spiral notebook for 99¢ at the local Dollar Store will leave you some money for protein powder.
While the ‘classic’ is writing down sets and reps on paper, there are plenty of other ways to do it. There are GPS based apps like Strava that take care of cycling or running tracking. There are fitness trackers like Fitocracy. You can monitor heart rate with a Polar app, or the Wahoo Fitness app I’m currently using. They all work well, provided you don’t let them do all of the work.
There’s a fine balancing act with using any particular tracking method: If you’re not tracking at all, it’s hard to measure progress, but if you become a slave to a particular method, it may not be the best indicator of progress. Finding the balance is key: Track what you’re doing, and be aware of it in the moment as well.
As we rely on increasingly complex technology to assist us in our fitness journeys, we may forget a more nuanced approach. How do things feel? What does your movement look like? Is it making you feel better?
If I were tracking my deadlifts like I used to, I’d be pretty unpleased with my training log. Earlier this week I pulled 185lbs for 3 sets of 10 on the trap bar. Nothing to write home about, but during the set I felt tight, strong, and powerful. That’s n0t a feeling that you can find in a training log.
Similarly, while Wahoo and Strava give me some fun data for my riding, the best “tracking” that I do is actually taking video. Last week I ran my camera for some runs at Mountain Creek to see how I was doing. It felt like a great day of riding, but it wasn’t until I got home that I thought, “Woah, I’m getting better at this!”
Here’s a quick edit I made to share:
I won’t be racing in the EWS any time soon, but I am racing at Mountain Creek next month, so I’ve been riding more. Wahoo tells me I’ve done more riding. Strava tells me that I’ve done more riding. The video shows me that I’m riding faster and smoother than I have. The least repeatable measure, the video, is showing me the most tangible progress. How often does this happen to you?
We often use the scale to tell us if we’re successful, and accurate… but not if we’re not seeing ourselves accurately. On a regular basis I see those who are wildly successful in their first few months of a new program become increasingly discouraged… not because of their fantastic food choices, or their success in following a program, or even the jeans that are falling off now… it’s because their scale weight has changed. The scale isn’t wrong, but the measurement is.
This can also happen when we’re strictly tracking poundage lifted in a workout. 3 sets of 10 and 6 sets of 5 total the same number of reps, it’s 30 reps for each. Appropriate loading for each changes dramatically, and the poundage lifted should vary. That’s not necessarily revealed in a beginner training log, but using RPE‘s or Brad Schoenfeld’s new Reps-to-Failure can give you a more mindful approach. Experimenting with how we track our training can be key to identifying and maximizing our progress.
Where do you start? Track something. You can write down hours slept, calories consumed, miles run, pounds lifted, number of people to glance at your butt… you can also find an app for all of those. Not sure about the booty.
Now that you’re tracking, focus on an internal way to track that progress. What is your mood, what is your stress, what is the quality of your life? These are all valid ways to get out of our apps, get into our bodies, and feel what’s changing over time.
Your phone can’t tell you if you’re getting better, only YOU can do that. You can do it best by connecting with the process and reflecting on your progress. The intention to get better is always there, but it’s the attention to what’s getting better that matters more. Power off your device and open your mind. How can you measure that?