Every year, millions of people decide to start exercising only to give up within a few weeks or months. How do you prevent this from happening to you? This week we will discuss the importance of tracking your results to help keep you motivated, get the most out of your workouts, and achieve your fitness goals.
In order to properly track your progress you first need to think of what results you are looking to achieve. Are you looking to lose weight? Increase your cardio? Get stronger? Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin to plan to meet those goals.
Why Track Results?
So how exactly does tracking your progress help you? Keeping track of your progress helps in two major ways. First, it gives you a visual representation of all of your workouts. This allows you to see where you left off. Knowing what weight you lifted, how many reps you did, how long you ran for etc… By comparison with your last workout, you will know the start point for your current exercise. This will help eliminate some guess work and allow you to keep moving forward, gradually increasing weight, number of reps, or distance.
By looking farther back you may also begin to see patterns. Maybe you’ve been bench pressing the same weight for a month, or haven’t been doing enough leg workouts. By seeing these patterns you can correct them, and continue making progress.
Secondly, and possibly more importantly, tracking your results will show you your progress over time, which can be a great motivator to continue exercising. By looking back and seeing that last month you were only able to run two kilometers and you can now run for three, or by looking at pictures of yourself changing over time, you can clearly see your progress. Without this tracking, progress can be difficult to notice. Since we see ourselves everyday those small, gradual changes can be extremely hard to notice. By being able to easily look at months of workouts or pictures, those gradual changes become easier to notice.
Scales are by far the most common, and for some the only way that people track their results when they start exercising. This can be a problem as scales only tell one part of the story, your weight. They don’t measure improved cardio, strength, or waistlines. As you build muscle you will gain weight, sometimes faster than the weight you lose from burning fat. Your weight also fluctuates over the course of the day (sometimes up to five pounds!) which can really skew your results if you don’t measure yourself at a consistent time. Only looking at your weight as a guide for results can be misleading and discouraging.
How to Properly Track Results
So if scales aren’t the best way to track your results, then what is? The answer is simply to write everything down. Every time you exercise write down the date, what you did, what weight and how many reps you did. For cardio exercises you should measure things like time, distance, resistance settings, and incline. You can now use all that information to help plan out your future workouts.
That exercise plan should include things like: the day you’re planning on exercising, what muscle groups you plan on working, what weights you will be using, how long your cardio workout will be, and what days will be rest days. It’s important to plan at least a week in advance and check to make sure that you’re not overworking, or under-working, certain muscles and also making sure that you’re allowing yourself enough rest in between workouts to help your muscles recover.
How to Properly Track Weight
If weight loss is your main goal you will obviously also need to track your weight. When tracking changes in weight there are two rules to keep in mind. Rule number one is to not check your weight every day. Keep in mind that your weight is constantly changing and that you are looking for long term weight loss. Checking your weight every day can lead to an unhealthy behaviour where you obsess about every small change in weight, and not focusing on the overall change.
To combat this, and keep yourself focused on long term weight loss, you should only weigh yourself once a week, and always on the same day at the same time. As I mentioned earlier, your weight can fluctuate up to 5lbs over the course of a day. Inconsistently measuring yourself can therefore skew your results. The best time to check your weight is first thing in the morning, before you have breakfast. This will eliminate food as a variable in your measured weight.
Take Pictures in the Mirror
Looking at numbers and seeing progress that way is good, but most people don’t really care about numbers. They want to see a difference in themselves, whether that be weight loss or muscle gain. Like with weight tracking consistency is key. Take a picture once a week, on the same day at the same time. Stand in the same position, preferably with the same clothes on to get the most consistency.
Set Small, Specific Goals
Most people have a main goal in mind when they decide to start exercising. By only setting those big, broad goals, you can potentially lose the reward factor and your ultimate goal can begin to seem unobtainable. Setting smaller weekly, or monthly goals for yourself can put that reward back into your workouts, and motivate you to keep progressing towards your ultimate goal.
As an example of this, say that I decided that I want to lose 40 pounds in the next 5 months. After one month I’ve lost 5 pounds, I can see progress but I haven’t come close to achieving my goal yet. Or worse it’s been 5 months and I’ve only lost 30 pounds. Even though I’ve come a long way I ultimately failed to achieve my fitness goal. These scenarios can be very discouraging and I might quit exercising altogether. If I instead had also set smaller goals of losing 2 pounds per week I would have something to work for every week, and get the satisfaction of completing those goals. Even if I fail the odd week, or don’t make my ultimate goal, I still mostly had victories and will be more motivated to continue exercising after those 5 months.
Working out without a plan is like driving somewhere new without a map or GPS. You’re not going to know how to get where you want to go, or if you get lost, where you came from. Whether you’re looking to gain muscle or lose weight, having a plan in place, and tracking the progress of that plan, is the best way to ensure your success. If I know I was able to do 20 sit-ups last week I’m going try as hard as I can to do at least 21 this week and at least 22 next week. Having this constant competition with myself, and the weekly reward of hitting my goals I will be more likely to stay motivated and continue exercising.