3 Easy Ways to Track Progress (No Scale Required!)

Step off the scale and track what actually matters

Unfortunately, we have been engrained with the idea that the number the most important measure when it comes to our health. This number is often based on how we compare ourselves to other people of similar height and age. However, the scale doesn’t know the difference between an overweight person with lots of muscle mass, and an overweight person with extra fat tissue. This can be extremely frustrating when someone begins training and doesn’t see the significant change in their weight that they want.

There are more meaningful ways to track your training progress. Methods you can use to find out if your body is changing, if you’re getting stronger, and how your mental wellbeing is affected by your training. These methods look at a bigger picture over time. Allowing you to see actual progress and recognize the benefits that training has.

Clothing Fit and Progress Pics

A big change that people notice when they train is how differently their clothes fit. Often, the changes are a sudden realization that you are using a different notch on your belt, or that your jacket zips up easier, or you don’t fill out your shirts like you used to.

Body composition will change with regular training and proper diet. As fat tissue reduces and muscle mass grows, we might not notice a significant change on the scale. But, if you take side by side comparison photos of yourself as you progress, you’ll get to see how some areas of your body might be leaner or have more muscle definition.

How to:

  • Pick a piece of clothing that you fit into now. A favorite t-shirt, or pair of pants are perfect. Preferably something that fits you well, not too tight or too loose.

  • Take a picture of yourself while wearing your chosen piece of clothing

  • Put that piece of clothing away and don’t wear it again until your next progress picture

  • Wait 5 or 6 weeks and put it on again, take another photo, and compare it to your previous picture

  • Continue to do this throughout your training program to see how your body changes

Training Journal

Using a training journal to record your sessions is a great way to keep you on track and continually progress yourself in your program.

In your journal, you should keep track of the exercises you’re doing, record how many reps and sets you complete, how much weight you’re using, and record your rest times. Doing this allows you see how much work you’re doing each session and how you improve each week. 

You can also use your journal to track how you are feeling mentally before and after each training session. The benefits of training on mood and mental health are understated but can be a significant motivator.

How to:

  • Use your phone (or an actual book!) to write down your exercise program

  • Each session, record your reps, sets, weights, and rest periods

  • Take notes on how exercises feel. Note which exercises were easier than last week, and which ones need modifications

  • Progress your workouts each session by increasing your number of reps, sets, weights, or reducing rest periods

  • Take notes on your mood and thoughts before and after training

  • Notice how your workload changes throughout your training plan

Fitness Assessments

Assessments are often used by trainers to help clients see how much stronger and faster they’ve become over the course of the training plan. The benefit of these assessments is they give a clear picture of what areas improve and what areas still require attention. 

You can test yourself based on what matters to you. If you want to get stronger, see how many squats or push-ups you can do in a minute. Do you want to become a faster runner? See how long it takes you to cover a certain distance. 5 or 6 weeks later, when you’ve done some training to improve those areas, try to beat your previous rep count or run time.

Here’s an outline for a simple fitness assessment you can do next time you’re at the gym:

Testing Strength and Endurance:

Push ups

  • Set yourself face down on the ground. Feet are hip width apart, hands positioned just outside of your shoulders

  • Press yourself off the ground, keeping your body in a straight line from your heels to your shoulders

  • Lower yourself close to the ground without resting your body on the floor

  • Repeat as many times as you can without resting

  • Record your rep count

Bodyweight Squats

  • Stand upright with feet hip width apart

  • Bend your knees and lower your hips down to chair height, using your hands for balance if necessary

  • Stand back upright

  • Repeat as many times as you can for 60 seconds

  • Record your rep count

Chin-ups or 90˚ Hold

  • Reach for an overhead bar with both hands, shoulder width apart, palms facing you

  • For chin-ups, pull your body up so that your chin comes over the bar, then lower yourself down

  • Repeat as many times as you can for 60 seconds

  • Record your rep count

  • For a 90˚ hold, use a bench or box to elevate you up to the height of the bar

  • Grab on to the bar with both hands, shoulder width apart, palms facing you

  • Set your arms to a 90˚ angle

  • Raise your feet off the bench and hold the 90˚ position for time

  • Record your time

Testing Cardio Fitness:

  • Choose your preferred form of cardio exercise (walk, run, bike, rower, etc.)

  • Do a light warm up in your preferred exercise for 5 minutes

  • Choose a distance you want to cover (500m, 1000m, 2000m, etc.)

  • Begin your exercise and find a sustainable pace

  • Record the time it takes you to cover your distance

The methods you choose to track your progress depends on matters to you. The number on the scale often misrepresents the changes that occur as your body adapts to training. What is important is knowing how you’re making meaningful progress and knowing that you are improving.

-Liam

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Liam Armstrong