The Power of Results: How to Effectively Track your Progress

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How to Track Your ProgressQuick question of the week:

What motivates you?

What is the one thing that really keeps you going?

After some serious pondering and maybe a shot or two of espresso, the answer should hit you like a sack of potatoes:

Progress.

Results (or progress of any kind) is in an incredible motivator. It’s what drives each and every one of us. It’s what makes us stick to our goals, our workout plans, our diets, our careers and our hobbies.

Results spark a fire inside of us. Progress assures us that everything we’ve been doing so far is right. That all the time we’ve invested to get to that point has been completely worth it.

And so we keep going.

Because, like I’ve said before, results drive results.

Its a beautiful, self-perpetuating cycle.

But to enter this cycle, you need to set up some sort of feedback system that will allow you to see and analyze changes over time. Changes in your body. Changes in your workouts. Changes in your habits.

You need to record some simple data points along your journey.

And it’s much easier than you think.

Let me show you how to set up your very own tracking system.

Track Changes in your Body

As you adopt new training programs and experiment with lifestyle and nutrition modifications, your body is going to change.

It’s going to change in size, shape, and weight over time.

We’re interested in tracking these changes because they can not only give us good insight into our health, but they can help motivate us to keep going.

There are a few strategies you can use. I recommend you use all of them.

Take Pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

They really are.

Every ‘transformation’ story you’ve ever seen has been accompanied by before and after pictures to showcase the incredible results one has achieved.

Pictures can be incredibly motivating (that’s why I use them as part of my motivational tool box). But you’ll want to use them strategically to track changes in your progress.

You’ll want to take some photos of yourself before you start your journey and as you progress through your journey so you can keep track of visual changes.

Here are some tips:

  • It’s best if you can get someone else to take the pictures for you;
  • Make sure there is a lot of light in the room;
  • You want to show as much skin as possible in your pictures. Guys are fine with shorts or boxers, while girls are OK with shorts and a sports bra. If you do wear clothes, make sure they are formfitting and light in color. Just remember that you’re taking these pictures for yourself, not your Facebook friends;
  • You’ll want to take five pictures: front of body, profile of body, back of body, close-up of front of face, and close-up of profile of face (your face is the first place to start showing changes in body composition);
  • Make sure to note the date the picture was taken;
  • You’ll want to take the pictures once a week at the same time of day in the same outfit.

Here’s an example of the photos I took during my Visual Impact Challenge:

photos

Photos can give us a lot useful information, but they can’t tell us everything.

What we’re going to do next is take some physical measurements.

Use a Measuring Tape

The next thing you want to track is changes in your waist-to-hip ratio.

And we’re going to do it using a simple measuring tape.

Note: Keeping tabs on how the circumference of your abdominal area is changing over time can provide you with more insight into your metabolic health than a panel of blood work.

This is really, really important feedback and it’s very simple to do.

To measure your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), first use the measuring tape to figure out what the circumference of the narrowest part of your waist is. The narrowest part of your waist is typically just above the belly button.

Next, use the tape measure to figure out the circumference of the widest portion of your hips. This one shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Finally, you’ll want to perform the following calculation:

WHR = waist measurement / hip measurement

If you need a visual on how this is done, here’s a quick video to show you what I’m talking about.

From a health, wellness, and attractiveness perspective, a measurement of 0.9 is considered healthy for men and a measurement of 0.7 is considered healthy (and attractive) for women.

As the number approaches 1 (increasing abdominal circumference), there is a greater potential for insulin resistance and obesity related diseases.

waist to hip ratio

Here are some tips for tracking your wasit-to-hip ratio:

  • Take the measurement three times and use the average to account for human error;
  • Don’t pull the measuring tape too much. You don’t want it digging into your stomach or hips. Just pull it enough so it fits snugly over your waistline;
  • Take your measurements at the same time of the day to minimize variables such as fluid retention (note that women will experience a bit of variation in their numbers due to their menstrual cycle);
  • Track your waist and hip measurements once every two weeks.

Note: what’s really important here is that your waist circumference is dropping (or staying the same if it’s already in a healthy zone) over time. This alone is a sign of significant health improvement.

Measure your Body Composition

This is one of the trickier elements to track, but if you can find an accurate means of measuring your body composition, you’ll have very valuable feedback at your fingertips.

Your body composition simply refers to the amounts of fat, water, and lean mass that make up your total body weight.

What you want to know is how much of your body is composed of fat and how much of it is composed of lean mass. More importantly, you want to know how this composition is changing over time.

There is a safe level of body fat that you must maintain (and it’s different for guys and girls), but generally the lower your body fat composition is, the lower your risk is for obesity related diseases.

Body composition chart

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to get accurate body composition measurements.

If you have a gym membership, ask the trainers or staff around to see what options they provide for measuring body composition. If you have access to a knowledgeable trainer, he or she can definitely help you out.

If you’re on your own, there are a few options you have.

The cheaper options – like a bio-impedance scale – offer very poor accuracy and, in my opinion, are only good for tracking changes (not actual body composition). I don’t recommend this route, but it’s an option.

The more expensive options – like the DEXA scan, underwater weighing, or the bod pod – are expensive and, in my opinion, not really necessary unless you’re a high level athlete.

The easiest way to track changes in body composition is to use a skinfold caliper. This is a reasonably accurate and commonly used method of measuring body fat composition that requires you to take a series of skinfold measurements on your body. You’ll need a pair of calipers and someone who knows how to use them. If you want to learn how to do this, this article and this video will help.

Your last option for tracking changes in body composition is simply to use reference images.

You can use the pictures you take of yourself every week to compare to images of other people’s bodies (at certain body fat percentages). The idea is to use the reference images to get a decent estimate of where your body composition stands. This is not the most accurate method, but it’s a place to start.

Here’s a good set of references images you can use.

I recommend tracking your body fat composition at least once a month, if possible.

Use the Scale

The scale should be your last resort because it doesn’t provide us with very useful feedback.

Sure, it tells us our total body weight and how it’s changing, but it doesn’t tell us what that body weight is composed of and, more importantly, how that composition is changing.

That’s why tracking body composition is so much more effective.

You can use a scale just to get a general sense of your weight, but I would take every reading with a grain of salt because the number that you read is not a great indication of actual progress.

If you’re going to use a scale, measure once a week or once every two weeks and do it first thing in the morning (naked if possible).

Just make sure you don’t get addicted to the scale.

Track your Training and Nutrition

Now that we’ve set up a system to to track how our body changes over time, we need to set up a similar system for making sure that our nutrition and training habits are actually helping us progress.

Here’s how we’re going to do that:

Nutrition Journal

A nutrition journal can be very revealing and can provide some essential feedback on the most critical component of a healthy lifestyle – your food choices.

This tool isn’t something you would use on a regular basis, but instead something you would incorporate into your routine every month or so just to keep yourself on track with your food choices.

The idea is simple: for two to three days straight (two weekdays and one weekend day is ideal), track everything that you eat and drink and what time you eat/drink it at. Don’t change your eating habits just because you’re keeping track of them. Be honest with yourself and then analyze your food choices over those days.

The feedback you obtain from this little exercise can help you become more aware of your food choices and help you make the necessary changes to get your eating habits back in line.

If you want more details on how to keep a nutrition journal, all the details are outlined here.

Training Journal

A training journal will help you track the progress of your workouts.

It will allow you to see if your lifts are improving, if you’re getting stronger, and if your intensity is increasing progressively.

You can get some really great feedback from your training journal that can help make your future workouts more effective.

Here are some important things to track in your training journal:

  • What time you’re training at;
  • What your energy levels are like going into the workout;
  • The exercises you’re doing;
  • The weights you’re lifting;
  • Your reps, sets, and rest periods;
  • How you feel after the workout.

But keeping a training journal is only effective if you use it regularly and, more importantly, take time to analyze it at least weekly or bi-weekly to ensure you are taking advantage of the information you’re collecting.

Your goal is to make sure that every workout is a little bit more intense than the previous one. A training journal is the only way to make sure you’re doing that.

Summary

Results can be very motivating.

When you see your body composition changing, your lifts improving, your waistline shrinking, and your habits falling in line with the lifestyle you want to lead, you’re much more likely to keep going with your journey to a better body.

Using simple measuring tools and strategies that I’ve outlined in this article takes only a little bit of effort from your part, but doing it consistently can really boost your confidence and motivation while also giving you valuable insight into your health.

When you have everything in place, you’ll see the beauty of the results-drive-results cycle.

Now on to you:

What strategies are you currently using to keep tabs on your progress? Which ones are you going to implement from this post? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Wow! Really great post! I myself track my training, measurements rarely, and nutrition, I don’t. I’m gonna have to track these more to see what is not working well for me! Thanks for sharing this great post!

    God bless!

    • Thanks Carlo. That’s exactly the purpose of tracking – to see what’s working and what’s not working. Once we have some good feedback to work with, we can make all sorts of improvements.

  2. I like how thorough all of your posts are. You never leave anything out, but choose to leave out irrelevant info (like I am glad you didn’t mention anything about a person’s BMI since that is such a flawed measurement even though many textbooks still mention it). After reading this I am going to be paying a bit more attention to the progress I make so I can keep on track with my goals. Thanks!

    • Casey, I feel the same way about BMI as I do about the scale. The number gives us a decent general understanding of where we stand in terms of our health, but it’s not very concrete information. It’s not something we can use to judge whether the changes we’re experiencing are good or not. Glad you’re enjoying the posts!

  3. Fabien SÉVIN says:

    I used a Nutrition Journal the first month I began to change my habits and it really helped me out to put myself on good tracks.
    As well, I started a Training Journal six month ago to plan my workouts and to keep track of my progress. That’s a very powerful tool to motivate yourself.
    Once in a while, I climb on a scale too, but, as you said, it doesn’t really show your progress : you can loose 1 lbs of fat and earn 2 of muscles, so the scale become a counterproductive tool for motivation.
    I’m going to start taking pictures, so I can see if my body really changes.
    Yes, results drive results, definitely.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Fabien. You’re absolutely right about the scale – it can be a very counterproductive tool so it’s important to use it with caution.

      Pictures are definitely helpful. Just make sure you take some good ones!

  4. Neil Gribben says:

    Couldn’t agree more about the need for a journal to help you montor your progress, I’ve been using one for a while now – probably 2 years. It helps you track to a goal, provides encouragement and positive feedback when things are going well and an incentive to knuckle down and change things up a bit when things are not going well or you’re in a rut.

    Which was where I was at the end of last year, my results were fairly static and I needed a change. So I decided to do a little research and it became fairly obvious that it was my diet that was wrong.

    I have started following the Metabolic Effect diet and exercise regime (http://www.metaboliceffect.com)
    In short, it couples eating for fat loss (high fibre and protein, lower carbs) with resistance and HIIT training techniques and factors in the hormonal effect of exercise and food consumption, which was an interesting new twist. the results have been astounding for me.

    I now keep a loose track of what I eat (calories, Protein and fibre versus carbs), my energy levels, how I feel before and after training, my sleep patterns etc and as the fat has begun to burn off I’ve been more interested in using the tape measure and comparing how my general health and fitness has improved including such things as using progressively heavier weights in the resistance sets, keeping track of my pulse rates both as a peak and the time taken to recover to a normal or resting range.

    In the past I’ve used tools like map my run and the websites provided by those nice people at Garmin, but I now just keep track of things on a spreadsheet.

    In a short period (3-4 months) have lost 15lbs and my body looks like I did two decades ago. Physically I match up well with a super middle weight boxer I’m 5′ 10″, am now 165lbs and I’m slowly beginning to add Muscle without making major changes – this is ideal for me as I didn’t want to get tied to a regime that felt inflexible and had me measuring out everything I eat, plus there’s no way I would expect my wife to do that as she prepares my evening meals.

    I’m very pleased with the results, and the catalyst was looking at my spreadsheet seeing that something needed to change in order for me to meet my goals.

    • Wow thanks for sharing your awesome story Neil! Congrats on the incredible changes and it’s great to see how tracking your progress has helped push you along. You should put together your transformation story for me so I can share it here on the blog :)

  5. Srdjan,

    Great summary! I’m all about tracking my nutrition and monitoring my body fat. I use MyFitnessPal and recently Fitbit and that combination is virtually fail proof and makes it so that you have no excuse for not knowing how many calories you should be taking in to hit your deficit.

    I do use a body fat scale and realize it’s probably off by 2-3% but like you said I focus mainly on the changes and combine that with how I look in the mirror and I can get a pretty good read on where I stand. I think everyone should track data at some point because it really helps give you something objective to measure.

    Alykhan

  6. Юлия says:

    Constantly train, but it was not enough nutrition journal. Decided. I’ll do. Hello from Russia.

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