How to track progress. Don’t make this mistake!
Tracking progress is so important! If you’ve been putting in the hard work with your training and nutrition, you’ll be doing yourself an injustice not to track your progress. How will you know if your body is heading in the right direction if you are not measuring anything?
“What gets measured gets done”
There is a saying you may have heard before: “what gets measured gets done”. I believe this to be true. If your goal is to set a new personal best time for running 5k, then you better be timing yourself every time you run 5k in training. Likewise, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, then you better be tracking progress of your weights, reps, and sets in your resistance training sessions.
As with training and exercise, food intake will also be useful to track for many people. I’ve already spoken about reading food labels, and tracking calories and macros without using an app HERE (https://howistayfit.com/diet/food-labels).
Going by this practice of “what gets measured gets done”, the logical thought process would be that if weight loss is the goal, then body weight should be regularly measured. This is a MISTAKE!
Well…not exactly, anyway. Yes, tracking scales weight can be a helpful tool in tracking progress. But to rely ONLY on body weight as an indicator of progress is definitely a mistake!
You may remember from my blog post on Why you should be tracking your body fat percentage and how to do it yourself! (https://howistayfit.com/diet/body-fat) I talked about the flaw of using ONLY body weight to gage progress. The problem is sometimes your body can be making positive changes, but your body weight will stay the same. Or you might be trying to lose fat, but your weight may even INCREASE! Occasionally you can be losing body fat but gaining muscle at the same time (this is often termed a “Body Recomposition”). If so, your body weight measurements won’t demonstrate that any changes have happened! This is why it is really useful to also take an estimated body fat reading. You will be shocked by some peoples’ drastic transformation photos, but you will never believe that often their scales weight stays the same!
Body weight is always fluctuating!
This is not to mention that your body weight will always be fluctuating! There are so many variables at play, such as hydration levels, time of day, sleep, stress, water retention, menstrual cycle (for women), fibre intake, and climate temperature just to name a few!
Note: a helpful app for tracking your weight fluctuations is https://happyscale.com/
What else can I do to track progress for weight loss?
OK, so we’ve gathered that using only body weight is NOT a reliable way of tracking progress. We have identified from my previous post that tracking body fat percentage alongside body weight, paints a much more accurate picture of progress Why you should be tracking your body fat percentage and how to do it yourself! (https://howistayfit.com/diet/body-fat). However, even then, body fat percentage is only an estimate. And this can give fluctuating inaccurate readings too. So, what else can you track?
Not Body Mass Index (BMI)
Even worse, are the diets that focus on BMI (body mass index). Take someone who is carrying a lot of muscle mass, or even just a thicker set person who is simply inclined to carry a larger amount of body weight. They could be exceedingly healthy, but their BMI could incorrectly class them as “overweight” or even “obese”! So, BMI in my opinion is often NOT a reliable method of measuring progress.
Taking body measurements is a method I am much fonder of! It is pretty reliable too! This is a simple method of tracking progress that you can do at home. It only takes a minute, and all you need is a tape measure. There are various body measurements that you can take, but personally I prefer to measure:
- Shoulders at the widest point across, shoulder to shoulder, arms by your sides
- Waist circumference at the naval
- Hips circumference at the widest point
- Thigh circumference at the widest point. Use the same leg each time
- Neck circumference at the narrowest point
- Bicep (arm) circumference at the widest point. Use the same arm each time
- Chest circumference at the widest point. Lift your arms, wrap the tape measure around your chest, then lower your arms
- Wrist circumference at the narrowest point. Use the same arm each time
You can do this every week or two to see if you are on track. But realistically don’t expect to see changes every week, and don’t expect huge jumps either. See my post on measuring body fat percentage HERE (https://howistayfit.com/diet/body-fat)
Realistic rates of fat loss
Alan Aragon, absolute don in the fitness industry, mentions that from his experience these are realistic rates an intermediate exercising person can decrease their body fat percentage:
Obese (>25%) 3-4% month
Overweight (20 – 25%) 2-3% month
Average (13 – 19%) 1-2% month
Lean (<13%) < 1%) month
Another method could be to simply keep note of how your clothes fit. If your jeans are looser on the waist, and your shirts are tighter at the shoulders, then you know your body shape is changing in a good way!
This is probably the easiest way of measuring progress. It could be as simple as taking a few selfies in the bathroom mirror. You would probably want to do this while wearing just your underwear, and to take one shot from the front and another from the side.
For consistency and to make for easier comparison, you will want to try to keep conditions the same every time you do this. So, if you take photos each week, try and do it on the same day each week, at the same time, standing in the same position, with the same lighting. It is also best to do these relaxed. No sucking in your stomach and flexing your muscles!
Again though, even with photos you may have “off days”! Just like when taking body weight readings, there can be days when you look bloated and watery!
Body weight alone is definitely not the best method of tracking progress! In fact, used in isolation, none of the methods of tracking progress discussed in this article are particularly helpful! However, when combining body weight with tracking body fat percentage, body measurements with a tape measure, and photos, you get a much better picture. You can then adjust your plan as necessary to stay on track.
So for tracking progress, every week or two, on the same day, at the same time:
- Note down body weight
- Take body fat percentage estimate (shown how to do here https://howistayfit.com/diet/body-fat)
- Take body measurements with a tape measure
- Take photos
Note, these are the skin fold calipers I use for taking body fat estimates (affiliate link)
Lou Schuler and Alan Aragon, “The Lean Muscle Diet: a customized workout plan – eat the food your love to build the body you want and keep it for life”, Men’s Health, Rodale Inc. (2014).