Yesterday was a big day at my gym.  In CrossFit speak, the WOD was 1-1-1-1-1 max DL and saw many PRs.  In regular English, the workout of the day was five chances to do the heaviest deadlift you could do.  People definitely rose to the occasion and there were many personal records set!  Even I set a personal best with a 168 pound deadlift.  Maybe.  I’m not really sure.  I think I did anyway.
There is no mystery in the fact that I did lift 168 pounds.  That happened.  But I’m not completely sure it was my best effort to date.  Why?  Because I (stupidly) don’t keep track of my workouts and my progress.
That’s got to change.  How will I know if I’m improving?  How will I know what my weaknesses are?  How will I know if I’m inching towards any goals if I don’t have a way to measure my progress?
There are many ways to record and measure your progress and the way you choose to do it will depend on what your workouts consist of and what your goals are.  Regardless of what kind of workout you do, it is important to track your progress. Let’s talk about different metrics.
In my health coaching practice I get a lot of people inquiring about my services whose primary goals are to lose weight.  They have weighed themselves on a scale, received a number, and want to reduce that number.  Weight is definitely a metric, but probably not the best metric by which you can measure your progress.
But wait, isn’t that pretty much the exact opposite of what you’ve always thought?  Isn’t weight the best way to show weight loss progress?  Isn’t weight plus height and body mass index the best way to show how healthy you are or if you’re overweight or even obese?
In short, yes, no, and no.
Because muscle has less volume than fat, the same amount by weight takes up less room in your body.  Check out this graphic:

The orange tangerines represent a pound of muscle.  The yellow grapefruits represent a pound of fat.  Each set of fruits represents the same weight, but each set takes up less space.
Now take a look at this photo:


The version of this woman on the left is akin to three grapefruits.  The version on the right is akin to the three tangerines.  Her weight is the same, but the amount of space she takes up (read: her dress or pants size) is drastically different.  Click here to read all about this woman’s transformation and how she figuratively went from grapefruits to tangerines.

So you see, the scale and your weight is a metric you can use to measure weight loss, but it isn’t really the best way to see how far you’ve come.  The scale can be a useful tool if you have a large amount of weight to lose and want to see how much you’ve shed, but it isn’t the most accurate or reliable way to measure progress especially if you are near a healthy weight to begin with.

Ok, so what are some reliable metrics?  How can you keep track of how well you’re doing and how quickly you are progressing.

If your goal is “weight loss”- and I’m putting that in quotation marks because as we saw above, you might not actually lose weight – taking your measurements is a great place to start.  It is difficult (coordination wise) to do yourself, so enlist a friend or a personal trainer to help you.  Here are some instructions for women and men on how and where to measure yourself.  As you can see in the photos above, while this woman didn’t lose any weight, her measurements certainly changed!

Keeping a workout log is also an excellent way to measure your progression.  If I had been diligent in doing this, I might know for sure if my 168 pound deadlift was actually a personal best or if I fell short.  No matter what kind of workout you do (and you DO workout, don’t you?!) it is very wise to catalog what you did, how you felt, track your times and weights, and record any intangible variables that you think might be important.  Here is a list of valuable metrics to know about workout performance that you might want to record in your workout log:

  • Speed — Timing yourself doing a particular workout each time you do it and seeing how your speed differs each time will let you know if you are indeed getting faster or not.  Run a mile and time yourself.  After a week, month, year of training, run the same mile and time yourself again.  How did you time change?
  • Strength — Shame on me for NOT doing this, but recording how much weight you can lift in a particular way (deadlift, overhead press, etc.) can give you an idea of how your strength is improving.  If I had recorded my deadlift from 6 months ago I would have known if I had improved and by how much.
  • Endurance — Writing down how you feel after a workout can show you how much endurance you have to complete the task.  If after that first one mile run you feel like your lungs are on fire and your heart was going to beat out of your chest, then knowing how fantastic you feel one month later is valuable to know.  You can see based on your log entries that over time you have improved your endurance.
  • Sleep — This falls under the aforementioned “intangible” category.  Our sleep patterns, how soundly we sleep, how we feel when we wake up, and how tired or energized we feel during the day can clue us in to how well our bodies are recovering.
  • Food — Logging what you eat and when can be an essential tool in determining how your body reacts to different fuel in relation to your workouts.  You ate a bowl of sugary cereal and a bagel for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and a pasta dinner and you’re wondering why you feel sluggish and heavy at the gym the next day? Maybe you can pick up some clues from your diet.  Of course I’m being extreme here to make my point, but you get my perspective.  What you eat can help or hinder your workout performance and you’ll want to know what works for you and what doesn’t.

I learned my own lesson last night when I had no idea if I had improved or not and I hope you take this lesson to heart too.  Logging, cataloging, and making notes on your health, wellness, and fitness doesn’t have to be complicated or laborious.  Just a few sentences in a notebook after each meal and workout.  Have a trusted friend take your measurements.  If you’re faithful to a healthy lifestyle you’ll see results in no time and you want to have something tangible to brag about, right?
Share in the comments or on Facebook your strategies tracking your progress.  What metrics do you use to keep yourself motivated and on the right track?


  1. Shannon H
    February 29, 2012 7:52 am

    I track my workouts on Dailymile. It’s fantastic for runners and cyclists as a workout log and has really nice graphs to see your mileage. It also keeps track of your top 5 longest and fastest runs for a selected period of time. It has been really great to see how much I’ve improved over time!

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