Discover these 5 ways to track your fitness progress.
When my husband and I were training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, we invested in Fitbits to keep track of our daily steps. In the months leading up to our trek, we aspired to walk or hike at least 10,000 steps a day, and as many flights of stairs as we could fit in. We figured if our legs were accustomed to the daily grind, ascending Kili would be possible.
After about a week using the devices, we were hooked. Not only did the Fitbits motivate us to take one more walk around the neighbourhood after dinner, they sparked a friendly competition between us to see who could get the best daily results (and earn the most badges for hitting new step and stair targets). We even started walking up and down the stairs while we brushed our teeth! And incidentally, we both made it to the top of Kili. As they say in Swahili, “Hakuna matata!” (No problem!)
Though research says owning a fitness tracker doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll workout more—and something like one-third of folks who invest in one stop using it after six months—it’s still important to keep track of your physical activity if you want to see results. In other words, you’ve got to know where you’re starting from to get to where you’re going. With that in mind, here are some ideas for tracking your progress.
- Basic trackers
Our first generation Fitbits clipped onto clothing (or fit inside a pocket) and kept count of the number of steps taken, stairs climbed and (approximate) calories burned in a 24-hour period. They also told the time. We charged them using a USB port on the computer, which simultaneously synced them with our online profile (where we’d entered our height, weight and age so the devices could be as accurate as possible).
Several years later there are still lots of options out there for basic, low-cost devices. Or, just use your smart phone. My iPhone has a health app that tracks my steps, flights and total distance travelled—the only catch is it needs to be carried around all day to be accurate.
- Advanced trackers/smart watches
Nowadays, my husband swears by his Garmin. It looks like a sleek watch, but it does more than just track his steps, stairs and calories burned. This new breed of tracker also monitors his heart rate, tracks his sleep patterns, and reminds him to start moving when he’s been been sitting for too long.
Newer smart watches from Garmin, Fitbit and Apple, among others, come with preloaded activity profiles and their screens double (or triple) as compasses, topography maps and GPS capability in case you get lost in the woods. What’s more, many workout facilities have compatible equipment so you can plug in your device and get credit for your time on the treadmill, rowing machine or stationary bicycle.
- The good old-fashioned chart at the gym
When I started working out in university the trainer who gave me a weight room orientation set me up with a card where I could record what cardio machines I used, at what intensity and for how long; and which muscle groups I worked, how much weight I used, the sets and repetitions, and how frequently I did it.
Trainers call this the FITT Principle. It stands for frequency (how often), intensity (how hard), type (on what) and time (how long you spend working out). As your fitness increases, you’ll be able to lift more weight, do more reps, and spend more time overall working out—and see those gains reflected on the chart.
- Outcome measures
These days, trainers rarely use scales or measure a client’s waist or hips, as weight loss isn’t necessarily everyone’s goal. A more accurate measure of fitness gains is to establish a baseline of strength or movement at the beginning, and track progress over time. For example, if you start out doing bicep curls with a five-pound weight, but after six months you’re using a 12-pound weight, that means you’re gaining strength.
At NVRC facilities, trainers also perform a functional assessment. They’ll look at how you walk and execute movements such as a squat (how is your technique?), then reassess at the end of the program. The goal is to get people moving better/using proper technique to prevent injuries, while simultaneously increasing their flexibility and endurance.
- Notice how you have more energy?
How you feel is a subjective way to chart your progress, but it’s still valid. The first four to six weeks after starting a new fitness program, though, is all about adaptation (you’re still getting into the habit, so to speak). You may actually feel more tired or irritable during this time. But once you’re in the swing of it you’ll notice that you have more energy, stamina and strength than before. A good way to prove it to yourself is by mentally tracking your “perceived rate of exertion.” In the beginning, maybe just walking uphill at a brisk pace left you winded. If you can do the same walk six months later and barely increase your heart rate, you’re making progress.
Lisa is a B.C.-based journalist who writes about health, parenting, travel, outdoor adventure and cocktails. Formerly a lifestyle reporter at the Calgary Herald, she is now a freelance scribe for a variety of publications including WestJet Magazine, Best Health, BCAA Magazine, Today’s Parent and Just for Canadian Doctors/Dentists, as well as Postmedia newspapers.
When not skiing, travelling, researching or writing, you’ll find Lisa hanging out with her husband and two school-age kids, or hiking with her Brittany spaniel.