The primary reason any person embarks on a fitness or diet regime is to accomplish a chosen goal. This goal is personal and is mostly likely slightly different for everyone. Some people will want to build muscle, some will want to loose weight, and others may want to lower their blood pressure, while still some will want to get ready for bikini season. Your goal can be one specific thing or a combination of various objectives.
One thing is for sure however, if you don't see yourself coming closer to your goal, you are very unlikely to keep going. This is why the process of progress tracking is very important, almost as important as the goal itself.
Without it, you won't know where you stand on your goal and won't have motivation or drive to keep going. There are various ways to track progress, what's important is to choose one that works for you.
The First Step
The first step in tracking progress is choosing a method that is best suited to your goal. If you hope to lower your blood pressure, standing on the scale will not give you a direct measure to whether you have achieved your goal.
It may help you indirectly, as often a decrease in body weight contributes to a lower blood pressure, however your best bet would be to go to your doctor and get a clinical test done to see where you stand. Same goes for people trying to build muscle.
You may step on the scale and see that you've gained 10 pounds, but without knowing your starting and finishing body fat percentage, how will you tell if what you've gained is muscle? And we all know 10 pounds of muscle looks a lot different than 10 pounds of fat!
Take Quantitative Measurements ///
The first thing you should do before starting a workout program is take quantitative measurements of what you are hoping to improve upon. This may be your body weight, bodyfat percentage, resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body part circumferences (for ex. Waist circumference), VO2 max, one rep max, or even a "before" picture of yourself.
This will provide you with the information needed to compare your progress to your starting point. Many people choose to post this information somewhere where they will see it daily, thus serving to motivate them to push themselves harder in the gym and strive for their goals.
It also sometimes helps to tell a close friend or family member of your goal. This will make you accountable to someone else and less likely to cheat on your workout or diet as you know someone is going to be asking about your progress.
Even better is if you can find another person who is trying to achieve the same goal. This way you two can cheer each other on and encourage the other when your persistence level begins to wane. You may even want to turn the situation into a competitive one and place a wager on who will reach their goal first. By doing this, you will give yourself that extra incentive to push to your limits, after all, no one likes to loose a bet right?
Choose Your Method To Reach Your Goals ///
The next step is choosing your preferred method to reach your goals. You may wish to contact a professional to help you plan this or you may feel you are knowledgeable enough to create a plan for yourself.
If your goal is to loose weight, improve your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, or lower your cholesterol level you will probably want to embark on some type of cardiovascular workout program. If, on the other hand, you are hoping to gain some muscle mass, firm up your body, increase your strength to make daily living easier, or improve your sports performance, a sound weight training program may be in order.
On the other end of the spectrum, your goals may be to just learn to relax more or reduce your stress levels, in which case maybe you want to consider trying a new yoga class or make it a goal to go for early morning walks and take in all that nature has to offer. Regardless of what your goal is, diet is important for everyone.
Most people, when they hear the word diet become overwhelmed with fear that they are about to make food scarce and being hungry plentiful. This should not be the case. Diets are tailored just like workouts are to your goals but the key is finding one that suits your preferences.
Contacting a good dietician may be the most appropriate way to do this but you can get a lot of information from books, websites, and the advice from others working on improving their health on forums, such as the popular Bodybuilding.com message boards.
Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work exactly the same way for you, but the general principles should be the same and by talking with others you may gain insight and knowledge on what the best approach to take is depending on your goal. Never underplay the importance of a good nutrition program though, it can make or break your goals, even if your only goal is stress relief.
So after you've measured your starting point, decided upon what kind of program to implement, the next step is taking action. This is where motivation and focus come into play.
Pay attention to all the comments you say to yourself, both good and bad. It's amazing how much our self-talk can influence our level of dedication. If you are constantly telling yourself you can't do something, chances are you won't. Try to replace all your negative self-talk with positive statements and remind yourself daily of why your goal is important to you.
Tracking Your Progress ///
After about 2 weeks, its time for the ever important step of progress tracking. This is where you will find out how your hard work has paid off. You will need to use the same measure as the one you initially used, as this will provide the most reliable feedback on your progress.
If you goal involved something to do with body weight, it is important here to weigh yourself at the same time of the day that you did when you first did your measurements (preferably first thing in the morning). Once the new measurement has been taken, match it up to the old one and see how you compare. Hopefully you have moved in the right direction.
If not, think about any other influencing variables that may have confounded this measurement (diet over the last day - if it was particularly salty, you may be retaining extra water weight which would disappear the next day, or maybe you're really stressed out at the time which could have caused your blood pressure rise during the test).
If there is indeed a confounding influence, try taking the measurement again the next day. Hopefully this will clear up the problem. If not, than remind yourself that you put forth a good effort and that the problem is not with you or your dedication, but with the program plan you chose.
Whatever it was was not right for you and it is now your job to try something else in hopes that it will be. Achieving goals does not come with a rulebook, it's more of a guess and test game you play until you find what works for you.
If you haven't moved closer to your goal after this point, you may wish to contact a professional if you didn't the first time, or if you did, maybe try someone else out. Also remember that depending on what your goal is, 2 weeks may not be enough time to really see a difference.
Take Inventory On How You Feel ///
If you believe this may be the case, take an inventory on how you feel. Do you feel that you are moving in the right direction? If so, than keep doing what you are doing, and try giving another 2 weeks of solid effort. Some goals just take longer to achieve and that is perfectly okay.
One final factor that could have come into play was that you truly didn't try as hard as you would have liked. Maybe that cheesecake was just calling your name a little too loudly, or maybe your son got sick and you had to take care of him rather than doing your regular workout.
Life throws curveballs at us, sometimes we can control them, other times we cannot. Identify what barriers you faced and come up with a list of ways you will work to overcome them. Also remind yourself why you are trying to reach this goal and what will happen once you do. Once you have done this, hopefully you'll be ready to try again with a renewed focus and determination.
Continually tracking your progress is extremely important. You want to make sure your not slipping back into your old habits and that you are constantly moving forward. Your may achieve your goals and need to set new ones, or maybe you want to alter your goals as you get closer to them as you realize that what you want has changed.
The important thing is to keep your focus and to monitor your progress. This will help keep dedication levels high and interest from waning.
Everyone, regardless of their goals should include progress tracking as part of their program. This will ensure they are moving forward and keep them involved in what they are doing. Don't let yourself get stuck in a rut, make progress tracking a part of your fitness regime today!