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What's The Best Way To Keep Track Of Your Progress?

People are constantly trying to lose weight, gain muscle or just get results. Certain people may assume they made progress because of the time they spent in the gym, but how do they really know? Learn how to track your progress here...

By: Topic Of The Week


TOPIC: What's The Best Way To Keep Track Of Your Progress?

The Question:

People are constantly trying to lose weight, gain muscle, just get results. People may "feel" that the weight is on or off, or people may "assume" they made progress because of the time they spent in the gym, but how do they really know?

What are some of the best methods to keep track of your progress?

How often should you check your progress?

BONUS QUESTION: What's the best way to keep your workouts and diet in check? Do you use any methods of tracking progress, keeping workouts and diets in check, or do you just listen to your body and play it by ear?

The Winners:

    Prizes:
      1st place - 75 in store credit.
      2nd place - 50 in store credit.
      3rd place - 25 in store credit.

To use your credit, e-mail Will @ topic@bodybuilding.com for more info.


1st Place - ho_124
What's The Best Way To Keep Track Of Your Progress?

Keeping track of your progress is one of the most important things you can do outside the gym. This is usually overlooked by most people who just hit the gym without keeping track of the weight they use and reps they perform.

They don't even keep track of their weight, diet or even take pictures of themselves to chart their gains. By doing this, you won't even know if you're making any gains at all.

If this is the case, you're wasting a lot of your time and you can prevent this by putting a little time into keeping track of every part of your training and diet.

By doing this, you will know when to increase the amount of weight, if your overtraining, if your program and diet is good or not, or most importantly if your gaining muscle or losing weight.

The list is endless and you will have a much clearer idea of what you're doing. It doesn't take a whole lot of time and it hardly costs any money so it only makes sense to keep track of everything.


What Are Some Of The Best Methods To Keep Track Of Your Progress?

There isn't just one method of keeping track of your progress but quite a few, and you also shouldn't rely on one way.

For example if I just relied on a scale for keeping track of my gains and it says I gained 10 pounds, I might not know if I gained fat or muscle. So it is important to use a variety of methods to reduce error and get a more accurate idea of your gains.

You also don't have to rely on complicated lab tests since it would probably be expensive and you would just be wasting your time. It doesn't matter if your decimals off your weight or body fat composition.


1. Keep A Log!

    Keeping a log is the most important. You won't be able to memorize all the calories you had each meal, every day for however many weeks. You probably won't be able to remember how much weight you used in each exercise and the exact amount of reps.

    That's why you have to keep a log, it is the key to keeping track of your progress and seeing which diets and training programs are best for you and which ones don't work.

    It's exactly like your binder in school, without it you wouldn't do well in school and without a log you won't succeed in achieving your goal. In your log you should put in your training program as well as a bunch of important things I will list below.

    Updating The Log:

      Every time you change your weight training program which you should be doing about every 2 months, change your log also. This will make things easier because if your log is just one mass of pages it might get confusing. It also helps to have a mini-goal you want to achieve each time you change your log and training schedule.

      For example if a 100 pound person is bulking, then he might want to have it as his goal to gain 10 pounds of muscle by the time he changes his workout and log two months later.

      Keep in mind though, you will want to keep each of your logs, don't throw them out. Keeping your logs allows you to see which diet and training program gave you the best gains and which diet and program didn't work so well.

    RELATED POLL
    Do You Keep A Training Journal?

    Yes.
    No.


2. The Scale & Your Weight.

    Probably every household has a weighing scale. This is the easiest and most convenient way of seeing if you have gained or lost any weight although there may be a few minor changes from day to day.

    If your plan is to lose a lot of weight, then this machine won't lie. If the weight on the scale keeps going down then that's probably a good indication you're losing all that fat. But there is a problem when it comes to gaining muscle. You might not know if your are really gaining fat or muscle (Especially when bulking).

    That is why you can't just rely on the scale to tell keep track of your gains. That's what most people do, just hop onto the scale, and if they gained 5 pounds they just assume it was muscle and keep on doing what their doing not knowing if their diet or training is doing them any good. It is a good idea though to keep track of your weight in your log.


3. Body Fat Composition.

    This is especially important when you're cutting. You can estimate using your eye but it would be best if you used a body fat caliper that tells you your body fat percentage.

    For most people, a good body fat percentage for pretty good muscle definition should be about 7-9% maybe even 10%. But for professional and serious bodybuilders they usually shoot for about 4-6% body fat which is hard to get.

    How Much Muscle Do I Have?

      If you want to know how much muscle you have or have gained then you need your body fat %. To do this take your body fat percentage and multiply by your weight.

      So if you weight 100 lbs and you have a 10% body fat then you would have 10 pounds of fat (100 x .10 = 10 remember 10% is a decimal for you math genius's) and 90 pounds of other things such as muscle, water, bone mass, and organs.

    How Much Muscle Did I Gain?

      Finding out how much muscle you have isn't that important even though some people want to know, finding out how much you gained is even more important however. This I will show you below.

      To find out how much muscle you gained, here's a situation. Let's say your bulking. If you are 100 lbs and you gain 20 lbs with a body fat percentage of 10% before and after the 20 lbs (I know it's impossible but I don't want to complicate things) then you need to find out how much body fat you got.

      So 120 x .10 = 12 pounds of body fat. So to find how much muscle you gained you find out how much non fat body weight you had before you gained 20 pounds and after you gained 20 pounds.

      So before you gained 20 lbs you had 90 lbs of non fat body mass and after you gained 20 lbs you had 108 pounds of non body fat weight. So you take 108 minus 90 to get 18 pounds of gained non fat mass.

      You can assume that most of this is muscle but of course it isn't pure muscle (We already know that none of it is fat either). You can assume it is mostly muscle since you are training and altering your diet, you don't just gain 18 pounds of water or something.

MUSCLE WEIGHT CALCULATOR

Weight Before BF % Before
Weight After BF % After
The Results:
Muscle Weight:


4. The Mirror.

    The mirror never lies. It is also a surprisingly good way of seeing if you're gaining or not without all those numbers. Since you know what kind of body you want, then you should check the mirror often to see if you're coming close to that goal body you want.


Click To Enlarge.
The Mirror Never Lies,
As Christina Lindley Will Attest To.

    It also gives you a good idea on what you're lacking on. For example you might notice that one arm is bigger than the other arm and in that case you know that you need to fix that.


5. Measurements.

    This is another great and accurate way of charting your gains. Take a measuring tape and measure your around the forearms, biceps, chest, stomach, legs and calves (Write down the circumference that gives you the largest measurement). There are also a lot more things you can measure too but the above list will give you a good idea if you're gaining or not.

    So if your biceps are 10 inches at the start of your log and 12 inches at the end, you know for sure you have gained muscle unless your arm is just a huge chunk of flab and all you did was sit and eat.


6. Increase In Reps & Weight.

    In your training log you should be keeping track of how many reps you perform in each exercise as well as the amount of weight you use.

    So if at the start of your log you record that on your bench press you fail exactly at 8 reps with 100 pounds and at the end of your training log you still achieve muscle failure at 8 reps with 100 pounds.

    Then something is obviously and seriously wrong with your training and probably your diet too. But if you notice that your bench press at the start of your log was 100 pounds and at the end it was 125 then you have obviously gained some muscle and obviously strength.


7. Pictures.

    This is a really good way to know if you have gained or not. Take a picture when you start a new log and every week take another picture.

    After you're finished take another picture and compare all of them to see how you have progressed. If you notice you have gotten bigger or more ripped then you know for sure that you are making some real progress.

    Just like the mirror, pictures don't lie. You should also show your pictures to someone else to see what they think since you might have some huge ego.


Click To Enlarge.
Justin Deproso's Progression Pictures.


Organize Your Log Like This...

You should organize your log in 3 sections. The training section, the diet section and the stats section.

Training Section:

  • Training Schedule: This is the base of your log. Practically everything is based on your training. Make a 2 month log or make the log however long it takes you to change your workout schedule.

    Divide the log into weeks, and write down what body part your doing in each day of the week. Then write down the exercises your doing for the body part.

  • The Sets, Reps & Weight You Use: Write this beside the exercise.

  • Write How Long You Spent In The Gym: This could be important if you've over trained for example. If you're going for 1 hour and a half, then you would know your probably spending too much time in the gym.

  • You Should Also Write In How You Felt Each Day Before Going To Workout: So if you felt an energized one week and did 10 reps on an exercise, then 2 weeks later you're still at 10 reps or lower. Then it could be because you felt tired that day you worked out.

Diet Section:

  • What You Eat Each Day. Put a section for each meal that counts the calories. Then at the end of the day count the total calories which let you know if you are eating properly.

  • Carbs, Calories & Fat: You should also write down how many carbs, calories and fat are in each of the foods you eat.

  • Water & Sodium: If you want, you can put a tiny section that indicates how much water you have taken in and how much sodium you have taken in as well. Since lack of water and excess salt promotes less muscle definition, you know how much you're getting so you don't lose any "rippedness".

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  • Calorie Maintenance Level: Also as your gain more muscle your maintenance calorie level will increase. Make sure you calculate your maintenance level every two weeks and make adjustments to your diet.

Stats Section:

  • Divide this into a weekly sections

  • Put the measurements of your body parts in each week

  • Put your weight in each week

  • Put your body fat percentage in each week

  • Put your muscle gain mass in each week (I told you how to do this in the fat composition part)

  • Put before and after pictures in this part


How Often Should You Check Your Progress?

I would say check your progress every week. That means taking your weight, measurements, body fat %, and muscle mass gained. You should also look over everything carefully every two weeks.

That means looking and seeing if your weight maybe went up a little bit or your body fat % went down a little bit. You want to be able to act fast if you see a problem which is why you should check over all your stuff every two weeks (You don't want to be wasting precious time, especially when your preparing for a contest).

So if you notice you haven't gained any weight or your fat level is still the exact same, then there are a number of things you should look over. Most of the time it's your diet.

Calories:

    Almost all screw ups are made in diet, so check if you're getting that 500 calories over your maintenance level if you're bulking or getting under that level if you're cutting.

    Make sure you've calculated your maintenance level correctly and see if you're getting to many carbs or maybe to little protein.

Overtraining:

    Also check to see if you're overtraining. 99% of people train each body part once a week. So if you're training each body part twice a week and you notice you're not gaining, then it's probably because you're training too much.

    Also if you train over one hour each session you maybe be overtraining. If you wait to long to check your progress like a month or something, then if you find out your diet and training is not getting you anywhere, you've basically wasted a month doing nothing.


BONUS:
What's the best way to keep your workouts and diet in check? Do you use any methods of tracking progress, keeping workouts and diets in check, or do you just listen to your body and play it by ear?

Like I Mentioned Above The Best Way To Keep Your Workouts & Diet In Check Is By Keeping A Log Which Contains Three Sections:

  1. Training
  2. Diet
  3. Stats.

There is no other way of keeping on top of your training and diet than keeping a log. Think about it, for training it tells you what exercises you did, how many sets, reps and the exact weight you used.

When you write all this information down weekly and you look back at all of it you know if you progressed in the gym by increasing weight or maybe doing one or two more reps. And if your stats are constantly getting better then you know for sure your progressing. The diet section of your log is also the best way of keeping your diet in check and up to date.

When everything is written down about what you ate including the type of food, the amount of calories, the carbohydrates, protein and fat content your chances of screwing up on your diet are slim. Even if you do screw up all that information is right there and you don't have to wonder why you screwed up and try to remember what foods you ate.

Playing it by ear is risky. If you don't have any serious goals and you're not bulking or cutting and just lifting weights to get a little stronger and a bit bigger, then it's probably all right.

But if you're a serious athlete or bodybuilder playing it by ear is no effective at all. If your trying to bulk and you just guess the amount of food you need to get about five hundred calories over your maintenance level, your probably going to fail miserably. This is the same for training.

If you don't record everything you did in the weight room you would never know how much progress you're making. You wouldn't know when to up the weight, or what exercises to do in your next training program let alone even know what exercises your suppose to do.

You would never know what training and diet programs worked best for you. And worst of all if your overtraining or doing something very wrong with your diet you wouldn't know what the problem would be since nothing is written down. So just invest a little time and make a good quality log, don't play it by ear and be lazy.


2nd Place - Blap Balow

Tracking progress is essential to the success of any athlete, not just the bodybuilder. Often numbers are banded around without context and used irresponsibly to track an athlete's progress.

In actual fact much of the success of any athlete is constant improvement due to constant re-evaluation, with the improved numbers following on from this steady improvement.

By tracking your progress carefully and thoughtfully you can help attain your goals faster and with less frustration as weak spots become easily identifiable and problems become easier to spot and resolve.

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Why Track Progress?

Tracking one's progress is often essential in realizing your goals, whatever they may be.

By Carefully & Regularly Tracking Your Progress You Can Quickly & Easily Benefit You In A Number Of Important Ways:

  1. You can tell if what you are doing is helping you move towards your goals. If not, tracking your progress helps you easily identify problems that may be hindering you by looking at your diet/routine/recovery and may help prevent you coming to frustrating plateaus. Too many people waste their time doing the same thing week in week out and get nowhere.

What Are Your Goals?
>Lose Fat
>Build Muscle
>Improve Energy
>Other

  1. By tracking your progress you can constantly reassess your goals. For example, if you're losing body fat faster than you expected you can alter your long term goals to take this into account.

    Or put on an extra 5lbs of lean mass before Christmas if you're already ahead of your game plan. This way you can constantly be on the ball regarding where you are in relation to your long term vision.

  2. Seeing where you are in relation to your goals can be extremely motivating. If you are lagging behind your target you can motivate yourself to identify weaknesses and adjust accordingly, or even give you the determination to work even harder to get where you want to be.

    If, on the other hand, you are on target or even ahead of where you want to be you will be pumped full of motivation and ready to move your progress forward.


Methods Of Tracking Progress

In order to track progress effectively your ultimate goal must be identified. For example, the weights a bodybuilder lifts may be secondary to their aesthetic appeal.

On the other hand low body fat, which may be a peripheral goal to a runner, may be what a bodybuilder strives for along with building lean mass.

Therefore in order for any method of tracking your progress to be useful it must be performed within the context of an ultimate goal.


1) Aesthetics:

For a lot of people the ultimate purpose of careful dieting and training may be to simply look better than they did when they started.

Functional strength and endurance are secondary to a good physique and the method of assessment should reflect this.

    Pictures:

    While Many Suggest That The Mirror Is The Best Way Of Tracking Aesthetic Change, I Would Argue That Pictures Are Far Superior;

    1. Pictures offer the chance for comparison- you can place several pictures side by side for a direct comparison of your progress over a period of time. These can also provide motivation by allowing you to see exactly what you need to work on in order to achieve your goals.

    2. You can use pictures to examine parts of your body you may not be able to see in the mirror. For example, set the 'timer' function on your camera and hit a lat spread for the unique chance to see your own back in full!

    3. Showing your pictures to others allows for constructive criticism without the need for getting semi naked in someone else's presence. The 'post your pictures' section of the Bodybuilding.com forums provides a unique opportunity for you to gain constructive criticism from fellow bodybuilders around the world.


Click To Enlarge.
Bobybuilding.com Forum Members Got Back!

    View & Post Pics For FREE In Bodybuilding.com Photo Gallery.

    1. Unlike a mirror, pictures allow you to be more objective about your physique. Your own body in the mirror may be a sight you see everyday but a photograph offers a greater degree of detachment and the opportunity for you to see yourself in a new light.

    RELATED POLL
    What Do You Use To Check For Success In Dieting?

    Looking In The Mirror.
    Checking Pants Size.
    Bathroom Scale.
    Skin Calipers.
    Highly Calibrated Tests: Like The Bod Pod.

    Measurements:

      How big are your arms? That, along with 'how much do you bench' seems to be the staple question amongst bodybuilders. Although everything is relative it may sometimes be useful to measure certain body parts in order gauge growth and development.

      Like with most things put into your own individual context. Comparing your own measurements allows you to track progress and identify weak points.

    Scales:

      Your typical bathroom scales can be a great place to chart progress if the results are used properly. You must remember that standard bathroom scales will give you your total weight, inclusive of fat.

      If your goal is to bulk and accept that there will be a fat increase, this is fine. On the other end of the spectrum , if your goal is weight loss and can accept some muscle loss in the process, the scales on there own will be fine.

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      However, to be used more effectively bathroom scales should be used in conjunction with a method for tracking body fat percentage. In this way you can gauge just how much fat you are losing or muscle you are gaining.

    Calipers:

      Calipers can be a great way of tracking body fat changes.

      Unfortunately, due to human error and the fact that they rely on standard sites for measurements there is a margin of error in the results they produce.

      The best way to use calipers is as a means of tracking progress. Rather than looking at the actual numbers they produce it is often wiser to track individual trends with calipers over a period of time.

      Calipers are most effective when the measurements are done with consistency. This means using the same sites for measurements each time, measuring at the same time of the day and usually at the same point in the week.

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    Hydrostatic Weighing:

      Hydrostatic weighing is the process of obtaining body fat measurements is one of the most accurate ways of obtaining a body fat measurement. However, this requires specialist equipment and trained personal to be not readily accessible to many people.

    "I have done calipers only a couple of times and in my opinion, they measure high. I think that there are most accurate ways such as immersion in a water tank."

    - Melissa Coates.
    Pro Bodybuilder

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    Body Fat Scales:

      Body Fat Scales rely on a process known as bioelectrical impedance. A small current is used to measure the resistance offered by your body fat and this is subsequently converted into a body fat percentage.

      Although a lot 'easier' than calipers and more freely available than hydrostatic weighing there can be a large margin of error with bioelectrical impedance devices- particularly with people of higher body fat.

      All body fat measurements should be taken in order to identify trends, not to provide hard and fast numbers. There is little point in reaching a target body fat percentage if it's not comfortable or doesn't help you with achieving your goals. With body fat measurements common sense should prevail.


2) Strength & Speed:

It may seem odd that I have decided to combine these but looking at my notes I've noticed a lot of similarities in the different ways of tracking progress whilst trying to achieve either of these goals.

Logging Results/Keeping A Journal:

    This is probably the most obvious way of tracking progress. Personal logs allow you to keep an eye of previous best times/ lifts and give yourself focus for the future. They can help you identify week points and help you develop yourself to your best.

    They can provide motivation in giving your something to strive for and can be simply as useful as reminding you of exactly what you were capable of last week, and what you should aim for this week.

    Keeping an actual journal is slightly different in my opinion. This requires some sort of organization as you must make sure that dates run into each other and that the information is presented clearly.

    Logs often allow you the opportunity to provide personal feedback to remind you in the future of how you felt during your run/ cycle/ lift etc.

    The Bodybuilding.com forums allow you the opportunity to start your own training log, along with pictures, in order to help you track your progress, give you a permanent base for keeping your results and getting advice and encouragements off of other athletes.

    Chart Progress:

      Similar to logging results, charting progress involves physically charting progress with graphs. You can either do this by hand or set up an Excel spreadsheet to do this for you.

      The Result Is A Graph Which:

      1. Allows you to identify trends in your training

      2. Allows you to compare training sessions directly over a period of time

      3. Allows you to identify dips and plateaus in your performance and correct potential problems

    Get A Partner:

      A carefully chosen partner offers numerous benefits, one of them being the competition they offer.

      If you pick someone faster/stronger/with more stamina than you, you will have to push yourself further to compete with them. This also allows you to your track your progress qualitatively.

      By this I mean times or weights lifted don't matter. Instead you can constantly compare yourself to your partner knowing you are both training under the same conditions.

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    One Rep Max/ Best Times:

      It is not often that an athlete pushes themselves to their absolute limit. For one, constantly placing yourself under this exertion is simply not beneficial for improvement. However the occasional pursuit of 1RM's or 'bests' can be beneficial in helping you tracking progress.

    1 RM CALCULATOR

    Weight Lifted:
    Reps:
    The Results:
    5 RM

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3) Endurance:

    In this context endurance covers endurance-specific athletes, such as long distance runners and triathletes or those simply wanting to maintain cardiovascular fitness whilst training for another sport.

    Many of the principles described previously still apply, although these methods of tracking progress can use in conjunction with them.

    These tests offer the opportunity to get standardized results for those looking to track their cardio-vascular performance. They are not a substitute for actual training and should only be performed occasionally.

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    Bleep Test:

      This provides an estimate of aerobic power of the athlete. The multi-stage fitness test, or bleep test, consists of a short run which must be continuously completed in between a series of pre-programmed 'bleeps'.


      Click To Enlarge.
      Run in time with the beeps. Speed increases 0.5kmh every 60 seconds. Miss the beep three times and you're out.

    VO2 Max Test:
    Cooper Test.

      Another measure of cardio-vascular fitness although, unlike the bleep test, the VO2 Test only lasts 12 minutes.

      It should be stresses that the VO2 Max Test should only be performed by athletes UNDER SUPERVISION.

VO2MAX CALCULATOR

Enter the total distance covered in meters in 12 minutes and then press the 'Calculate' button.

1600 meters = 1 mile
5280 feet = 1 mile
3 feet = 1 meter

Distance meters
The Results:
Vo2 Max

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How Often Should You Check Your Progress?

In My Opinion You Should Only Track Progress After A Period When:

  1. There with be discernable difference from the last time you checked

  2. It does not interfere with your actual training.

Point A:

    In regard to point a), a lot of people find that measuring body fat levels and overall weight once a week is both a long enough period to actually establish a change in body composition and a short enough period to avoid plateaus in progress.

    You must remember that change does not happen overnight. For some, a change in bodyweight or fat levels may only be distinguishable on the actual scales every 2 weeks or so, in which case they may wish to reformulate their workout and diet, or may be happy with slow and steady progress. Everyone is different.

    Measurements and pictures need only be taken every month or so in my opinion. This is simply because a longer time span is required to notice any discernable difference in these regards.

    In fact, taking either of these too close together and expecting results can often lead to disappointment and de-motivation.

Point B:

    In regard to point b), many of the measures for tracking outlined require maximum physical exertion for them to be an effective measure of true progress.

    This means that in practice a recovery period is required in order to sufficiently recuperate from the maximum effort test. This in itself will interfere with a regular training regime.

    Add to that the fact that maximum exertion testing also reduces the amount of time available for actual training and the fact that going to your maximum regularly is hard on the body.

    All of this means, to me, that such testing should be used once a month, if not less. Obviously this does not take into account actual competition, where athletes may be required to push their body to the limits week in week out for several weeks.

Consistency:

    One important point to make is that whenever you measure your progress; make sure you do it with consistency.

    This is not only in your methodology, but also the time of day (for example, bodyweight and appearance can fluctuate depending on the time of the day they are measured) and day of the week (for example, your bench press may be significantly weaker if tested after an arm day rather than a leg day).

    This will ensure that you are getting a truer account of your progress over time.


BONUS:
What's the best way to keep your workouts and diet in check? Do you use any methods of tracking progress, keeping workouts and diets in check, or do you just listen to your body and play it by ear?

The best way of keeping track of workouts and diet is by simply writing it all down. I keep both a notebook log at the gym and a computer log at home on the PC.

On weekends I log the results of my weights sessions into the computer which allows me time to look over previous weeks and compare my progress. By keeping all of the information in one place I can easily track my progress and identify plateaus, strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes to food, this is pretty easy. I use a nutrient database in order to keep track of my basic diet in order calculate calories to ensure I am getting enough protein etc.

Once I have a diet that suits me I no longer have to calculate anything- just eat, train and rest! If I find I need to up my calorific intake I can simply increase my portion size slightly or add an extra meal.

However, the 'intuitive' approach is not without merit. Sometimes you have to listen to your body in order to figure out a routine, diet and recovery plan which works best.

Rarely does something which looks good on paper pan out to be how you expected! I have found it is always best to combine the intuitive method with a more considered, scientific approach for best long term results.

Thank you for reading.


3rd Place - Ravadongon
What's The Best Way To Keep Track Of Your Progress?

Everyone wants to make progress, of course. But often we may not be making progress when we think we are because of how hard we are working and sometimes we are frustrated because we think we aren't making progress when we actually are.

The easy way to get around this is to measure your progress so you can be 100% sure whether or not you are making the progress you desire.


What Are Some Of The Best Methods To Keep Track Of Your Progress?


Training

Workout Log:
Notepad, Excel, Online.

    A workout log is a must for any lifter, whether they are an athlete, powerlifter or bodybuilder. If you don't have a workout log you mustn't be serious about your training.

    Keeping a good workout log is easy. You can make it simple by just buying a regular notepad from your local newsagents and writing down what exercises and lifts you do each session and the time, intensity/distance you complete your cardio in, or you can print out a spreadsheet and carry it in a clipboard to the gym and keep a record of all your workouts on just one or two sheets of paper.

    Some people may like to use a little palmtop organizer if they have one and it is convenient for them. By doing this you can keep track of how you've done in each of your workout and work on making progress in either repetitions or weight in your next workout, so progressive overload, one of the key factors behind muscle growth, can be achieved.

    You also can transfer your written log onto bodybuilding.com and set up a journal on the forums. This way people can give you extra motivation and assistance with your training and diet.

Fitness Tests:

    This is not as important if you're a bodybuilder, but if you are an athlete it will definitely be helpful to do the monthly or bimonthly one rep max, VO2 max and anaerobic endurance test.

    Here is a link with various tests for the components of your overall fitness. By doing fitness tests at consistent intervals an athlete can see what areas he is deficient in and those he is proficient and construct his routine to work on the weak areas and maintain strengths.

    It also can show later, if the training routine has been effective in improving these areas of the athletes fitness, from which adjustment's can be made if necessary.


Nutrition

Diet Log:
Notepad, Excel, Online.

    The same principles behind the training log exist here as well. Much less lifters maintain diet logs compared to training logs.

    However, diet is much more important than training and therefore it is important you keep track of what you are eating and make sure you are eating towards your goals, whether it be writing it down in a notebook and using a calculator, using a spreadsheet on a computer, or utilizing online resources such as fitday.com which provide members (it's free to register) with a free easy to use diet log and a massive database of foods with caloric and macronutrient values already uploaded.


Body Composition

Mirror:

    The mirror is probably the best way to see what kind of condition you are in, as what you see is what is there and is what others will be seeing, whether it is on stage or at the beach.

    However it isn't the most effective way of tracking progress as it is hard to compare what you looked like a month a week ago to what you look like now.

Weight Scales:

    This is the most popular and easiest method of measuring progress however the least accurate if used alone. Everyone should have a set of scales at home, and measuring progress with it requires little effort.

    Unfortunately weight scales do not give you the full picture of how you are progressing and using the scales only as a method of tracking your progress, is not ideal as you are unable to determine whether your gains/losses have been in muscle or fat.

Measuring Tape:

    Another cheap and easy to use item for keeping track of progress. Measuring the circumference of the waist when cutting and the circumference of the arms, legs and chest when bulking is an easy way to keep track of progress.

    However, as with scales it doesn't give you the full picture in terms of fat and muscle ratio and would be best used in collaboration with other measurement equipment such as body fat measurers.

Body Fat Calipers:

    This should be used in conjunction with weight scales. Although using calipers aren't the most precise method of measuring body fat, they do give you an idea of where your body fat sits within around 1% if measured correctly.

    It is important though, if you do want to be measured accurately with a caliper, that you do get someone who is experienced at using one, otherwise you may not get a true sense of what body fat you really are at.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA):

    BIA basically works on a low electrical current passing through the body. The faster the current travels the more muscle you have (muscle is around 70% water, fat contains little to now water).

    This method is more accurate than calipers, however it will depend on how the machine is standardized on it's accuracy. External factors such as hydration, food intake and skin temperature may also affect the result. Unfortunately it is quite expensive.

Hydrostatic Weighing:

    Hydrostatic weighing works through body density (ratio of bodyweight to body volume). Body volume is measured, by submerging the person underwater. Other variables measured are their weight underwater, their weight on dry land and their lung volume.


    Click To Enlarge
    Hydrostatic Weighing Is The
    Most Accurate Way Of Measuring Bodyfat!

    This method is the most accurate out of all the methods of measuring body fat, however it will lighten your wallet a fair bit, so beware. It can also be quite impractical having to measure your body fat this way on a regular basis.

Photos:

    This doesn't have to mean getting a top of the range digital camera, all you need is a reasonable and reliable cheap digital camera or a webcam (if you have no one to take pics for you) if you prefer.

    Make sure external settings are kept constant such as lighting and placement and that you take pictures in different poses (keep them consistent at each interval) so all muscle groups can be seen.


Click To Enlarge.
Pictures From Derek Beast Charlebois' "A Year For Improvement."


How Often Should You Check Your Progress?

Really this is up to you. Some people are able to see results quicker than others, so they may prefer measuring more regularly such as every week or two weeks.

Others see results over longer periods of time and may prefer measuring over longer intervals such as a month.

Personally I find it helpful to measure progress by the month with things like photos, body fat and fitness tests and measure weight biweekly but others may like to do it at more regular intervals.

It is up to you, but remember that if you measure progress too regularly you may get a false sense of discouragement and if you measure progress not regularly enough then you may not get a true sense of how you are progressing and if you are making any mistakes which you could've adjusted. So it's important you find a balance.


Conclusion

Everyone wants to make progress. Sometimes we may be making progress but think we are not, when at other times we may not be making progress but we think we are.

To avoid this from happening we must measure or progress at consistent intervals. Measuring your progress can be as easy as keeping a log of your workouts and diet and calculating your body composition (weight, body fat, lean mass etc.) every fortnight.

The key to measuring well is consistency; by making sure you try and eliminate as many variables as possible. So don't lead yourself into a false sense of security or be unnecessarily disappointed, and instead keep track of progression and most importantly, keep improving!


BONUS:
What's the best way to keep your workouts and diet in check? Do you use any methods of tracking progress, keeping workouts and diets in check, or do you just listen to your body and play it by ear?

The best way to keep both your workouts and diet in check is to firstly form a plan. This means devise a routine or regime for both your training and diet tailored to your own needs and constraints.

Once you've formed a plan it is important you keep track of your progress. This means setting up a training log and measuring progress at consistent intervals, by methods such as scale weight, body fat and even fitness tests.

Every so often you should analyze your progress to check how you are going and determine any changes that you may be required to make, if you are hitting a plateau or not making as much progress as you desire.

Do you use any methods of tracking progress, keeping workouts and diets in check, or do you just listen to your body and play it by ear?

I am always using a lot of the mentioned progression tracking methods, to track my own progress as being a perfectionist myself, I like to be precise in the way I go about things.

I keep an updated log at both athletes.com and bodybuilding.com, which includes how much I lifted that workout indicating if it was a progression or not, my overall rating of the workout and any additional comments, as well as a diet log at fitday.com, which includes everything I eat, and my macronutrient and caloric totals for the day.

As well as this I post pictures every month and regularly do fitness tests such as 1RM on the big 3, VO2 max tests, anaerobic endurance tests and local muscular endurance tests such as max bodyweight push ups. I also keep a diet log at fitday.com which includes what I ate during the day and the macronutrient and caloric totals.

Links


Review Of Other Articles
Or "Why Wasn't Mine Picked?"


KR_Muscle

Pro's

  • Good grammar.

Con's

  • All body fat ideas could have been under the same topic "tracking body fat," instead of listing each one under a separate category. Less time could have been spent on the 3 different ways of tracking body fat, and more time spent on other ideas of tracking progress. This was a problem with other articles as well.

  • Could have fully explained their "training log" idea, such as how to set it up, or how it keeps track of your training/diet.

Comments

  • This was a good article, but it wasn't perfect. It could have been organized differently, added different ideas, and limiting information on others. This was a problem with other articles as well.


shannonb

Pro's

  • Good information and descriptive.

Con's

  • Lack of ideas. The writer could have added more ideas on how to track progress.

Comments

  • The writer was descriptive on their ideas, but could have included more ideas. With more information and writing, this writer has a great future.


mivi320

Pro's

  • Discussed setting goals.

  • Well written.

Con's

  • Nothing really original that separated this article from some of the other runner-ups. Pretty similar to the rest.

Comments

  • This article was a good submission. It resembled some of the other earlier articles. Different ideas attract a reader, such as separating techniques for tracking short-term progress and long-term progress.


What's The Best Way To Keep Track Of Your Progress?
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