The metric that most people forget about when embarking on their journey to lose weight, get stronger, gain muscle, and improve their health.
However, it is by far the most important.
If you’re not tracking your progress, then how do you know if you’re improving or regressing?
Most people’s attempt at tracking is poor, inconsistent, and unreliable.
Some will start a ‘diet’ or exercise routine, weigh themselves just a few days later, see no difference, and decide to do something else as it’s clearly ‘not working’.
Others will stick with it for a while, but will use the scale only to track, and after one bad weigh in on a random day decide to pack it all in or make some dramatic change.
It’s inconsistent tracking and unreliable data that causes us to make rash decisions when attempting to improve our physique or health in any way.
If this sounds like you, this article is for you.
Here are the measures I use when tracking my client’s progress:
Unavoidably, weight on the scale is a metric we need to track when trying to lose/gain weight.
I sometimes wish it could be done without it as people can be very emotionally attached to this number, however, when combined with the other data, it can be a good indicator of fat loss/muscle gain.
But not always.
Weight gain doesn’t necessarily mean that fat has been gained, and a lack of change doesn’t always mean that fat hasn’t been lost.
Weight fluctuates on a daily basis due to water levels, muscle glycogen levels, and gut residue
So I get my clients to weigh themselves every day and record the weekly average.
It sounds like overkill, but this will allow you to see past the day-day fluctuations, and notice actual weight change week to week, and month to month.
Do this first thing in the morning, naked, and after your morning trip to the bathroom.
Body Circumference Measurements;
For accuracy, I love the 9 site measurement data that Andy Morgan from rippedbody.jp suggests on his article on tracking progress.
These 9 sites are:
- Right arm
- Left arm
- 2″ above navel
- 2″ below navel
- Hips (widest point)
- Right thigh
- Left thigh
Of course this takes time, so if you’re rushed, neck, waist, and hips will do.
These can be hard to do by yourself so I recommend buying an Orbitape measure so that you can comfortably get it done without relying on anyone else.
Do these once a week and note to the nearest 0.1cm for accuracy
A guide to using this tape measure can be found here.
These body circumference sites when used in correlation to the scale weight will show you if body fat is being lost or muscle being gained.
Everything affects everything (as you’ll remember from my article on sleep).
I get my clients to record how they’re sleeping, what their stress levels are like, how their appetite is, and how they’re feeling during their workouts.
All of these measures will affect each other as well as your training and weight progress.
So if you feel your progress in the gym or on your diet is poor, think whether you have the above dialled in or not.
I get my clients to take progress photos from the front and side every 4 weeks.
There is no need for them to be more frequent than this, and these can be just for you to notice differences in physical appearance.
These can be great to keep you motivated and accountable to the process.
Dietary adherence, Training adherence, and Progression;
For my clients I also ask them to rate their adherence to their nutrition and training plans, as well as notes about their progression in performance.
This can be useful for you to note also before you make drastic changes.
If the scale weight and measurements didn’t change but you’ve not been to the gym and you had more treats than you would’ve liked then that’s probably the cause of the issue rather than the exercise or diet not working.
Take a training log of your exercise so you can see your frequency and performance levels, and be honest about whether you’re following your nutrition habits as well as you should be.
The training log will help you see if you’re progressing with your weights or not, and also what weights you should be using session to session.
If you find you aren’t recovering or progressing, and your subjective measures are bang on, this will show that a change to your dietary intake could help.
Staying objective about your data;
All of the data together will help provide you a picture of progress when trying to lose weight, gain muscle, get stronger, or just improve your health.
If your weight increases but your stomach measurements decrease, this indicates fat loss and muscle gain at the same time.
Muscle growth can hide fat loss so don’t just rely on the scale.
If your weight suddenly increases (which it will sometimes) then don’t get disheartened, this won’t mean fat gain. Check your stomach measurements for change, if there isn’t any, then you’re fine.
This weight increase will be down to an increase in glycogen, maybe from extra carbohydrate or some salty food.
For women, your weight will fluctuate with your menstrual cycle due to water retention, so make sure you’re comparing data at the same time in your cycle not to be discouraged.
I see weight fluctuations much more in women, so measuring the body and progress photos become even more important.
In terms of gym performance, a strength increase is always a good way to measure progress – are you lifting more than the week prior.
However, if you are losing weight, then maintaining strength levels is also a great sign of progress. This shows that your fat loss isn’t affecting your muscle strength as you’re moving more load in comparison to your new bodyweight.
I hope this article helps you stay objective with your progress when trying to make a change, as always, questions welcome in comments or sent by email.