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4 Keys to Track Fitness Improvements

When Alwyn Cosgrove is asked about the value of tracking progress and moving incrementally toward a goal, he brings up his battle with cancer several years ago. “I had a stem cell transplant and doctors took my blood pressure, temperature and other vitals every four hours,” says Cosgrove, the co-author of The New Rules of Lifting book series. “They constantly knew where we were. They had a plan and they were going to check every step of the way so we could make adjustments if necessary.” The situation was extreme, to be sure, but illustrates the value of tracking progress, even for goals that don’t have a life-or-death incentive. Here are a few ways to track progress more effectively:

1. Think Quarterly

Corporations file annual reports to measure business progress over the previous year. But they also produce quarterly earnings reports, as well as weekly, daily, and even hourly sales reports. The idea is to examine the data and see what’s working. If sufficient progress isn’t being made, adjustments and changes are implemented.

Many people start the process of making lifestyle and fitness changes at the beginning of the year. A goal of losing 20 pounds in one year, for instance, is more manageable if the person who sets a goal can track a five-pound loss in the first quarter, a three-pound loss in the second, etc.

“The idea isn’t to get on the scale every 10 minutes, but you do need some kind of tracking with everything you do,” Cosgrove says. “You wouldn’t undertake a marketing plan and come back six months later and say, ‘I wonder if that worked.’ You put systems in place to track the progress on a regular basis.”

2. Set a Baseline

At Athletes’ Performance, coaches track the progress of athletes constantly so that athletes can see their improvements in strength, endurance, and power, as well as the changes in their body composition.

An NFL hopeful, for instance, can see dramatic changes from the time he arrives at Athletes’ Performance shortly after New Year’s Day over the next 12 weeks as he’s tested and measured during post-season All-Star games, the NFL scouting combine, Pro Days, private workouts and, of course, at Athletes’ Performance.

You might not have a team of performance coaches tracking your results, but having that process in place is just as important. “What it does is provide a baseline for improvement,” says Core Performance founder Mark Verstegen. If, for instance, you completed a workout and did not return to that specific workout for several weeks, it would be difficult to track progress if you had not logged any data from the first workout.

Don’t underestimate the power of that data. “People get tracking but don’t understand the power of using it,” Cosgrove says. “If you come to me and say your core is weak and your shoulder hurts, but have no idea why, then I’ll have no idea either. I’d start guessing. But if you said, ‘Here are my records for the last six months,’ I’ll find the issue.”

Cosgrove notes that most people rarely have “routine bloodwork,” instead only having tests done when there’s something wrong. As a result, few people know their baselines. “Think if we all had our bloodwork done when we were 21 and presumably at our best health,” he says. “We could use those benchmarks for the rest of our lives. At the very least, we should have these tests done annually when we’re healthy.”

3. Get Better with Every Repetition

As the owner of Standup Fitness, Inc., Brody Welte operates in a sport (standup paddle boarding) that only recently has become a phenomenon. Because of that, there are few training programs to become faster. But there are traditional interval training philosophies that apply. He maps out a 3-mile course that he returns to regularly to clock his time. He uses a metronome watch to measure how many strokes per minute he’s generating.

“You end up tracking how efficiently you’re paddling and your overall conditioning,” says Welte, who is based in St. Petersburg, Fla. “If I’m not doing it faster, then there’s something wrong with my training.”

That’s no different than a swimmer or runner looking to cover more distance in less time. The idea is to replicate that first repetition over and over with a shorter rest interval. “I want to look at the first rep and compare it to the second and subsequent reps,” says Verstegen. “Did you decline or get better? You want to sustain that first performance. That’s truly showing that you’re getting fit. You’re not just good for one rep or set, but you can repeat it a second or third time.”

4. Use Tracking Tools

There's no shortage of gadgets and smart phone apps to measure progress easily and effectively. If you’re a technophile, take advantage of your skill set. But the important thing is to track the progress, even on a simple spreadsheet or even paper.

“Just the process of writing things down in a notebook is powerful,” Cosgrove says. “You should track everything, from sleep and energy levels to how you felt when you woke up. What was your mood? How did that impact your performance that day? Most people don’t even write down the specifics of their workouts. I couldn’t tell you what my weights were off the top of my head. If I haven’t written them down and I repeat the workout in a couple of days, how do I know what to do? Did I do two or three sets? The modern tools are useful, but the most important thing is to keep track of it all.”

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About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Focus, Goals, Planning