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How to Measure Progress on Your Training Program


(6 min read)

(written for anyone who is interested in improving their health and understanding what is beneficial when tracking progress)

“How to Lose Body Fat Fast” and “The Best Way to Lose Weight” are two of the most commonly searched for terms on google in relation to health. But when tracking our progress on any health and fitness journey, are fat loss and weight loss really the best way to measure the success of a program?

Our body fat percentage undoubtedly is, but to what extent should we be paying attention to these numbers? Are there other indicators or markers that would be far more beneficial for the every day person?

Weighing-scales

Common measures to avoid

The trusty scales

Just no… Why? What is weight? Why is weight even a measure of health? Think about it, how is what your current body mass reads a determinant of your health?

I bet if you were to look up the average weight of an English international forward in rugby union they would be significantly heavier than what you are right now! But would that make them more unhealthy than you? HEELLLLL NNN….. I’ll go with… Probably not! These guys are finely tuned athletes and are muscle machines! Up there in the top 1% of the country when it comes to health.

Also; think more simplistically about what your weight really is… it, quite simply, is the relationship between your mass and gravity. Again using the rugby player reference… if you and he were to jump from a 10 metre diving board, who do you think would hit the water first? He would, because he is heavier than you and gravity would pull his heavier mass towards the ground at a greater speed. Now according to the scales, this would make him more unhealthy right? Brilliant.

 

Going by what you see in the mirror

Now this is often a difficult one which throughout my years of being a trainer you have to address every now and again with clients. Your eyes will see exactly what they want to see!

Everyone wants great abs at the snap of their fingers, or to lose the fat on their arms immediately… and we are so disappointingly lead to believe that this is physically possible. So when we look in the mirror and don’t see the drastic results that we’ve been lead to believe are possible, we get demotivated and disappointed with ourselves.

Even for those who do truly understand that transforming your body takes time and that reducing your body fat percentage is an accumulative process, the mirror will invariably not provide you an accurate representation of your progress, because sometimes an inch lost really doesn’t show a whole lot in your reflection.

Tracking progress needs to be measurable, as you will always convince yourself you could/should have done more.

 

Other peoples “honest” opinions

How often has someone honestly turned round to you and said; “nope, you look exactly the same, you haven’t changed a bit!”… NEVER, I can’t imagine too many people being brave, stupid or just down right rude enough to respond with such a comment.

Other peoples opinions should only become a barometer when you walk in to the office one day, after keeping it quiet that you’d been making an effort to transform your body and Jane from accounts, who you’ve not seen for three weeks, goes “DAAAAAMMMMNNN, you’re looking great! What have you been doing?”. Because then, her opinion has come from witnessing actual change due to being unaware of your pursuit of a greater physique.

Not from Brian who sits opposite you, who knows you’ve been dieting and wants to see you smile because maybe he fancies you a little bit.

 

Pull-up

 What I recommend

Focus on performance

Set performance related goals. Strive to become stronger, leaner and fitter. Focus on being able to touch your toes or hold a new yoga pose for the first time. Aim to be able to jump higher, climb faster or swim 10 lengths in a record time. Find a competition, a race or an event and book yourself in to it… and then work your butt off to complete it, to place well in it or even to win it!

Ultimately, if a calorie deficit is adhered to for a sustained period of time, then you are going to lose the body fat. So focus on becoming a bad ass and let the calorie deficit shape your ass.

Trust me, there are few more rewarding feelings from a training standpoint than seeing your physical performance improve. The emotional high of hitting a personal best deadlift and not pooping your pants is a HUGE deal.

 

RHR and BP

The fundamental measurements I or any fitness professional should take before beginning any training program with a client. And something I recommend you take at least once a month at home as well! You can get a wrist blood pressure monitor from as little as £15 online and will forever be a good marker for improvement of your health.

Your RHR (resting heart rate) should decrease when on any training program as your cardiovascular output should improve and your BP (Blood pressure) should also drop, regardless of whether you are lifting heavy or running 10k’s.

 

Circumference measurements

Buy a specific medical tape measure, not the one your mum has in her sewing box. They’re cheap (£5-10), easy to get hold of, and most importantly, if a measurement is taken in exactly the same spot on your body each time, they wont lie to you! Unlike Brian who keeps giving you the creepy eye brows.

But where should I measure? A simple few places to head for, which I do with every client:

  1. Waist (belly button - this never moves)
  2. Top of your pelvis/hip bone
  3. Largest part of your thigh
  4. Largest part of your upper arm; and if you are a guy
  5. Your chest (at nipple height - again, they don’t move).

 

Photos

Now seeing yourself in the mirror day after day you may not notice anything changing. But photos taken one month apart, and re-taken every single month in front of the same blank white wall can provide you with an exact image of where your body has developed or changed in monthly intervals.

You can then alter your program accordingly to match which areas you would like to develop your muscle structure for the following month. Just make sure you are holding the same pose each time… and ladies, try to structure it around your monthly cycles. Ideally don’t take them when you are in the middle of one. This time each month will naturally cause more inflammation and fluid retention, which will give off a false image of progress or lack of.

To be honest, that is the same with ALL of the measurements listed. Just avoid the week of your monthly cycle.

 

Body fat

Your body fat percentage falls second in my list of the most important measurements of progress (behind focusing on performance).

A lot of your training/health priorities can be structured around your body fat percentage. A fairly loose guideline for your targets should be:

Males:

Sub 10% - Lean

11-14% - Very good

15-18% - Healthy

19-22% - Okay

23% + - Needs some work

Females:

Sub 15% - Very lean - be careful. Monthly cycles tend to stop once you dip below this line on average.

16-19% - Lean

20-24% - Healthy

25-28% - Okay

29% + - Needs some work

The difficulty with measuring your body fat percentage is that to get an accurate reading it’s extremely challenging to do yourself… either it’s mega fiddly and wont provide much accuracy, or it’s quite expensive. Even with the trainers at the gym you have a membership with it can be challenging, as not every trainer is adequately trained to measure accurately. So if they have a pay as you go machine, use it at the same time each month.

Just beware that not all of these machines are even that accurate in terms of reading your overall body fat percentage. But they will at least give a consistent reading. So even if you think it is wildly off the mark on your first reading, it will still be wide off the mark on the second and third. If you show signs of improvement from one reading to the next and the number it spews out is lower than before, providing it hasn’t been tampered with, it means your fat levels will have dropped. Which is still beneficial for tracking progress.


Assessing-Progress 

Conclusion

To conclude… stop your google searches for the best way to lose fat, or how to lose body fat fast and focus on the journey! Focus on hitting incremental goals that are going to lead to you living a leaner, fitter, stronger, healthier and ultimately happier life! Don’t strive for the superficial results, search for the massive, huge wins that are going to fuel this fire long term!

Too often in all aspects of life we suffer from short-termism. We want things fast and now and we generally don’t care about the cost or implications. Focus on becoming better. 1% better every day. Find your methods which allow you to take measurements which can be replicated and stick to them at the same day each month and keep bettering them!

You’ll be far happier and far more satisfied than stepping on that hideous square thing you have in your bathroom… I promise!

 

Yours in health.

Ben.


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