During my own fitness journey and through my work with other women, one thing I repeatedly encounter is an emphasis on tracking/measuring progress in some way. I feel conflicted about this. Of course many embark upon a fitness regimen because they want to lose weight, “tone up”/lean out, build muscle, get abs, etc. So to ignore this entirely is disingenuous. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change the way you look aesthetically. You can love your body and have aesthetic goals. However, for a lot of women tracking weight loss, just like counting calories, can be incredibly triggering. Many women, myself included, easily make this into a compulsive behavior–stepping on the scale; measuring your waist, hips, and thighs; or trying on that “goal” pair of pants at least once a day, if not multiple times, and punishing yourself emotionally and physically if you don’t get your desired result.
So here are my thoughts on ways to track your progress in a fitness program:
(1) If fat loss and body composition changes are your goal and you are not triggered by unhealthy behaviors, use photos and measurements to track the changes to your body. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use the scale. The scale fluctuates constantly due to hormonal changes, water retention, etc. It is far too easy to become obsessed with weighing yourself multiple times a day and then berating yourself over these fluctuations. Furthermore, muscle weighs more than fat, so you could be losing fat and building muscle, but the scale won’t tell you that! At least not scales that most people can afford (there are body composition scales, but who owns one?). Photos and measurements give you a much better understanding of how your body is changing. Take pictures of your front, side, and back, preferably at the same time of day, in the same clothes, in the same lighting. Use an app like Framatic to make side-by-sides. Don’t take photos too often–once every two-four weeks is completely sufficient. Measurements should be approached the same way–measure bust, bicep, waist, hips, and thighs every two-four weeks and note the changes. Furthermore, when you are tracking your progress, practice compassion with yourself. Note the changes or lack thereof, but don’t beat yourself up. This is a journey that takes time. Sometimes things happen quickly, sometimes they take a while.
(2) Use fitness benchmarks to measure your progress. Set goals for yourself and see how you do. What’s something you’d like to? Barbell back squat a certain weight? Do an unassisted pull up or five? Set some concrete SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-driven) goals and work toward those. Example: I can comfortable squat 115 pounds for 8 reps now. I would like to be able to squat 125 pounds for 8 reps in six-eight weeks). Either on your own or with a trainer, develop a plan to help achieve that goal. And if you don’t? Again, don’t beat yourself up. This is a journey.
(3) Don’t track anything! Just workout because you love to move your body and it makes you feel good. Move in ways that you enjoy. Have fun with it. Maybe you’ll notice that you’re picking up heavier dumbbells or that you’ve shaved a couple minutes off your 5K time. Maybe not. Just celebrate your body’s ability to move and revel in what you can accomplish. Enjoy the post-workout endorphins and smile.
Regardless of what method of tracking (or not) that you choose, remember to treat your body like it is your best friend. It’s the only body you’ve got, and you should love it no matter what shape it’s in or how much weight it can lift.