Friday, October 21, 2011

How do you measure progress?

Most people begin an exercise/diet plan to improve their physical condition, improve health, and decrease stress.  Some people just hit the gym to look good naked and really don't care about their long term health or the way they move, but they still want to make progress in the gym and more importantly noticeable progress in the mirror.

Whether your goal is to improve your lipid profile or compete in "Flex-Off 2011", there are ways to monitor your progress that will help determine if what your are currently doing is working for YOU.  

If you want to improve overall health, blood work, and body weight/composition - going to a physician and getting a full panel of tests done as well as a body composition measurement (skin caliper, physiograph, underwater weighing, bodpod) would be a very efficient start.  Getting an accurate reading of your blood pressure and resting heart rate would also be an important part in gathering some starting statistics.

You should be logging your food, calories, and nutrients as well as keep an exercise journal.  If you don't see any positive changes after 8-12 weeks it might be time to alter you food choices and exercise selection.  If you are 100% committed to achieving results, and don't cheat on your diet or skip or slack in your workouts you will see results.  But where will you see results, the scale, caliper, mirror, loose fitting jeans?  All of those will be sufficient forms of measurement.  However for your cholesterol, vitamin mineral deficiences, and hormone levels, more blood work is needed. 

If you just want to look good in a pair of board shorts or a bikini, a mirror isn't the only way to evaluate progress.  I take it that you are already fairly lean, so skin caliper testing done every 7-10 days will help determine if you are on the right track to a banging beach body.  Keeping track of what you are doing in the gym and what you are putting in your pie hole are extremely important.  If your results aren't headed in the right direction you might need to add protein, cut the carbs, increase the fat or decrease your calories.  It is also necessary to keep track of your lifting/cardio sessions.  You might be doing too much cardio, and not lifting a sufficient amount of weight - which is usually the case.
One of my all time favorite "core" exercises! 
My opinion is that if you train to get stronger, everything else will fall into place.  Strength is one of the easiest, most reliable things to measure.  You can evaluate your progress each time you enter the gym.  Strength can be evaluated by dumbbells, a barbell, or even your own body weight.  Chances are that if you improve the amount of pull-ups you can do and increase the amount of weight you front squat, you are going to look better naked.  I you can do more push-ups, that very well could be the result of reducing some unwanted body weight.  
Chances are that if you can do weighted pull ups,  your pretty darn lean!
As far as overall health, increasing the amount of weight on each exercise will have a positive effect on structural stability which could lead to better movement efficiency.   Increasing the volume of your lifting sessions will also have positive impact on bone density.  When better food choices are thrown into the mix, it's a win-win for improvements in blood work. 

A good way to start measuring your progress when it comes to gaining strength is to get an idea of how much weight/reps you can perform in the following movements. (if not limited by injury) 
-Amount of total push ups, pull ups/inverted rows you can perform. (timed for a minute if needed)  
-Amount of weight you can perform on a front squat for a 3 rep max. 
-Amount of weight you can deadlift for a 1 rep max. 
-Amount of weight on a bench press/overhead press for a 3 rep max.
-I'm not a big fan if distance running, but timing yourself in a mile run can be a decent measurement for cardiorespiratory endurance.
-If you prefer shorter distances you can do some intervals on the track, run 100 meters in a specific time frame (12-20 seconds) and rest 45 seconds,  run as many as you can without exceeding your rest time.  Once you fatigue, the number of 100's you can complete will be your measurement, try to improve on that each week.
-After 6-8 weeks of intense training, it's time to retest.  

If your eating is on track, once these lifts/movement/exercises  are increased you will be one step closer to achieving measurable, efficient progress in the gym or on the track and of course- the mirror.  Don't just settle for going to the gym for a workout, actually start TRAINING to get STRONG- everything else will fall in place.    

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