If you're serious about wanting to lower your body fat, gain muscle, get stronger or improve your cardiovascular fitness, it's important that you track your training progress along the way. Keeping track of your improvements will not only help keep you motivated as you fight to remain consistent with your training, but will also help ensure that you're on the right path. When you're not seeing the type of progress you'd like to, you can then adjust your workout routine accordingly.
To thoroughly keep track of your improvements, you'll want to regularly record your body fat percentage and body dimensions, the intensity and volume of each of your workouts, and the results of regular fitness tests.
By writing down everything, including what you do in each workout and the results of your own fitness tests, you'll have objective data representing your fitness improvements.
Tracking Your Body Fat and Dimensions
Whether you're interested in losing fat or building bulk, tracking your body fat percentage and measuring your dimensions are a good idea. It's recommended that you stay away from the scale. The number provided by a scale doesn't tell you anything about whether your body is mostly made up of fat or lean tissue. Nor does it tell you about the changing dynamic of your body fat and lean tissue make-up. Despite losing body fat, your body weight may rise, for example, if you're lifting heavy consistently. But, in this case the increase in weight would be likely due to having more muscle.
To properly keep track of your body fat percentage and body dimensions:
Keeping visual records of how your body looks is an easy and effective way to see whether you've lost fat or built muscle. Take a picture when you first begin your training log. After every month, take another picture. Compare the most recent picture to previous ones to see if there are any noticeable changes.
Take body dimensions
Using a cloth or vinyl tape measure, take a circumference measurement at several areas of your body. Be sure to take your measurements in the morning and before you eat or workout so that the dimensions aren't affected by having food in your stomach or your muscles being swollen. If your goal is to lower body fat, take a circumference measurement at the following areas: chest, waist, hips and thigh. If you're hoping to build muscle, also take a circumference measurement at your neck, biceps and shoulders. Take your measurements every two to four weeks and record the dimensions in your notebook.
Measure your body fat percentage
If you or your fitness gym has access to a bioelectric impedance analysis unit, you can quickly and easily get a relatively accurate reading of your body fat percentage. Your gym may also provide a "skin fold" measurement test, which require the assistance of an experienced fitness trainer. Using skin fold calipers, the trainer will pinch several areas of your body and be able to give you your body fat percentage value. Have your body fat percentage taken every month and record it in your notebook.
Tracking Your Workouts
With a workout log, you can quickly see whether you're getting stronger or more cardiovascularly fit. Keep track of what you do during each of your workouts.
For example, if you're strength training, write down each exercise, as well as the sets and reps you do and the weight you use. If you're doing cardio, write down the type of activity and record the distance completed and total calories burned. By doing this, you'll be able to easily keep track of your training progressions.
Tracking the Results of Fitness Tests
Every four to six weeks, you should complete a battery of fitness tests. Doing so will give you concrete data on how effectively you're progressing.
A comprehensive fitness test program will include the following:
To measure improvements in upper body strength and endurance, complete as many pushups as you can in one minute.
To measure the muscular endurance of your abdominals and hip flexors, perform as many sit-ups as you can in one minute.
Front plank test
Another test for abdominal endurance is the front plank, which challenges you to hold the front plank position for as long as you possibly can.
Wall sit test
The wall sit test measures the strength and endurance of your hips and legs. Get into a squat position, with your back resting against a sturdy wall and with your knees bent to 90 degrees, and hold the position for as long as you can.
Run a mile as fast as you can to test your cardiovascular endurance.
Record the date and your scores for each test in your training notebook. If you don't see the type of progressions you're hoping for in a particular test, you know you need to spend more time training that specific area. For example, if your 1-mile run time isn't where you want it to be, you know you need to either incorporate more cardio workouts into your training regimen or kick up the intensity of the sessions you're already doing.