Regardless of your goal, if you cant measure your progress then it can be very difficult to manage it.
It ends up becoming a long battle of guessing games along with unreliable and inconsistent measurements.
So if its fat loss, health or muscle gain, here are some methods that can help track your progress. I recommend using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods that can be tracked using apps, paper and pictures.
So lets start with the most common one;
There are many factors that can manipulate weight:
- Urination/defecation. There will usually always be food still in transit in your digestive system. If you had a big meal the night before, then remember this might effect your weight the next day. Try weigh yourself in the morning after going to the bathroom.
- Glycogen storage. If you have a big carb meal the day before, there is a good chance that you will weigh a few KG more in the morning. This is due to glycogen storage and excess water weight stored alongside. We have all been there, enjoyed a pizza on a Saturday night, then wake up in the morning and we have gained 3kg. Don’t worry, this is normal and will go back down within a few days.
- Blood volume. We wont go into this much, as it only really relates to endurance athletes. However blood plasma volume can increase over time and can also be effected by your hydration levels, thus, increasing bodyweight.
Weighing yourself seems to get a bad rep in the industry, but honestly if used correctly with effective monitoring, it can be a good indication of progress alongside other tools.
If you have had a history of eating disorders or associate your weight with your self worth, then maybe weighing yourself should be avoided.
Studies show that those who weigh themselves regularly, tend to be better at losing and maintaining bodyweight in the long term.
Note. 2kg of fat = 15,400kcal.
So, if you wake up one morning 2kg heavier, unless you have smashed that amount of calories, then don’t worry its not fat!
Ladies, your menstrual cycle will usually affect your weight on the scales around your time of month as women tend to hold extra water and bloat. Keep track of your cycle and remember that at this time, there will be fluctuations.
2. Skinfolds and tape measurements
Skinfold testing can be an effective way to track a drop in body fat upon certain areas of the body. However, this is dependent on practitioner experience and training.
If your PT pulls out those 20p plastic callipers from Amazon, then it’s probably a waste of time and will be fairly inaccurate.
There are registered PT’s and coaches who are skilled in doing this, and have good and reliable skinfold callipers. Its advised to complete the tests usually every 4-12 weeks, depending on goals and time frame.
Measurements are taken usually around the thighs, hips and waist. If done properly they can show changes in body composition for fat loss and muscle gain. However there is always room for error if they are not done in the exact position by the same person every time.
They may be unreliable for measuring muscle gain progress, a drop in body fat could bring out a drop in cm, yet muscle has been gained.
Measurements are best used alongside other progress trackers. Again, during the time of the month, a lot of ladies experience bloating, which could effect the accuracy of the measurements around the waist. You can have similar bloating from food intolerance’s, IBS and other digestive disorders.
3. DEXA and BIA.
DEXA scanners are classed at the gold standard of measuring body fat and muscle gain. However they are very expensive and are only really applicable with athletes.
BIA sends an electrical signal through the body to scan for body fat, muscle mass, minerals and bone density. Most of these machines only measure the top half of your body, which leaves huge room for error, especially for woman.
However, there are certain BIA machines which are using very new, exciting and up to date technology. They can provide you will lots of information and can be a great way of tracking progress not only of body composition, but health markers.
If you can try to control the variables such as menstrual cycle, hydration status and body temperature, BIA machines are probably the closest you will get to a DEXA, and can provide you with data you can use to track progress.
4. Progress Pictures
It’s always a smart idea to take progress pictures to have a visual representation for your progress. This can be great if you’re a person who doesn’t like numbers and data!
Ideally front, side and back, wearing minimal clothing in the same place and lighting each time. I have had clients who have dropped 5% body fat and look completely different, yet their weight has only moved by maybe 1 or 2kg.
NON BODY COMPOSITION RELATED MONITORING
Sleep – studies show that those who sleep 4 hours per night, consume almost 500kcal more than those who get 8 hours or more.
Athletes who are sleep deprived, are 1.7x more likely to get injured.
When you get a rubbish sleep, you end up reaching for high sugar snacks and foods due to increased tiredness and hunger.
Overtime, track to see if you are getting longer and better quality sleeps. Fitness trackers do track sleep but they can be largely inaccurate. In saying that, they can give an idea of your sleeping pattern and maybe highlight certain trends.
We should be aiming for around 7-9 hours per night.
Extreme calorie restriction can lead to drops in testosterone levels which can negatively impact your sex drive. So if you feel like your sex drive is lower than normal, then maybe you should have a look at increasing food or lowering training volume.
On the other side, if your libido is improving this is a great sign that the changes you are making are having a positive impact on your body.
If you feel like a train wreck in the morning, then this isn’t normal, and can be seen as a red flag for health.
Tracking your energy levels can be another fantastic indication that diet and exercise is improving your ability to stay awake and feel good in the morning.
Ladies, you might feel more tired during certain stages of your menstrual cycle. This is normal. Extreme tiredness and very painful and heavy periods however is not normal, and you should get checked by a health professional.
Lastly, your urine colour should indicate how hydrated you are. You want it to be in light in colour as possible.
Are you eating more vegetables, protein and cooking meals from scratch? Again, all signs of positive progress.
Ideally, you should use a combination of tracking tools.
So maybe one month you didn’t lose body fat, but you cooked 5 times per week, did 3 training sessions and stayed hydrated. Tracking multiple variables allows you to see the bigger picture, and not just focus solely on the scales.