Working out is a positive lifestyle practice that you might embark on for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to lose the few extra pounds and be more confident in your body, and want to know how to track progress in the gym.
Perhaps you have been skinny all your life, and wish to bulk up a bit and build up your strength. Maybe you aren’t too concerned about your weight, but feel like a daily workout routine will help with your overall fitness, motivation, and productivity.
Whatever the reason may be, you likely have an end goal in mind and expectations of a physical and psychological evolution throughout your fitness journey.
To keep up your motivation, stay cognizant of the gradual changes towards your goal, and maintain consistency in your workout regime, it is important that you track your progress in the gym.
Tracking Progress: Why Is It Important?
Fitness is a journey, and you cannot expect overnight results. It requires a system and diligence. Any journey has its ups and downs, and milestones that you need to hit.
If you keep at it without tracking your progress, and not checking for these milestones, you might feel a bit like Sisyphus pushing his rock.
It is easy to feel demotivated when you keep working out, putting in so much time and effort into it, but do not see a very evident result. This may partly be because you don’t know what milestone you are looking to have hit.
When you track your progress, there are clear goals and milestones for you to check off, and achieving these targets consistently keeps you motivated. You would know whether or not your current workout plan and fitness routine is working for you based on the progress you are making (or not).
The results you see are contingent upon a variety of factors- your metabolism and body type, your current level of fitness, lifestyle, and the compatibility of your diet with your workout routine, amongst some.
A certain diet or workout routine may not work for you specifically, despite others reaping benefits of it, simply because of your body chemistry.
If you do not track your results, you may end up wasting countless hours and dollars sticking to a routine that is actually not benefitting you at all.
Recording the Workout
When you record your workout, you can check for bad posture or scope for injury, and see exactly where the gaps in your routine are.
When you see consistent positive changes towards your end goal throughout your fitness journey, especially in comparison to your starting point, you would, of course, feel motivated to stay consistent and bounce back up if you are in danger of falling off the wagon.
How To Track Progress In The Gym: Factors To Consider
The mode (or modes) of tracking your progress in the gym should take the following aspects into account:
- Your workout tracking method should not be cumbersome and time-taking. You only have 24 hours a day to juggle your work, fitness, social life, and family. You do not want to spend precious time that you could otherwise dedicate to exercising, on recording your progress.
- Your workout tracker should be of sufficient use to you. Given the variety of systems out there, choose one that is best suited to help you make sense of the data you will be putting in. The more comfortable you are with the system that you use to record your workout, the more time you will save and be better able to find the blind spots in your routine.
- Versatility is important when you are narrowing down on the best way to track workouts. Typically, you would be switching up your workout routine every now and then to maximize the results. It would be quite cumbersome to use a new tracking app or develop a new system every time you incorporate a few new exercises.
An ideal fitness tracking system should be versatile enough to adapt to your current routine without much hassle.
How To Track Gym Progress
Now that we have discussed the importance of tracking your progress in the gym, and factors to keep in mind when choosing a tracking system, how to keep track of fitness progress would be the next logical question to address.
There are a variety of modes you can explore to narrow down on the best way to track workouts. I have discussed a few of these in depth below, to make it easier for you to pick the ones most suitable for you:
1. Progress Photos
Transformation photos are a no-brainer when it comes to modes of tracking your gym progress. A visual comparison through ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs makes your steady physical transformation over time apparent. The changes in your body composition and posture become very evident once you have progress photos to compare.
So, how can you make the most out of your progress photos to show you the most visually accurate record of your fitness journey?
How do you do it?
First of all, take photos of your side profiles and back, along with your frontal view every time you take a progress photo. That way, you can see every contour of your body transform.
Take these photos wearing the same outfit, or better still, naked. Different clothes tend to camouflage the exact shape of your body and your focus areas in different ways.
If you are wearing the same clothes each time you take the progress photos, or are not wearing any at all, your comparison would be the most accurate.
What about Lighting?
Good (or consistent) lighting is not only essential when you are clicking selfies for the ‘Gram, but also your progress photos. Your body would look different under different lighting conditions, and even a small change in the lighting can play a big role in messing up the accuracy of your progress photo.
To be on the safe side, click your progress photos in the same lighting conditions and at the same time of the day.
Bear in mind, your workout routine, liquid and food intake, amount of sleep, and a few other factors can cause you to appear bloated.
Taking progress photos every single day may not be the most productive use of your time, because you would barely see any noticeable changes. Take a set of ‘before’ photos before you embark upon your fitness journey, and follow up with a new set of progress photos every week or month to compare.
2. Workout Journal
Keeping a workout journal diligently is another very obvious but very effective way to track your gym progress. An ideal workout journal serves two purposes- to record your workout routine and progress, and as a record of how you ‘feel’ and your mental wellness associated with your fitness journey.
You can always personalize your workout journal, whether you keep a digital one or go the traditional pen and paper route, based on the criteria you want to evaluate.
Record Your Workout
Let’s talk about the logistical aspect first, where your workout journal tracks your lifts and exercises.
As you keep moving forward in your fitness journey, your body adapts to your workouts and its endurance increases. If you can hold a plank for 20 seconds on Day 1, it is very likely that by the end of the week your body can take at least a 40 second one.
You need to level up your exercises once your body gets used to it to see steady change- else, your body would not respond and your muscles would not grow or strengthen. This is especially true for weight training, where your goal is to have your muscles undergo a cycle of recovery and growth so they bulk up and strengthen.
Keeping a log of your workouts and the number of reps for each exercise over time can show you which workouts are working out for you, and which are not. At the same time, you can observe a steady increase in your strength and endurance.
Track How You Feel
Moving on to the emotional and mental health tracking aspect- as you keep making progress and get fitter, you definitely feel better.
When you workout, your body releases endorphins which are mood-boosting hormones. Recording your energy levels, mood, sleep quality, water intake, medication, and such factors can help you gauge the progress of your fitness journey as well.
You may notice a sudden drop in your energy levels or bloating, on the other hand, you could also experience a day when you are brimming with energy and motivation.
Through your entries, you can gauge a correlation between these and your actual workouts, so you can keep doing what is helping you, or detect issues and nip them in the bud.
On the whole, a workout journal that you keep logging into diligently is probably the best way to track workouts and your fitness progress as a whole.
3. Workout Log Apps
Workout log apps more or less serve the same purpose as keeping a workout journal. However, they have the added benefit of convenience- your phone is on you pretty much all the time and you can make your entries at any time or on the go.
It cuts out the hassle of manually noting down all the parameters every time you make an entry. An app would have a template which you can personalize and use to update your logs every day.
Some workout log apps go a step further and adjust your workout goals, and sets new anticipated targets based on your progress thus far.
There are quite a few reliable workout log apps in the market, for both iOS as well as android for you to pick from. Strong and Jefit are some popular ones you could consider exploring.
4. Tracking Lifts by Weight
For strength training, it is important that you consistently keep increasing the weight you are lifting. That way, you can keep your body on its toes and your muscles go through a constant cycle of recovery and gains.
In case you are not maintaining a workout journal, which you ideally should, keep track of your reps and the weight you are lifting to keep a consistent track of your strength training progress.
You can easily jot it down in the notes section of your phone, or keep a pocketbook with your progress jotted down.
5. Tape Measure
Tape measures are another convenient way to track your progress with respect to your physical transformation. It is a tad old school as a mode of tracking your gym progress, but is definitely still as effective.
Measure the circumference of various parts of your body- your forearms, biceps, shoulders, thighs, legs, chest, waist, hip, and so on. Keep a record of this, and consistently re-measure every fortnight or month to have a tangible chart of your gains or losses.
It would be apparent if you are moving closer to your body goals, plateauing in your progress, or facing a setback, once you analyze these figures and you can effectively tailor your fitness routine based on this.
6. Track Your Diet
Your fitness journey is not just about pushing yourself at the gym. What you consume is as important a factor that contributes towards your fitness. Keep a close eye on your diet to make sure it is compatible with your workout routine.
A few cheat days here and there are completely fine and nothing to lose motivation over, but it definitely helps to have it all laid out in front of you.
A clear picture of your diet and nutritional intake goes a long way in determining the progress of your fitness journey, regardless of whether you are aiming to lose weight or bulk up.
Additionally, keep tabs on the nutritional supplements you are consuming as these are a part of your diet you may overlook under the garb of ‘routine’. Whether a nutritional supplement is delivering the results it promises and is worth your investment would be evident if you keep track of your intake, in conjunction with your diet and workouts.
7. Check Your Progress In The Mirror
While your progress pictures give you an overall visual reference to gauge your progress by, a mirror would be your best buddy when looking for a closer check on the improvement of your muscle mass and tone.
Your contours flatten out when you are looking at a photo, and no matter how many angles you take photos in, it is never an accurate representation of the real thing.
In the mirror, take a close look at the improvements of your arms, legs, shoulders, and abs in particular. That way you can see the bulk you are adding on, or reducing, and the tone of your body as you progress along your fitness journey.
8. Checking Your Body Composition
Along with keeping a record of your workout routine, you should also consistently keep a track of your body composition, that is, the ratio of your muscle mass percentage to fat. When you are making gains, it is your muscle mass that should be increasing, while reducing your body fat percentage.
The goal of most workouts, particularly strength training, is to ensure you burn fat and build muscle mass.
Now, simply weighing yourself is not an accurate indication of gains, because you need to know whether it is the fat or the muscle that is contributing towards your weight.
Your Body Mass Index, or BMI, is therefore not the right way to fix your body goals according to contemporary research and fitness trends. Just because you gain a pound on the scale need not mean you’ve gained a pound of pure muscle mass.
Tracking your body composition would help you gauge whether your workouts are paying off well enough.
9. Put Yourself To The Test Once A Month
Dedicate one day every four to six weeks to test your limits. Start with the lowest reps or weights, and keep adding on as much as you can without risking your safety. This is a great test for the progress of your strength and endurance.
Keep a record of your limit every time you do this, and compare to the previous log of this test. That way you can have concrete and tangible proof of the progress you have made when it comes to your strength and endurance over the month or so.
Through the course of this article, I hope we have impressed upon you the benefits of tracking your fitness progress and how important it is to reap the maximum benefit of the efforts you are putting in.
You need not go to the trouble of implementing all these methods of checking your progress- try out a few, if not all, to figure out the best way to track progress in the gym.
Once you have found how to track gym progress, stick to it and be consistent about it to see your progress along your fitness journey panned out before you in tangible terms!