Unless you’ve got a photographic memory like Mike Ross, you’re probably not good at recalling lots of information. Most of us won't remember how much we bench pressed last week, how far we ran, how many hours we worked out for, etc. Why is this important? It comes down to this: you should be aiming to improve slightly every workout.
The point of exercise is to give the body a reason to adapt (e.g., weight loss, build muscle, endurance, become a zombie slaying machine, etc.). To get the job done, you need to be constantly upping the ante. You need to keep ‘score’ of whatever you’re trying to improve. Tracking your fitness will push you to smash those personal records in no time. Compete with yourself, and you’ll build a stronger, faster, fitter body. And you’ll have the numbers to prove it!
Six Benefits of Tracking Fitness
- It motivates you: you can’t argue with hard data. If you know where you started, you’ll instantly know if progress has been made (well done!), or if you’ve been slacking off (get back to it!).
- You see how far you’ve come: I remember starting weight lifting and struggling with a 135 lb squat. At times, it felt like I wasn’t getting stronger. But then I’d look back at my data. I could instantly see that I was now squatting 185 lb and it was easy.
- You’ve got a score to beat: if you've tracked your distance cycled or weight lifted, you’ll know that just looking at these scores pushes you to beat them. This is especially so when you’ve got an app that gives you ‘trophies’ or ‘rewards’. It's just like getting that gold star in kindergarten.
- You can adjust the course: as with all goals in life, progression is rarely linear and neat. We have setbacks, injuries, miss workouts, and life gets in the way. If you're tracking, you can easily identify what's working and what's not, then change your program.
- Forces planning: going to the gym or doing a random run is about as useful as tits on a bull. If you’re tracking your training, you’re more likely to have thought out a program.
- Your goals will be realistic: when we start down the path of getting fit, many of us don’t know what’s realistic. Tracking your training will give you a clear indication of how quickly you can work towards your goal.
How to Track Effectively
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to whip out your phone and start tracking, let’s look at how to do it the right way.
- Start simple: you don’t need to go overboard with this stuff. Less is more. Pick something easy like weights lifted, run times, or minutes walked, and start there.
- Use an app: when I started tracking my weight training, I went old school with pen and paper. If I wanted to see how my deadlift had improved over 6 months, I had to flick through a lot of pages and decipher my chicken scratch. Use an app and you not only get pretty graphs and output, but you can instantly see all your personal records with the flick of a switch. Your data is also saved and backed up, so you don’t lose it.
- Make it useful: there's no point in me telling you what percentage of my weight training workouts focused on legs, chest, abs, etc. This might be nice to know. But if you're lifting weights, you only care about building strength. So, looking at my 1 RM over time is simple but useful. This immediately tells me if I'm stronger than I was a year ago.
- Crap in = crap out: be consistent with your tracking. If you’re tracking weight, take it at the same time every day. Always compare apples to apples.
- Remember that success is not linear: obviously, you’re not going to keep lifting heavy weights or running faster every single workout. Changes are slow and often not linear. Don’t freak out when you see dips in progress. Think of tracking like a long-term investment in stocks. The market will go up and down, but as long as you ride it out, you’ll get a positive return.
Bonus Points - Get Quantified
The quantified self movement sounds very sciencey. But it’s a really cool idea for anyone who wants to geek out on tracking everything and anything to do with the human body. Check out Quantified Self to see some of the crazy stuff people are doing.
Because of the movement, there’s never been a better time to track your fitness. Your smartphone is now your lab. And wearable technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. Want to track sleep, performance, and heart rate variability 24/7? Easy, check out Oura. Interested in monitoring your biosignals to see exactly how your muscles are firing when you lift? Check out Athos. There are other low-tech versions as well. You can search for nutrition, sleep cycle, weight training, running, cycling, yoga, interval training, body weight circuits, and motivational apps. The options are endless.
How to Start Tracking Your Fitness
I write to share my own experiences and knowledge with you. But my ultimate goal is to give you information that’ll help you eat, move, and live optimally. Get these right, and you’ll transform your body and change your life. So, I like to end each post with some actionable steps you can take immediately.
To get the most out of this post, start by completing actions 1-2 below before the opportunity passes. Then, start tracking your fitness at your next workout. If you really can’t drop everything right now, write a reminder on a post-it note and stick it to your forehead for later. Decision creates action. Action creates results.
- Pick ONE and only one aspect of your fitness to track.
- Search for and download an app on your phone (try something like FitNotes for weights or Strava for cardio)
- Track consistently for two weeks and see what you get out of the data collecting experiment.
- Look for patterns and try to improve the variable you’re tracking VERY slightly each workout.
- At the end of the two weeks, look back at progress and see if you improved.
Add a comment below and let me what you’ve tracked in the past, or what you’re going to track.
Finally, if you want help in putting all of this into a completely customised body transformation program, you can book a free consultation with me here.
P.S. If you liked this blog post, I’d owe you one if you could get it out there by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on social media. You might also be interested in my free e-book: The Battle Tested Body Transformation Guide.