When it comes to tracking your progress in the gym, there are quite a few methods for measuring success. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, tone up, build muscle or anything else… you NEED to be tracking your progress. It takes minutes each month, and the benefits are worth the little bit of time this will take. Here are 6 ways to track your progress in the gym.
7 Ways To Track Your Progress In The Gym
I’ve mentioned weight a few times as an example so far, and I wanted to take time now to point out that tracking weight isn’t the most reliable; especially at first. Your weight will fluctuate up-and-down, day-to-day and a lot of that has to do with water weight.
However, if after 3 months your weight is 20lbs down, weight is a good indicator that something good has happened. If tracking weight is important to you, I recommend not tracking every day. If you track your weight every day anyway, check out the following apps.
Libra – Weight Management
Android users: Click here to download the Libra app
iPhone users: Click here to download Happy Scale
On both of these apps, you’ll see some of the “dots” are further away from the line in the center than others. This is because weight loss or gain is never linear. It’s impossible. Your weight will change a bunch of times throughout the course of the day and that’s just all there is to it. One factor that influences this is water weight.
For my online personal trainer clients, we use Trainerize to track your weight, as well as some of the other methods outlined in this post.
2. Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is a more common measurement in the medical community. For example, when you go for your annual physical your doctor will compare your BMI to a chart that looks something like this:
Image source: https://bmicalculator.mes.fm/bmi-chart
Put simply, your BMI is the relationship between your weight and your height. As you get taller down the “height” side of the chart, your BMI goes down. As you get heavier down the “weight” side of the chart, your BMI goes up.
To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in Kilograms, by your height in meters.
At Tone Body Fitness, we don’t use BMI for progress tracking. BMI doesn’t tell us anything about how much of your weight is body fat, it just compares your weight to a population average.
Sometimes, according to BMI, people with a lot of muscle fall under the “obese” category. This isn’t always the case.
3. Body Composition (Body Fat Percentage)
Body Composition, however, tells us more information about how much of your weight is actually body fat.
Over the years the technology used to measure body composition in a gym has changed. Trainers years ago used calipers to pinch and measure the fat under your skin. They’d then plug these numbers into a formula and come up with your body fat percentage.
After calipers, bioimpedance machines became the standard for trainers. They measure your bodyfat using an electrical impulse and formulas. The machine will then show you your body fat percentage on a screen. Here’s an example of one you may have seen at the gym:
Both calipers and bioimpedance machines have a degree of inaccuracy to them. For example, if two different trainers take your body fat percentage with calipers, you’ll likely get two different numbers. If you take three different bioimpedance measurements in the same 5 minutes, you’ll get three different body fat percentages.
Factors like hydration and whether or not you drank coffee that day will also throw off these measurements. The trick with these measurement systems are to use them as an estimate. They’ll give you an idea of “where you stand”, and we can also use them to establish a trend.
The only way to get an accurate body fat percentage number is to go to an exercise science lab and get a DEXA scan, or get a measurement using hydrostatic weighing. Both will cost money, and aren’t really necessary.
As a personal trainer, I use bioimpedance with my clients, but I also use all of the rest of these methods to track gym progress. If six months go by and your numbers look very similar every month, you know something you’re doing needs to change.
I love to show new clients this picture and ask, “which of these weighs more… the fat or muscle”?
Without fail, everyone points to the fat. Then, they get confused and points to the muscle. This is understandable because it’s a confusing concept to understand.
The reason this is significant is this: Fat takes up more space than muscle does. You can read more about this here in my blog, “Which Weights More: Fat Vs Muscle?”
If you lose 10lbs of fat, and put on 10lbs of muscle… you’ll weigh exactly the same. BUT, you’ll take up less space. You’ll be smaller, more tone and you’ll look a hell of a lot better. Fat is what makes you fluffy and squishy, and muscle is what makes you trim and tone.
We want less squish and more tone; less fat and more muscle.
Similar to measuring body fat percentage, measuring inches will also have a degree of inaccuracy. Wearing different outfits will throw off your measurements. If you’re bloated that day, this can throw off your measurements (as well as throw off bioimpedance).
Similar to using calipers, two different trainers will also likely give you different measurements.
The best way to do these measurements is to take them yourself. You can use a tool like this one, the myotape, and measure yourself without clothing on. That’s the best way to minimize inconsistencies, and attempt to get the best numbers every time. Here’s what the myotape tape measure looks like:
Measuring inches is just one of the many different ways you can track your progress, so don’t get too hung up on which method is superior. The idea is to use all of these measurement systems. If time goes by and nothing is changing, you know something you’re doing needs to change.
To start taking your own measurements, use my guide: “How To Take Body Measurements For Weight Loss By Yourself”
My favorite indicator of tracking your gym results is how your clothes are fitting. Without fail, everyone who comes to see me for help losing weight has a wardrobe they want to fit into again. If your “fat clothes” are starting to feel more loose after some consistency in the gym, try putting on one of your old pairs of jeans.
If your old jeans don’t fit, keep up the good work and try putting them on again in a month or two. There’s nothing that says “success” better than putting your old clothes back on for the first time.
On the flip side if you’re more focused on building muscle, there’s nothing better than building an ass that stretches a pair of jeans to its limit.
Progress pictures are another really cool way to track. With pictures, you can actually SEE your progress over a period of time. What better way to tell your personal transformation story?
Take a look at the development of my client, Brian, over a period of 6 months:
(Note: Brian is a country musician in the local area and plays with various bands across New Jersey. Check out his website and go see him play!)
Pretty big difference, right? Here’s a look at the spreadsheet we used to track his progress since we started working together.
We didn’t use all 6 ways to track your gym progress, we just used the ones that best measured his goals (you can do the same). He’s put on a good amount of muscle. This is evident based on his change in weight, body composition (bioimpedance) and change in inches. Take a look at the change in inches on Brian’s chest and shoulders.
If you’re reading this, don’t worry about getting too bulky from lifting weights. Do you take steroids? No? Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Brian’s progress is a prime example of why you should be tracking your progress using different methods.
Writing down your exercises is the best way to know if you’re getting stronger or not. Unless you’re actively tracking your workouts, it’s hard to know how to break a plateau.
Progress is what makes muscle look more tone. If you’re constantly using the same resistance, you’re guaranteed to hit a plateau.
With that in mind, you need focus on getting stronger.
One way to track your strength for each exercise is just to write it down in a notebook. For example, if you’re squatting one day, you might write something like this:
135lbs x 10 reps
135lbs x 10 reps
135lbs x 10 reps
135lbs x 10 reps
This way, you can shoot for 140lbs next week, or maybe 12 reps instead of 10. You’ll never be able to keep track of all of this in your head, so get a notebook.
If you’re working with me, we use Trainerize to keep tabs on this information. Here’s a screenshot of what that looks like:
From one month to the next, changes might not be so visible. Weight also might not change right away, and there will be ups and downs during the course of your fitness journey. Consistency is key, and tracking your gym progress will help you understand whether or not your gym and eating habits are working.