When you make the decision to start a new fitness programme or nutrition plan, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is how you are going to measure (and celebrate!) your progress on route to your goal. In fact, I can almost guarantee that doing this will make your goal easier to achieve; motivating you when you hit your shorter term targets, while helping to identify areas of weakness.
In my experience, a mixture of techniques should provide a good base to make sure all your goals are being met.
There are many different methods to test cardiovascular fitness, but my favourite is also one of the simplest to perform and is great for any standard of athlete – from beginner to experienced. The Cooper Test requires participants to run as far as they can in 12 minutes. Devised by Kenneth Cooper in 1968, the test was originally used by the US military, but is now a standard practice in personal training – it’s also very easy to do yourself. The aim is to maintain a steady pace for the 12 minutes, so don’t go off too quickly. If you’re in a gym, then use a treadmill or cycle machine, if you’re outside, simply pick a well-known route. The important thing to remember is to keep the variables the same. If you decide on Level 4 on the bike, make sure you select Level 4 again when you next test yourself. Measure yourself every 4 weeks or so, to make sure you’re making gains.
If losing or gaining weight is your aim, it would be silly to suggest avoiding the scales – after all, changes in this department can be a real motivator. Caution should be exercised though to avoid any unnecessary upsets along the way. Try to avoid weighing yourself more than once a week, the chances of your weight varying in this time are too great and could be really demotivating. Instead, weigh yourself on the same day every week, preferably at the same time of day, on the same set of scales and wearing the same clothes (or none). For instance, I weigh myself every Friday, first thing in the morning, with no clothes on.
The exception to this, for me (and some other women), is during certain times of the month, when I normally gain a bit of water weight. It’s also worth taking into account that if you’ve recently started a new weight lifting programme, you may experience a slight gain in weight (as muscle weighs more than fat). Don’t let this discourage you. Refer to your mirror for proof that this isn’t a bad thing. If you’re following a diet plan, the weight will eventually come off.
Carrying too much fat around your waist can significantly raise your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, according to the NHS. To measure your waist, find the midway point between the top of your hips and your lowest rib and then wrap a tape measuring around the middle. Men with a measurement above 37 inches and women with a measurement above 31.5 inches, should try to lose weight. While this might be quite a simple method of measurement, you could always add to this by taking measurements of your upper arm, wrist and thigh. This will give you a greater indication of how your body is changing over time. You could aim to do this once every 3-4 weeks but, as with weighing yourself, make sure you are consistent with your measurements. Take the measurement at the same point on either your left or right side for consistency.
How do you feel?
Exercising is great for increasing self-confidence, self-esteem, mood, and energy levels – and you should always take your emotional state into account when you’re starting out on a regime. Ask yourself how you are feeling. Do you feel good? If you don’t feel good, then something needs to change. This is one of the fundamental principles of SPLIT. You don’t need to hit the gym every single day to get in shape – you might love the gym, in which case, that’s fine – but for others, workouts should not leave you feeling worse than before. Yes you might ache for a day or two, but if you find your mood changing for the worse, then it’s time to review your priorities. (If you’re struggling with motivation read my blog on the topic).
There really is no greater motivation than realising your hard work is paying off. There are times when I really regret not taking accurate measures before I started my programme. I have no way of demonstrating to myself how far I have come. Now my gains are marginal, but I’m happy when they come. You can’t always expect to make massive gains, but you’ll learn to appreciate the small ones.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Benjamin Franklin
This article was originally published in 2017 but has since been updated.