Keeping track of your progress is the first step to achieving your fitness goals
Working out is really a competition – against yourself. And the best way to know if you’re winning or wasting your time is to track your progress. Sounds great, except it’s hard enough to remember to pack a sports bra let alone recall how much weight you lifted last Tuesday.
That’s why you have to write it down. Every detail you put on paper will let you know when to scale back and when to crank it up a notch. Even better, you’ll know you’re getting fitter.
We talked to fitness gurus to find out the five most important things you should record after every workout. The promise is that you’ll tackle all your goals just by jotting down a few notes. Almost too easy. We’ll sign on for that.
FITNESS TIPS: Date, day, time, location, plus any strength moves and cardio you doTO FIGURE OUT: your ideal workout conditions
HOW TO USE THE INTEL: at the end of every week, place a star next to the days you were especially productive and an “X” next to the ones when you felt like crap. After a month, note the trends and adjust your schedule accordingly.
“Maybe you’ll notice that you can lift more weight first thing in the morning and push yourself harder in the pool after work,” says personal trainer Lee-Anne Barnes.
Or you might expect yourself to work harder on a Monday after a weekend of indulging in food and drink, but actually find that you’re less productive. This could be because an excess of sugary foods followed by Monday morning abstinence results in decreased blood-sugar levels, which in turn leads to lethargy, more cravings – and, as Barnes noted in her Monday fitness classes, a less effective session.
FITNESS TIPS: Reps, sets, and weightsTO FIGURE OUT: how to tweak your strength workout to achieve maximum results
HOW TO USE THE INTEL: to keep improving strength and tone, you need to up the number of sets, reps or weight each time you do a particular workout. Whichever you choose, increase that same factor across the board. If last week you did one set each of eight, 10 and 12 reps per exercise, today aim for 10, 12 and 15 reps.
This might sound a bit obvious, but when you’re doing 10 different exercises in a workout, it’s hard to remember information like this, says Dr Pamela Peeke, author of Fit to Live (amazon.com).
“It takes the thinking out of it and helps you set goals, so every workout you’re challenging yourself a little more,” Barnes says, adding that a bit of effort, including counting everything you do, helps you to progress and introduces a genuine sense of achievement.
FITNESS TIPS: IntensityTO FIGURE OUT: whether you’re doing your best
HOW TO USE THE INTEL: after each set of strength exercises, note your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) – how hard you worked on a scale from one to 10 (one feels like you could do a hundred more reps, and at 10 you’re shaking to push out the last rep).
After a cardio workout, write down your max RPE (one means you can chat easily; 10 means you’re too busy gasping to even think about talking), and how much time you spent at that level. Too subjective for you? Record the percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR = 220 minus your age) reached for a sustained period during the workout.
If your efforts don’t rise above seven on the RPE scale or 60 to 85 per cent of your MHR, it’s time for you to challenge yourself.
“Second only to showing up, intensity is the most important factor for achieving any fitness goal,” says personal trainer Greg Florez.
“Over time, the body adapts to the weight you lift or the distance you run; when that happens, it stops toning and burns fewer kilojoules. Increasing intensity prevents this.”
Barnes also recommends using the “sweat test” to measure intensity – when you start perspiring, you’re on the right track.
FITNESS TIPS: Your energy indexTO FIGURE OUT: whether you should dump your fitness plan
HOW TO USE THE INTEL: women whose primary workout motivation is weight loss spend 40 per cent less time exercising than those who do it for other reasons, like maintaining overall health and relieving stress, according to a University of Michigan, US, study.
To ensure your regimen is making you happy, note your energy index (EI): how you feel on a scale of one to five, with one being sloth-like and five being ready for anything. Also note the reason for the number you selected: were you sore? Tired? Agitated? Eyeball the chart every Sunday. If your score dips below a three for five workouts in a row, one of a few things is happening: you’re overdoing it, you’re slacking or you’re bored out of your mind.
The bottom line: it’s time to tweak your routine. Instead of the treadmill, try a step or kickboxing class or do an interval circuit: between sets, jump rope, run on the spot, do star jumps or knee lifts – for one minute.
FITNESS TIPS: Body fatTO FIND OUT: how much fat you’re replacing with muscle
HOW TO USE THE INTEL: watching your body fat shrink is proof that you’re getting not only stronger but also healthier, since excess body fat increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Use this number to motivate yourself to get your ever-more-chiselled behind to the workout room.
How do you take the measurement? Some gyms have “bio-electrical impedance analysis” scales that compute your body-fat percentage by tracking how quickly an electrical current travels through your body (don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing). Because muscles are nearly 70 per cent water and fat contains almost no H2O, the faster the signal travels, the more muscle you have.Don’t have access to one of these scales? Get yourself a measuring tape to calculate the circumference of your waist (measure at the level your belly button sits at). Say it comes to 75cm, and last month it was 80cm. That’s five centimetres of fat you’ve lost. Booyah! But don’t go crazy: only measure and log this number once a month: that’s about how long it can take to achieve a noticeable change in fat loss.