- Allows you to figure out what works best for you
- Gets a plan in motion. You know exactly how fast you have to run or how many more reps you need to perform to improve
- Keeps you accountable. It is a reminder of your goals
- Helps you avoid stagnant routines and plateaus
- Instant gratification and Motivation. You can look back on what you have achieved since the start of your journey and feel motivated
- Allows you to set new goals.
One of the most common reasons why people give up on their goals is that they do not believe they are getting results. They feel they aren't progressing.However, our question to you is, how do you know you are not improving if you are not tracking your progress?
Let's list some of the benefits of recording your progress:
If you are serious about making a change and wanting to see real results, tracking your progress and planning ahead as you work towards your fitness goal is essential. No matter what level of fitness experience you have, ignoring whether your current training regime is helping you improve can leave you with sub-optimal results. This can subsequently affect your will and desire to continue.
Getting into a habit of tracking progress across different aspects of life will make you think with a healthier mindset day in and day out.
the bigger picture
Monitoring your progress goes well beyond checking your weight every so often. An effective plan needs to be put in place. You must visualize your end goal and the steps you are going to take to achieve that goal. Recording these steps is going to be the key to your progress.
Remember tracking is not purely for those looking to lose weight. Recording your progress can be incorporated whatever your end goal. Through tracking, you will be able to achieve your results faster and more effectively. You will then be on the road to success.
We understand that for some, diving straight into all of this information would be a huge lifestyle change. We are not saying that you should rush to incorporate all of these factors into your lives all at once. But the journey has to start somewhere.
For the purpose of this article, we have created 3 personas of varying levels of health/fitness and we have provided examples of how their tracking goals may differ.
The first example is someone who falls into the average category. Someone who likes to make sure they are keeping themselves healthy but perhaps they want to take things a bit more seriously. They may be someone that is keen to lose body fat or gain muscle mass but they lack the understanding of how we actually improve.
If you fit this description, you may want to start recording more metrics than just your daily activity. You will want to start paying more attention to your nutrition and your training regime. This does not have to be logging every rep of every workout but it may just be writing down what body part you worked out and how long for.
Recording this information will keep you more aware of how frequently you are working out and it will develop your consciousness of health and fitness. As this builds up, you will want to start looking into more specific data.
A bit Out Of Shape
The second example is someone who has found themselves a bit out of shape. Perhaps you were never really into fitness but you understand it's importance in our lives and so your goal may simply be to become more active. The level of tracking you will want to begin with will be very different to what professional athletes record.
Simply recording your daily steps or daily calorie burn and looking to increase these numbers each week will dramatically improve your health. In fact, just 30-minutes of walking a day comes with a whole host of benefits, including reducing your risk of chronic disease.
Remember you can always start slow and gradually introduce more aspects to monitor.
Athletic or sporty
Then we have our third example of someone who is athletic or sporty. They will be looking to dive into a whole host of measurements to help them progress and reach their goals efficiently and effectively. They may want to track their body composition (body fat, lean mass) and use any number of fitness apps to record their daily nutrition.
Whats Covered In This Post
Depending on your goals or how seriously you have taken your health and fitness in the past, you may not have even considered recording some of these measurements. However, if you truly want to understand why you aren't progressing, you should monitor a multitude of factors.
For example, if you have previously just monitored your nutrition, you never get to see the full picture, the effect it has on your body. Tracking the two alongside each other will help you comprehend how your diet impacts your body.
We will split this post into different components of fitness tracking:
- Tracking Workout Progress & Physical Fitness
- Recording Body Composition Changes
- Tracking Your Nutrition
If you notice your resting heart rate is too high for your age range (BPM) you should increase your activity level and adjust your nutrition (minimize salt intake and caffeine).
You can use the toolbar on the side to skip to the section you are most interested in. We do recommend reading the whole post.
We hope that if you incorporate some of our advice you may begin to understand that there are many different signs of progression. Although you may not have progressed in one department you may very well have in another. This progression could still benefit your health and well-being significantly.
Many people regard tracking your workouts and body composition as being the core facets of measuring your progression. You will hear many “Gym-Bros” talking about how much they can bench or squat and in some respect, this is a form of tracking. They have knowledge of their current strength levels and they workout in order to improve these numbers and to gain lean muscle.
However, as aforementioned, it is merely one factor to consider incorporating into your lifestyle. Recording your workouts and physical fitness can be done more comprehensively than making a mental note of your lifts and this will be expanded on later.
Improving your physical fitness involves far more than just increasing your lifts in the gym or how long you can run for, it also comprises various health factors such as your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Benchmark Fitness vs Day-To-Day Activity
As well as tracking different metrics according to your goals and commitment levels, you should record some activities on a daily basis and test other benchmark levels of fitness at a different frequency.
By this I mean you may be used to recording your day-to-day activity (HIIT or gym workouts) and you already understand that you should look to improve on the performance of the previously recorded data but you may not be recording or testing your base levels of fitness. Using strength progression as an example (as we will shortly be exploring this further), we will look at benchmark fitness levels vs daily activity.
Recording data such as the number of sets and reps you do of different movements is the information you want to record daily. Your 1 rep max (1RM) or 3 rep max are our benchmark figures. They tell us how strong or fit we are currently, compared to the previous time we took this recording. They also show us how comparatively strong we are, against someone else.
A benchmark figure like this is not something we would want to record every day, as not only would it be rare to see daily progress (unless you are new to working out which is a totally different story), but it also puts strain on our central nervous systems. We would want to test these benchmark figures after some period of time tracking our daily workouts.
The same concept applies to athletes looking to improve their fitness. They will not record measures like their VO2max every week but they will want to keep track of the exercises they perform and time spent exercising daily.
Monitoring these day-to-day exercise routines will help them establish whether they have pushed themselves harder or shown some progression but to truly understand whether they have increased their base level of strength or fitness, they should test the benchmark measurements (like VO2max).
So in a sense, we track our day-to-day activity to ensure we are on the right path to progress with our benchmark fitness levels.
There is no set or suggested figure as to how often we should test our benchmark performance levels but Team Shape would suggest no more than once a month for measures such as 1/3RM and VO2 max.
Now we have illustrated that there are different levels of commitment that one can dedicate to tracking progress and we have shown that testing your benchmark levels should be recorded less frequently, we can delve into how you can track progress for different goals. We will start with how to track strength progression.
Before we discuss the different ways we can record strength gains, it is important to understand the process of increasing strength, as this is what we are really recording when noting down our workouts. Once we understand how we increase strength we can look into how we measure our progress.
How To Achieve Progressive Overload
Have you ever wondered why your muscles have not been developing, despite training hard and working out frequently? You are probably not achieving progressive overload.
Strength gains are achieved when muscles develop. The general rule is that the more muscle you develop, the stronger you will get. Of course, other factors such as form and technique come into play, especially if you are specifically training for strength, like a powerlifter for example.
This post will not delve into the ins and outs of progressive overload, however, in short, it can be achieved in a few different ways:
- Increasing resistance
- Decreasing rest time between sets
- Increasing number of repetitions performed
- Up your training frequency
- Increasing exercise volume
Tracking Strength Daily
In order to understand whether our training has proved effective when we test our benchmark strength levels, we need to track our daily workouts.
This can be done to varying levels. Some of you will want to record the number of sets, reps and weight of each exercise performed and others will look to include things like rest time and RPE (rate of perceived exertion).
We will discuss the various ways you can store this information further down. Essentially, it is important to track our daily workouts as we will be looking back on this data to understand whether or not we were progressively overloading our muscles.
An example of what recording your workout may look like is included below:
Monday - Back & Biceps (Avoiding Chest Day stereotypes)
Bent over barbell row 4x8 (100 lbs). This means 4 sets of 8 reps at a 100-pound weight.Hammer curls 3x12 (30 lbs)
and so on.
The takeaway is that the next time we perform these exercises or this routine, we would want to perform more reps or more sets etc in order to achieve progressive overload and increase our strength.
It would be very difficult to ensure progressive overload if we had not recorded our previous data. Having tracked it, we knew exactly what we had to do.
Testing Benchmark Strength Levels: Compound Lifts
The most common way to track your strength (benchmark) is to test your compound lifts.
We usually track compound lifts to understand whether our strength has developed as they are multi-joint movements. They work several muscles or muscle groups at a time. They are often preferred to any isolation exercises as they mimic more common, day to day movements.
Generally, these lifts are cited as:
- The Bench Press
- The Squat
- The Deadlift
#1 Rep Max Testing
There are many ways to measure and record your strength. Most commonly, people test their 1-rep maxes (1RM). (Yes, these are the tests that people are referring to when they say “how much do you lift bro?”)
It is a common misconception that the only reason we test 1RMs is to see if we have got stronger. We also record our 1RMs to set appropriate loads for our other exercises/workouts (we will explore this in greater depth further down).
We will briefly explain the preparation for 1RM testing before explaining how best to track it, as warmups are a key aspect that should be recorded.
The optimal conditions for testing your 1RM do not really exist as it differs from person to person. The world of fitness is not “one size fits all”. However, one thing is for certain. You need to be adequately warmed up.
As you begin to track your 1RM overtime, you should aim to keep your warmup consistent. There is little point experimenting with your warmup before a 1RM test as you may end up “burning out” before you attempt your lift or worse you could injure yourself if your muscles are not warm enough (spend some time finding out what works for you).
You should also be adequately fuelled. It is highly unlikely you will be able to hit a new 1RM personal best (PB) if you are running on a completely empty stomach.
Take your time between sets and do not attempt the lift until you are completely satisfied with your grip on the bar and your body positioning.
It is also worth noting that 1RM testing should never be done without a spotter as they can go horribly wrong if you misjudge your capabilities.
#2 Recording Your 1RM
Once you have performed your lifts, you will want to make a note of them in order to begin the tracking procedure. Generally, if you find you can lift a heavier weight from when you first started then you have made strength gains (of course form etc. plays a part).
If you are a total beginner with regards to tracking your strength you may have no idea what your 1RM could be. This could lead you to burn out your muscles as you work your way up the weights or alternatively, you may put far too much weight on the bar and..... we don't need to explain what could happen next.
#3 1RM Calculator
This is where 1RM calculators come into play. MuscleWiki have a great 1RM calculator that will help you gain a ballpark figure of your 1RM. (MuscleWiki is a tool which we have covered in more depth on our blog).
As you can see above, if I can lift 220.5 lbs for 4 reps (regardless of which compound lift), a rough estimate of my 1RM is 241 lbs. If you have a competitive edge, there are also strength standards so that you can see how you compare to the rest of the public.
There are a many ways to train in the gym, from focusing on hypertrophy (generally regarded as working in an 8-12 rep range) to strength training (1-5 rep range). This is because, as we have already mentioned, progressive overload can be stimulated in different ways.
If you are doing a hypertrophic workout, you will normally be using weights that are between 60-85% of your 1-rep max.
If you do not know your 1RM, how do you know if you are performing 60-85% of this?
The same applies to strength training. If you are looking to really focus on strength training, you will be performing low volume, high weight sets, up to 90% of your 1RM. This reveals the benefit of recording your 1RM (using it to get a rough idea of the weights you should be using for different styles of training).
#4 5x5 Strength Testing
As aforementioned, testing your strength is not limited to 1RM testing. In fact, many people choose to track what is known as a 5x5. This is 5 sets of 5 reps of a particular weight. Others may record their 3RM.
Again this is partly down to personal preference. Many people prefer tracking their 5x5 and 3RMs and not 1RMs as they believe it is not only safer but they can also record their progress more frequently as they tend to recover faster and they even experience greater muscle growth training in this way.
For many people, the 5x5 forms the basis of their training program and so they test this weekly.
Recording your reps/sets/weight allows you to come into the gym with a plan. You know exactly what you have to do in order to progress and you are mentally prepared to take on the previous weeks results.
#5 Testing Max Number Of Pull ups/Pushups
Tracking strength/power can also be applied to calisthenics. Many people that prefer bodyweight style training, record the number of push ups and pull ups they can perform in one sitting as a measure of strength and muscular endurance.
Therefore, you could successfully measure progress by striving to do even one more pull-up/pushup in a set than the previously recorded time.
We do not recommend recording how many reps you can do in a specified time limit as this can lead to poor form which enhances your chances of injury.
We suggest checking out the Runtastic apps to help you track your calisthenics progress. Check out our review of the Runtastic Pull-up app which recorded the number of repetitions we performed and told us exactly how many we should be hitting at our next workout.
If lifting weights is not your priority and you love the great outdoors or pounding out miles on a treadmill you should start to track your running speed or distance running times.
Speed is essential in a number of different sports, from Tennis to Soccer, to Football, to plain old Cross-Country Running and so by tracking your speed and looking to improve on it, many facets of your game could be enhanced.
Recording your speed could be anything from tracking your 100m running time to being increasingly specific, like breaking down the 100m sprint into different sections of the race.
For example, you may want to look at the first 10-20m of the race where explosive power and fast-twitch muscle is key. Alternatively, you may be more concerned with improving your time for the finishing stretch. Making a note of your times for each section will reveal where there is room for improvement.
You can then adjust your training accordingly. To increase your speed at the start of the race you may want to focus on explosive plyometric movements.
Once you have spent some time training, you can then test yourself again to see whether your training has paid off. This is the beauty and benefit of tracking progress and performance. There is always room for improvement and it allows you to really understand whether your routine is making a difference.
On the other side of the spectrum, you may be working up to running your first 10 KM. When you successfully complete this, make a note of your time. More often than not, your competitive drive will kick in and you will want to try and beat your previous time.
Tracking your previous race times and even KM splits will be all the motivation you need to get out there and smash your PB's.
Cardiovascular Endurance Measurements/Tests
For many people, the purpose of the exercise is to boost cardiovascular endurance, which in turn will lead to you feeling fitter and healthier and it can, in fact, extend your life-span.
However, the same problems arise if you do not test and record your performance. You will not know whether you are truly improving. Tracking progress sets a benchmark that you should aim to improve upon and if you are exceeding that benchmark you know you are headed in the right direction.
But how can we test our cardiovascular endurance?
#1 Step Tests
Record your score and practice variations of these tests. Look to test yourself each week and see if you can keep going for longer durations. If your time is increasing, your cardiovascular endurance is improving.
#2 Beep Test
Similar to the Step Tests, there are variations of beep tests (a favorite fitness measure used in high school Physical Education lessons). This test involves continually running between two lines (usually 20m apart) in time to recorded beeps. The recording will instruct runners when to set off to the opposing line. As levels progress the time between beeps decreases and it becomes more difficult to reach the other end of the 20m in time.
Most recordings will read out the different levels as the test continues. When you fail to reach the opposing line in time, stop the test and record the level you got to.
The same tracking principal applies. Spend some time practicing and training for this style of test and when you try it again, look to beat your previous level.
There are many different cardiovascular endurance tests you can try out that should get you fighting fit in no time.
If you want to truly understand whether your consistent day-to-day exercise and all those Beep Tests are paying off, you need to measure your VO2 max. This recording can be used as a benchmark of how fit you truly are.
VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can use during intense spouts of exercise. It is recorded as milliliters of oxygen utilized in one minute/kg of body weight.
It is a popular indicator of aerobic endurance and fitness level. The more oxygen you use during high-intensity exercise, the more energy you can produce.
How To Measure VO2 Max
To accurately measure VO2 max, you will need to head to a sports performance lab. The test requires you to go flat out on an exercise bike or treadmill after progressively increasing the difficulty, whilst you are hooked up to a breathing mask. The VO2 max is marked when oxygen consumption plateaus and no longer correlates with an increase in exercise intensity.
If you don't have time to get a proper test conducted we have outlined the equations which illustrate how to calculate estimates of your VO2 max.
These include using your maximum and resting heart rate:
MHR= Maximum Heart Rate
RHR= Resting Heart Rate.
VO2 max= 15.3 x (MHR/RHR)
MHR= 208 - (0.7 x age)
RHR=Number of heartbeats in 20 seconds x 3
You could also use The Rockport Fitness Walking Test (RFWT).
VO2 max results vary significantly, however, the average for a fairly sedentary individual is cited at 35ml/kg/min. If you want to gather an idea of your fitness level against national standards, we have included tables below.
It is important to remember that as you become more active and increase exercise frequency that you should expect your VO2 max to increase in value. Try recording it now using the equations above and then test it in a months time after you have trained for a while. This should give you an idea as to how MUCH your fitness level has increased.
Remember these standards are merely guidelines.
Many people love to record their workouts the old fashioned way, by writing them down in a notebook.You can structure it how you like and record all the information you want.
A notebook is cost-effective and they are easy to pick up. You could also try using the “Notes” section on your mobile phone.
After jotting down the workout, you can input it into an Excel spreadsheet and use formulas to see the % increase in your lifts.
However, it can be a pain to flick back through pages to find your previously recorded data and you may forget to bring your pad to your workout.
As we previously mentioned, there are different levels of tracking athletic performance and before we explore how we can record specific aspects of athletic performance, such as strength, we will briefly suggest some fitness trackers that are great for recording daily activity.
There has been a surge in the popularity of smartwatches and wearables. In their most basic form they track day-to-day activity metrics such as steps, distance traveled and calories burned.
For many people, this level of tracking health and fitness is all that is necessary. Even the process of recording measurements like the steps we have taken for the day makes us think more frequently about fitness and our goals, which, in turn, keeps us acting and thinking healthier.
In recent years, fitness trackers have become ever increasingly comprehensive. They now allow you to monitor your quality of sleep, log your nutrition, record interval workouts and watch and replicate a workout displayed on their screens.
Perhaps you will start by monitoring daily calorie burn and steps, but as health and fitness becomes more ingrained in your life, you may start to use more and more of the features these trackers offer to better monitor your progress and reach your goals.
Rounding up a few of our favorite fitness trackers is very difficult as they all have their advantages and disadvantages, so we will suggest a few below:
#1 fitbit ionic
The Ionic will store data about your recent spouts of exercise and from there it will recommend the most suitable activity for your next training session.
#2 apple watch series 3
#3 MISFIT VApor
#4 xiaomi mi band 2
# 6 Garmin Forerunner 935
The Forerunner is for serious athletes. However, it also has a great system to set up interval workouts. You can, like the TomTom, completely customize your workout. For example, you can set an active work portion for a run of 0.5 miles and allocate yourself a rest of 90 seconds, and program the watch to the repeat this 3 times
# 7 TomTom Spark 3 Cardio & Music
The TomTom Spark allows you to set up an interval session on the watch. It is as easy as selecting “Run”, then “Training” and “Intervals.” Choose when you want to work and when you want to rest. Then decide how many times you want to repeat the intervals. You can also include warm-ups and cool down periods based on distance or time.
Best Workout Log Apps/Strength Training Apps
Many people prefer to record their workouts using apps as they will undoubtedly have their phones on them whilst working out.
#1 Strong App
Some of the many features include:
- Adding and customizing your own routines.
- Exercise tags - so that you can signify whether an exercise is a warm up or working set.
- Graphical illustrations of your volume and 1RM progress.
- Warm up calculators.
This will really help ensure you are progressively overloading your muscles as you can look back through your history at the click of a button. Next time you step into the gym, you will know exactly how many more reps to do or what weight to attempt.
Strong App is also great for helping you establish your benchmarks like the 1RM. For each exercise you perform, it will estimate what your 1RM will be according to that data. For example, if I have done 10 reps of 225 reps whilst deadlifting, it estimates I will be able to do a 300-pound deadlift.
As the name suggests, the focus of the app is on tracking your 5x5 strength progression. You input your best lifts into the app, it will then calculate your starting weights for the 5x5 programme.
After completing your first workout and entering the sets, the app will keep track of what you did and notify you how long to rest in between each set.
It will also tell you the weights and exercises you should do during your next workout. It is effectively a training program. built into an app. Much like the Strong app, your lifts and data are secured in the cloud, giving you the assurance you will not lose your history (unlike the pen and paper route).
Best HIIT Apps
As well as logging information from the days you train with weights, why not record your HIIT workouts and work on improving your fitness. HIIT is still a hugely popular trend and there are numerous health benefits associated with high-intensity training.
There are a whole host of HIIT apps with huge libraries of workouts for you to try out.
#1 Johnson & johnson 7 minute workout
Simply watch and replicate the moves that the online trainer performs. Select a pre-existing workout or customize your own from the database of 72 movements. The aspect we particularly love is the tracking ability of the app. Your workouts will automatically be recorded and an activity log will be created. You can check the day you last worked out as well as the last exercise cycle and effort level. The app helps you progress as it will start to recommend intensity increases.
Much like the Johnson and Johnson app, Sworkit offers a huge library of workouts and animations showing you how to perform the exercises.
By paying $2.99/month you can store an unlimited number of custom workouts and you can look back at your workout history. You can also sync the app to Apple Health or MyFitnessPal to store your history and then simply look back at your previous results and aim to push yourself harder next time or increase the amount of time you are active.
Seconds is one of the most downloaded interval training timers of all time. Many people become frustrated with basic timers as you have to manually set each interval and that involves lowering your intensity (not ideal).
Seconds allows you to set up any interval combination you can think of so that you can seamlessly move from one exercise to the next. You can program the app to incorporate the “text to speech option.” It will read out the name of the interval as you move into it so that you know your next exercise. You can even set it to give you advanced warning.
Best Apps For Running/Cycling
Strava is a multi-sport app, not only is it great for running but it can also be used for cycling. It presents you with performance metrics like distance travelled, pace, speed, calories burned, it has a GPS to record where you ran and for those really looking for deep analysis about their bike ride, it measures cadence.
#2 Nike RUn Club
#3 Map my run
The measurements listed below are often neglected. However, they either affect our athletic performance or are good signs as to whether we are increasing our physical fitness levels and so they should not be overlooked.
Measuring your Resting Heart Rate
Your daily resting heart rate is a pretty useful figure to keep a note of. Although not frequently tracked, it can be said that it may in fact be one of the most important measurements you can record.
It informs you of how many times your heart beats per minute. This indicates how hard your heart is having to work to pump blood around your body. Therefore, it is a key vital sign and a good indicator of general health.
It is also often interpreted as a good measurement of recording your fitness level. The fitter you are, the stronger the heart muscle and the less hard the muscle needs to work to pump blood. The benefits of reducing your resting heart rate are astronomical. From improving your metabolism to increasing your life span.Hence why it is perhaps one of the most important measures you can take when tracking your progress.
In the past doctors have quoted a resting heart rate of between 60-100 bpm (beats per minute) as the acceptable range, however, recent studies have cited 50-70 bpm as the ideal rate.
RESTING HEART RATE COMPARISON TABLE
How To Record Resting Heart Rate
To begin the process of tracking your resting heart rate with the most accurate results, record your pulse a few minutes after waking up and whilst still lying in bed. Take a radial or carotid pulse reading, which is often easiest.
It is recommended to record your results for a week and make a note of your average BPM. Once you begin to exercise and eat more healthily, you should record your resting heart rate each week and take the average, to see if your training has in fact benefited your heart. If you have been working hard and feel physically fitter your BPM should have decreased.
You can also record the time it takes to for your heart to return to it's resting rate as another measure of fitness.
Tracking Sleep Quality
Getting shut eye is widely recognised to be absolutely essential in ensuring that your body functions effectively. In fact the benefits of sleep include improving memory retention and lowering stress levels. Governments have even recognised that poor sleep can cause the loss of billions of dollars due to reductions in economic productivity.
Researchers have discovered that those that sleep less than 7 hours a night are more likely to gain weight. Their study concluded that short sleep can result in another 8.7minutes of daily eating (add that up and that is an hour over a week. Maybe you will be able to see where those extra pounds are coming from).
We understand the benefits of sleeping but have you ever considered why you may not be sleeping? Perhaps it is time to start tracking the quality of sleep you get.
Tracking sleep quality is not something to be scorned at. With the detriments of poor sleep being extensive, perhaps you really should consider recording whether you feel fresh when you wake up or groggy and zombie-like.
Recording Your Sleep Quality
Tracking your sleep can be as simple as making a note in a journal/notebook of how you felt you slept. This could include factors like what sort of time you believe you fell asleep and when you woke up. As well as other key aspects such as whether or not you woke up during the night or whether you woke up feeling fresh.
After you have recorded the quality of your sleep upon waking up, think back to your pre-bed routine. Were you on your phone too long? Blue light from screens can keep you awake for longer. Did you have caffeine too late at night? All of these questions should be considered as, after some period of time recording your sleep has passed, you can establish what may be keeping you awake over (believe me, if you can work this out, you will be so thankful)
These are just a couple of factors worth recording. You can then adapt your bedtime schedule to replicate what worked for you and cut out what caused a bad nights sleep. Everyone's body is different. Some people need more sleep, some get by on only 4-hours. Find out what is right for you.
Sleep Tracking Gadgets
If you are more of a gadget fiend or the prospect of recording your sleep before drinking your morning coffee seems daunting, try a wearable.Many of them will provide you with a fully detailed report of your sleep for the night. Including: the total amount of sleep you had (hours), the amount of time you spent in REM or deep-sleep and more.
#1 Fitbit blaze
#3 SleepTracker 24/7
#4 Oura smart Ring
More Advanced Sleep Tracking
If you really want to get to the bottom of your sleeping habits then you might need to consider something more comprehensive than a wearable. The most accurate tool to measure sleep is not readily available or it comes with a hefty price tag. The machine is known as a Polysomnogram (PSG) and requires the individual to be connected to lots of wires and electrodes.
This machine tracks measures such as brainwaves, eye movement, muscle tension and more, to give a conclusive report on the quality of sleep the individual had.
Remember, do not just record your sleep quality, analyse your results and find ways to improve them. This may be something as simple as reading before going to bed (or even counting sheep).
So now we have evaluated how to track strength, cardiovascular fitness, your quality of sleep and even suggested some great apps to help you with all of that but what progress are you making with regards to your body?
#1 THE METHODS TO MEASURE YOUR BODY
- Ordinary Bathroom Scale
- Skin Caliper Test
- Tape Measure
- 3D Body Scanners
- DEXA Scan
- Hydrostatic Weighing
- Digital Wifi Scale
- Bod Pod
Recording your progress using an ordinary scale is not as simple as hopping on and taking a mental note of your weight. It is made more complicated due to a number of reasons. The overriding issue however, is due to inaccuracies caused by daily body weight fluctuations which we will explain shortly.
Therefore, the best way to measure your progress with a bathroom scale is to take an average of your weekly weight. Record this weekly weight in a notebook or in an app such as: WeightDrop.
- Water levels vary in your body due to your hydration level (the level of water you have retained in your body from drinking).
- Some of the foods you eat cause an increase in salt intake. Your body absorbs more water to balance out sodium concentrations. Consuming 400 milligrams of sodium, the amount in a single gram of table salt, causes your body to retain an extra 4 cups of water, which equals roughly 2 pounds.
- Eating a high level of carbohydrates can cause greater water retention. Your body converts carbohydrates into glycogen which is then stored in the muscles for energy. For every gram of glycogen stored in the muscles, you gain around 2.7 grams of water.
- Some foods also have a higher 'gut-residue', meaning they stay in your bowels longer before they are digested. Therefore, when you weight yourself in the morning, it can seem like you have put on weight
To minimise the effect of body weight fluctuations, you should aim to maintain consistency.
You should take your weight after going to the bathroom in the morning and you should ensure you wear similar clothing each time you weigh yourself (going naked is best).
You should also try to weigh yourself at a similar time in the morning. There will be inconsistencies in your measurements, if one morning you weigh yourself at 7 AM and another day you treat yourself to a lie in and weigh yourself at 9:30 AM (due to more calories being burnt, as you still burn calories when you are sleeping).
Let's now clarify some advantages and more disadvantages of using a bathroom scale.
- Basic bathroom scales like the one pictured, are easily accessible and cheap. Chances are you have one of these in your house or you know someone that has one.
- If you follow the steps above (tracking weekly weight), albeit there are more accurate methods to ensure progression, the scale can be an indicator of moving in the right direction. At a very basic level, if your weight is decreasing over the weeks, you will hopefully be losing body fat and if it is increasing you are ideally bulking up and increasing muscle mass.
- You can track progress in the comfort of your own home.
- We have already explored a key disadvantage of using a scale to measure progress, body weight fluctuations.
- Traditional scales can't differentiate between muscle or fat. Therefore, tracking your weight via this method can be very complicated.
If you have been training hard and you are working to lose body fat and you see your weight increase, you may begin to feel demotivated. However, you may have put on muscle and lost body fat, which would be a very positive result (this is one of the key reasons why ShapeScale was started, read the Shape story).
Muscle is more dense than fat, it takes up less volume than the equivalent amount of fat. Therefore, your scale is not revealing the whole picture, is your ratio of muscle : fat increasing? If it is, you are improving your overall health.
Digital Smart Scale
Is your smart scale an improvement on the traditional scale? Yes, but they do still have their flaws.
Many smart scales offer body fat % measurements. Therefore, as well as tracking your weight it is advised to replicate the weekly monitoring method with your body fat %.
This will prove more accurate than just monitoring your weight as the scales can, to some extent, differentiate between muscle and body fat. So if your goal is to cut body fat, take the average body fat % after a week and keep note of this figure (in your notebook or via a number of apps) and each week, this figure should be decreasing if you are progressing.
In almost all cases this is done through bioelectrical impedance. A very small electrical current travels through your body and flows faster through water and muscle than bone and fat. The scale will measure the speed of the current and it then uses a formula to calculate body fat %. These scales are consequently also affected by hydration levels.
- To some extent differentiate between muscle and fat, providing the user with a more accurate understanding as to whether they are progressing.
- Relatively inexpensive.
- Track progress in the comfort of your own home.
- Many of the available smart scales have a very high margin of error (above 5%). Even if this body fat % is way off where you know you are, use it as a benchmark and if it is decreasing at least you know you are progressing
Tracking your BMI used to be the universal method for establishing whether you were of good health. BMI is measured by considering a persons height and weight.
The BMI calculation splits people into 4 categories. Those that are underweight, with a score less than 18.5. People that are at a normal weight, between 18.5 and 24.9. Individuals that are overweight, 25 to 25.9 and obese individuals with a score of 30 or higher.
The reason why BMI is so flawed is because it does not take into consideration someone's bone, muscle or fat proportions. An example of why BMI has become a redundant measure is explained below.
A muscular, athletic body type, with little body fat, is more likely to show up as overweight according to the BMI scale than someone that has relatively little lean muscle and more body fat. This is because muscle is more dense than fat.
Regardless of the inaccuracies, if you are still looking to track weight loss, tracking whether your BMI is decreasing could be an acceptable but very limited method (this would not prove to be very effective if the individual was also increasing muscle mass as they looked to decrease body fat).
There are all sorts of BMI calculators to see what your body is classified as.
- Most people have a rough idea of their height and weight and so can quite easily calculate their BMI.
- Does not take into consideration bone, muscle and fat proportions and so body composition analysis is highly inaccurate.
#2 How to calculate fat and lean mass
How Often To Calculate Body Fat
It is commonly claimed that a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Therefore, those looking to lose one pound of body fat a week should be in a 3,500 caloric deficit by the end of a week (500 calorie deficit a day). Some people look to lose more than a pound of body fat a week and so eat in greater caloric deficits and vice versa.
Due to this, we can assume you can record your body fat % weekly (obviously, if you are looking to use certain body measurement apparatus like a DEXA scan, it is not viable for the majority of the population to measure this frequently).
Body fat calipers measure skinfolds to calculate how much subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin) a person has. The measurements are based on the assumption that, as a person gains adipose tissue (body fat), the increase in skinfold thickness is proportional to the additional fat weight.
Instead of trying to explain how to calculate your body fat % and track your progress using skin fold tests, watch the video below which will make it far easier to take in.
So provided you have a skin caliper and have taken those 3 measurements at the chest, on the thigh and the abs, we can move onto how to effectively track progress using skin fold tests.
Using Skin Fold calipers to calculate body fat % can be an extremely effective way of measuring progress if the test is conducted by a professional.
Research states that an individual should have conducted around 50-100 tests before they can be classed as “competent” with body fat calipers.
The tests should also be carried out in a research settings. The skill is in exactly locating skinfold sites on the body. If a competent examiner takes your measurements you can expect a margin of error from as little as 2-3.5%.
(P.S. Instead of going with the highest figure as shown in the video when he measured his chest skin folds, take an average of the 3 recordings).
Skin Fold Body Fat Calculators
here are many online calculators that allow you to punch in the measurements you have taken and be provided with an estimate of your body fat %. Consider using the calculator by WeightTrainer.
Alternatively, most skin calipers come with a chart that will help you work out your body fat % based on your measurements and how healthy your result is based on your age.
A typical chart for the most popular skin caliper, Accu-Measure is shown below.
The table works by finding where the column at the top (your millimeter skin readings) intersects with the row of your age range. The number at the intersection is your body fat.
- Cost effective method of tracking progress (if you go for the cheapest skin calipers).
- Can track your progress anywhere. The calipers are small and so you can pack them and take them on holidays to track your progress on the move.
- Accuracy - Not many people actually follow the body fat % that is calculated from your skin fold measurements as these are notoriously inaccurate (it is far more accurate to simply track whether the skin fold measurement is decreasing over time e.g. 4 millimetres to 3)
- To enhance accuracy you would require a more expensive skin caliper. These can cost up to $500! (Check out a range of skinfold calipers at varying prices).
- It is very difficult to test yourself (as seen in the video). Locating the exact location to pinch the skin and how much to grab can be extremely difficult, especially when conducting the measurements on yourself.
Using A Tape Measure To Calculate Body Fat %
A tape measure can be used as a multi-purpose tracking tool to keep note of different aspects of your body aspect. We will first explore how you can use a tape measure to track and record your body fat percentage.
By getting a friend to help you measure a few circumferences you can use an online calculator to compute an estimate of your body fat.
The key measures to take are your wrist, hip and forearm circumferences. You can also include your waist circumference for added accuracy. Alternatively, input your recordings into the formulae below to calculate your body fat % for yourself.
- Fat Mass = Weight - [(Weight x 0.732) + 8.987 + (Wrist / 3.14) + (Waist x 0.157) + (Hip x 0.249) + (Forearm x 0.434)]
- Divide your fat mass by your body weight and multiply by 100 to calculate body fat.
- Fat Mass = Weight - [(Weight x 1.082) + 94.42 - (Waist x 4.15)] Using a tape measure to measure muscle growth
- Divide fat mass by your body weight and multiply by 100.
Using a Tape measure to track muscle growth
Many people train to increase muscle mass and so an effective way of measuring muscular growth is to measure your muscle dimensions.
Now the question of how often you should track any muscle growth is a tricky one because this depends on your fitness level.
If you are a beginner you will experience a much faster muscular development rate than someone who has been training for years (gym bros call this phenomenon “noobie gains”). Therefore, measuring your muscles quite frequently may be a novelty and hey, you are seeing results so why not.
However, measuring your muscle dimensions every week (with a tape measure) may not be necessary for more experienced lifters, as there will be little difference a tape measure will be able to record. So in order to know how often to track muscle growth, we should first aim to gather an understanding as to how much muscle one can actually expect to gain on average.
In a book entitled “The Sports Gene” author David Epstein writes that an individual can expect to put on 5 pounds of muscle for every pound of bone.
As Men's Health write however, you would need to undertake a DEXA scan to understand how much muscle and bone (Dexa scans use 3-compartment analysis, which includes bone density, into measurements) you have currently.
Other studies have quoted muscle gains of 4-7 pounds in 3 months for an average individual, with muscle gains rarely exceeding 0.5 pounds a week.
From this, it becomes clear that developing and growing your muscles can be a more complicated affair than losing body fat. In turn, this means measuring muscle dimensions with an instrument with limited accuracy, such as a tape measure, may not need to be done as frequently.
We suggest taking muscle dimension recordings bi-weekly for beginners and monthly for more experienced lifters.
Which measurements can you take
- Biceps - Measure at largest girth, we advise taking the measurement when the arm is bent and relaxed ..
- Waist - When you are standing, measure at the midway point between the bottom of the rib cage and top of the hip bone.
- Hips - Measure at the largest girth, where your bottom is protruding the most.
- Thighs/Quads - Whilst you are standing, take the measurement at the largest girth, below the bum.
- Calves - If you are measuring yourself, sit down and record at largest girth.
- Forearm - measure just below the elbow
- Chest - Standing, breath out and measure just above the nipple.
- Shoulders - Take a girth measurement around whole body.
- Cheap & very accessible.
- Taking the results of your body fat % measurements as well as your muscle girth measurements, you should be able to gain some understanding as to whether you are gaining muscle or fat (Muscle girth statistics should be up, body fat should be down).
- Questionable accuracy due to things such as tension on the tape, and correct landmarking (finding the correct anatomical sites for measurement).
- Variations in girth measurements can also happen due to body fluctuations such as level of fluid and/or changes in muscle glycogen content.
- Your recordings of muscle girth growth, will tell you where you are gaining but you still won’t know what you are gaining. It does not differentiate between an increase in girth due to fat or muscle (that is why you should also use the tape to calculate body fat %).
- Difficult to measure some body parts by yourself.
Archimedes' principle of displacement is the basis of hydrostatic weighing. The principle states that buoyant force on a submerged object is equal to the weight of the fluid that is displaced by the object. There is more in-depth analysis of the principles of hydrostatic weighing if you would like more information but on a very basic level, a person with more muscle weighs more underwater and someone with more fat weighs less and is more buoyant.
The individuals dry weight (before they get in the water/on land) is taken first. In as little clothing as possible, the individual then positions them self on a specialised seat/platform, exhales as much air from their lungs as possible and submerges them self underwater. They are informed to keep exhaling whilst underwater. This process is repeated several times to get an accurate reading and the individual must stay as still as possible.
If you would like to use hydrostatic weighing as a method of tracking your progress or measuring your body fat loss, it is advised to take the test on an empty stomach and keep this consistent each time you go for a new test.
These equations are used to calculate your body fat % from the data collected during the test.
Body Density = Wa / (((Wa - Ww) / Dw) - (RV + 100cc)), where Wa = body weight in air (kg), Ww = body weight in water (kg), Dw = density of water, RV = residual lung volume, and 100cc is the correction for air trapped in the gastrointestinal tract.
Once you have calculated your body density you can use the Siri equation to work out body fat %.
% Body Fat = (495 / Body Density) - 450.
You may be thinking well this sounds far more accurate than any other method we have mentioned so far, why do we not all do this. Well let's explore the advantages and disadvantages of hydrostatic weighing.
Until recently (As DEXA scans became popularized) hydrostatic weighing was known as the gold standard of body composition analysis. The margin of error is quoted between 2.3-2.8%.
- Expensive: The price for one test can range from $40-60 and so for many people it is not a viable way of tracking progress unless you intend to only measure results once a month or every couple of months.
- Accessibility. Many regions do not have testing facilities and you often have to travel quite far to find a facility that has the apparatus required to conduct a hydrostatic weighing test (Team Shape recently had to travel 45-60 minutes for a test).
- Varying hydration levels in the subject may affect results. A one-liter change in total-body water can lead to a 0.7% change in body fat%.
- The process can be quite uncomfortable as you have to fully exhale the air from your lungs and then when you are submerged underwater try and blow out even more air, at least 3 times for 1 result.
- Certain demographics will not be able to use this method of testing body composition. Demographics such as cardiac patients, the elderly, or those severely overweight may be excluded.
- You have to book an appointment. Not ideal on a busy schedule.
As you can see from the video, BodPods work much like the displacement technique seen in hydrostatic weighing. Except air is being displaced rather than water when using a Bodpod.
The advantages and disadvantages of the Pod method of body measurement tracking are very similar to hydrostatic weighing.
Accuracy is quoted to be within + or - 2.3 to 2.8% and a test costs about $45.
DEXA scans have replaced hydrostatic weighing as the gold standard of body measurement tracking. DEXA scans use a 3 compartment model to analyse your body composition. By this I mean they separate and calculate your lean muscle mass, your body fat mass and your bone mass (which DEXAFIT write is very important for understanding your risk of “osteoporosis, osteopenia, and other low bone mass issues”).
DEXA scans also show you your lean mass and body fat distributions throughout your body. Meaning you can see whether you have more muscle on your left arm or right arm.
This is particularly interesting as you can gain an understanding as to whether you are overloading one muscle more than the other when training.
For example, if someone is new to squatting, their technique may see them exerting more effort with their right leg than the left. The DEXA scan will show them this muscle imbalance and they can therefore seek form advice and adjust their technique.
Serious fitness fanatics and competitors find this particularly interesting as they seek symmetry in their body composition, therefore with these results they can adjust their training accordingly.
Primarily, DEXA scans (Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) are used to measure bone mineral density. To understand how they work you need to know a little about X-rays and how DXA is different from an X-ray.
The DEXA scan exposes patients to X-ray beams of differing intensities. By measuring the absorption of each beam into parts of the body, DEXA develops readings for bone mineral density, lean body mass and fat mass.
- The gold standard of body measurement tracking (+ or - 1 to 2.5% margin of error).
- In-depth body composition analysis (including bone density, localized and overall lean muscle mass and body fat %).
- Expensive. One scan can cost you $150.
- Not easily accessible (again Team Shape had to travel for about 50 minutes to locate a machine).
- Appointment only.
As previously mentioned, Bioelectrical impedance devices send electrical impulses through the body (in Inbody and Tanita devices, this is through the feet) and they measure how quickly those impulses return. The signal passes through water in hydrated muscle tissue but it hits resistance when it reaches fat tissue. The resistance the signal meets is known as impedance. Equations are then used to calculate body composition.
Lean tissue conducts impulses quicker than fatty tissue, so a faster response time means a leaner physique.
It is worth noting that when you train you change your adipose tissue (fat) and this affects the level of water in your body.
From the description of how bioimpedance devices work one can see they greatly affected by hydration levels tissue. If you are using an Inbody as a tool to track your progress, the results will be affected by the water you gain or lose as you train.
Skeletal muscle (not including muscle surrounding organs) is 60-80% water and on average a human body has a 9% body water turnover, meaning 3.12kg of water is lost per day. This statistic alone highlights the significant impact of water levels on body composition results.
- Quick measurement time.
- Do not need any assistance.
- Many of the devices are expensive but can be found in a majority of large chain gyms.
- There are affordable handheld body composition analysers using bioimpedance, such as the Omron.
- According to the manufacturers accurate to within 2% of DXA scans.
- Many of the Inbody devices are too expensive to have at home.
- Readings are greatly affected by variables such as hydration levels (since water also conducts electrical impulses), meal times and recent exercise.
- Impedance measurements can also be altered by changes in skin temperature, skin moisture, body posture and room temperature.
3D Body Scanners (ShapeScale)
3D body scanning scales such as ShapeScale use algorithms similar to hydrostatic weighing, involving density and weight.
How Does ShapeScale Work?
You simply step on to ShapeScale and the RGB+Depth sensor will rotate around your body, capturing your body data. The scan will take no longer than sixty seconds and it syncs automatically with the ShapeScale app.
The Depth sensor projects Infrared coded light onto your body to capture the depth of close to 15 million points every second.
This point cloud is then converted into a very accurate body model. The RGB camera captures hundreds of photos that are then sliced and stitched to create a photorealistic texture. The information is sent to our server that will compute your photorealistic 3D avatar. This enables you to track changes in your body down to the slightest detail.
ShapeScale differs to other 3D body scanners for a whole host of reasons including portability, photorealism and accuracy of depth-sensing.
- ShapeScale is the best of both worlds as it calculates body fat and lean mass, as well as measuring the user’s individual muscle girth measurements,
- The sensor is accurate to less than a sixteenth of an inch.
- A heat map allows you to visualize areas of your body where you have been losing fat and gaining muscle (this is possible as muscle and fat have different densities).
- ShapeScale captures a photo-realistic 3D model so that you can visualize physical body changes down to minimalistic detail the human eye can't see.
- The full body scan takes less than a minute and it can be taken at home with no assistance required.
- Unlike a mirror, a Shape scan is free from distortions and is not affected by emotional experiences or context. It is objective.
- The more data that is collected the more accurate ShapeScale becomes. This is because Shape servers make adjustments to account for discrepancies in posture and bloating.
- ShapeScale has many more amazing features allowing you to compare past and present scans (time lapse mode, difference view, goal setting mode and more).
- Although some may find the initial price instalment of ShapeScale high, ShapeScale will be the only tracking device you need for life. .
- Not quite as accurate as DXA scans which uses 3 compartmental analysis (including bone density).
#3 Visual progress & change
Visibly seeing the changes that happen to your body as you exercise can be far more motivating than relying on your weight represented as a number on a scale.
This number fluctuates day in and day out for the reasons we have already explored and so, it difficult to understand whether you are progressing.
You can also become increasingly pedantic and obsessed with the number the scale reveals. If, for whatever reason, you wake up heavier than the day before this may irritate and demotivate you, despite the fact your body will not have visibly changed.
So how can we visualize whether we are progressing?
The most basic performance measure we could use, would be to use a mirror. Simply stand in front of the mirror and try and analyze whether you have lost fat or put on some muscle.
- Most households have a mirror (although to really understand whether you are progressing you will need a full-length mirror)
- Cheap - You can find mirrors online very inexpensively.
- Unfortunately we can’t fully rely on a mirror because of the tricks our brain plays on us. It constantly adapts our perceptions to new levels of stimulation. We see ourselves differently depending on our mood and for a multitude of other reasons.
- Lighting will vary. You've probably heard gym bros say “this is sick lighting bro” and it is true. Lighting can distort what we see. There are photography professions which reside around making athletes look great by changing lighting effects.
- Ever had that problem of trying to look over your shoulder to check out your back? Me too. You can never get a proper look at yourself. Another problem with relying on mirrors.
- It can be hard to see minor progress in a mirror due to the fact that you see yourself on a daily basis. In fact, it is often quoted that it takes 4-weeks until you are able to see any progress you have made. Quite often this is too long to get anyone hooked on making a difference to their lives through exercise and healthy eating.
As we mentioned, visualising any progress made can be far more motivating than relying on numbers. Progress pictures can be a powerful means of seeing how far you have come and they can really help you mentally if you are seeing results.
A study conducted on individuals that were part of virtual support communities that shared their fitness success and their journey online, highlighted that this sharing of photos was a key part of their success.
However, progress pictures also have their flaws. Lighting plays an important role in maintaining consistency. Therefore, you need to ensure the lighting does not change from picture to picture.You must also be sure to take your photos at the same time of day. This is because factors such as hydration levels and food intake can alter how your body looks in a photo.
You must make sure you take photos from all angles and not just front-on otherwise you will not fully understand whether you are progressing (taking a good picture of your back is extremely difficult...trust me).
While we are on this note it is important to understand that transformation photos you see on social media can lie. Many fitness influencers have spoken out about how well-known figures in their industry cheat the system, using touch-ups or down-lighting to edit their photos.
#4 track body fat & composition progress
The most basic way to track your body composition would be to write down your statistics in a notebook or journal or input the data into an excel spreadsheet. However, there are a number of tools and apps that can be used if you want your data available immediately via your phone.
Recording Body Composition
Record your weight by inputting the data you got from your scale into TrendWeight You will be presented with a graphical illustration of your weight loss trend over time. TrendWeight plots a moving average from your daily weight and your scale weight, giving you a better idea of your weight trend by hiding the majority of the daily variance caused by water levels.
Body Tracker guides you step-by-step through the entire process of tracking your body composition. You will need a tape measure, fat caliper, or body fat scale, and Body Tracker shows you how to take the measurements (through videos and pictures) and will run the calculations for you. Body Tracker offers a number of different methods to calculate your body fat percentage, so choose depending on your preference or tools you have.
The most basic way to track your body composition would be to write down your statistics in a notebook or journal or input the data into an excel spreadsheet.
However, there are a number of tools and apps that can be used if you want your data available immediately via your phone.
Recording Body Composition
Record your weight by inputting the data you got from your scale into TrendWeight You will be presented with a graphical illustration of your weight loss trend over time. TrendWeight plots a moving average from your daily weight and your scale weight, giving you a better idea of your weight trend by hiding the majority of the daily variance caused by water levels.
#2 Body Tracker
Body Tracker guides you step-by-step through the entire process of tracking your body composition.
You will need a tape measure, fat caliper, or body fat scale, and Body Tracker shows you how to take the measurements (through videos and pictures) and will run the calculations for you. Body Tracker offers a number of different methods to calculate your body fat percentage, so choose depending on your preference or tools you have.
Tracking Your Health/Mental Health
Testing Your Blood Sugar Levels
Tracking your blood sugar level is particularly important for diabetic patients. Recording the results allows you and your doctor to stay on top of this and better manage it (which will help prevent diabetic complications).
You can test your blood sugar levels by using a lancet to prick a fingertip. Place a droplet of blood on the test strip and input the strip into the meter. Receive your results in 15 minutes and make a note of the results. This is an example of “home blood glucose monitoring” (HBGM).
HEALTHY BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Firstly, it is important to note that different countries have slightly different units. In Canada and the UK, blood sugar is reported in millimoles/liter (mmol/L). If you want to convert Canadian or British glucose levels to the units used in the United States, you can multiply your result by 18.
The US measures blood sugar levels in mg/dl (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood).
Blood Sugar levels vary throughout the day and so it can be difficult to pinpoint a healthy range. For a healthy individual, your blood sugar levels before eating should be under 100mg/dl. Before your first meal, the cited range is 70-99mg/dl. If you take a recording 2-hours after eating, you would be looking for a reading less than 140mg/dl.
If you have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises that you should keep your blood sugar levels( before eating) between 80–130 mg/dl and after eating at <180mg/dl.
How To Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
We have included monitoring your blood in this post for a number of reasons. You can test it at home and the results are easy enough to understand. Keeping a note of this could even help prevent a series of health threats.
If you track the level of glucose in your blood and compare it against the figures we presented above, you can self-diagnose whether you need to adjust your lifestyle.
Once you begin to pay more attention to your blood sugar levels by adjusting certain aspects of your life, you can analyze whether your changes are helping to reduce these levels. Bring these reports in to your doctor and they can suggest any needed changes.
Although genetics can play a large role in your chances of developing diabetes and how high your blood pressure is. There are a number of things you can do to keep your blood sugar levels healthy. They can be as simple as increasing exercise, staying hydrated, increasing your intake of fibre and choosing foods with a low Glycemic Index.
Measuring Your Blood Pressure
Taking your blood pressure can also be an important measure to track. High blood pressure has been linked to an array of conditions such as dementia and it can even lead to heart failure.
The higher your blood pressure, the more strain there is on your heart. This strain can cause your arteries to become less flexible and it will weaken them. Consequently, they become narrower which can lead to clots.
Tracking your blood pressure at home can give your physician a time-line of how your treatments are affecting the hypertension.
There are a number of tools for self-measured blood pressure monitoring. You can choose to go with a wrist or arm monitor. Both are simple to use and which one you choose is based on personal preference.
A study based out of Minnesota investigated whether self-measuring your blood pressure can be beneficial. The study involved 450 people and although it focused on those with pre-existing hypertension (high blood pressure), the results were conclusive.
Those that monitored their blood pressure at home had more success controlling their blood pressure levels than those that only received usual care. “72% of those doing home monitoring had their blood pressure under control, compared to 57% of the usual care group”.
Cardiologist, Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School says “More frequent blood pressure monitoring allows more opportunities to detect blood pressure that is higher than the desired range. That may trigger more intensive treatment of elevated blood pressure.” So if you track and stay on top of your blood pressure, you’ll do a better job of treating it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 3 adults in the US has hypertension. They go on to say that half of them don’t have it under control. High blood pressure has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
What Is A Healthy Blood Pressure Reading?
Use a Blood Pressure Chart to determine whether your reading is healthy (Levels for blood pressure do not change with age).
To use the chart below, once you have taken your readings using your blood pressure monitor, find your top number (systolic) on the left side and look across. Also identify your bottom number (diastolic). Your blood pressure is where to the two meet.
How To Lower Blood Pressure Levels
Your genes can influence your blood pressure, however, there are a number of things you can do to help keep blood pressure levels healthy.
Again, exercise and maintaining a balanced diet play a key part here. Striving to lose weight will prove hugely beneficial in lowering blood pressure. Watch the level of sodium in your diet and limit alcohol consumption.
How Often Should You Test Your Blood Pressure?
It is suggested to originally take your blood pressure twice a day for a week. Take it once in the morning and once in the evening. You can then work out a weekly average and being to check once or twice a month and if you notice any abnormalities you should inform your doctor.
These our some of our favorite health apps that we seriously recommend you trying if you want to stay on top of your health.
Remembering to take medication is often a challenge. Medisafe provides you with a friendly reminder to take your medication. You will be notified when it is time for your next dose. For added accountability, allocate a “Medfriend” that can also track whether you have taken your meds.
Medisafe will also educate you about your condition and the medicine you have been prescribed. Medisafe is not just for patients though. Physicians can connect with their patients and access their health data, to monitor how they have been progressing since their last visit.
Use the BP Tracker to keep records of your blood pressure, heart rate and weight. As we have previously explored, keeping on top of your blood pressure is a good habit. High blood pressure can seriously be a detriment to your health and has been linked to Kidney and Thyroid problems.
Using the Blood Pressure companion you can analyse your blood pressure visually by looking at charts and histograms. Once you see a irregularity you can act on this information and consult your doctor.
The app will also remind you to measure your blood pressure and you can export the files to your physician.
#3 Apple Health
The Health app is a pretty well-rounded medical tool. It consolidates data from your iPhone, Apple Watch, and other third-party apps that you may already use and compiles it into one convenient place to view your progress. It will also suggest other beneficial apps to download.
Track your activity such as steps and distance and calorie burn and for more advanced metrics, pair up your Health app with a 3rd party service.
Sync apps like MyFitnessPal with Apple Health so you can quickly check to see if your nutrition for the day is on point.
Create a Medical ID which could help first responders save your life and save your health records such as immunizations to share with your doctor.
TRACKING YOUR MOOD
POMS stands for “profile of mood states” and is a self-reporting, psychometric analysis questionnaire. We have included this as looking after yourself and tracking your mental state is as important as taking care of yourself physically.
The world of fitness/health can be daunting and navigating all of the advice found on the internet can be difficult. Achieving results can be even more difficult (hence why tracking exists) and that can place some mental strain on people.
The POMS analysis includes a list of 65 moods/emotions such as “guilt” and “bad tempered” to name a few. You are required to indicate for each mood or statement how you have been feeling in the past week, including the day you take the test. Score how strongly you associate with that word on a scale from “not at all” to “very strong”.
As you progress towards your fitness goal, consider taking the test a couple of times (and making note of your score in a journal or spreadsheet) to see if your mood profiles are becoming more stable (the lower score the better). It would be great to see that exercise is helping ameliorate your mood and many studies do express that exercise can provide mental health benefits.
If your POMS rating is actually becoming higher, there could be a whole host of reasons for your mood deteriorating. Perhaps you are overttraining and pushing yourself too hard which leads to an increase in “fatigue” levels.
Analyse your results and decide whether your current training and nutrition plans are resulting in you feeling better or worse and adjust your routine accordingly.
Take the POMS test for yourself.
Mood Tracking Apps
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Principles Of Fat Loss And Weight Gain
We will not delve too deep into the plethora of information on weight loss and gain. For the purpose of this article, all we need to keep in mind is that in order to lose body fat we need to be in a caloric deficit (expend more energy than we take in) and in order to gain weight and subsequently muscle, we need to take in more energy than we expend (surplus).
It is often said that the secret to weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise and to some extent this is true. It takes huge amounts of effort to create a deficit purely from exercise and not adapting your diet. In fact, Holly Lofton, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine claims you would need to run 7-10 miles per day to lose one pound of body fat a week with no dietary refinements (No thank you).
Another phrase you have probably heard being thrown around is “you can't out train a bad diet”. Again very true, simply watch this Youtube of Steve Cook trying to burn off the 10,000 calories he ate the previous day.
Ensuring a caloric deficit is far easier if we watch what we eat. The best way to ensure our nutrition is on point is to track/record what we are eating.
This works both ways:
If we are aiming to lose body fat, we track what we eat because we want to:
A) Be sure we are really in a deficit
B) We need to make sure we are not under-eating.
If the goal is to put on lean-muscle mass, we want to lean bulk and so we record our food intake to:
A) Confirm we are in a surplus
B) To make sure this surplus is not too extreme, it should be just high enough to pack on muscle but limit fat gain.
Benefits Of Tracking Calories
- Recording your meals can reveal insights about your eating habits. You can establish when you are most hungry and where the cause of your weight gain may be coming from.
- You become more conscious about the things you are eating and you begin to think with a healthier mindset. If monitoring your foods becomes a habit, you become more educated and aware of the nutrient breakdown of food types. Education with regards to food is key.
- It can highlight common misconceptions about the food you eat. Yes, your chocolate smoothie nearly tops 700 calories.
- You’ll get immediate gratification. One of the main reasons dieters fail is because they can’t see any progress. Weight loss takes time and changes in water weight and muscle gain can often mask weight loss and make it look like you’ve gained weight. Tracking your calories gives you immediate feedback, which can be a powerful motivator.
- Most people have a very poor sense of reality when it comes to proper “portion size” and what constitutes a meal (In fact, it has been proven that if we begin to see snacks more as meals we are less likely to overeat later). Food logging can help you learn to better measure and estimate portions.
- It can help you gain insight into how certain foods affect your mood and well being.
What Aspects Of My Diet Should I Track?
Tracking Calories vs Macros
Recently, purely tracking caloric intake and not paying attention to macronutrient breakdown has gotten some stick. The argument against solely tracking calories is that, it neglects any real consideration to the nutritional value of different food groups.
Calories are not created equal. The different macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat) not only have differing numbers of calories per gram but they also have very different levels of sustenance. Our body does not need as much of one food group as another to function effectively.
As we grew to understand more about nutrition and how creating an energy imbalance could lead to us losing weight, many people began to count their calories. They discovered taking in less calories than they burnt would ensure fat loss and so this became the be all and end all of their nutrition plan.
For example, if I take in 2,500 calories for the day and I eat 2,000 calories, even if it is junk food, I will lose body fat. To put this to test a high school teacher went on a strict diet of only eating Mcdonalds for 6-months. He ended up losing 56 pounds but made nutritionists cringe in the process.
This weight-loss secret is not really a secret, it is a known fact, however, it is not advised. Eating foods that have little to no nutritional value can damage your body in a number of ways.
Not maintaining a balanced diet (healthy proportions of macronutrients) can have a whole host of repercussions on the body later in life.
This is when the trend of tracking macros “came to the rescue”. Tracking nutrition became more about the types of foods we were eating and not just their relevant energy levels. As previously mentioned, macronutrients have varying numbers of calories per gram.
- Protein - 4 calories/g
- Carbohydrate - 4 calories/g
- Fat - 9 calories/g
How To Calculate/Set Your Macros
Your macronutrient proportions will differ depending on whether you are looking to gain muscle or lose body fat.
Let's run through a quick example. I am looking to lose body fat and also maintain muscle mass. I have calculated both my BMR (2,200 calories) and my TDEE (TDEE is calculated by multiplying my BMR by a figure corresponding to my activity level). This has revealed to me that I burn roughly 2,500 calories a day.
Therefore, in order to lose weight, I need to be eating fewer than 2,500 calories a day. It is frequently noted that a 500 calorie deficit/day (3,500/week) will result in one pound of fat loss per week.
With this in mind, I need to apportion my macronutrients to be equivalent to 2,000 calories. As I am gunning for fat loss but want to ensure maximum muscle retention, I want to keep my protein levels high.
This might look something like this:
- 180g of Protein (180 x 4 = 720 calories)
- 250g of Carbohydrates (250 x 4 = 1,000 calories)
- That leaves 280 calories left for fat (280/9 calories ~30g of fat).
One of the easiest ways to calculate your macro split and subsequently your calories, is to use an online macronutrient calculator
Again, check here, if you want a greater insight into how to calculate your macros as we will now begin to explore the best way to effectively track/record macros.
Beware Of IIFYM
It is important to remember that although tracking macronutrients is a step in the right direction, it can still be abused. Flexible dieting or IIFYM has led some people to believe that, as long as they hit their macronutrient targets then they are doing well and eating healthily.
However, remember, not all foods are created the same. Eating a cheese burger from a fast food restaurant may well fit within your macronutrients but that does not negate the need to eat nutritious, fresh food.
An example is provided by Elivate Nutrition: A cheeseburger, from In-N-Out Burger has 27 grams of fat. A lean steak may have 13g fat, and a side of avocado slices may contain 14g fat, are these foods nutritionally equal? Absolutely not.
Yes, you can still lose weight eating candy all day if your macronutrients are structured appropriately, but this can be damaging to your body for a number of reasons due to the dangers of excess sugar.
We advise to stick to the 80:20 rule. Eat great, nutritious foods 80% of the time and treat yourself 20% of the time.
Tracking Your Daily Water Intake
Before we express the importance of monitoring our hydration levels, it is important to note that many fluids contain hidden calories that should also be tracked if you are paying attention to your diet. For example, a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with whipped cream actually contains 380 calories.
We place so much emphasis on monitoring our food intake as it is the primary concern when looking to lose fat or bulk up, that we often neglect our fluid intake.
It is often quoted that we should drink between 6-8 glasses of water to stay hydrated, however, adequate hydration differs from person to person and can be affected by variables such as exercise and diet. You need to stay on top of your hydration levels by checking the color of your urine and by paying attention to other key hydration indicators.
Drinking enough water (water is the key) is essential to our survival. Our bodies are around 60% water and the uses of water are extensive. From maintaining our temperature, removing body waste and lubricating your joints.
Water also aids weight loss. In adults, resting energy expenditure can increase by 24–30% within 10 minutes of drinking water. Many people also drink a glass of water before eating to partially blunt their appetite.
From this brief description of the benefits of water we can really see the importance of staying on top of our hydration. So how can we monitor our intake?
A few ideas may be to set yourself a goal of refilling your water bottle X amount times and writing this down in your journal (Fitbook we discussed earlier). You can also input the amount of water you have had to drink in your fitness wearables app.
Alternatively, try the PrymeVessyl
The Ulla (A device you clip on to any water bottle that tracks when you drink and reminds you to drink) or Hidrate Spark - The bottle flashes to remind you when to drink, a sensor inside records the amount of water you drink and it integrates with fitness trackers like Fitbit or Apple Watch.
Best Apps To Track Calories And Macros
We have previously suggested some great apps to track your macros and calories and we will highlight some below.
#1 My Fitness Pal
This app allowa you to log your meals and snacks by searching for them manually through their extensive databases (5-7 million foods) or by scanning product barcodes. You can easily save previously logged meals and you can set goals
Loseit offers a free and pro model. They partner with Helix which allows you to order a DNA kit. Once you have tested yourself you will receive your results via the Loseit app. Insights such as how your body handles the food you are eating will be available at your fingertips.
#3 Eat this much
Eat This Much is a great tool you can find on the web. It is a fully comprehensive meal planner. We have reviewed Eat This Much in detail on our blog and so will not go into too much detail now.
It will suggest meals for you according to your dietary preferences, to help you hit your calorie goals. You can also adjust your macros requirements. The premium version also has a nutrition tracking feature
The Best Methods To Track Your Diet
Rise is an app that actually pairs you with a real-life nutritionist. They help alleviate the mystery surrounding tracking and recording your daily food intake.
This app is not so much about calorie counting. Instead, you take a snap of the meal you have prepared yourself and your coach will highlight where the meal is lacking. You can even connect for real-time support.
Check out our review on Rise.
#2 Healthy out
The description of this app is in the title. HealthyOut allows you to quickly locate restaurants across the United States and order restaurant quality, healthy meals.
You can opt to search by calories or dietary requirements, like Paleo or by a specific cuisine. The problem with apps like MyfitnessPal are that they tend to require you to cook all your own meals to be able to track effectively.
However, this is not realistic. Everyone wants a break from cooking every now and then. With HealthyOut you do not need to feel guilty about not prepping your own meals and you can be sure how many calories you are taking in. Then simply plug the numbers into your calorie tracking app
So we now understand the importance of tracking macros but our body requires more than just macronutrients. We also need micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to aid bodily functions.
The Nutrients app informs us of the micronutrient breakdown in our foods. For example, the quantity of sugar in an apple. It also reveals information about amino acids and caffeine. You can even search offline in a database of nearly 200,000 foods.
Although this is not a way to track macros and calories, it is a way of recording your nutrition. Many personal trainers will recommend that you write a food diary or journal.
This will be a document of what you have eaten in a day and you may even want to record how you feel as a consequence of what you have eaten. For example, if you stuck to your diet plan you may feel great, write that down it will help motivate you to stay on track.
On the other hand, you may give into temptation (check out how you can deal with food cravings) and binge the night away. Record this, it will deter you from making the same mistake. Remember, snacking does not always have to be negative. Perhaps, you did go off track but you still feel great and so you probably deserved a treat.
Tracking your food intake is about balance. You do not want to limit yourself to the extent that the rewards do not appear to be worth the effort.
The Fitbook is a great food diary that could be yours for ~$23. It allows you to record your meals, add notes and describe how you felt about each meal through the use of smiling or unhappy faces.
It also helps you monitor your water intake, the amount of sleep you got and the number of servings of different nutrients.
Recording every single item that you have on your plate can be tedious, even if you have a fully comprehensive app to do the dirty work. Not only this but calories displayed on product labels are often vastly inaccurate. Precision Nutrition state that they can be as far off as 50%.
However, there are other ways to track your foods. Try mindful eating. You can take mental notes of your macronutrients and stay on top of your portion sizes by using your hand. Yes, that is right, your hand.
The tracking aspect does not have to disappear either. You can record whether you stuck to the recommended guidelines at each meal (e.g 1-cupped hand of carbs).
Then after using a method to measure or visualize your body composition, you can look back at your food diary. You will be able to identify and be proud of your success if you stuck to your portion guidelines or you can analyze where you went wrong and look to fix this moving forward.
Well there we have it. A guide to tracking everything! From your strength to your blood and it's importance in relation to achieving your goals.
As we have discovered, there are very different levels of tracking our progress. They differ depending on our experience, our goals and our dedication. Whether we are tracking daily activity, in-depth performance analytics or benchmark figures, I hope this article has illustrated the importance of recording progress and it's relevance to goal acquisition.
Above all, monitoring and recording our statistics will lead to us being healthier and fitter.
It is often the case that if we neglect to track our daily achievements, then our long-term goals can't be achieved.
For example, I may end up gaining weight, although my long-term goal was to lose fat, due to the fact that I did not consistently record my nutrition.
Instead of merely tracking one metric, we should pay attention to a whole host of factors that affect our health and well-being. Someone serious about their health and fitness goals should be aware of their nutrition, exercise levels, body composition and more as they are all interrelated.
I really hope you found some value in this blog post. We tried to go well beyond the traditional “tracking progress” articles which purely consider monitoring your foods, workouts and body composition and include ways to monitor and stay on top of your health.
Let me know in the comments what you learnt, if there is anything you would like included in the article and if you are trying out any of the suggestions.