Tracking

The Top 10 Ways To Track Fitness Progress Like A Pro

If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, then you need to start tracking the changes in your body.

Story Highlights

  • A scale
  • Taking photos
  • A mirror
  • Measurements
  • Skinfold measurements
  • Hydrostatic weighing
  • DEXA scan
  • Bioelectrical impedance
  • Fitness tracker
  • ShapeScale

You probably have seen a dozen of incredible transformation photos and desire a similar result. The one thing that these weight loss or muscle gain achievers have in common is that they keep track of their progress.

If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, then you need to start tracking the changes in your body.

With the number of techniques and methods out there, it is easy to get a little stuck. That’s why I’m here to tell you about the different ways you can track your progress and help you choose a method that’s best for you!

We even expand on these methods in our Ultimate Tracking Guide.

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Using body weight is always standard for diet and exercise programs to track progress. However, as you probably already know, it is not an accurate method. Hop over to our blog post where we explained why your scale is a little sucky.

WHY YOUR BATHROOM SCALE SUCKS

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Nevertheless, we all continue to weigh ourselves. In fact, the recent survey we have conducted with you revealed that 66% of you use a bathroom scale as a way to track fitness.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a scale-hater. If your plan is to lose a lot of weight, then this machine certainly won’t lie. If the weight on the scale keeps going down then that’s probably a good indication you’re doing well.

TIP:

You want the conditions to be as consistent as possible when weighing yourself. The best thing is to weigh yourself last thing at night, or first thing in the morning.

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PROS:

  • It is incredibly Easy and accessible. Probably every household has a weighing scale. This is the easiest and most convenient way of seeing if you have gained or lost any weight.
  • If you need to reduce your weight to a healthier level, daily monitoring will prove useful.

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CONS:

  • The scale does not differentiate between muscle or fat. So gaining weight might indicate positive progress because you’ve gained it in muscle mass.
  • Some scales measure body fat, muscle mass, and more, but they only offer an overall assessment of total body fat rather than measurements based on specific key areas of your body. More importantly, they have a very high margin of error (above 5%) so you end up with inaccurate information.
  • Your body weight fluctuates greatly throughout the day, depending on the food you consumed, your activity level and Daily fluctuations in water balance:

    • Water & glycogen – due to a change in carb intake
    • Water – due to hydration status and/or due to a change in salt intake
    • Bowel content – some foods have a higher ‘gut residue’ (they stay in the gut for longer)

 

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While not a numerical measurement, body photos can be great for measuring progress for those who are more visual and help see changes in your physical appearance.

Weight loss and muscle gain is a slow and incremental process. It’s also common for people’s weight to fluctuate, especially when they begin weight training for the first time. The human eye often cannot see the small changes that happen day-to-day. People get very frustrated with a perceived lack of results and decide to give up. However, there is progress the scale and numbers will not show and that is where progress photos can act as highly motivational fitness trackers. Progress photos can serve as a visual confirmation that all your hard work is paying off.

TIP:

  • Take two photos, front and side. To get a more accurate view  be sure to take your photos in the same bikini/underwear, in the same place, in the same light and at the same time, with the same camera, camera angle and pose
  • Consider taking specific body part photos too, to track individual muscle development
Source: @cludmarie @stinalee1115
Source: @cludmarie

               @stinalee1115

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PROS:

  • Photos can be a great motivator, helping you achieve your goals and help you move forward.
  • Weight is just a cold number. What most of us want is to look good naked and progress photos are a great way to capture your health and fitness development.

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CONS:

 

  • Even the slightest changes such as lighting could change the appearance of your body. Check out our article about how easy it is to fake a before and after photo
  • Taking front shots can be deceiving and won’t tell the whole story. It is important to capture progress photos from the front, back and sides. This may require assistance and thus may be uncomfortable for some. Alternatively, you can set a timer!
  • You can’t detect day to day changes

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PROS:

  • A mirror is a cheap and accessible way of seeing if you’re gaining or not without any numbers or calculations. You know what body you want and looking in the mirror can help you see if you’re coming closer to your goal body.
  • You can guesstimate body fat percentage by comparing your body to the below images:

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CONS:

  • We can’t trust the mirror because of the tricks our brain plays on us. It constantly adapts our perceptions to new levels of stimulation. This phenomenon is known as “perceptual adaptation.”  
  • Lighting will vary, and your condition will change depending on the salt and carb content of the foods you have eaten.
  • When you’re looking in a mirror, you’re generally face-on. This is just one version of you. Also, there are certain parts that are never revealed to us. You can’t see your back properly when looking in the mirror.
  • It can be hard to access minor progress in the mirror due to the fact that you see yourself on a daily basis.

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Girth measurements can be used for both measuring increased bulk when muscle building and measuring weight loss. If your biceps are 10 inches at the start of your log and 12 inches at the end, you can be certain you have gained muscle unless you’ve been sitting and eating all week and your arm is a huge chunk of flab.

While all measurements are important, waist circumference is particularly important as a measure of health. This is because fat deposits around the belly are the most dangerous kind and correlate with coronary heart disease and many other serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Measuring the body at the start of your fitness journey and periodically during the process allows you to see the areas of the body that are losing inches and help you make judgments on where to focus.  It is useful for goal setting and can help you make insightful judgments about what works or what doesn’t work for you.

TIP:

  • Consistency is key – measure under the same conditions and using the same equipment each time.This will help you see how you’re changing over time and gauge trends.
  • Measure both sides of the body to accurately track progress and symmetry.
  • Make sure that you set a weekly reminder to take the measurements so that you don’t forget and you build up the habit over time.

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PROS:

  • Checking girth measurements and deriving body fat % is the cheapest method used to determine body composition.
  • The measurements will tell you where you are growing, which muscle groups are responding and which may need to be attacked in a different way. This information is valuable when deciding on such things as exercises and diet.
  • For most sites, the measurement can be self-administered.

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CONS:

  • A lot of things can affect the reliability of your measurements such as the tension on the tape, and correct landmarking (finding the correct anatomical sites for measurement).
  • Variations in girth measurements can also happen with fluctuations due to fluid variations and/or changes in muscle glycogen content.
  • Your body tape measurements will tell you where you are gaining but you still won’t know what you are gaining. It does not differentiate between increases in girths due to fat gain versus muscle gain.

Alone, body tape measurements aren’t enough. You need to know what is causing an increase in size. Do the pounds come from body fat or muscle? You find this out by tracking your body fat percentage.

MEASURING BODY FAT

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Body composition, the measure of fat mass to lean tissue is an extremely important metric which often gets overlooked. Higher levels of body fat have been linked to an increased incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure and other heart risks. The overall body fat % is not the only concern. The distribution of body fat is equally important. Increased levels of abdominal fat have been linked to higher risks of heart disease and cancer compared to fat distributed across the rest of the body. Further, it can help identify problem areas and better guide your diet and exercise plan.

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HOW IT WORKS:

Body fat calipers measure skinfolds to calculate how much subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin) a person has. Skinfold measurement is based on the assumption that, as a person gains adipose tissue, the increase in skinfold thickness is proportional to the additional fat weight.

GET READY TO GET PINCHED

The technician pinches the skin and then uses the caliper device to measure the thickness of the skin fold for each site. An equation can then be used to determine the body-fat percentage, or the skin-fold thickness, on its own can be used to gauge progress.

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PROS:

  • They are relatively inexpensive (about $10 per pair), and once you have a set they should last a lifetime! This, however, comes at an expense and the cheapest calipers are not the most reliable. The ones with the highest accuracy can cost you over $100, some even reach the price of $500.
  • They can be used to calculate body fat in the privacy of your own home.

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CONS:

  • It is very difficult to test yourself. For accurate results, an experienced examiner is needed.
  • Putting measurements into a formula to calculate body fat percentage can be confusing. There are over 100 equations you could use. Use the wrong formula and body fat calipers become useless.
  • Using body fat calipers as a way to determine body fat percentage gives you accuracy to within 4% at best. However, calipers can be used as a monitoring device to indicate changes in body composition over time.

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Hydrostatic weighing compares a subject’s normal body weight (outside the water) to their bodyweight when completely submerged. It is based upon Archimedes Principle which states that the volume of an object is equal to the objects loss of weight in water. The two numbers are then used to determine the person’s percentage of body fat. Because bone and muscle are denser than water and fat tissue is less dense, a person with more body fat will weight less underwater.

Source: www.coe.fau.edu
Source: www.coe.fau.edu

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PROS:

  • Underwater weighing has the advantage of being very well studied and tested and can be accurate in determination of body composition
  • It is a very accurate technique for measuring body composition with a low percentage of error ( +/- 3% )
  • The entire test takes less than 15 minutes to be conducted

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CONS:

  • The process is not very comfortable and you will often need to repeat this numerous times to get a decent measurement. You have to exhale as much air out of your lungs as possible and sit completely submerged underwater.
  • The different level of hydration in the subject may affect the error in results to quite an extent. A one-liter change in total-body water can lead to a 0.7% change in body fat%.
  • This method is quite expensive compared to other techniques, ranging from $40 to $60.
  • It is quite inconvenient and the necessary equipment is not readily available. You might have trouble finding a lab or a performance center that offers hydrostatic weighing.
  • It is not suited for certain populations such as cardiac patients, the elderly, or extremely obese.

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THE GOLD STANDARD?

The DEXA Test (or the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) is considered a gold standard for measuring body fat and bone density. The DEXA scan provides one of the most highly accurate measurements of body composition available.

HOW IT IS DONE

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.  Since it scans body parts individually, DEXA is capable of detailing regional fat mass, lean mass and bone mass. This means you can break down body composition by limb.

And since the machine scans body parts individually, the test can also break down body composition per limb so you can confirm your suspicions that your right leg is indeed just a bit stronger than your left.

Source: www.pedept.com.au
Source: www.pedept.com.au

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PROS:

  • DEXA scans are incredibly accurate at measuring body composition, with a 2-3 % margin of error.
  • A Bodyscan’s DEXA image tells you not just how much fat and lean mass you’re carrying but how it is distributed around your body.
  • It is relatively quick. It takes about 10-20 minutes to do a body scan.
  • Unlike hydrostatic weighing which involves getting dunked into the water, with DEXA you’re simply lying on a table for few, painless and dry minutes.

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CONS:

  • DEXA scans are not available around the clock and are not offered by many places.  Getting a DEXA scan usually involves making an appointment with a medical professional in your area.
  • The high level of accuracy also comes at a relatively high price tag compared to other methods. The cost is usually about $100. This is not ideal if you want to take multiple scans to track changes over time.
  • DEXA cannot differentiate between visceral and subcutaneous fat.

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HOW IT WORKS

Bioelectrical impedance device sends tiny electrical impulses through the body and measures how quickly those impulses return. Since lean tissue conducts electrical impulses quicker than fatty tissue, a faster response time is correlated with a leaner physique.

With bioelectrical impedance, electrodes are placed on the hands and feet and a painless electrical signal is introduced. The resistance to the electrical flow is calculated and this value is then converted to body density and finally, body fat.  

Source: www.memim.com
Source: www.memim.com

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PROS:

  • Bioelectrical impedance monitors tend to be affordable enough to keep one around the house and they can often be found at many gyms and personal training studios (although you might need to pay to use them).
  • Incredibly easy to use and no assistance is needed.
  • Measurement is done in a matter of seconds.

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CONS:

  • Bioelectrical impedance measurements are generally much less accurate than methods like DEXA scans.
  • Readings can be greatly affected by variables like 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.
  • Readings aren’t sensitive enough to accurately detect small, day to day changes so any progress they register will likely be apparent to the naked eye already.

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From counting steps and calories to measuring caffeine intake and sleep quality, fitness trackers are becoming more and more popular. If you haven’t got one yet, I strongly recommend you consider buying one. For a relatively low cost, fitness tracker can be a powerful motivator, helping you kick-start and stick with a fitness plan and achieve your goals.

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PROS:

  • Fitness tracker will remind you to be active. It will alert you when you’ve been sitting too long. This is important as according to a 2013 analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, there’s a direct correlation between the length of time spent sitting and risk of death from all causes.
  • You’re more likely to achieve your goal when you have support. When you create an account with fitness-tracker-compatible apps, you have the ability to connect with friends, family or even complete strangers who can see your progress. Such exposure can help you keep yourself in check.
  • Fitness trackers provide motivation. Wanting to reach 10,000 steps a day can encourage an individual to get up and move more than they might have otherwise. You can also win awesome “badges” and invite friends for a fitness challenge.
  • You can set individually-tailored goals
  • Some fitness trackers monitor sleep. Sleep duration and quality affect your workout recovery and fitness.

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CONS:

  • It may not be comfortable for some, and a lot of people find them unattractive to wear.
  • There is a problem with accuracy and some people have been pointing out discreparancies of data when wearing multiple devices. This begs the question of how accurate any of the devices are
  • If we become fixated on constantly outdoing ourselves, then the metrics can become a tool we use to judge ourselves.

 

SHAPESCALE

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HOW IT WORKS

As you step on the scale, a robotic sensor starts to rotate around your body. The scale uses 3D depth-sensor technology to capture your body shape at an extremely high resolution and infrared light to measure the distance between you and the sensor. A point cloud of over two million points of your body is captured and a photorealistic 3D model is created.

Read About My Own Experience with ShapeScale

 

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PROS:

  • ShapeScale measures the user’s individual body girth measurements, weight, volume, lean mass and body fat percentage.
  • Body fat data is much more accurate than that of regular scales due to algorithms similar to hydrostatic weighing that make use of body volume and density to determine the user’s body fat mass. The sensor is accurate to less than a sixteenth of an inch.
  • A heat map allows you to visualize areas of where exactly you have been losing fat and gaining muscle.
  • ShapeScale captures a photo-realistic 3D model so that you can visualize physical body changes.
  • The full body scan takes less than a minute, can be taken at home and no assistance is required.
  • Unlike a mirror, a ShapeScale scan is free from distortions and is not affected by emotional experiences or context.It is objective.
  • ShapeScale’s daily body scans together with a time-lapse video allow for the tiniest body changes to be detected. You can see day-to-day changes that the naked eye cannot observe.

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CONS:

  • We have not launched yet! ( Though It’s happening soon! )
  • It is not as accurate as DEXA/DXA scans which are able to measure your bone density

 

SO WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TRACK MY PROGRESS THEN?

There is no single best way to track your fitness progress and every method has its own advantages and disadvantages. It also depends on your fitness goal, your budget and personal preference. While some would be perfectly fine with hydrostatic weighing, there is no way I would dunk myself completely in water for a body fat measurement! What is important, however, is that you do take the time to measure your progress. Knowledge is power and you have to know where you stand and where you want to go in order to get somewhere.

START TRACKING PROGRESS AND STOP FITNESS FRUSTRATION

Measuring your progress gives you a realistic picture of your current situation so you can identify the changes that need to be made and implement them. As you measure your progress, you get increased confidence and motivation as you realize all your hard work is paying off.

But remember that there is another thing to consider other than the numbers and how you look – make sure you consider how you feel too! Rest days are important as well as finding genuine enjoyment and satisfaction in what you do.

We want to know what way of tracking your progress has been the most motivating for you. Let us know by voting below!

 

If there is something that you use to track your fitness progress that I have not mentioned, share it with us by leaving us a comment!

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.

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