Measuring Progress, Feeling Progress

As I wrote in my last post, fitness progress is often not steady and it’s not always obvious. It’s especially hard to see if we don’t know what we’re looking for.

There are numbers we can turn to: how fast we cover a certain distance, how much weight we can lift, or the number on the scale (but please don’t tell me that’s the most important number to you; in some ways it’s the least informative!). But these numbers are not hard and fast. From one day to the next, they can be influenced slightly by how well we slept, what we’ve eaten, did we drink coffee, did we just have a fight with our boss…. We’re not mathematical equations, we’re human bodies. So these numbers are quite useful if we use them over longer time periods. They track our progress over weeks or months.

But to really understand progress, we have to know what numbers to look at. And that comes from understanding what we’re trying to achieve.

What is your goal? What steps will you go through to reach that goal? And what can you measure to monitor your progress?

These are all things that a good trainer can help you figure out. Working out a plan, attainable goalposts, and the means of monitoring progress – that is where a trainer comes in. But the goal is kind of up to you.

What would you like to do that is difficult or you can’t do now? What tasks would be easier if you had more upper body strength? How far or how fast would you like to run? Do you have a particular race in mind? Is there a canoe/camping trip with your old college mates you’d like to go on next summer?

Next, what skills and strengths do you need to achieve your goal? That will dictate a lot of how you work out. Do you need more focus on endurance or strength? If you want to run a marathon or climb a mountain, you need endurance. That’s a different kind of work than building big, pumped-up muscles. If you want to tennis again or play basketball with your kid, you need enough upper body strength for those activities.

The goal drives the workout plan.

And it drives what’s measured for progress. Being able to bench press a certain weight may be interesting, but if I’m building endurance to hike the Appalachian Trail, it might not be the most meaningful measure of how well I’m doing.

Having a goal and a good plan of reaching it can make all the difference in staying motivated. If you know where you’re going, you can figure out good measurements of your progress. You’ll know that how far, or how fast, or how heavy is what you want to measure. Then, over weeks and months, you’ll be able to track your progress.

But progress is not all about numbers. They’re great yardsticks, but sometimes they pale in comparison to that thrill of feeling progress. That feeling of being capable.

To steal from American Express’ ad campaign:

Gym membership: $950
Personal Training:  $90/hr.
Feeling like you’re capable of living your life the way you want: Priceless.


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2 Responses to Measuring Progress, Feeling Progress

  1. Ronni Gordon says:

    I love the American Express tagline. Thanks for the reminder that what you can do varies from day-to-day and that it is not a major setback if you can’t do today what you did yesterday. Sometimes I get too hard on myself because I am so eager to do what I used to be able to do.

  2. julie says:

    Hi Ronnie,
    I know – we all fall into that! But try thinking about what you could do last month…. Is it easier? Can you do more today (or this week)?

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