When it comes to training metrics I like to consider a blend of lifestyle, appearance, and performance related information. Regular physical activity has a myriad of benefits that will impact many facets of your life. There are visual elements like body fat and weight loss, performance outcomes such as improvements in technique and strength, and lifestyle factors including mood and sleep.
Let me explain a few metrics that are worthy of your attention. It is likely that you’ll have a balance that is unique to you and your specific goals. Remember that any metric that you track won’t be worth anything if you don’t make the changes necessary to progress. You’ll be left sitting on a bunch of useless information that you don’t care about.
I can speak about changes in mood both from anecdote as well as the current research that supports it. Exercise is a mood boosting activity. My clients that exercise (2-3 times per week) report enhanced mood as one of the driving factors behind their consistency. This is likely due to the balance of the hormones dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that react positively to physical activity. Armed with this knowledge, practitioners are promoting exercise to treat varying levels of depression and/or mood disorders.
Now this will take a bit of self-reflection on your part. Set aside time to check in with yourself regarding your mood. I usually do this in the morning after a short meditation. You can really do it anytime you want. I like the mornings because it’s early enough in the day that everything is quiet and I can be present with myself. Right before bed as kind of a “review of the day” is also a great option. Your mood is responsible for your relationships, reactions, and general demeanor. So pay attention to your dealings.
I use this free app called Insight Timer which presents itself as a meditation platform as well as a mood assessment tool.
Caveat: There may be some underlying lifestyle factors that need to be addressed in conjunction with your exercise program. That is to say that your exercise is just one part of the bigger picture. Adequate nutrition, sleep, and mental health are just as important.
People struggle with sleep now more than ever. There is a potent bevy of stimuli constantly vying for our attention at every corner.
Sleep has a pivotal role in our mood and recovery. When we exercise–specifically resistance training–the body is under a great deal of stress. Sleep is the catalyst for the regenerative process that allows muscles to recover and return to a healthier and stronger state.
The two most important variables are the quality and quantity of your sleep. Quality refers to the time spent in Deep and REM sleep and the quantity refers to the duration.
I don’t expect you to know exactly how much REM and Deep sleep you have, but you should be aware of your sleep patterns. That is to say that if you’re waking up regularly, having trouble falling back asleep, and/or wake up feeling tired, there are some inconsistencies with your sleep. These could all be reasons that your sleep performance is plummeting. Meanwhile the duration is fairly easy to gauge. The recommended amount is 7-9 hours per night for adults.
Generally, regular exercisers are more active throughout the day which has a positive correlation to sleep quality. There is a lot of interesting technology out now that have built in sleep trackers to monitor your performance. For those that are passionate about it companies like Whoop, Oura, and Garmin have some good options.
This is easily my favorite metric to follow. For good reason, too! Performance metrics are the easiest to track.
Improvements in strength, technique, and proficiency are all valuable metrics in this category. Changes in this category show us that learning is happening! You may be building muscle to support your strength increases, improved motor control, and faster rate coding from your brain to your working muscles.
If your performance in the gym is improving over time, then you are on the right track. I’ll explain more in detail later but if you aren’t interested in tracking visual appearance then stick to your performance. Working towards a lifting (load) or repetition goal are great options.
If your goals are primarily appearance based, then this is one of your best options. However, I urge you to combine this with one of the performance metrics discussed above. The reason being that there is far more to fitness than vanity. However, monthly or quarterly check-ins like this can give you quantitative data to track progress and keep your goals in focus.
Start with your chest, hips, and waist. These 3 anatomical positions will display the biggest changes in body fat. If you are regularly resistance training then you can expect to see some muscle gain in the place of body fat.
Caveat: My biggest issue with with measurements is how much it dignifies weight loss as the primary marker of progress. This is flawed. It’s just data. For people that have a history of body image challenges and/or eating disorders I may advise against this all together.
You know your body better than anybody. If you think this could encourage problematic eating behaviors or hurt you emotionally then don’t do it. Tap into your sleep and training performance first. There is a lot to be gained from the other metrics I wrote about, including weight loss as a byproduct.
The primary reasoning for fitness metrics like these is to track your progress and to habituate your experience. We live in a very data heavy world so people expect results that can be documented. What you’ll find is that after a period of prolonged exercise, you won’t care as much about the metrics. You’ll exercise because of how it makes you feel and your commitment to keeping those good feelings coming!