In yesterday's post I mentioned that the most popular new years resolutions include losing weight, getting organised and quitting smoking AND why these resolutions are utter nonsense. You see these goals are empty; nothing tangible or timestamped.
If you are relying on motivation, you are setting yourself up to fail.
When you start the New Year (or even a new training/diet plan), you're excited and driven and above all motivated. You get your shopping list and meal prep under way, tick off four sessions in the gym and see notable movement on the scale. It's fantastic....for about 4-6 weeks. And then all goes downhill......you miss a few training sessions with work deadlines, it's your best friends birthday drinks, your boyfriend talks you into a takeaway, you hit a plateau and lose all enthusiasm as the weight creeps back, you get injured.....IT'S LIFE. But the big key factor here is motivation...your motivation is that excitement you feel for the initial first steps. But it fades....and that's where your 'why' HAS to come in. Go back and read about this here before you move through the rest.
When it comes to actually working towards your goals, most of the time our perception of what we do is very different to what we actually do.
You would be shocked how many people come to me looking for help with diet etc and open our conversation with 'I eat pretty well'......so inevitably I follow this with 'what's the problem so'? And then we unravel the absolute mess; no tracking, no routine, no ideas and above all zero motivation....
And think now to a time you hit a fitness/health/anything plateau and how frustrating it got - perhaps you even 'gave up' at this point or had more 'cheat' meals that warrants mention.....think how different that could have been if you had a full layout of your progress to date alongside a broad food diary and training log.
Do you think it would be easier to accept the plateau if you could visibly see all the effort you put in? Do you think it would be easier to find the missing link if you had reams of information to search through?
It's basically like setting off on a car journey to France and not looking at a map and then getting annoyed when you get lost and delayed and wasting precious time going in the wrong direction.
Consider the following.....
- The method you choose to measure and track with will have accuracy issues, it's fruitless to rely on one thing only.
- A weight loss plateau does not mean there isn't fat loss going on
- And vica versa, a gain doesn't mean body fat has been gained
- Stalling in the gym doesn't mean your training plan is the problem (or maybe it does)
You need to simply realise that if you don't track, you can't effectively tackle your plateaus and so you end up wasting time and energy on the wrong things.
So what to measure?
Below is a selection of my favourite measurement tools and also some notes for you to consider when interpreting the results. Tracking data allows you to simultaneously be able to review and look at your progress and also be accountable to yourself. I encourage you to use the below as a guide and depending on your goal, decide which methods you might try.
I have a love-hate relationship with the scale..mostly hate. However, it is still an incredibly valuable tool to use to measure progress albeit I never suggest using it in isolation for the simple reason that fat loss does not always go hand in hand with a loss (and vica versa a gain does not mean fat gain).
To Do: When you are really focusing hard to reach a certain aesthetic target, measure your weight daily at the same time and get a weekly average. Do it after you go to the toilet in the morning.
Reasons: Weight loss fluctuates daily due to many things including water & carb intake, sodium, stress, menstrual cycle.....
The obvious downside is the stress of a daily weigh in which you yourself have to consider. Personally, I have a very tough relationship with the scale and I hate to weight myself. However, I have learnt to come to terms with the fact that a number does not define me as a person so when I set myself a very demanding goal, I also accept this is part of the process. Funny enough, I have am less stressed out by weighing myself daily than just once a week.
2. Tape Measurement
The tape measure goes hand in hand with the scale and is one thing I always get my clients to do on a weekly basis, again in the morning after going to the toilet.
Purpose: It's a great tool to gauge muscle gain/tone and fat loss. It's amazing how often I see zero weight change but inches falling off everywhere else which is great motivation. The key points to track are as follows:
- L Arm
- R Arm
- L Thigh
- R Thigh
Some points to note: Different tape measures can yield different results; flex your bicep for arm measure; take the measurements yourself for consistency; tense your muscles; use the widest part of your thigh.
3. Photos Monthly
This is my final tool of choice when it comes to body tracking & analysis. This is also the tool that my clients (and often I too) neglect and then really regret in the weeks that follow. I don't know why really because nobody has to see these pictures and they are only to be used as a tool to visually see the progress you make.
Purpose: You see yourself in the mirror every day and so its nearly impossible to gauge the minute changes that happen. But when you take pictures a few weeks apart and compare them, it can present some amazing visual change.
To Do: Take photos front and side every four weeks. Wear the same underwear each time, preferably in just one colour, eg black. Tense your muscles in all the photos.
4. Food Diary
This one is so simple but incredibly effective. There is a massive learning opportunity for everyone in keeping a food diary and it is my first port of call with new clients OR even when I feel I am stalling.
Purpose: Make you aware of what you are and aren't putting into your mouth. Literally. Even if you know nothing about nutrition, I can guarantee that the diary can give you some invaluable information. For example, perhaps you think you don't eat that much chocolate but when you keep a diary you start to note that you eat a Mars bar daily. Or perhaps you think you eat enough food and can't understand why you can't gain weight but on keeping the diary you note you frequently skip meals. Or perhaps you think you are doing everything right but can't figure out why you are making no progress and the food diary reveals your weekend warrior habits are to blame.
To Do: You can use a physical notebook, notes on your phone or an app like MyFitnessPal to track the following:
- Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks: what you ate and rough quantity.
- Meal time and how you feel before and after: hangry, fine, overfull, satisfied.
- Liquids: what and when
5. Subjective Markers - Sleep, Stress, Hunger, Mood
These markers, I would argue, are the absolute most important to track over time and have a massive impact on your progress. MASSIVE.
- Sleep quality will affect performance, recovery, muscle growth, hunger levels, cravings and hormone balance.
- Constant ongoing hunger can be a sign you are simply not eating enough.
- Stress impacts everything and cortisol can be a big factor in stalling progress.
It's important to track these consistently over time and there are a lot of tools out there that can help. If you decide to use the food diary, simply note out of 10 your stress, mood and hunger and take note of the hours of sleep you get. Here are four apps you can look at:
6. Review and Revise
And from there it's just a case of tracking these things daily/weekly and taking some time to review at the end of the month and make sure you are moving in the right direction. My best advice is to try to use just one tool or medium where possible. So for example, if you prefer a notebook, keep everything in it. If you prefer your phone, get some apps and track in there or perhaps put it all on your computer in an excel file. Just make sure the method you choose is accessible and easy to use.
At the end of the month, take 30 minutes to view your measurements and make sure the numbers are moving ok. It's not a race so the idea is not to hit big numbers but instead you should be observing a steady downward trend.
If you stall, or notice you aren't moving at a pace you expect, you can review the other data points like the food diary and your training log to see if there are any obvious gaps.
Some tips on interpreting the data:
1. Review the data in 4-6 week chunks and look for key trends. There will always be fluctuations in either direction so it's important to just consider the overall trajectory. You are looking to see that the general trend is going in the right direction.
2. Ladies, our weight and measurements will fluctuate all the time with the menstrual cycle. It is a good idea to track the days of the cycle and also take note of your performance because often, training can also lag a bit.
3. If you are bulking, all your measurements will go up and you can expect to gain some fat in the process. It's unavoidable.
4. If weight is going up but the inches are going down, it may indicate simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain.
5. If weight is going down and you notice you are losing strength in the gym too, it may be a sign of muscle loss. Not good. But do note that you store fat everywhere so just because the tape measures are going down does not necessarily mean muscle loss.