You’ve been working hard. Eating right, meal prepping, lifting weights 3 days each week, getting your cardio in - but is it working? How can you tell? Without knowing where you stand - how will you make adjustments to continue your progress?
A few main metrics tell you more than others and work better for specific goals. Kind of the way you have 6 main Avengers, but you need the right hero (or combination of heroes) to take on a particular villain.
I really like this analogy - we’re gonna run with it.
Obviously, this is the Captain America of metrics. It’s an American classic that can give you plenty of direction on it’s own, but works best with others.
Mostly, this tells you if your total calorie intake is moving your weight in the direction you want.
Energy balance (calories in vs calories out) is what dictates changes in your weight. So if the scale goes up, you’re eating more than you’re using. If it goes down, you’re in a deficit. If it doesn’t budge, you’re right at maintenance calorie intake. You goal decides which you should be looking for.
Checking the scale daily can drive you insane. Based on activity, diet, hydration, and several hormonal factors, your weight can fluctuate by up to 8lbs from one day to the next. It’s not possible to gain or lose that much weight in fat or muscle overnight.
Instead, check the scale every week or every two weeks and map the trend. Checking daily can really beat the crap out of your confidence and motivation. Sustainable change happens more slowly and this practice will help you confirm if your strategy is moving you in the right direction.
Body Fat Percentage
Knowing how much of your total weight is lean mass (skeletal muscle, organs, skeleton) and fat is what tells you more about your health. This will allow you to break down your nutrition to its individual parts and make incremental improvements that benefit the whole system.
Higher body fat percentages are correlated with heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure issues, insomnia, and chronic stress issues.
Lower body fat percentage are correlated with muscle definition and rockin six-packs.
The individual pieces that contribute most to your body composition are your macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats). Adjusting these based on your body fat percentage will ensure that whatever weight you’re gaining or losing is the right kind of tissue.
For example, if you’re losing weight and your body fat percentage stays the same, you’re losing fat AND muscle. Pump up your protein intake and preserve more lean muscle tissue. Protein is the first tweak you should make, then adjust carbs and protein to you preference.
If you’re building muscle, you’ll need more carbs and protein than if you’re losing weight.
Measuring the specific places you want to gain or lose weight is a great motivator for some folks. This is only useful for tracking the growing or shrinking of specific areas of the body.
If your goal is to build bigger biceps it would be best to see what your arms diameter is now, and how much bigger it is in a month. If you’re losing weight and want to measure either using a tape measure or by how clothes fit, that’s a good form of feedback. If you choose to use clothes, pick articles of clothing where you’re sure to feel a difference.
In the Hulk’s case, those purple pants fit no matter how big or small he is, so that wouldn’t be a good choice. He’d use a tape measure.
Seriously, what are those pants made of?
Disclaimer: if you’re losing weight and want it to come from your waist, you can’t target ONLY belly fat. You’ll lose weight everywhere, but if that’s your main area of concern - track your progress there!
Common places to measure are:
It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in, everyone is worthy of a progress pic. Someday you’ll want to look back at how far you’ve come. So, I recommend that everyone take progress pictures regardless of your goal.
This works especially well for aesthetic goals that are hard to measure by weight and width. If the goal is to stay the same size and weight, but get more vascular or look like your muscle is more dense, this will be the only way to tell.
This is also super fun to look at after a long weight loss program and proud of all the work you put in.
Athletic Performance Metrics
While the presentation of “Performance Metrics” sounds broad, these are by far the most specific skill sets you can measure.
If you play a sport, that sport will have several key performance indicators. If you’re a pitcher it may be fastball velocity. If you’re a basketball player it may be your vertical leap.
It could be you want to run your first marathon or Tough Mudder race. Mile times and recovery heart rate could be your metric.
For strength sports like powerlifting or strongman events it’s going to be 1RepMax on key lifts. This also applies to other sports but the exercises tracked will change with the sport. A max Bench Press is a good strength metric for football, but useless for baseball due to the exercise’s correlation to sport specific demands.
Honestly, I have no idea what metrics to track for kicking ass like this.
These athletic metrics work well with others, but can also hold their own.
For example, if you’ve seen Bartolo Colon (pitcher, Texas Rangers) clearly doesn’t care about his scale weight or body fat percentage - by both counts he’s very overweight. He does care a great deal about arm speed, velocity, power output, and recovery rates. As long as his extra heft is adding fire to his fastball, he’s good.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Don’t use this; it’s for insurance companies. If you need to use this don’t use it alone. BMI is the Hawkeye of progress metrics because it sucks and is absolutely useless all by itself.
The reason is - BMI doesn’t tell you anything about your actual health. It’s just a simple height vs weight scale based off averages from an enormous sample group.
The Rock is morbidly obese according to BMI. Tall Olympic marathon runners are considered dangerously underweight.
Damn straight, Barton
Lazy insurance companies use this because it's an easy metric to collect, even if it doesn’t tell them anything.
The Right Team-Up for the Mission
Your goal is going to decide which tracking methods will give you the most relevant feedback and lead you to victory.
Assemble your team and get to work
Track these metrics for each of these specific goals:
Fat Loss: Scale weight, body fat percentage, progress pics
Hypertrophy: Scale weight, body fat percentage, tape measurements, progress pics
Strength: Body fat percentage, athletic performance metrics (1RM on specific lifts)
Improve at Sport: Body fat percentage, athletic performance metrics (1RM on specific lifts)
Prep for race/event: Body fat percentage, athletic performance metrics (speed, HR)
Prep for fighting sport: Scale weight, body fat percentage, athletic performance metrics (strength on specific lifts/movements, speed, recovery, HR)
As you may have noticed, the most frequently used metrics help you make adjustments to your nutrition.
Nutrition is the most important piece of any goal. If you don’t have a good grasp on your eating plan success is going to be much more difficult than it has to be.
Despite the myriad of totally nerdy references in this article, I do take measuring client progress very seriously.
Decide how frequently you’ll measure. Set these check-ins in your program and don’t skip them. If you find you are going in the right direction, congratulations keep up the good work!
But if you’re not, you want to know as soon as possible to make adjustments. That’s why it’s so important that you stick to your measurement schedule.
At the end of the day these metrics are for you. Some of these may make you uncomfortable at the onset (most folks tend to get squeamish about progress pics). No one else has to see them, hear them, or know they exist. Please, do them anyway. Make sure your hard work is accomplishing the mission.
To get more insight on the right measurement approach for your goal, contact me. I'm happy to walk you through the best practices.
Tell me what questions you have and/or what metrics have worked for you in the comments below.
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