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Monitoring fitness outside of weight tracking…

When you think about what it means to be fit and healthy, what comes to mind? I’m sure for many of you, weight has been the first thing that surfaces. 

Although considered a useful indicator of health, social media and societal pressures has led many to become obsessed with weight and pair it with the concept of health. Rather unfortunately, this fixation has also led and continues to damage relationships with food and exercise, as well as negatively impacting body confidence and self esteem. 

However, this does not have to be the narrative. You can rewrite the narrative to realise that your health and fitness progression is much more than just a number on the scale.

Rewriting Your Definition of Health and Fitness

It’s a common misconception that health and fitness is solely judged on weight – this is not the case. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (Who, 2021)

According to the Cambridge Dictionary fitness is “the condition of being physically strong and healthy” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021)

What this means is that your health and fitness also includes key, and often neglected aspects, such as your physical, social and mental wellbeing. The multifaceted definition of health also means that monitoring your progression changes too, to involve a variety of measures that paint a more holistic picture.  

Top Tips When Monitoring Your Progression

If you are someone who benefits from monitoring your progress – it is recommended for optimal success to:

  1. Use a variety of measures.
  2. Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound). 
  3. Take an initial reading for each measure prior to starting a new exercise or dietary regime and reassess every 2 weeks. 

Ways You Can Monitor Your Progress Other Than Weight Tracking:

Body Composition

This measure monitors your body’s bone, fat, water and muscle percentage. 

Commonly, muscle and fat percentage is monitored due to their impacts on your health. An excessive fat percentage is linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and certain cancers, whilst a low percentage can lead to osteoporosis, irregular periods or even infertility in women (Tanita, 2021?) A higher muscle mass is linked to an increased basal metabolic rate and reduced risk of falls and fractures associated with age related loss of strength and mobility (Health Harvard, 2016). 

How To Monitor This

You can invest in your own scales at home, or use a scanner in a gym or health centre. It is important to note that this may be more beneficial who are at risk of being considerably underweight or overweight. 

Performance Tracking

This is a really great way to monitor your performance progression, depending on the type of exercise you partake in and your goals. 

For example, for cardiovascular training you can track how far you run, how fast you run a set distance or at what intensity you run on a treadmill. For resistance training you can monitor variables, such as the reps, sets, rest periods, workout frequency, amount of resistance, movement speed and the number of exercises. 

How To Monitor This

Generally your chosen performance variables are based on your specific goal, e.g. muscle gain, muscle loss or improved cardiovascular fitness. Therefore it can be useful to get a qualified coach, PT or fitness app that determines your goals, the performance variables you should monitor and how best to track them. The simplest way you can do this yourself is to record your exercise on a spreadsheet, including your chosen variables. Wrist trackers linked to apps, e.g. a Fitbit, can also be useful for tracking your performance. 

Progress Pictures

This measure is really effective to measure physique progression in an objective way. For example, increases in muscle mass, fat loss or even changes in posture. 

How To Monitor This

The simplest way is to take a front, side and back picture of your body in minimal clothing. Ideally the time of day, clothing, lighting and posing should be consistent to reduce these variables altering your appearance.

Habit Tracking 

This is often overlooked, but perhaps the most important. This is because habit tracking allows you to focus on consistently performing behaviours that lead to positive health change. 

How To Monitor This

The easiest way to track your habits is to determine behaviours each week that will help you to positively achieve your goal and tick them off a checklist or calendar. For example, if your goal is to gain muscle you might choose behaviours such as, sticking to your calorie surplus each day, training 4x a week and hitting your daily protein goal. For weight loss, you may choose to stick to your calorie deficit, get 5000 steps per day and train 3x a week. For a healthy diet, you may aim for 5 portions of fruit & vegetables per day, home cooking your weekday dinners and hitting your daily protein goals.

Furthermore as it’s highly individual, you can include self care, social and mental habits. For example, taking a bath once a week, attending 1 gym class per week to socialise, journaling each night or going on a walk with your family. 

 

To Conclude:

Your health and fitness is multifactorial, therefore using a variety of measures to track your progression can be extremely beneficial. Variety offers a more holistic approach and allows you to be more positively motivated to achieve whatever goal(s) you have set. And importantly, if you need help or support with any of this, it is recommended to invest in a qualified professional!

Please be aware that if you have a disordered relationship with food, these practices may be triggering and counter productive.

 

References 

https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/constitution 

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fitness 

https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/why-is-my-waist-size-important/  

https://tanita.eu/help-guides/understanding-your-measurements/ 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass 

Contribution by Ashley Hookings

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