by Bob Vandersluis

One of the easiest, yet most overlooked aspects of success, whether in fitness, business, sports, you name it, is tracking progress.  This simple process of recording results can have a major impact on success rates and outcomes.  Progress monitoring can be achieved with the use of tools that continuously assess client change.
Creating a list of things that you want to accomplish is age old.  Grocery lists, task lists, and project management lists have been around since humans started being productive and “busy”.  Isn’t that always the response you get when you ask someone “How have you been?”, “Busy…”.  With all of these busy people in the world today, productivity and success should be on the rise, but what are people really “busy” with?  Does being busy = being productive?  Not without the right tools and tracking measures.
In the world of fitness there are tons of methods of tracking progress.  Some of them can be very overwhelming, especially if you are fairly new to the industry.  We expect our athletes to track certain variables that we deem to be the most important, then we have a sliding scale for other items that we think are still important, but may not be necessary, depending on their goals.
-Recorded Weight/Reps
-Performance Tests
-Food (calories) consumed
-Body Composition Pictures
-Energy Levels
-Muscle Soreness and Hunger
This method of tracking is the most important for our performance athletes and our general population.  Without knowing if you are progressing from week to week, it is very difficult to maintain a clear vision on progress and goal attainment.  Most goals associated with strength and condition, whether it’s weight loss, weight gain, or athletic development, the weight lifted, or the reps counted matters.  If these tracking measures are not incorporated, it makes it very difficult to progress.
 Performance Tests
If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.  We use a variety of performance tests that track outcomes of the work our athletes put in the gym.  We don’t waste a whole lot of time with this, but we do find it valuable to ensure that athletes have something quantifiable to measure that will directly relate to success in their given sport.
The tests we use are:
-Vertical Jump (Height)
-Long Jump (Distance)
-Lateral Skater Hop (Distance)
-5-10-5 “Pro-Agility” (Time)
-Seated Med Ball Chest Press (Distance)
-Feet Elevated Suspension Trainer Row (# of reps)
Tracking caloric intake and food consumption can promote some very beneficial body composition results. However, it is not easy, and can have a detrimental effect as well.
The easiest way to begin to track nutrition is with a food log.  We have a simple 3 day template that we ask clients to fill out during a period of normalcy.  This period is usually mid-week.  Weekends are often outliers and don’t reflect the other 80% of a person’s habits, so we suggest a Tuesday-Thursday tracking.
We suggest monitoring approximate amounts of food too, so athletes get used to measuring and understanding ratios of calories to weight, and eventually move to the next step of calorie tracking.
There are a number of very good calorie trackers out there, but we like to use My Fitness Pal.  This is a complex food log that sets weight loss/gain goals, and adjusts calorie consumption requirements according to individual goals.
This is a fairly tedious method of food tracking, but can be exceptionally valuable, if done properly, and consistently.
This tool can really help people lose weight effectively and safely, but it does have some drawbacks.  It is time consuming, requires accurate measurements, and can lead to feelings of failure if days are missed.  This advanced calorie tracking method is only used with athletes who have a background in calorie tracking, food measuring and understand that if a day or two is missed, it’s not the end of the world.
Another issue with tracking food is that the calories indicated on food packaging is not always accurate.  Processed food especially cannot be 100% accurate because the FDA allows for up to a 20% inaccuracy.  Second, the human body does not absorb all calories consumed.  This varies from person to person and by food type.  Third, how you prepare your food can have an effect on the calories left in it when you consume it.  Measurements are supposed to be taken raw, so cooking food different ways can manipulate the calories left after cooking.  Lastly, people are not great at eyeballing portion sizes.  A tablespoon of peanut butter to one person, may be less or more for another person, and this can have a significant caloric difference.
Most of the time we only use this measurement tool with adult athletes, or athletes that have body composition goals.  These can be very revealing and give some valuable perspective to people.  It’s hard to see yourself in an honest manner without the truth that the camera reveals.  Pictures aren’t meant to be humbling (although some people feel they are), but rather meant to give a starting point to making change and improvements.
I took this picture of myself on the left January 2016.  I was horrified, but not surprised.  My left scapula was upwardly rotated, and I had a very overactive trapezius.  My rotator cuff had been giving me issues, and was not 100% healthy.  After seeing these pictures, I decided that I had to make a change, and I had a better idea of what I needed to do in order to make the change happen.
On the right, you can see more symmetry, and added definition in both of my traps.  Knowing how to attack problems with a revealing picture, can be a really beneficial assessment.
In our next article, we will focus on the subjective methods of progress tracking, which at times can be more effective and important than the actual measureable outcomes.