Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Fitness: Is What I’m Doing Actually Working?

Is My Work Out Actually Working?

So, you’ve made a commitment to yourself to get healthy. Perhaps you’re looking to lose a bit of excess body fat, improve your stamina or pack on a bit of lean muscle. Maybe you’ve decided that changes to your diet or trying a different approach to exercise is the best approach for this. Firstly, well done, you’re making the right move! As long as you stick to it you’ll probably get some pleasing results.

HOWEVER…
How many of us have been here before? How many of us have initiated these health kicks only to drift back to old habits because of seeing a lack of progress? I’d imagine that just about everyone has been that person. What I want to talk about today is how to motivate yourself to push past that first week or two where you’re unsure if what you’re doing is actually making any difference.

The main thing to consider here is that in order to truly know whether what we’re doing is working we have to monitor our progress as we go. I feel that this is whether the majority of people get stuck. Let’s take a look at the standard ‘go to’ monitoring tools generally used – the scales and the mirror.

Tracking your weight isn’t a terrible idea but those numbers can be very misleading and incredibly divisive and demotivational when the numbers move in what we perceive to be the wrong direction. The mirror I have a little more time for. Critically analysing your physique can be a good tool in checking how you’re getting on with your new exercise and nutritional endeavours, as long as you’re not spending too long pinching and prodding at what in your mind is still a far from desirable human form.

I’d like to invite you to look at other ways to track your progress: quantifiable ways that will give concrete guidance along the way to your dream body.

Here are some monitoring tools for body composition (fat loss, building muscle etc.):

  • Circumference Measurements – Of perhaps hips, waist, legs and arms.
  • Before and After Photos – Take a photo of yourself in your underwear, in the same room, with the same lighting and at the same time of day. Perhaps take front and side views so you can not only look at your physical size but also posture.
  • Body Fat Testing – A controversial topic due to the reliability of certain measurement devices but your personal trainer or gym staff should be able to advise and help you with this one. You’ll get a reading in kg and also a percentage to go on.
  • Skin Fold Measurements – Probably best taken by a trained professional as the skin fold sites are sometimes tricky to locate with the precision required to make the measurement replicable and therefore reliable. However, this can give a real insight into the rate of fat loss.
  • Blood Pressure & Heart Rate – If you’re deconditioned and overweight you heart may not be functioning as well as it could be. Poor diet, sub optimal lifestyle choices and a lack of exercise often lead to elevated blood pressure and resting heart rate. Getting it checked every now and again might be a wise thing to do.

Here are a few monitoring tools for performance (strength, endurance etc.):

  • 1, 5 or 10km Walk or Run – Time yourself either on a treadmill or mapped outdoor route over a certain distance. If you want to get better at running then tracking whether you’re getting faster is probably something to look at!
  • 1, 5 or 10km Row – Time yourself either on a rowing machine over a certain distance. Just as with running, the only way to get better is to keep replicating the movement.
  • 1, 5 or 10 Rep Max – Choose a resistance exercise you want to become stronger at. Let’s take a squat, for example. Simply monitor what weight you can use for a certain number of repetitions with good form.
  • Hang Tough – Hang your body weight from a bar for as long as you can. This will be a real test of your grip strength and should improve markedly with any reduction in body weight.
  • Standing Long Jump – I often have my clients perform a standing long jump test to monitor their lower limb power. Most of us dislike jumping because we’re rubbish at it. Surely this means that we should practice more!
  • Plank Hold – We’re all familiar with the old fashioned plank. This static exercise, and variations of it, is probably the safest way to work your core. See how long you can hold a perfect plank without sticking your bum in the air.
  • Swiss Ball Balance – Improving your core strength and balance can be improved with, and monitored by balancing on a Swiss Ball for as long as possible.

And here’s how you might want to track it…


The above are obviously non-exhaustive lists and I would hope that even those who are most interested in perhaps changing their body shape and size would still use the performance monitoring tools as a way to move towards their goals and vice versa. After all, along the way you might just realise that what you initially wanted to get out of your health kick isn’t now your main priority.

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