When we’re engaged in a specific fitness program, seeking specific results, we want to know that we’re going in the right direction.
So what are the best things to track with regard to fitness goals?
At first glance the answer seems obvious – are we getting closer to our goal or not?
While that’s a good approach, it’s retroactive. It doesn’t tell us anything about the actual effectiveness of your program – it doesn’t tell us what works and what doesn’t, it just tells us that something seems to be working.
There’s been a ton of investment in monitoring and tracking methods for everyone one. For professional athletes we have VO2max testing and recording, heart rate and heart rate variability testing and monitoring, relative hydration, sleep tracking – all of it has its place.
For the lay-person we have calorie-counters, heart rate monitors, mileage trackers/GPS, etc.
But to be honest, most of it is extremely obvious and kind of a waste of time.
“We just got done with a training run and we went 3 miles!!”
“I ate 2500 calories today!”
Most of us tend to use these tools as motivation. If we have to keep track of ourselves with these tools, we’re more likely to stick with the program.
But then you’re stuck within that program. No way out. No hopes above and beyond that program. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – but almost certainly, once you stop that program, you go back to where you were before.
Similarly, folks tend to train 80% of the time in precisely the same way. Cardio-addicts do cardio all the time. Strength-addicts do strength all the time. No big surprise…it’s what motivates them. Of course they’ll do that more.
But knowing that is a useful tool in itself. Knowing that we’re going to do whatever we like over whatever we should be doing is a powerful tool. We need to balance our physiology. Round things out.
So how do we know what we should be doing?
It’s simple. Three steps will provide all of the fitness tracking you’ll ever need. Here they are:
Stick to the basics of human exercise physiology.
Pay attention to how we feel.
The basics are very simple. To improve we have to introduce stress above and beyond what is “normal” for ourselves. Our opportunity to piggyback on our success comes at some point in our rest-cycle. After we introduce that high stress, the system dips down to recover, then bounces up past the old level (this is called “supercompensation”). At the peak of that supercompensation point is where we need to introduce another, slightly greater stress. If we do this overloading progressively over time (“progressive resistance”) the system adapts and relatively permanent changes begin to occur.
There is a difference between specific adaptation that is little-appreciated. We mostly experience “specific” adaptation when we’re training. We hit certain muscle groups, or certain movement patterns, to the point of challenge, but not really beyond. That’s specific adaptation.
General adaptation – where we end up shifting our entire physiology, the way our body maintains homeostatic balance, our metabolism – only occurs when we exceed the levels of specific adaptation. The intensity has to be very great to do this. Crossfit workouts excel at this type of thing, but really, any workout can – you just have to push yourself.
How Am I Feeling?
How do we know when that supercompensation curve is at the right point? Through a practice of paying attention to how we feel. Did we sleep well last night, and long enough? Feel rested when we awoke? General stress level? Diet good? Enough water today, and this week in general? Enough laughing and socializing? Enough quiet reflective time?
This is a practice – paying attention to how we’re feeling. Once we master this, we can start to feel when the rebound happens (or doesn’t).
Mike Tuscherer’s powerlifting program is awesome for this. His method focuses on recording Rate of Perceived Exertion for each workout. Was it harder than last time? If yes, back off. If no, do more.
But I’d like to apply this rationale to our experience on a regular basis. Check in early and often. Check in before the workout – sleep/rest, diet/water, mood-state…? Funnel everything into training, then check again afterward – how hard was that on a scale of 1-10???
Write it down or forget it forever. Not super useful if forgotten.
Motivation is the key behind all of this. We need to be motivated toward our goals. We need to be motivated to track our feeling. We need to be motivated to record and reflect…to hone our capacity for feeling.
Beyond that even, we need to learn how to motivate. How do we turn up the heat, step on the gas, pour jet-fuel into the tank? Music, emotion, visualization, imagination, danger…there are a lot of ways to do this…we have to experiment with this as well.
We have to go in and do more than we thought possible, each day, and know that we’ll recover and be stronger the next.
If you’ve been experimenting with other tracking methods, try these three for one month and tell me what happens.