How do I keep track of my health and exercise progress when I can’t even seem to keep track of what day it is…
Thankfully, there are apps to track any and every activity under the sun. Some of these apps even donate money on your behalf to charities for every mile run, walked, or bicycled. How great is that?!
I’ve been thinking about the ways that I track my health and how they may not always be so healthy. I remember back when I was a teenager, tracking my weight and my food intake religiously. At a certain point, my body couldn’t keep up with me and it started to deteriorate. That’s when I started incorporating other health and fitness goals in order to get stronger and healthier overall. It looks like even then I was only looking at the physical benefits of my workouts and not the other ways in which working out and eating well could benefit my lifestyle.
You might find yourself asking how do I track all these other lifestyle changes? How do I get more sleep or know the quality of my sleep? How do I eventually work toward doing a full chin-up by myself? If I don’t track my weight or workout consistency, how do I know if I’m stronger/healthier/happier? How do I know if I’ve had any progress at all?
I set out to find out the answers to all those questions and this is what I found.
For those tired of using their phone or looking for a digital break to measure their progress…
There is nothing wrong with using a fitness app. They can actually be a great way to journal your workouts, keep track of kilometers or miles run, and as a form of accountability and reinforcement. Lately, I have been looking for reasons to get off my phone. I don’t like to bring it with me everywhere I go, since I know I don’t need it to complete my workout. I began thinking of the other ways I can track my workouts, but there are really only a few that I could think of that were convenient and easy. Also, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t too distracted by tracking on my phone over completing the actual workout.
How do we set goals, track progress, and make a program out of it? Author of New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, James Clear has an answer to this.
- Write the date and your body weight (if you wish) at the top of the page.
- Write your planned workout routine for the day in the following format: [Exercise] – [Weight] – [Sets] x [Reps]. This will get easier once you’ve done a few workouts. You’ll know what weights you used in your last workout, so you can either go heavier or lighter based on how you felt. The benefit of using paper or a book is your last workout is just a page or two behind. No more looking up your last workout in hundreds of workouts on your electronic device.
- Record tally marks as you complete your work sets.
- Vary this basic structure as needed for the training session.
Pros: In James Clear’s own words, “The beauty of this system is that it’s incredibly versatile while still being clean and simple for any given workout. (Most apps and pieces of software meanwhile are either simple but limited, or versatile but bloated with features.)”. This method is simple, clear, and no BS. This can also help with post-hoc analysis: analyze what you did after your training cycle to determine what worked and what didn’t.
Cons: It’s not flashy. It might only be useful when many different variables or qualitative observations are recorded. If you are tracking a lot of variables, you may also suffer from information overload.
Even Amazon has its own version of a smartwatch: the Amazon Halo Fitness and Health Band! It can even detect your tone of voice, but unlike your mom, it won’t wash your mouth out with soap if you yell profanities. It also tracks your activity, sleep, workouts, and body composition. Most watches nowadays will track your progress in the majority of these things. I personally have a Garmin, but I know they’ve had their fair share of privacy issues. Other brands include FitBit, Suunto, Apple Watch, Samsung watch, and many more. The technology in all of these is similar, but some contain way more than the regular everyday user may need, such as a barometric altimeter for those who like to hike, a gyroscope for those who need a compass, and a depth sensor for those who dive.
Pros: Some smartwatches can store credit cards on them, making payments easy without a phone (convenient, but deadly!). Some are quite sleek and fashionable. If you want, you can change the watch face so you have something pretty to look at. You can make your watch match your personality. You can even answer calls on a smartwatch! I’ve been able to track any kind of workout, from golf, to swimming, to yoga using my Garmin Forerunner 945.
Cons: They can get expensive, sometimes up to $2000. They have limited battery life. If you forgot to charge it, you’ll end up having a dead watch the next day. It’s connected to your phone by WiFi, so your phone needs to be close by if you want to sync your activities and track your progress. They’re chunky… this is technically a con, but I think most people can make them look cool!
Progress Tracking Ring
This is a pretty new piece of technology. So new and pricey, and do they really help? Oura is a sleep tracking smart ring that raised a boatload of money on Kickstarter and has been found on the digits of some high-profile faces including royalty. The app captures data on how well you’ve slept and does something useful with it – Oura provides you with a simple, intuitive readiness score for the day.
Go2Sleep smart ring is another one that can help monitor sleep and also features blood oxygen and heart rate sensors that will record data including perfusion index (pulse strength), heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation.
Pros: Easy set-up with your phone. Convenient and pretty. A fashionable way to track your sleep habits.
Cons: These two rings are among the only ones on the market that are supposed to help with sleep, and at the price point, many may not find it very useful vs other fitness technology like a smartwatch or investing in a workout membership/app. You will also need to clean this routinely since you touch basically everything with it. They can also be quite bulky if you have small fingers.
For phone users
MyFitnessPal, Map My Run, Fitness Buddy, Strava, Charity Miles, and so many more.
Fitness apps are great ways to track health and fitness progress for people who are already on their phones and find this to be the most convenient source of motivation.
Pros: A sense of community. Convenient and easy to use for all populations. Most of these apps are free.
Cons: Some of these can be addictive. I had trouble using MyFitnessPal because it made me want to track all my meals. I learned to turn off the notifications, which helped a lot. Some of these are not accurate. Many of the food-logging apps are hundreds of calories off target. To get the most out of these apps, you will likely have to pay a bit.
Should I only track my weight and body measurements?
No. Tracking weight as the only way to progress is a great way to constantly disappoint yourself. Depending on your goal, weight loss or weight gain, you will likely see a rollercoaster effect in your progress, and possibly, your emotions.
There are so many other empowering ways to fuel your goals. Here are just a few!
Progress in your goals:
- Measure specific muscles or body parts: I know I said not to do this! But if this is specific to your goal, you need to. For example, if you want 6-pack abs, you need to count how many abs are visible. If you want biceps that can crush a watermelon, you need to test it out. If you want to compete in a bikini contest, you do need to make sure your body looks a certain way so that you can compete with the others.
- Your sex life!: Wow, I didn’t waste any time getting to this one! Sleep, workouts, and diet all affect your libido. I know you didn’t ask for it, but there’s an app for that as well!
- Your waist-to-hip ratio: This can tell you a lot about your metabolic health.
- Pick a specific movement: For many, this is usually a squat or a chin-up. There are plenty of others, but the reason these two are popular is that they can be very difficult and almost seem impossible. Sometimes you see someone on Instagram doing an exercise and you think, I could do that! Then you try, and it looks completely different! If you pick a squat, work to get your glutes closer to the ground by using a chair that can raise and lower. If you pick a chin-up, try using bands to help with the resistance or a buddy to hold one or both of your legs.
- Track your food: I like to track how I feel after eating certain foods since I’m trying our Intuitive Eating and Fasting. When I eat my first meal of the day, I log my mood, and then I mentally log how I feel an hour or two after eating that meal. I love using the Zero app for my intermittent fasting and the Peace with Food app for tracking my hunger and fullness cues.
- Track your Sleep: I know there are watches for this, but I personally don’t like to wear a watch all night. Many people swear by FitBits for tracking sleep. You can track your sleep by using an app like Sleep Cycle or Beddit to measure, manage, and improve your sleep.
- Workout consistency: You could use a fridge calendar to mark down the days of workouts. I personally subscribed to my favorite yogi and mindful mover’s membership called Mindful Strength. This way, I know I’m getting at least 2 live classes a week at lunch (a great break from work!) and there is an entire library for me to follow on my other workout days.
- Journal: I don’t like calling it a Gratitude Journal, because it all depends on what you want to keep track of. You could journal your mood, keep a personal diary, your food intake or cravings, your menstrual cycle, etc.
- Blood Pressure: Super important for those of us who need to keep this in check. Your blood pressure is largely affected by your nutrition, exercise, and stress levels, so it can give you a pretty good picture of your overall health.
- Daily wellness goals: Are you trying to walk 10,000 steps a day? My goal is 7,000, so I make sure I use my watch to keep myself accountable. I also try to eat a certain amount of healthy fats, carbs, and proteins a day.
- Pick a WOD: Workout of the Day is something from the Crossfit world. You can pick one and try it out today. Test this same WOD in a month, or 3 months or 6 months to see how you’ve progressed. If you haven’t, break down the movements and figure out where you need to improve or what you need to strengthen.
No matter how you track your health and fitness, it shouldn’t make a difference. The important thing to do is what feels most comfortable for you. Sure, working out may not be comfortable for you, but ensuring you’re keeping track of it in an easy and convenient way will take out some of the guesswork for you and hopefully make the experience more enticing or exciting. I think that’s why a lot of people prefer the accountability and flash of an app rather than tracking using paper and pen. Whatever works for you, use it!
Tracking ALL aspects of your health is crucial. This is what I consider self-care. If you only track your strength by expecting to lift heavier and heavier, but you don’t consider rest, sleep, or nutrition, how will you know what areas need improvement?
I like to follow fitness influencers like Jordan Syatt and Jill Coleman, who endorse intuitive eating without tracking, consistent workouts and rest, and show their lives outside of the gym… Yes, they have other hobbies other than being jacked!
How do you keep track of your health and fitness progress? Let us know in the comments below! Maybe we can all learn a little something from each other.
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working toward finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.