By Eddie Phillips, MD

Hi. I’m Dr. Eddie Phillips. I’m a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Do you keep track of your fitness progress? It really can help you stay motivated over time.

There have never been so many ways to measure your workouts and physical activities. You can track your steps per day, your weight training reps, your miles run or bicycled, your minutes per activity in the gym, and so on. Devices that you wear can record exercise data automatically or you can enter information each day into online fitness tracking systems.

Tracking your fitness activities is one way to measure your practice. Other ways are to see your body change or sense how you’re gaining stamina and just feeling better physically.

Six weeks of workouts is a good milestone. At that point or even before, you should start noticing improvement in your cardio endurance, general strength and how limber you are.

Here are some measures that can help you assess your progress from your first week on:
Time your walking, running or other activity. Then, repeat this measure every few weeks to gauge your improvement.
Choose a weight that tires a muscle by the last two reps of an eight-rep set. Repeat this test in four to six weeks and decide if you can use a heavier weight.
Perform a stretch like trying to touch your toes in a standing position. Do this again every few weeks to see if you can stretch further or perhaps hold the stretch longer.
Test you balance by seeing how long you can stand on each leg. Repeat this test every few weeks to note if you can do it for a longer time.

Of course, there are other measures you can use to mark your fitness achievements:
Take your vital signs. Every few weeks, write down your resting heart rate and blood pressure. Both tend to lower over time due to regular exercise.
Check the measuring tape. Measure your waist at the smallest area and maybe measure your upper thighs and upper arms at their largest areas. Do this again after six weeks to see how much your body has changed.
Another straightforward measure is to periodically try on a pair of pants, swimsuit or other clothing that’s not a great fit at the start of your workout calendar. A better fit results from better fitness.

One last, but very important, measure of your progress is just noticing whether you feel fitter. Are the stairs easier to climb? Are your bike rides less tiring? Can you run or walk faster or longer than you used to? Do you get out of breath far less frequently?

Use whatever type of measure you wish to gauge your progress. Whether it’s better numbers or feeling fitter, they are all good signs that you are adopting a healthier lifestyle and achieving good results from your fitness program.

Workout Workbook: 9 Complete Workouts to Help You Get Fit and Healthy. Harvard Health Publications, Gardiner J., Prouty J., Bean, J. (2014). Harvard Medical School Special Health Reports.

Edward Phillips, MD

Dr. Phillips is board certified in physical medicine & rehabilitation. He founded and directs the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School and is co-founder and co-director of the Lifestyle Medicine Education Collaborative "LMEd."

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