T.M.I. – How do you track your progress ?

appss

 

Following my last post about what to measure (and hopefully show progress) – I then got to thinking about how I keep track of it all? Do I really need to track it all – or is it a case of Too Much Information?

I recently bought myself some new fitness “toys” – new scales and body fat calipers ūüėģ

At the start of all this I was just using a notepad and pen, but a few weeks later I started tracking everything on an Excel spreadsheet so that it looked neater and easier to read and it also meant I could create graphs and charts etc (such a geek – lol).

The list of what I want to track seem to expand daily:

-Weight, Body Fat, Body Water, Bone Mass, Muscle Mass, Blood Pressure, HR, Size Measurements, Calories, Steps, Sleep, Weights lifted…….

So here we are little later and my Excel skills don’t seem to be able to cope with the level of information I want to record – so I thought there may be a smartphone app that could do the job for me.

The amount of fitness apps on both Google Play and iTunes is scary and it was hard to know where to start but the logical place was to start with the ones that I was already using to see if they were up to the job.

I have a Withings Pulse activity tracker – so looked at their app & website first:

Withings Health Mate

Automatically records my daily steps, height climbed, amount and quality of sleep and heart rate (if I use the scanner) however all other stats I would need to manually input eg. weight, blood pressure etc.¬†Unfortunately the app doesn’t let you set your own goals and it’s also pretty limited in what else it will let you track – no workouts, calories, size measurements……. so this isn’t going to be the one.

My tracker does also sync with my calorie counter app so I had a look at that one too:

My Fitness Pal

Does a great job at keeping track of your calories (fantastic database) though it’s a bit of a ball-ache having to find each separate ingredient and approximate weight of what you actually consume as part of your home cooked meals eg. spag bol, chilli, casseroles etc. but does help to make sure that you reach your calorie goals (taking your exercise into account) and can provide a good breakdown of the nutritional value of what your eating in terms of carbs, protein and so on.

It does allow you to add strength training exercises and weights/reps used – but does not assign any calorie value to these and you can’t actually track your progress with them….. .. looks like I will just be keeping this one for my food diary.

No luck as yet – so I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks trying out some of the more popular apps:

Addidas MiCoach

I’m a big fan of the Addidas brand and seeing the recent ads on TV – had big hopes for this. Using their status the app has the additional element of having Andy Murray (or a choice of a couple of other voices) as your motivational coach (a bit like a sat nav for your sessions) telling you to “speed-up”, “keep going”, “one more rep” etc.

The ad gives the impression that you can use it for all sorts of sport or fitness activities – in reality if you haven’t bought the relevent specialist gizmo to go with it (eg. activity tracker) then it’s a little limited. Looks great for running, jogging, cycling etc but everything else comes under “Other”.

It does give you some weight routines but assumes you have access to cable weights, bosu ball etc. and tracking wise it lets you track what exercise you’ve done, weight and waist size and can give you great stats about any running that you’ve done but that’s about it – no progress on weights lifted, size, BMI……. ¬†next!

Endomondo

Similar to MiCoach – seems to be most popular but again focuses more on outdoor activities like running, tracking distance, duration and speed. It does have options for other fitness like swimming and bodycombat but when it comes to weight training you cannot break it down to a particular routine…… ¬†out the window it goes.

Fitness Buddy

This one focuses a little more on the weight training. It has an impressive list of exercises and equipment and it offers a great of set routines based on focus area/level/equipment or you can create your own. Unfortunately, tracking progress is only on weight lifted for each exercise…… ¬† sigh.

Jefit

At last an overall fitness tracker and looks stunning. It has a great list of cardio exercises and offers apparently thousands of weight routines, or you can create your own and allows you to track weight, body fat, size measurements, total weight lifted each session and breaks down the percentage of body parts worked.

It has a web version and there is an “Elite” option (appx ¬£25/yr or ¬£5/mth) that offers “deeper” and additional progress tracking and workouts. Sadly the additional tracking does not include the additional measures I was hoping for like blood pressure, body water and calories.

The weight routines are also a bit funny in that when you start a particular exercise it also has a timer for resting in between sets (which you can skip or cut short) and there isn’t an easy way to switch round the order of the routine (eg if a particular machine was busy).

Looked really promising – but not quite fitting what I wanted.

VirtuaGym

Similar to Jefit (though not quite as swish looking) and offers similar functionality in that if offers a number of set routines depending on focus area, equipment, level or create your own and also includes a list of other exercises and classes. The free version only allows you to create one routine (though you can copy/amend it numerous times) however limits the list of weight exercises/routines available and you can track weight, waist size, body fat and heart rate.

The “Pro” version (similar cost as Jefit) offers all routines/exercises and more importantly a huge list of tracking measurements! The other feature I liked was that it allows you to complete a routine in whatever order you want and simply tick it off a list.

Again it’s till not got everything that I was looking for but it’s the closest I’ve seen so far – I’m going to give it a month to trial it – otherwise it’s back to my humongous spreadsheet ūüôā

 

Does anyone else use any others or any of the above? Or do you just write it down on good ol’ fashioned paper? Let me know.

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Which weigh to go? Measuring fitness success.

scales

I’ve been weighing and measuring myself as part of my stats updates for a while now – but I was wondering if this was the right way to do things – so thought I would look into it….. there are certainly a lot of opinions about it!

Weight….

Whether you want to lose weight or build muscle – weighing yourself should form an important part of tracking your progress so that you can see that you are going in the right direction and at an appropriate rate.

Looking around the forums and blogs there are varying opinions on when and how to weigh yourself – some of the forums are scary in that a number of people seem to get obsessive about their weight to the point that they have very specific routines and methods that they follow several times a day!!

That being said it is understandable when your weight can vary depending on a number of factors such as gender, time of day/week/month, how much you have eaten/drunk, activity levels…. ¬†the list goes on…

In a nutshell, as an ideal, I found the following method the most logical:

– First thing on a morning after going to the toilet – this is your “lightest” part of the day as you have not eaten/drunk anything. As the amount of food and liquid you take in can vary from day to day – it makes sense to me to weigh yourself at a time of day where this would have as little influence as possible.

– Nude – since the weight of your clothes can vary depending on type and amount – it makes sense to do it naked so you are weighing yourself and not you plus your clothes.

– Every day (but use a weekly average) – Your body weight can and will vary on a daily basis for a number of reasons. ¬†Just as the amounts of food/clothes can influence your weight – other things can also have an impact on your weight such as water retention eg. “time of the month” if you’re female (though to be honest I think men are also a little affected by this – lol), or temperature/weather (like if you sweat lots while sleeping due to being too hot), how much exercise you’ve done…… daily changes are normal. The key is not to focus on it as this can cause you to get obsessive about it, make bad judgments based on it and can lead to all sorts of behavioural and psychological problems. By using a weekly average it ensures that you can base your decisions on a truer figure as it takes out the issue of normal daily fluctuations.

РSame place/scales РDifferent locations within your house can also impact your weight! I actually found this myself as depending where I place my scales in the bathroom my weight can vary by almost a kilo. Even sometimes if you contort yourself into various positions and on one foot it can change Рha ha.  The type of scales you use can also cause differences, such as digital scales needing a hard surface to be able to give accurate readings. I have a cheap mechanical one as well as a digital one and the weight difference can sometimes by 2kg!?  Therefore it pays to invest in decent set of bathroom scales and use them in the same place/way to make sure that you get consistently accurate readings.

There is a fuller blog article I found covering this here: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/weighing-yourself/

On choosing between stone/pounds/kilos – I think this is just down to personal preference to some extent – but as it’s the easiest to track and seems to be used by most fitness apps – I will be using just pounds from now on.

So I’m now on the look-out for some new scales I can trust – at the moment I’m using both and taking an average which is too much faff for my liking.

BMI/BodyFat/Muscle percentage, Water percentage, Bone Density……

As a single figure weight alone isn’t enough to be able to track you progress as your scales cannot give you an accurate break-down of what your weight is made up of ie. muscle, fat, bones, water etc……

BMI or your Body Mass Index putting it simply is a ratio of your height compared to your weight. GPs etc seem to use this a lot to determine if they think you are overweight – but it doesn’t take into account your muscles mass, so for example a body builder has a lot of muscle, muscle is heavier than fat so this could mean that they are classed as obese.

bmi_chart_table

A lot of new digital scales offer BMI calculations as well as body fat, water percentage etc, but their accuracy is highly dubious as they are determined by passing a very low voltage electric pulse through your body. Reading the reviews of such scales and understanding some of the science behind obtaining the true figures, the general consensus is that the readings they offer in this regard should be taken with a very large pinch of salt – but knowing that, if you use them together with monitoring weight etc then they can sometimes be useful.

Body Fat calipers can be handy – quality and accuracy can vary depending on type and brand (I’ve seen them costing as little as ¬£2 to ¬£200) but you also need to know HOW to use them. Very few can be used on your own. They are more accurate than the figure from digital scales but again, to get the true figures professional (and expensive) calipers should be used. However, again used in conjunction with other measures even the cheaper versions can be a good tool providing you bear in mind age/gender/aims – as well all need to have some fat!

bodyfatchart

Tape Measurements

Sometimes depending on your aims, one of the best ways to track your progress can be done by simply using a fabric tape measure to measure various points of your body. Even if the scales aren’t moving the tape may tell a different story. You can track all or some depending on your focus eg. losing from the waist, gaining in biceps etc. Again, logically as I’m looking at overall improvements I should track all the basics – chest, bicep, waist, hips and thigh. It can be difficult doing this on your own and you need to remember the exact location of where you measure to make sure you get consistently accurate readings. These should also be taken when naked or tight fitting clothing and the muscle relaxed. It is easier in front of a mirror! Unlike weight – it’s best just to track these once a month and inches seem to be used most commonly.

540_293_resize_20121201_02c1d1c5ff6c8aa03589eabe721994a4_jpg(taken from http://sticktogether.empowernetwork.com/blog/weight-loss-in-action-part-2)

CHEST: Place the tape across your nipples and measure around the largest part of your chest.

WAIST: For a female, place the tape at the narrowest part of the waist. For a male, place the tape at the widest part of the waist. Exhale first, and then take the measurement before inhaling again.

HIPS: Place the tape at the widest part of the hips or buttocks and measure all the way round.

UPPER ARM/BICEP: Place the tape around the largest part of each arm above the elbow.

THIGH: Place the tape around the largest part of each thigh.

Calories !?

As well as these physical measurements another thing to track is your calorie intake as depending on your goal – you need to ensure that you are consuming enough calories. Putting it very simply – if losing weight you need to consume less, or if looking to gain muscle you need to consume more. It should of course be said that it’s just as important to look at where your calories come from (unfortunately just eating chocolate is not an option).

You need to first understand your base rate (the amount you need to be able to maintain your current weight – this can vary depending on your age, gender, activity level, metabolic rate etc etc etc (don’t they always?!!!) however you can estimate it using the following calculations:

Current weight in pounds x 14 and Current weight in pounds x17.

Your maintenance level will be somewhere between these two figures depending on your activity level. If you are really active then you should aim for the higher end.

A great blog explaining this as well as having a handy calculator that takes into account your age can be found here: http://www.acaloriecounter.com/diet/calorie-maintenance-calculator-daily-calorie-requirements/

The blog also advises that if you are looking to lose weight then you should aim for a deficit of 20% of your maintenance level calories to lose 0.5-2 lbs per week or if looking to gain muscle should aim for a calorie surplus of 250 calories (men)/125 calories (women) and expect a muscle gain of 0.5 lb/wk (men) 0.25lb/wk (women).

There are a huge amount of apps that can help you keep track on your calorie intake – the easiest I’ve found is “MyFitnessPal” as it allows you to set weight gain/loss goals, seems to have a good database (as well as reading barcodes) and can also link with my activity tracker! ¬†http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

This then led to me questioning whether I should be creating a surplus – so that I can gain the muscle I want or create a deficit to lose the fat? I want BOTH! ¬†ūüėČ

The internet is great for providing help! ¬†Another blog I found (http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/should-i-build-muscle-or-lose-fat-first/) suggests that if you are already “fat” and then start bulking up then the fat is just sitting on top of the muscle. You then need to “cut” to lose the fat layer and make the muscle more defined which is a longer process than if you start off lean. It suggests having a body fat % of 10-13% before taking in the surplus calories to gain the muscle.

As I’m currently around the 14% level – I think I need to lose a little bit more before I focus on the muscle building.

 

Tracking all of these different measurements is a bit overwhelming and I wonder if people really track it all – or if they just pick the ones that are easy? No-one said this journey was supposed to be easy but thankfully there are loads of apps, spreadsheets, guides and gadgets that are designed to help make tracking all these things simpler.

There may be a lot but it makes sense to me and has given me some new goals and focus – I’ll let you know how I get on!