In my day job, one of the things I do on a monthly basis is track metrics on our organization's blog and social media profiles. Each month I crunch and analyze the numbers and use the feedback to help guide the future of the programs and make decisions going forward.
I carry some of the data crunching nerdiness over into my workouts too. I truly believe the only way to determine if something is worthwhile is to test it, track the metrics, analyze everything at the end, and use that information to guide decisions going forward.
Fitness Metrics is a short series I'm launching to explain how you can approach your workouts with an analytic mindset. In Part One, we'll discuss some of the different kinds of data you can collect and tools to help you get a whole picture of your fitness program.
Speed and Distance of Runs:
Garmin Forerunner: There's no doubt in my mind that the feedback from a Garmin is invaluable for runners. Not only will Garmin time your entire work out, but it will generate your individual mile splits and let you pre-program in speed workouts. I monitor my overall time and my individual splits to look for decreases in time. After added dedicated speedwork to my training my plan this summer, I saw steady decreases in both my overall and mile times. (The save-money option here is a cheap sports watch. I used one for years that recorded the overall time of my workout, it didn't give me mile splits, but if my overall time decreased it was still a success.)
MapMyRun.com: For those people without a Garmin to tell them how far they run, MapMyRun is a great tool. You can map out routes and get the mileage. If you have an account, the site will let you save your run, enter your overall time and generate an average pace per mile for you. Over time you can look back and see if your average pace is decreasing.
A good scale is vital to keep track of small fluctuations in weight. Even if you're not trying to lose weight, you'll want to monitor it just to make sure you're staying on track with your training and nutrition. Eat Smart sent me their scale to test, and I have to say I was pretty happy with it compared to my old scale. It measures weight to the 10th and doesn't give a funky reading depending how I step on the scale. My old scale gave me a different number if I stepped with my left foot first than if I stepped on with my right foot. Plus the numbers on the Eat Smart scale are big and easy to read first thing in the morning. The only downside to the scale is that it doesn't measure body fat percentage.
I use a scale that measures bioelectrical impedance. Now while this is far from the most accurate way to measure body fat, it's one of the most affordable. Many bathroom scale models offer this option, including my old scale. I don't pay much attention to the number because I know it's not very accurate. (Bioelectrical impedance will give you very different numbers depending on your level of hydration). What I pay attention to is the trend. Now that I'm strength training more, I should be seeing my body fat number slowly decrease. This is how I plan to measure if my strength training program is working.
Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned tape measure for some great feedback on if your fitness program is working. If the scale's not budging weight wise and you aren't tracking your body fat percentage, a tape measure can give you a great idea if you're adding muscle and losing fat. Once a month, measure your biceps, thighs, hips and waist. Your biceps will get bigger as your build muscle where as your abs (and therefore your waist) will get narrower.
There are tons of tools that let you track what you eat, including apps for smartphones, SparkPeople and a paper-and-pencil food journal. I don't recommend writing down everything you put in your mouth over the course of the day, but I would pay attention to trends. You probably eat similar types of food for your main meals and snacks. What's worth noting are any abnormalities. Did you eat a massive dinner the night before a key workout? How did that make you feel the next day? That's the kind of information you want to write down.
Are you getting seven to eight hours a night? You don't really need a fancy tool to track this, it's just something that's an important part of your overall health and fitness picture. The more sleep deprived you are, the less energy you'll be able to put into your workouts, making them less effective. If this is an area you really struggle with, start tracking how many hours of sleep you get each night in a basic spreadsheet and look at the trend over the course of a month. How might nights are you getting high quality sleep?
These are just some of the easiest and most basic fitness metrics to collect. Having this data will give you a good picture of your current health and fitness and provide you with great information in how you can tweak your plan for improvements going forward.
Stay tuned for Fitness Metrics Part Two, where we'll discuss easy ways to track all this data so it's not overwhelming.
What fitness metrics do you track?