If you don’t measure, how do you know you’re making progress? You don't.
In the competitive physique world, everybody takes progress pictures. They weigh themselves meticulously, wrapping old-fashioned measuring tapes around their waist, thighs, and biceps. Even their chicken breast gets weighed.
Measuring progress is part of the culture.
In the performance world, it’s no different. The higher the level, the more you’ll see jump mats to test vertical jumps, radar guns to test sprints, and velocity-based training for main lifts.
Those cultures understand how critical it is to track data and important metrics.
With the emerging popularity of Fitbits, Apple Watches, and other fitness trackers, those benefits can now filter out to everybody — even if you’re not a serious competitor.
Here are some of the benefits of tracking data and how you can use fitness trackers and other tools effectively and affordably.
There’s an old lesson that comes from the navigation world on the power of being off-course just one or two degrees.
If you’re one degree off, you’ll miss your destination by an entire MILE for every 60 miles you fly.
If you fly from London and intend on going to New York… you’d be 57 miles off course and end in possibly the worst place you could imagine:
Central New Jersey.
Just from being off one measly degree.
That’s why pilots, sailors, and all other navigators constantly course correct. They understand being slightly off course for a long time leads to a destination as frightening as… New Jersey.
Yet, when it comes to training and our health, we rarely, if ever course correct.
Like getting the directions from London to New York, we get a program to get from where we are to our goals.
But when we go one degree off course, we don’t do anything about it.
Tracking data allows us to readjust when we go a degree or two or ten off course.
For example, if your activity trackers show you’re under-recovered, with an elevated resting heart rate and abnormal HRV…
do one less set of everything in your workout.
Another day, when your recovery metrics are better than normal, that’s the day to do an EXTRA set.
You can use the data to avoid overtraining and undertraining… always right in the sweet spot of where your training should be… and therefore always making progress.
Instead of taking two steps back to take three steps forward, you can continuously march forward.
When athletes do a 10yd sprint, for example, they can be the hardest workers in the world, but without some kind of number to shoot for, subconsciously they won’t be able to give their all.
But when you time the sprint, that changes.
It gives them a number to hit, a goal to reach, and that makes them work harder.
It’s intuitive that we work harder when we have something to shoot for.
If there’s a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely metric to aim for, then all the better.
(Psst. Remember SMART goals?)
Instead of going for something vague like “get in shape,” a specific goal might be, “I want to take 15,000 steps a day for the next week,” or “I went to lose 1 inch of circumstance on my waist in the next month.”
Those goals are only measurable when you actually measure them.
There’s something really special about reading through my old workout journals from 2013. Reading the weights I lifted, looking at progress pictures and sprint times.
It’s in those moments where I’m most blown away by how far I’ve come.
When you make day to day changes and hit intermediate SMART goals, it’s hard to fully understand just how far you’ve come since you set out on your initial fitness journey.
But by routinely integrating measurements in your life, you can see with objective data in your eyes just how far you’ve come.
And it’s hard to quantify the value of special moments like this.
From fitness trackers to radar guns to velocity-based training tools, you could spend thousands of dollars on advanced systems. They may be great, but not realistic (or necessary) for you.
However, all it takes is some creativity and get as close as possible to the tools that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The first thing you should look into from a general health standpoint is an activity tracker.
But most cost hundreds of dollars. That’s a big investment of course.
However, if you’re hopping on here soon enough, there’s one company just donated a bunch of fitness trackers.
They’re selling them right now for just $15. It’s an absolute steal and their quality is on par with that of Fitbit and other popular trackers.
So this is a no-brainer pick-up and a great introduction into tracking important daily metrics like heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep, recovery, blood pressure, and more.
The quality for the price is absolutely unbeatable, although they’re for sure inferior to Fitbits, Whoop Bands, and Oura Rings. However, in the spirit of tracking data on a budget, it’s the best option on the market because you can test how valuable a fitness tracker actually is to you before you spend hundreds of dollars. Think of it as a fitness tracker beta test. If you find a lot of value out of it, then you can upgrade to a higher quality tracker.
Just Jump mats and force plates are awesome… although they cost hundreds of dollars. To measure your power from jumps the easiest method is to do broad jumps.
For broad jumps, all you need is a tape measure.
If you have an appropriate wall and space, you can put a tape measure on the wall and do vertical jumps also.
Method #1: Stopwatch
To measure speed, a good ‘ol stopwatch will get the job done. While a 10 yard sprint test is the gold standard for acceleration right now in the sports performance world, if you’re measuring with a stopwatch, lengthen that out to 20 yards so it’s a more reliable measure. Of course, this will be less accurate. So, never read into any one result. But, you can still get a solid understanding of the overall trend, and you can se your progress over time. And, it still provides the real-time motivation to bust your butt off.
Method #2: Competitive sprints Barring that, competitive sprints, while they don’t give you a concrete time, allow you to “measure yourself” up against somebody else. And, with the competition, you’ll always give it your best effort. And, you can do different games where somebody starts in front and you can get out the flag football set. There are a lot of creative drills to train for speed with maximal effort.
Another important aspect of training for athletics (and aesthetics) is not just timing your jumping and sprinting but also the speed main lifts. As popularized in Cal Dietz’s book, Triphasic Training, among two equally strong athletes, the athlete who’s able to do perform that motion in less time will be more effective performing that movement in the sport.
Most high-level athletics use VBT tools like Gymawares. Now, those things are expensive.
Fortunately, in the same book Dietz goes over a strategy for timing lifts with nothing but a stopwatch, as ridiculous as that may sound.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to measure one rep–tenths of a second–with a stopwatch. But you can measure multiple reps, say 3-10, and measure the whole set. Again, of course, it won’t be as accurate.
But, the lack of precision becomes less and less important the longer time passes, as will be the case in a set of 6 reps, for example. With this, you can determine, using formulas in Triphasic Training, what times you should be hitting with your main lifts to optimize your improvement
Regardless, if you want to get the most out of it, measure what you’re doing.