Tracking Your Workout: The Best Metrics to Watch

Aug 25, 2015 | fitness

V02 MaxYou wouldn’t be the first to be confused by all the options out there when it comes to the explosion of wearables hitting our market! We can now track a plethora of metrics during our workouts, but what are the best metrics to watch?

These are my personal top picks for everyday hero’s (apologies to the elite athletes out there, I know there are A LOT more metrics we could use, but I’m sticking to just four).

For Weight Loss:

1. Daily calories in/calories out: To create a calorie deficit (a sure-fire way to lose weight) you must burn more energy than you consume. Working out your daily deficit is the first step to understanding how to reach your weight loss goal. Here is one of many calculators to help you determine your daily calorie needs (and estimates how long it will take you).

2. Scales – Although one of the most common forms of measurement for weight loss, there tends to be either an addiction (everyday weigh in) or phobia about scales. Using scales is problematic because it measures everything – fat, muscle, bones, organs and water. Those who are on the addicted side will know what I mean when one day to the next can be 1.5kg change leading straight to ‘giving up’. They are still extremely useful but aim to only weigh in once per week, Wednesday is ideal (far enough away from the weekend), first thing in the morning, naked after a pee.  Use in conjunction with other measurements such as:

3. Tape Measure – The good old tapemeasure is a great tool to use, as it does not interfere with muscle gain. The common sites to measure for weight loss are;

  • Waist (either belly button line or the narrowest part when looking front on),
  • Hips (the widest point around your butt when standing side on)
  • Mid thigh circumference (take a note of how many cm from knee cap you measured so you use the same spot next time),
  • Upper arm (belly of the bicep circumference)

Note that for Waist circumference, you are at greater risk of heart disease if your circumference is over 80cm for women and 94cm for men.

4. Body Fat Percentage – is a great assessment as it distinguishes whether your weight loss is from losing body fat or lean mass or another option is to use callipers. They are one of the cheapest and most accurate ways to measure body fat, BUT it’s important that you use them correctly. Here are some tips for doing it right:

–       Do all measurements on the right side of the body

–       Calliper should be placed 1 cm away from thumb and finger, perpendicular to skinfold, and halfway between crest and base of fold

–       Pinch should be maintained while reading the caliper and wait 1-2 secs before reading

–       Retest the site a couple of times if the measurements are not within 1 to 2mm

As you become fitter and build more muscle mass these tests are far more reliable and will avoid you ‘freaking out’ to see you have ‘put on weight’ when jumping on those scales!

Final Word: A Dexa Scan is one of the most accurate ways to measure your entire body composition (fat, muscle, bone density, water and more), it’s not that expensive and clinics are popping up everywhere. Takes ten minutes and is worth doing every three months.

For Gaining Muscle or Size:

Body measurements: Using a tape measure is a great way to check your progress particularly over the longer term. Muscle gain can be slow and changes very small so it’s not a short-term tool to use. To make sure you are measuring accurately you need to ensure everything remains consistent such as where on the body. Here are some popular muscles to measure and how to do it accurately:

  1. Chest – use a helper! Raise your arms and have them wrap the tape around you under the shoulders and finishing at the nipple line. Lower your arms and then breath normally!
  2. Abdomen – wrap around your midsection, which will cross over at the bellybutton.
  3. Waist – the narrowest part of your midsection, take the half way point between your ribcage and hip bone. Stand straight and breathe normally.
  4. Biceps – make sure you flex and measure at the peak of the muscle

Generally do these at the same time such as first thing in the morning, after the toilet!

Testing your strength:

Rippetoe’s Benchmark: Using basic barbell exercises, Mark Rippetoe developed this popular strength tool used to measure ‘beginner’ strength through to advanced/elite. It’s a great tool to establish what level you are at, highlight any imbalances in strength, and to give you goals to progress (for example I am 5lb off the elite level for squats, that gives me motivation!!)

The five tests are:

  • Press (standing barbell shoulder press),
  • Bench press,
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Clean

Here are the charts in pounds (1kg = 2.2 lbs) to plot your scores on. Print them up, take to the gym and retest monthly. Download the charts

Just a little on ‘bulking calories’: for those who want to increase their muscle size, you will need to increase caloric intake beyond what your body uses for energy throughout the day. This doesn’t mean eat anything in site because you don’t want to risk building fat, but increasing high quality protein and more good food. Interestingly a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found extra protein is not needed during bulking period and that the key caloric intake is to ‘boost your body’s nitrogen balance’. Good calories over protein – I’m still unsure of this one

For Fitness Performance

There is a ton of metrics that runners and cyclists use to measure performance (heart rate max, race pace, VO2, sprint pace etc) however two of the most accurate measurements include:

Function Threshold Power (FTP): (for cyclists) described as the ‘maximal sustainable power output you can hold for one hour’. FTP is an intensity that is similar to a blood lactate threshold, which in turn has been found to be “highly predictive of performance in a range of endurance events and distances” (Faude et al., 2009).

While tests can be done in a laboratory, there is a 20 minute test on the bike you can do – see it here

VO2max: or cardiovascular fitness is another great measurement for fitness performance. VO2max is your capacity to deliver and utilise oxygen in the muscles and the higher this is, the more power you can generate ‘with oxygen’ and delay muscle fatigue. Obviously the fitter you become the higher your VO2max is. You can test this on a treadmill here . If you want to keep it simple – whether you are running (400mtr), cycling (10km) or swimming (1km) test the same distance every 6 weeks throughout your training plan and notice the change in your times – always a great measure of performance!

Pace: Greg McMillan is the creator of one of the most used pace calculators designed to work out your running potential. Simply punch in your goal race time, and the report tells you the paces you need to train at to get there. From sprint sessions to tempos and long runs, you have goal training paces which is very useful. I use this for training for all my marathons and it keeps you on track and gives you training goals every session.

For example, in order to run a 2 hour half marathon, the pace for your weekly long runs should be 5:55-6:43 min/km, your tempo runs should be 5:20-5:29 min/km and your 1km sprints 4:50-5:08 min/km.

So no matter what your chosen focus point is, pick 2-4 metrics, test regularly, accurately, and watch your results improve (most of the time)!


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