10 Ways to Measure Progress (That Aren’t Weight Loss)

A version of this post originally appeared on the Formation Strength Blog.

Oftentimes we get caught up on using the scale to measure progress. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to lose a few pounds. And while constantly checking in with what you weigh can **keep you in check, there are other ways to measure progress that are more empowering.

**make you so, so sad

1. Weight Lifted

Can you lift heavier this month than last month? Congratulations. That’s progress.

Strength progress is empowering as f*ck. While it may not be your goal to win a powerlifting competition, getting stronger will increase your lean mass, decrease your fat mass, help you burn calories more efficiently, increase bone density, and keep you kickin’ into your older years.

Side note: The number one reason people go to nursing homes is because they can’t get up by themselves. Also, the STD rate in senior citizens has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Moral of the story: if you’re not getting stronger, you’ll likely end up in a nursing home with an STD. Ask my grandma, Marilyn. She’s the life of the party.

2. Recovery

How do you feel between sets? Are you able to bring your heart rate down quickly and bounce back in? Being aware of what’s happening between sets is a useful way to measure progress.

Let’s say you’re doing 1-minute intervals with equal rest time. If after the first few minutes you feel like death and can barely peel yourself off the floor when the rest is over, your ability to recover isn’t the best.

If the next month you are able to stay standing and feel like you’re ready to jump in after the rest, that’s progress.

We can only progress as fast as we can recover, so recovery is a kick-ass measuring tool.

3. Reps for Time

Doing work for time is called density training. It refers to the volume and duration of your workout. If over several sessions you can do more work in the same amount of time or the same amount of work in less time, that’s progress.

Two Examples:

Task: Complete this ladder as quickly as possible.

  • 5 of each down to 1 of each.
  • Deadlift, hang power clean, front squat, push press
  • If the first time you do it, you complete the task in 7:53 and the next time you try it you get 6:22, that’s progress. You’ve done the same amount of work in less time.

Time: Complete as many rounds of this as possible in 10 minutes.

  • 20 Squats, 15 Push Ups, 10 Pull Ups
  • If the first time you do it, you do 5 rounds and the second time you try you get 8 rounds, that’s progress. You’ve done more work in the same amount of time.
  • Give yourself a high five.

4. Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute. If your RHR is low, your heart is more efficient. It tends to be a healthier heart.

If your RHR is high, your heart has to do a lot of work to get blood distributed throughout your body while you’re not doing anything. Imagine how hard it has to work if you exert any effort.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, an easy way to find your RHR is right after you wake up in the morning. Before you jump out of bed, give yourself a minute or two to relax. Using your pointer and bird finger, find your pulse on your opposite wrist, below your thumb. Count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4 to get your heart rate.

The average adult has a RHR of between 60-100. If you are a trained athlete, that number can be anywhere between 40-60 beats per minute. If you’ve been training (eating well, hydrating, sleeping, and monitoring stress) and your RHR goes down, hell yes. Progress.

5. Aerobic Window

Your aerobic window is the difference between your resting heart rate and your anaerobic threshold. The anaerobic threshold is the level of intensity where lactic acid builds up in the body faster than it can be cleared away. What the heck does this mean?

Have you ever taken a HIIT class and been able to cruise along for a while when all the sudden your muscles start to burn, your heart is pounding out of your chest, and you can’t go hard anymore?

That’s your anaerobic threshold.

The aerobic window is how long your body can use oxygen to do the work before you crossover into the anaerobic (without oxygen) system. Once you cross over, it’ll only be a hot minute before you’ll have to slow down or stop. If you can increase the time you can do work with oxygen, this is huge progress.

If you’d like more information on how to find out what your AW is and how to widen the gap, check this out.

6. Mobility / Range of Motion

Mobility is a great measure of progress.

Can you reach your arm straight over your head without arching your back or shooting your face forward? If not, start to observe where your end ranges are while keeping your core engaged and spine neutral.

If you notice you can get more range of motion without getting false range from other parts of your body (usually the spine), that is badass.

Being able to move your joints freely through their end ranges is not only a super important part of training, but of life. Your 75 year old self will high five your sweet ass if you are progressing in mobility.

7. Energy

How do you feel during the day? Are you gulping 32 oz. bubba kegs of coffee at regular intervals to stay awake, or do you have a consistent pep in your step?

If you’re finding that you aren’t crashing out midday or reaching for the extra dose of caffeine (or cookies, or cocaine… no judgement on any of your vices), that’s progress.

8. Sleep

Have you tossed and turned in the past but notice that you’re sleeping through the night and waking up rested? Ding, ding, ding. That’s not an alarm; that’s great news, Sleeping Beauty.

There are, scientifically, one jillion ways that sleep affects your emotional, mental, and physical well being. If you are progressing in your sleep patterns, it’s likely you are progressing in life.

Let’s take a momentary pause and do a happy dance.

9. Clothing

How does your clothing fit? Getting looser? Do you look like Missy Elliot in the Supa Dupa Fly video?

Yes, there is potential that weight loss has occurred if your clothing is fitting differently, but if you are increasing lean mass while you’re decreasing fat mass, there might not be a lot of movement on the scale.

Using clothing to measure progress is a great way to feel good about yourself without diminishing the feeling by the number on the scale.

10. Confidence

How do you feel about yourself? If you are starting to feel more confident, you’ll show up differently at your job, in your daily interactions with your peers, in your relationship, and definitely in the bedroom.

Feeling more confident is a measure of progress that gets overlooked but is a huge influencer in all you do and how you show up in life. You don’t need a scale to deflate that.

Try These On for Size

As you try out some of these methods, see how much changing the tools you use to measure progress can start to shift your mindset and help you feel empowered.

Want More Kick-Ass Knowledge Bombs from Wheels?

Train with hertake class with her or see what she’s up to over at Formation Strength.

Amanda Wheeler is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Precision Nutrition L1 Coach. She is the cofounder of Formation Strength, and a mentor in the peer to peer coaching group, Strength Faction. When she’s not training the Ninja Army, she is kissing puppies and picking up heavy stuff. You can connect her on Facebook and Instagram.


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