Apps, watches, digital calendars, GPS trackers, heart rate monitors…the ways in which we can analyze our activity are limitless. You can count steps with a iPhone. You can monitor your heart rate and sleep cycle on a smart watch. Beyond tracking the elevation changes and speed of your cycling workout, you can even measure your power output. But the question is, how can we decide what metrics are worth tracking and how will it help us in our fitness journey?
What you track depends on the type of activity you do, your goals for that activity and your budget, however we can follow some rules of thumb:
Keep it simple. Choose only a few metrics that are important to you, because it can be overwhelming to track everything, all the time. Focus on things that will change over time. Seeing progress will be motivating!
Track at appropriate intervals. While some factors can be tracked daily such as step count, others, such as body weight, are ideally analyzed periodically to account for natural fluctuations. For factors that change gradually such as body weight or your maximal strength, I recommend checking in biweekly or monthly.
Start with the technology you have. You likely have a calendar and a phone. Before you invest in that $900 Garmin triathlon watch, try counting your laps in the pool and using your phone to track your running and cycling. Write these things on your calendar. This will give you an opportunity to ensure you enjoy a sport, to learn what metrics are important to you before you make a purchase, and can act as a milestone reward for yourself once you’ve shown you are committed.
Be mindful. Take all analysis with a grain of salt, even devices with GPS have a margin of error. Two people with the same Fitbit that do that same walking route will get different step counts! Remember that these technologies are not perfect, and that they are a tool to assist you, but ultimately how you feel and what you do is more important than what your smartwatch thinks of you.
When you are first starting out, I recommend focusing on the most basic factors - frequency and duration. Whether you use an old school calendar or one on your phone, marking down the days that you exercise and for how long will give you a visual of your consistency and progress. If you start with walking for 20 minutes twice per week, and by the end of the month you are doing 45 minutes three nights a week, seeing the effort pay off can give you a big boost to keep going! Same goes for running and weight lifting, you don’t need to over complicate your analysis. Start with duration and frequency and once those are established and you want to enhance your performance further, then shift your focus to specifics like running pace or what load you used.
Activity tracking can be a great way to monitor your progress, set goals for your activity and help you stay on track. Be mindful to use them as a tool to support you, not as a measuring stick between others. It is helpful to be selective of what you choose to track with the aim of utilizing factors that are both meaningful to you and that can be improved upon over time.
My favourite metric to use with clients is a self-reflective one. I ask every new client how they would rate their current fitness level. They can use words, a percentage, a scale, whatever comes to mind. Periodically I ask the question again and it is amazing to see how the way we feel changes.
What tools do you use for tracking your activity and progress?
Simply leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for advice on where to start and what metrics to work on?