By Jonathon Stavres PhD, ACSM-EP-C
Having a personal trainer is great for a number of reasons, but one of their more valuable attributes is that they are able to help you quantitatively and objectively record your progress. There are many cases where individuals have been training for a few weeks and haven’t seen the dramatic transformations that they were hoping for, which sometimes leads to discouragement and exercise drop-out.
This is apparently true for a lot of individuals, especially during the winter months when New Year’s resolutions are made to get in shape, only to drop out in March due to unfulfilled promises and limited success.
You can monitor subtle changes and improvements yourself
There are subtle changes that occur during the first few weeks and the first few months of your new exercise program that may not be immediately noticeable. Being aware of these improvements may provide enough motivation to keep you returning to the fitness center and adhering to your exercise program. But also, being able to monitor these improvements for yourself is a proactive step toward managing your own training outcome.
Here are 5 ways to monitor your own progress through your fitness journey
Use a pedometer or accelerometer to record your daily activity levels.
Pedometers monitor step counts, and accelerometers record all forms of movements. Both would be good ways to monitor a potential increase in daily activity levels. A research study by Wanigatunga et al. (2017) found that using an accelerometer to record daily activity for an exercise program shifted physical activity levels from light to high-intensity in a sample of older adults even with mobility impairments.
Perform a 6-minute walk test every two weeks.
To perform a 6-minute walk test, you simply need to map out a revolving track with a known distance. This could be something as basic as placing two cones 15 feet apart, and walking back and forth around the cones.You could make it more effective by placing a piece of tape every foot between those 15 feet.
Then, you walk around those cones for 6 minutes with the intention of covering as much ground as you can.The distance walked after exactly 6 minutes is your score for that test. Therefore, any improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness that aren’t observed at rest will be apparent here. The 6-minute walk test is used extensively in research and practice (Hattori et al., 2017; Negreiros et al., 2017).
Start taking the stairs more often.
This may sound more like exercise itself than a way to monitor progress. However, consider this a daily fitness assessment. At the beginning of the exercise program, climbing 4 floors of stairs at your work, the bleachers at a football game, or your doctor’s office likely resulted in some fatigue and shortness of breath. However, maybe during the fifth week of your new exercise program you begin to realize that you’re not quite as winded as you used to be. That is progress.
Monitor your resting blood pressure and heart rate.
This is one of the more obvious answers. You can’t “feel” your resting blood pressure and heart rate, so you may overlook these changes with exercise. If you don’t have a blood pressure monitor at home (which most people don’t), I recommend using the free systems supplied at many supermarkets and other public places or buy an automatic blood pressure monitor.
It is important to be as fully rested as possible when getting your blood pressure taken. This may require you to sit down for a few minutes before the assessment. You should also sit with your feet flat on the floor and in a relaxed position while blood pressure is being taken.
Play pick-up sports.
This might be the most fun method of monitoring your progress. This doesn’t require any math or require you to place cones across the floor. Instead, this requires you to join a pick-up basketball, volleyball, or other sports league.
As your cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, and coordination begin to improve, so will you. You will notice yourself performing better and becoming less fatigued than you did before you started exercising.
Staying with an exercise program is difficult, especially when you can’t see your own progress. Try these five methods of monitoring your own progress, which might provide enough motivation to keep you in your exercise program and working towards your health and fitness goals.
*Before starting an exercise regimen, consult with your physician and/or healthcare provider
**For more examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
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Wanigatunga AA, Tudor-Locke C, Axtell RS, Glynn NW, King AC, McDermott MM, Fielding RA, Lu X, Pahor M, Manini TM. (2017). Effects of a long-term physical activity program on activity patterns in older adults. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, 49(11), 2167-2175. doi: 10.1249/MMS.0000000000001340
Hattori K, Matsuda T, Takagi Y, Nagaya M, Inoue T, Nishida Y,… & Ito S. (2017). Preoperative six-minute walk distance is associated with pneumonia after lung resection. Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg, (Epub ahead of print).
Negreiros A, Padula RS, Andrea Bretas Bernardes R, Moraes MV, Pires RS, Chivegato LD. (2017). Predictive validity analysis of six reference equations for the 6-minute walk test in healthy Brazilian men: A cross-sectional study. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, 215(5). doi: 10.106/j.bjpt.2017.06.003