It’s difficult to map out your progress unless you make comparisons, but my issue with it is that the common way to do that now with the Internet and social media is to compare where you are with where someone else is. To me this seems to be the most unproductive and often demotivating way to track your progress.
It isn’t a fair comparison if all you have to go on is one of your workouts versus another person’s workout, or your picture compared to someone else’s picture. You don’t take into account when they started versus when you started, what background they came from and so on. Instead, what I’ve found to be the more motivating way is to focus solely on your own progress.
In the fitness industry, ‘results’ – whether it’s strength or that coveted six-pack – are so easily displayed that you can’t help but do a compare and contrast, and that isn’t a productive road to go down because there will always be someone better (or someone worse) than you. No matter how put-together a person might seem to someone else, everyone has a little niggling insecurity or two that social media only helps to magnify.
To get a little personal now, I’ve always felt when it comes to strength and fitness that I’m constantly playing catch up. It isn’t so much in terms of physical appearance (it might just be me but the more experience I have in this industry the more I realise that physicality is pretty easy to manipulate if you put your mind to it) but more that I haven’t made amazing leaps to 100kg deadlifts or 20 straight pull ups, and I can’t bang out 100 burpees without banging up my joints in the process. I’ll be the first to say that I am as uncompetitive as they come, so this is frustrating not so much because I want to be the best at something, more because I feel as though I have to put relatively more work in for the same achievements.
But what I’ve found to be helpful is to focus on what and how you can change instead of using someone else to set a benchmark.
I recently finished the last page of the workout log where I write down my routines and thought this would be good opportunity to look back at where I started and reflect a little bit on what I’ve made progress on along the way. So here are some of the things I’ve found helpful which you might too!
Being More Aware
Phrases like ‘being more present in the moment’ have become so embedded in what we think of as the ‘hippie’ culture that it’s easy to dismiss it as being too New Age. Instead, gym culture now tends to fall on more extrinsic markers of progress such as whether you can keep adding more weight, more reps, or do it in less time.
If wellness and health factors even a tiny bit into your motivation for working out, though, try tracking something intrinsic for a while and see how you feel.
Flipping from the start of my notebook to the end, I’ve found in the one or so years of workouts that my focus has shifted from numbers (always having to progress the weight or reps even if my form is iffy) to working on body awareness, better alignment and movement instead. In doing so, progressing in terms of numbers will naturally follow as syncing your mental and physical states will just make everything feel easier!
Lesson to take home – make sure you know how you want to move with every exercise instead of just doing it to get it done, otherwise you’ll never be giving it your 100%.
Think About How You Are Planning
My problem never was getting the workouts done but rather the opposite: being very rigid and having to follow whatever the plan was to the T.
As I mentioned in the previous point, though, shifting my focus to movement instead of exercises has helped me to connect more to my body and learn what my strengths and weaknesses are.
While I still think it’s important to have a plan, I now also know that following programmes exactly or leaving out a few exercises won’t make or break your body. What’s changed in the way I planned at the beginning as compared to now is that I’m less rigid and more selective.
In the beginning, I committed the common rookie mistake of jamming in every exercise I could think of into one routine with high volume for every circuit as well. Now, I’ve learned to be selective and focus on a few main lifts that I want to really improve, while picking assistant and mobility exercises which contribute towards improving those main lifts.
Whether you are a coach or are looking for a coach, remember that showing off the variety of your ‘exercise library’ can only get you that far. The experience to pinpoint what needs to be worked on and the ability to then pick what you need from that library is what will keep you going forward.
Think About Why
Lastly (a short-ish post for once!), give yourself certian periods to re-evaluate, whether it’s every time you finish a programme, every month, or times when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau.
While it’s important to celebrate your progresses, it’s also important not to stay comfortable with where you are.
Identify where you are lagging behind, and think about why. Look at the things you’ve done which have helped you to improve, and keep doing them. There will always be more things to try and more things to learn, so the only thing that stalls your progress is when you stop wanting to try and learn!