Measuring What’s Important

If you’re a competitive body-builder, or high-level athlete, then being specific with what you keep track of makes sense.

If you train to train, then yes, keeping track of every little thing that goes on in your training program or in your mouth might be a good idea.

Record your reps, sets, weight, how you feel, how you slept, your nutrition, all that stuff.

The reality is that for the other 80% of the population though, do you really need to add all that additional data?

Is it even sustainable as a part of weight loss or healthy living?

I don’t think so, in fact, it probably serves as a sensory overload that moves people away from good weight loss practices, because it seems like too much.

Unless you’re Tim Ferriss, or Michael Phelps, I just don’t see tracking copious amounts of data as being worthwhile for the average individual.

All the same, there are thousands of training articles out there, advocating training logs.

Do a google search right now you might get more than a million hits on ‘workout logs.’

I don’t want to discount the value of training programs — I’ve written probably over a thousand easily at this point — but I do question how much you should actually track.

Do you need to write down what weight you used for 3 sets of 8, or how many reps you did each set of every workout?

Do you really need to focus on these minor details?

How often will the average person refer back to these numbers?

Likewise, do you really need to record and track every single calorie that goes into your body?

Who, reading this, has been able to consistently use any calorie tracking system for more than a year?

What about 2 or 3?

The point is, this approach, is especially ineffective if you don’t have good habits, training skills and fitness behaviors. Habits, skills and fitness behaviors are often merely qualifiable, not quantifiable like most ‘tracking.’

So what really matters?

When it comes to weight-loss, think more about body re-composition or fat loss, more than weight loss.

The most important thing you can track is (in order)[toc]:

1) Photos!

Let’s be honest, looking good is really your objective, you don’t know what 20 lbs lighter, or 5% less body fat percentage really ‘feels like‘ without a photo to go along with it. Photos (Video too if you want…) are the qualifiable metric that speak to our right side brain.

Not to mention that 50% of our sensory input is visual, and imagery is the language of the brain.

How will you be able to visualize your progress, without photos?

How do you know how good you now look, without a photo?

2) Body Fat Percentage. 

Skin-fold calipers being the easiest (most trainers should be able to do a 7-site protocol), there are also DEXA scans (the new gold-standard, will set you back $60-90), the Bod-Pod and Hydrostatic Weighing.

**Avoid the bio-electrical impedance devices as they are remarkably inaccurate.

Look for cheap set Accu-Measure Fat Calipers online, which will set you back $5-15 usually and are far less expensive than professional calipers ($300-400), while still capable of fulfilling you’re basic body composition measurement needs in most cases.

I recommend the Jackson & Pollack 7-Site Skinfold assessment for the most accurate available.

3) Girth & Body Weight 

In combination is ideal.

Only if the above is inaccessible and/or body calipers are inappropriate for you — your coach should know, but generally speaking if you carry a significant amount of weight around the mid-section, skin-fold calipers are probably not the best option for you and you are better off with a DEXA scan or this option.

Girth is essential for providing context, the same volume of muscle weighs considerably more than an equal volume of fat tissue.

Pick up something like a Myotape for cheap ($5-10) and relatively accurate measurement tool.

For girth, measure

Therefore it’s possible to shed a ton of fat without losing a pound, so you need to check weight in combination with the volume (girth) of space you now take up.

Nutrition Tracking

Try This Daily Review:


A) Did I eat mostly whole foods today?

B) Did I eat lean protein with every meal today?

C) Did I eat veggies with every meal today (at least 5 servings)?

D) Did I eat some healthy fats today?

E) Did I reserve my starchy carbohydrate consumption for after my daily exercise?

Check out the free private journaling tool, for an easily qualifiable recording tool that will send you a daily email reminding you to make note of the above things.

Rough figures work here, educate yourself on the rough macronutrient content of food, but the micronutrients are probably not as relevant as you may think, provided you have a good variety of foods in your diet and you’re not apparently deficient in anything — which a blood test can often reveal and a doctor should test in a physical exam.

A good tool — to get a feel for how you are eating now — is to do a 3 day food log, where you record what and when you ate every other day for a week. This is an analysis tool though, not a lifestyle.

An exercise like this, may reveal some deficiencies in your diet, as well as give you a good cross-section of how you eat during the week and how you eat on the weekends.

You don’t need a calorie counting tool to tell you that huge piece of chocolate cake last night, was probably not the best choice.

Use tools and exercises to assess your situation and adjust your behaviors accordingly.

Training Tracking


1) Execution. 

Always check to make sure your movements are being done with near flawless technique first.

Execution is a critical and often overlooked component to fitness, this qualitative measure is often ignored.

You’d be amazed at just how many people find it incredibly difficult to squat with good form.


2) Personal Bests.

Or “PB’s” for those cool kids on the school yard. Once someone can execute, it’s time to really start training.

I like to keep track of every clients personal best attempt for 5 rep max (RM), 8RM, 10RM, 12RM, 15RM of the big lifts like back squats, bench, chin-ups, front squats, deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, 100m Sprint Time etc…

For bodyweight exercises I may track your max repetitions.

You may even record the best set of your major lifts in a session, to get a rough idea.

For the more advanced client, I may even track 1RM, 2RM, 3RM, or 4RM lifts.

I work detailed periodic assessments into workouts but we don’t track every little detail all the time, simply because I believe it to be unsustainable over the long-term.

If we are getting that detailed, I’m more than likely the one to record it, I am after-all the coach, looking for trends. 

3) Range of Motion.

I utilize movement screens with every single client I’ve ever seen in some shape or another.

Even then, very rarely will I get a goniometer out — unless it’s a formal assessment, which is different — I’ll eyeball the range of motion, because I know roughly where it should be.

In the case of data, it is ultimately more up to me — as the coach — to keep track of the minute details anyway.

When I do track data like this, it is for my own records to establish consistent variables or ‘normative data points,’ that I can then use comparatively from client to client.

Everything Else

If you didn’t check with your doctor already before starting an exercise program, fitness professionals should be getting, at bare minimum, a PAR-Q  or some other formalized health history — it’s pretty standardized, even if it doesn’t look exactly like that, it’s 7 questions. 

This will help us identify how we need to approach a fitness program with you, specifically whether or not you need your doctor’s clearance before starting an fitness and nutrition program.

I like to go above and beyond that in my information gathering, but keep in mind that these are often only one or two time assessments and I don’t expect any of my clients to keep track of the data, I do that.

They may include:

I) 3-Day Food-Log (as mentioned above)

II) Lifestyle Questionnaires

III) Detailed Health History Questionnaires

IV) Kitchen Assessment

V) Readiness for Change Questionnaire

VI) Social Support Questionnaire

VII) Referral Out the Door for Blood Chemistry, Sleep Analysis, or other Professional Health Care Practitioner for an other formal assessment


See some of the tools I use here.


In the end, it can become stressful and unproductive for many to worry about too many details. You often end up sweating the small stuff. Let me worry about that stuff.

Hire a good coach or find a great mentor. Learn some simple to follow habits one at a time. Learn some new skills that will help you in your journey that have long-term application.

Let those habits and skill influence your behaviors, then practice, practice, practice, and you will be successful. Just be weary of overloading yourself with too much data.

Stick to what’s important and sustainable.

Tracking/Data is not as important as doing.

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