I’ve had a rough couple of weeks at the gym emotionally. Mentally I have hit a bit of a plateau, and when combined that with changing weather, allergies and some routine Life Stress going on I just haven’t felt successful while working out. Plateaus suck. But the thing is, when you are working toward a long term goal, they will absolutely happen.
I was complaining about my current plateau to Garrett the other night and detailing all of my current failures and he looked at me with a shocked face. He then proceeded to rattle off a bunch of my recent successes — recent successes that I had been overlooking because I was so busy focusing on the frustrating small challenges that I haven’t overcome. My unassisted pull up still eludes me. Despite running regularly for two years I STILL RUN SO DAMN SLOWLY AND INEFFICIENTLY. I have gained 2 lbs in the last few months. All of this feels crappy when I look at it on paper.
Fortunately in the past 2 months Garrett reminded me that I have also experienced the following:
*A New Back Squat, Snatch, and Deadlift PR
*Completely noticeable core strength improvement
*Progress towards my rope climb
*5 total inches lost around my hips, mid-section, thighs and calves
*I’ve learned how to walk on my hands (random! ha!)
How do I know all of this? Because most of that is on paper too. I’ve made a habit of tracking my fitness progress in many different ways and this helps me so much when I get bogged down in the “daily” and forget to look at the “big picture.” Of course it also helps when Garrett reminds me to actually look at all that data instead of just complaining about what I’m not doing.
Anyway, since not everyone has a Garrett to remind them of their successes, I wanted to talk about my Four Point Fitness Compass. These are the 4 major pieces of data that I use to help me get back on track, when my big goals feel far away and I start to feel lost.
1. Keep a Journal of Your Workouts
Before CrossFit I never tracked my workouts. I can’t imagine ever going back to just exercising willy nilly! I find it so helpful to look back over months and months of effort and see very clearly that I can do things now that I couldn’t do then. Having that on paper is invaluable because, let’s be real, working out ALWAYS feels challenging. So it’s nice to be able to look back and say “Hey, what was challenging six months ago isn’t a challenge today. Hooray!”
2. Find Some Benchmarks
This is such an important element, and it’s another thing I never did before CrossFit. We do a lot of “Benchmark WODs” to gauge our progress and it is so helpful to do the same exercises but get a better result by either doing it faster, with more weight, or completing more repetitions. Even if you aren’t CrossFitting, find your own Benchmark workouts. Need suggestions? Time yourself sprinting (100m, 200m, 400m), or running a mile. Time yourself rowing (250m, 500m, 1000m, 2000m.) Hold something heavy over your head for as long as you can and write that time down. Do the maximum amount of push ups or sit ups that you can do. Then check back again next month and see if you are making progress. If not, adjust your routine.
3. Take Your Measurements
Don’t only weight yourself…please. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. Get out the old school tape measure and check in. I measure neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves, wrist and ankles every month, and it is illuminating. I have been especially grateful for those measurements these past couple of months because I gained a couple pounds and it’s easy to say “Oh, I sure ate at a lot of food trucks in Portland that one weekend, I must just be getting lazy.” But the truth is, I’ve lost 5 inches (holla!) That weight gain has nothing to do with food trucks and everything to do with those Squating PRs I mentioned earlier. But if I wasn’t taking measurements, I’d never know.
4. Take Photos
This feels dumb when you are doing it, but I am so happy that I have been tracking my fitness progress semi-regularly with photos.
Sometimes photos show super dramatic change.
Sometimes photos show negligible change.
It’s why it is important to track multiple things. If I was ONLY taking pictures, I’d probably look at that side by side comparison above at first glance and think — wow — nothing much is going on. Same clothes. Same Body. No change. But because I’ve been tracking my measurements AND taking photos I look and think — Yep, I can see that my hips are 2.5 inches smaller. Yep, my core does look tighter. Things are looking up!
It’s important to take a multi-pronged approach in order to stay motivated. I’ve talked about how to motivate yourself to start a new fitness routine, and how to keep motivated while once you begin, but it’s also important to make sure you have some systems in place that allow you to see all of the progress you are making. These four things really help me do just that!
In the end though, the kindest thing I do for myself is to try not to forget that no matter how much I’m struggling, I have spent the last 16 months regularly committed to 4-6 of physical activity per week and have really only deviated from that on a couple of occasions. That is one high five of a habit to have created and something that I can be proud of no matter what skill is eluding me. If you are trying, you are succeeding. Life is long, goals take time, progress can sometimes feel like such a stretch. But if you are making any effort at all, every once in a while it’s important to be able to look around and think — hell, I am doing alright.