As an athlete training for certain goals, one of the things that I am constantly monitoring and gaging are the numbers that I am producing during sessions. Measurements are an important part of tracking progress and checking your training’s efficiency. Every level of fitness or sport has a need to take measurements. However, the kinds of measurements and how often they are taken provide a great deal of influence on the approach and goal setting for your routine. It is important to understand the pros and cons of measurements as well as the benefits and problems they bring to a training program.
There are various ways to measure a person in regards to fitness or sport. Weight, circumference, skin folds, one-repetition maximums, VO2 max, lactate threshold, ten-repetition max, biomechanical analysis, bioimpedence, hydrostatic weighing, flexibility tests, reaction time, resting heart rate, maximum heart rate…etc. In general, there are lots of ways to measure two different things: body composition and physical performance.
Body composition brings a lot of benefits to program planning. The majority of people who go to a gym or begin exercising do so because they want to lose weight, look better, or something along the lines of aesthetics. Body composition is directly related to the way the body looks. The benefits of measuring body composition come in the form of visual progress. Because it’s a clear number that is written down and tracked, there’s little room for interpretation and it’s a good indicator of nutritional and physical efficiency. The cons of body composition are numerous. Principally in that body composition only indicates progress in a single sense; weight is weight and weight is not body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, or any other item. It can also be a poor indicator of good health as most guidelines for body composition measurements are based on a very general population and often neglect to address outlying issues such as genetics, chronic disease, age groups, and previous health history.
Performance measurements are a method of determining the body’s capacity for specific types of work: cardio, strength, speed, agility, flexibility, etc. Performance measurements are taken for a different aspect of fitness programming, which ignores body aesthetics and focuses on what the body is able to accomplish with movement. The benefits of measuring for performance tell more than just a single aspect of your fitness. For example, if you have increased your one-repetition max for a lift, you have increased mental confidence, muscular strength, muscular efficiency, proprioception, and other factors. Performance measurements also compliment other facets of your training; as performance increases, the body naturally changes to become more efficient at performing various activities. The disadvantages of performance measurements are that it is very easy to create excuses to justify a lack of progress. There’s a lot of interpretation and factors involved with performance and completion of fitness activities. It is not straight forward, making it easy to take less seriously.
The aspects of your fitness that you wish to measure depend greatly on what you are hoping to accomplish. A good piece of advice is to not completely depend on performance or composition measurements independently. Each has their benefits and their disadvantages, making them strong compliments to one another. With proper guidance on how to interpret any of these numbers and figures involved in your fitness journey, the efficiency of your training and success of your program will rise to new levels and produce even greater results in your performance and composition.
Every Day… A Little Stronger
By Sam Winston, Strength and Performance Coach