I talk a lot about body composition as a goal when we’re training because it’s a popular one. It’s a common reason why people find fitness and why they stick with it.
But that isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the only focus in our training – even if it’s the main, long-term goal that we’re working toward.
Finding performance goals that are typically smaller, and shorter-term, can keep our motivation high and allow us to see the TRUE progress we’re making along the way. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about so much more than the number on the scale.
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Actually, let’s talk about that number.
Some days, that number can go fuck right off. It’s a liar – perhaps not a blatant lie, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth of the story. The number on the scale, especially when we’re not tracking body fat percentage, can hide the full truth.
Let’s say for example that you gain muscle and lose body fat. Your body fat percentage decreases. Your clothes will fit better because you’ll be leaner. Are you really going to let a number on the scale ruin your day? Truly that number doesn’t really mean too much anymore, does it?
That’s where these performance goals come into play.
They matter. They might even matter more than the number on the scale.
So, what are they? Let’s dive into our top six: lifestyle factors, weight on the bar, reps you complete, how long you rest, your control of the weight, and rate of perceived exertion.
What lifestyle factors are we referring to? Sleep, stress, hydration, nutrition, etc. ALL play a huge role in how you’re feeling day to day – and how you’re performing in your workouts. Tracking these may seem meaningless for a single day of tracking, but what if you learned that when you’re more stressed your sleep performance is decreased? Or if you’re less hydrated, your recovery suffers and you feel it the next day in your training sessions.
Those seem like some pretty big things, right? I would argue that they’re HUGE.
The easiest way to track is via an app, activity tracker, or just a journal. How are you feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 for all of those metrics? Note them in the morning, at night, or at mealtime – where it fits best into your day and makes sense to track it.
You might not notice big changes day to day, but over time you’ll be able to see patterns emerge. Two apps that I use are Whoop and Bridge Athletic. Both are paid subscriptions; Whoop is a full activity tracker and then Bridge Athletic is the programming software we use at Unity.
They both do a GREAT job of tracking specific habits day to day and giving me spread sheets (or in the case of Whoop, complied data), that I can use to inform my future habits and actions.
Weight on the Bar
It sounds simple, but don’t you want to learn how much stronger you’re getting? Track those weights! I know, I know, you think you’ll remember but having a log to look back on and see what you were doing in the past can be both motivating and empowering to take more action and keep moving forward!
Reps You Complete
Some exercises are TOUGH to add weight regularly. You might be lifting the same weight for a long time before you’re able to even add a pound, especially if you’ve been training a specific lift for year prior.
In these cases, we want to make sure we’re tracking the reps we complete. Did you do 9 reps on the last set, when the program said 8? MARK THAT DOWN. That’s great! And, when you get to that program next week, you’ll know you want to shoot for 9 reps on every set. You can see progress immediately, in that very moment.
So, this one isn’t so much a marker of progress as much as a control of the variables that may be present. If there’s a day when you’re tired, you may subconsciously make your rest periods longer. By tracking your rest time, you can ensure that you’re keeping the load on your body the same from workout to workout.
Sure, there will be moments when you want to add a little extra rest. If you’re getting over an illness or adjusting to the heat, you might have to adjust your rest time. But this should be done consciously – NOT by accident because you’re not tracking it!
Control of the Weight
Back to the performance metrics, your control of the weight and, by extension your body, is a skill that cannot be overlooked. I would argue that it’s one of the most important skills that one can have.
We all age; it’s inevitable. As we age, we want to preserve as much muscle and control of our body as we’re able to. Good news: it’s within our control to do so! It’s not that we lose control of our bodies due to age. It’s that we stop moving as much and, without movement, our bodies start to lose the capabilities that they once had.
So, by training these movements, of course, we can lift more weight and do more reps and all of the things. But we’re also training our body for the future. We’re quite literally using movement as the medicine that it is and can be for so many people.
Unfortunately, this is a tough one to measure since it’s qualitative. There isn’t a number to measure the control we have over an exercise. We have to take note of how things are feeling from day to day, phase to phase, and exercise to exercise.
Rate of Perceived Exertion
Finally, we have the rate of perceived exertion. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE), is a measure of tracking how challenging an exercise, training session, or other physical activity is for you. I mentioned before that we use Bridge Athletic to house our programs for all of the members at Unity. One of the nicest features, that I didn’t even think about, is the RPE they ask for following each training session.
They use RPE in an equation with the time it took you to complete the workout as a way to equate longer duration, easier training sessions with those that are shorter duration, and higher intensity. I love this.
It allows me to see, based on my RPE, a scale of how my training was for that week. Was it all over the place? Was it higher on that scale? Was it lower? Knowing where I fall allows me to see where my new phase should take me and what I should program for myself in the future. It’s a relatively new metric for me to track, but I’m loving it – hence why it made the list.
There you have it – Six performance goals you can track to keep yourself on track with whatever your goal may be!
Are you tracking any of these metrics? If so, are you using the data you’re collecting? If you’re not, there’s your action for the week. Use the data to inform your actions this week (and beyond). If you’re not tracking any of these metrics, what would be the best option to focus on? How are you going to use the information you collect? Pick 1-2 and start tracking. Use the information to make more informed decisions as that information becomes available to you and you start to see the patterns emerge.