Progress is Progress

It’s hard to improve things you don’t track. If you want to make a change, it helps to know where you’re starting from and where you want to go. Whether we’re talking about improving our nutrition, our finances, or our fitness- it helps tremendously to know where we are starting from and to periodically monitor our progress. Otherwise, we’ll never really have a clue if we are on the right track.

That’s why we encourage all of our members to log their workouts. We even provide software for our members that keeps track of every workout, and every movement within each workout that is logged.

When we know where our starting point is, it’s easier to set goals and see our progress. There is a downside, however, to tracking workouts. I’ve seen many clients fall into this trap, and I’ve struggled with it (still do) myself.

What’s the downside, you ask? The downside is that we start to see every workout as a “pass/fail” scenario. We expect to always do better than last time. Lift more. Go faster. Rest less. That’s perfectly logical, right? I mean, when we first start that’s pretty much what happens… Every single time we’re in the gym, we do a little better or learn something new! But part of that is just learning technique, and part of it is our body getting over it’s initial “um, what the heck is happening” reaction.

Usually, by the 18 month to 2 year mark, progress isn’t as fast and furious. This is where it’s easy to get frustrated. You get used to PR’ing (PR= Personal Record) every time you do a repeat workout. You know that since last time you maxed out at 185, this time you’ll surely hit 205! And then you don’t… Maybe you struggled to get 185. Or, gasp, maybe you couldn’t even get 185 again!!!

You feel like you failed. You start to question everything. You might even ask yourself what the point of all your hard work has been. You see other people blow by their old numbers, and you, with no problem. You might not even log that workout because you are embarrassed of it.

And the cycle of seeing every workout as a win or a loss starts. Instead of feeling good about making it to the gym and moving your body, your head is filled with thoughts of how you failed. Instead of focusing on improving your form and technique, you keep chasing numbers and scores that you “think” you should get- despite poor movement patterns that could lead to injury, or reps that shouldn’t even be counted as reps.

You end up feeling disappointed more often than not. Your workouts, a thing that should be providing stress relief, become a source of stress.

Here’s the thing. If you stop to think about where you started, you’ll likely see you’ve come a long way. But more important- if you stop and think about how much good you’ve done for your body, how many years and how much vitality you’ve added, you’ll likely see that “winning” every workout isn’t what is most important.

The other piece to keep in mind is that progress is not linear. This means that our progress in fitness (and pretty much anything you want to measure) is not a straight line heading up. It goes up, it goes down, it stays flat. There are so many factors in how our bodies perform that it’s silly to believe we will always improve in performance. And, at some point in life, we will all start going downhill, God willing we live long enough. But the goal should be to get our fitness level as high as possible so that when we are in our 80’s, our fitness has “gone down” to the same level as a 40-year-old that doesn’t take care of themselves. That’s the true goal, after all.

So, next time you start feeling frustrated because you didn’t do as well as you thought you should, remember:

  1. You are still doing something good for your body.
  2. Everyone has ups and down, and sometimes they don’t seem to make sense.
  3. The consistent effort and focus on moving well will pay off down the road.
  4. Progress is progress. Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s mental.
  5. Assess whether you need some additional nutrition guidance, or perhaps better sleep- these 2 things have a major impact on your body and performance!

I’m going to end this with a personal example. Yesterday we did the following workout: 5×5 deadlifts. My legs were very sore from a workout I’d done the previous day, so I mentally prepared to “not do great” (another bad habit of mine…). I ended up finishing my last set at 225, which was my previous 5 rep max. At first I was happy to have lifted that, because of how sore my legs were. But of course it didn’t take long for me to start feeling disappointed and like I should have done better… I mean, after all, I’d already done 225 for 5 reps in the past- I should have tried for more. But then something funny happened that made me decide to write this post- I logged my workout. Turns out, the last time I logged that specific workout was exactly 6 years ago. 6 years ago, my working sets were 85-105-125-125-135. I was 36 at the time. Fast forward 6 years, and lots of ups and downs, I’m now 42 and my working sets yesterday were 175-195-205-215-225. Yesterday I lifted 2200 pounds more than 6 years ago, despite everything- age, injuries, off months/years, life, etc.
And I’m certain my form was better…

And that’s when it hit me- how ridiculous is it that I immediately looked for a reason to be dissatisfied with my workout. It doesn’t define me as a person, doesn’t mean I’m good or bad (as a person or a coach), doesn’t mean I passed or failed. I wouldn’t have had this experience if I hadn’t logged the workout 6 years ago (because it wasn’t “as good” as other people) or if I decided not to log yesterday (because it wasn’t a PR). I probably would’ve just stayed down on myself for not doing “better”, and I wouldn’t have had anything to write about today, haha.

In the end it’s a workout, one of many that I will use to keep my body as strong and healthy as possible for as long as possible so I can enjoy life as much as possible.

What are you working for?


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