What are the Best Ways to Track Training Progress?

Monitor your data to help you track training progress, lack of progress, and even when to take time off!

Three Ways to Monitor Data to Track Training Progress

  1. Set goals to achieve your target events.
  2. Measure and write down everything.
  3. Test yourself regularly.

What is the best way to track training progress to know if your training is actually working? 

When I was a middle school teacher, it was always critical for me to keep track of data, measure my students’ progress.

How else would I know if they were actually learning what I was teaching?

We need the same thinking to measure our progress if we want to improve our fitness.

If you measure your workouts, you learn what works.

The data you measure doesn’t lie. It isn’t subjective.

Monitor your data to help you track training progress, lack of progress, and even when to take time off!

The data you measure keeps you honest and focused on your goal.

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How to track training progress

The first step in tracking training progress is setting goals: do you want to run a 5k under 25 minutes, finish a half-Ironman, upgrade to a Cat. 3, or finish a Century ride in under six hours? 

Once you set your goal, decide what individual steps you need to complete. 

For instance, if you’re trying to improve your 5k time, what’s your current time, what is slowing you down, how is your consistency and schedule in your current training? 

The first step, then, is collecting as much current information as you can and writing it all down. 

The second, for me as a coach, is to remind clients and friends that change takes time! 

Track your training progress by writing it down

The best way to track training progress is by keeping track of everything. And it’s pretty easy to find things to record.

At the moment, I use a small notebook to write down the exercises I do in the weight room, the weights/ reps, and the time of day.

I keep my cycling workouts and training up to date on Training Peaks. This is also where I plan out my training season. 

And I monitor my daily training readiness score using the HRV4Training app on my phone. The HRV app also monitors your resting heart rate, which is a clue to how you’re adapting to training.

These three, along with a cheap smart watch that monitors my sleep, are what I use to track training progress.

If I know my sleep is on the right path, and if I know my recovery (HRV) is on track, I’m good to go on the training I have planned for the day. 

Weight measurement is one tool, but not a great one

Many people focus on measuring their weight as a tool to track training progress.

And measuring weight is probably a waste of time.

Sure, you’ll lose weight if that’s what you’re trying to do and you do it correctly.

But as you work out more, you’ll gain muscle as well as lose fat.

Muscle weighs more than fat, so the weight you see on the scale can be misleading.

Measuring your body (I explain later) or your pants size is a better tool!

Track training progress through an app

MyFitness Pal, Garmin, and other tools offer different ways to help you track training progress.

My Fitness Pal offers a little bit of everything from training plans to tracking your nutrition.

I set up my workouts in Garmin app, but sometimes it provides me with some odd data. 

For instance, I might be in the middle of a training block or doing intervals, and it tells me I’m being “unproductive.” 

I use Training Peaks with all of my cycling and running coaching clients as well.

There are a million billion different apps you can use. 

Be mindful, though, that no app is going to be the golden ticket: each can contribute some information. 

For example, I don’t use the HRV4Training app alone to tell me my training readiness. I look at the Training Peaks totals and check in on how I’m feeling!

Photos and video are other ways to track progress

Pictures are a really easy way to track training progress over time.

If you’re working on a yoga pose, for example, take a photo of you doing the pose. Then take a photo of you in a few weeks after practicing to see how you’ve changed.

Video can also be a great tool, especially if you’re looking at your form. 

Take a video of your squat, for example, and study the form. 

Ask a trainer for tips or suggestions. Then take a video again after practicing.

Before and after pictures are great for weight loss. You can be proud of your work.

I’ve also taken pictures of clients with limited mobility, then after we’ve worked together to see how differently the person is moving. 

When you can see the changes in your body because you’re tracking them, it’s a great tool for building motivation.

Measure yourself if weight loss is your target

If weight loss is your goal, physical measurements are critical.

Ask a friend or a trainer to do some simple measurements:

– chest (at nipple level)

– belly (at belly button)

– hips (at widest part of butt)

– bicep (at widest part of arm or a certain distance from shoulder bone that sticks out, end of the collarbone)

It’s a bit of a challenge to measure these on your own so get someone to help you.

It’s also critical to be consistent with how you measure to track training progress. 

I use centimeters and a tape measure used for sewing.

So what measurements matter to you?

The answer to that really depends on your goal.

There are so many ways to keep track of your data that you’ll need to make the best choice for you.

If your goal is weight loss, you might use photos, measurements, and an exercise tracker. Maybe a food journal too would be a good idea.

If your goal is increased fitness, you might measure your morning heart rate, your VO2 max, or a test.

Your Training Peaks or other app will also measure progress with increased training loads, Efficiency Factors, and ratio between heart rate and power or speed.

Doing tests while running or cycling can also help you monitor your progress: How fast you get up a specific hill is a good way to see if your training is working. 

Testing is a solid way to track training progress

Again, depending on your cycling or running goals, you can do tests at the beginning of your training and again after a number of weeks to track training progress. 

Measure your progress by testing at the beginning and end of a training block.

You can find a stretch of road to run or ride on that will take five to eight minutes, and go as hard as possible. 

See how your time and average speed changes over training blocks. 

In the weight room, you can do one rep maximum tests, although I’m not sure those are very useful for cyclists or runners. 

FTP or Critical Power/Pace tests are also useful to track training progress. (Let me know if you want to talk about those. I’ll do a blog post about them soon.)

Want to know more about what you can achieve? 

I help a limited number of cyclists and runners achieve their goals with more strength, endurance, and mobility. 

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Paul Warloski is a: 

  • USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer