“If you can’t measure your progress, you can’t stay motivated.” Write this into your workout log, scribble it on a piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror, or just memorize it. Whatever it takes. It’s one of those immutable laws of nature that you don’t want to forget in your quest for a bigger, more muscular body. It hit me right in the face once again just the other night, while I was working out in our corporate gym here at Labrada Nutrition headquarters in Houston. I was on my third set of Smith machine incline presses when one of my Team members brought in a large, muscular bodybuilder who wanted to meet me.
It was obvious, even through his warm-ups, that this young man was extremely muscular and ready for competition. He was 5’10” and over 235 pounds. Upon speaking with him, I learned that he would be competing in an upcoming Nationals qualifier in a few weeks.
After introducing himself, he asked me if I would take a few moments to look at his physique and give him my opinion.
Of course, I obliged, as I really enjoy helping people get into their best shape. I didn’t know if there would be much that I could do to help him, with just a few weeks to go, and I knew instantly that what he wanted was what many of us crave and need – constructive feedback.
In moments, the young man had dropped his warm-up pants , taken off his shirt and was striking pose after dynamic pose, his muscles rippling and striations bursting forth. After giving him a few pointers, we spoke at length. I learned that he had followed my bodybuilding career for a number of years and uses many of the same training techniques that I do—including consuming three packets of Lean Body MRPs each day, religiously. I wished him luck and I moved on, thinking about how essential it is for us to have a barometer of our progress.
This barometer that I refer to is constructive feedback, and this feedback can take many, many forms. Constructive feedback is measurement, plain and simple. And it is measuring our progress that helps to keep us motivated and progressing.
The most obvious form of feedback is the sight of our image in the mirror. Nobody is more familiar with our bodies than we are, obviously. But, we must be careful because this of itself can be a pitfall.
How so? Because we see our bodies on a regular basis, we can become oblivious to the progress that we are actually making. In short, we don’t realize how much we are actually improving!
There are psychological factors which are directly tied to the self-image that come into play when we look at ourselves in the mirror. What we see in the mirror and how it measures up to the mental self-image that we have of ourselves impacts how we feel about our appearance. Pitfalls: we can either be: (a) too hard on ourselves, not giving ourselves enough credit for our progress or (b) unrealistic about what we see in the mirror, giving ourselves more credit than we deserve. Seeing ourselves objectively is important.
Sometimes it helps to supplement what we think by soliciting the opinions of those we trust. Now what I would suggest is that you neither go looking for a “yes” man, who will tell you that “you look great” no matter what, nor someone so critical of you that he/she gives you unwarranted bad progress reports.
Getting feedback on your progress is essential if you want to keep improving the shape of your body. Most of the time, progress doesn’t happen fast enough. I know, we are all impatient and that’s why I say that we must learn “to live with progress”. Learning to live with progress means accepting the fact that progress can only come so fast. And for that progress to be satisfying on an ongoing basis, and therefore provide you with motivation, you must measure it.
If you don’t measure progress, you won’t get satisfaction from your training and dieting efforts, and you’ll lose motivation. Using measurement to gauge progress can keep you on course, and headed in the direction of constant physical improvement.
There are other ways besides looking in the mirror or asking for opinions to measure your results. Measurement techniques include (a) measuring body fat, (b) weighing, (c) using the tape measure, and (d) using photography.
Body Fat Measurement
Let’s look at body fat measurement first. You must have access to good body fat calipers (or another reliable body fat measuring tool) or a trainer/clinician that has them. At the start of your program, you establish a “base line” body fat measurement and then, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, measure the body fat to gauge the rate at which the body fat is being dropped. Please take a look at my GET LEAN KIT which brings a bodyfat caliper and instructions on how to use it.
The second method by which you can gauge progress is weighing. The disadvantage of weighing is that the scale does not discriminate between lean body mass (muscle) and body fat (adipose tissue). While weighing will give you the number of pounds that you are losing on a weekly basis, it will not tell you whether it’s from muscle or fat.
By combining body fat measurement with weighing however, you can get a clearer picture of what your “lean body mass” is and what you “body fat mass” is. This is accomplished by comparing the relative change between the levels of body fat from week to week with the change in weight from week to week. It is then easy to calculate lean body mass and fat weight.
Yet another method of tracking progress is to use a tape measure. This involves using a simple tape measure such as the ones that are used in tailoring and dressmaking. You can measure the girth of your arms, upper thighs, calves, waist, chest, and shoulders easily and track the measurements in a chart from week to week.
The last method of tracking progress, and one that I highly recommend in place of using a mirror for self-examination, is photography. By taking photos at regular intervals during your training program, you can gauge progress. By the way, if you don’t have a training and nutrition program, and would like one, just get your FREE copy of my 12 Week Lean Body Program here, by signing up you’ll also get my free weekly Lean Body Coaching newsletter, packed with training, nutrition, supplementation and motivational tips.
It is important to take your picture under the same lighting conditions each time, to ensure uniformity and create accurate comparative photos. While sometimes we forget, photographs don’t. It’s easy to get down on yourself and think that you are not progressing fast enough, when the truth is that you’re actually making great progress. By taking “before and after pictures” along the way, you can compare pictures side-by-side to accurately gauge how much you have improved.
Putting it all together
Combining the use of photographs with body fat measurement and weighing can be an invaluable combination of tools with which to gauge your progress. As we discussed, gauging your progress and gathering feedback is essential to your continued progress in the quest for that lean body you’ve always wanted.
When I was competing on the Mr.Olympia stage, I always charted my progress using all of the methods described here. I would use the mirror to gauge my condition daily, get feedback from my training partners Craig DeSerf and Tom Deters, take photographs weekly and compare them with the previous week’s photos, and have my body fat measured and monitored by nutritionist Keith Klein.
The valuable feedback that I received from these measurements invariably put me into one of two states of mind: if the feedback was less than desirable, I immediately swung into action to correct the problem. If the feedback was positive and I was on track, it gave me a feeling of elation as I “knew” that I was on the path to success. In either case, I felt MOTIVATED to sustain the Herculean efforts necessary to walk onto the Mr.Olympia stage and stand next to the giants!
Get into the habit of measuring your progress. It will be an invaluable tool for you as you build and refine your physique. And when the going gets tough, review all of the progress you’ve made by looking at your pictures and measurements, drawing the courage and motivation you need to continue from your log book. Remember, ““If you can’t measure your progress, you can’t stay motivated.”
Your Lean Body Coach™
About the Author: One of the world’s most well-known and celebrated bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 professional bodybuilding titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. He is one of few pro bodybuilders in history to consistently place in the top four at the Mr. Olympia competition (the “Super Bowl” of bodybuilding) for seven consecutive years—a feat he shares with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert.
Lee was also inducted into the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame, is an Internationally known best selling fitness authos and holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. For more about Lee please visit his page here: Lee Labrada’s page.