For those of you that know me well, you all know how I'm a numbers guy. I like to see details, visible proof of things. Blog metrics for example are something that I pay very close attention to. As I've been starting this fitness journey in the last year-and-a-half I've been on the lookout on the way to transfer that same methodology to my fitness routine. In this post, I'll look at why I value this so much, and also the tools that I use and why it is "tools" and not "tool".
Why and What to Track?
This question is actually the key foundation to the whole post. If you Google "Fitness Tracker" you will find a little over 66 million results. Searching for "nutrition tracker" or "food tracker" will result in another 180 million or so possible results. Based on this it is pretty obvious that many people have their own opinions on what should be tracked and how important different aspects of each are.
Over the last 1.5 years I've tried various methods, I've tracked calories, I've tracked my steps, I've tracked other exercises. Each of these methods helped to paint a picture, but in all reality it just didn't get me the true comprehensive look at the bigger picture that I was looking for.
As part of my journey there have been two goals. Obviously the first is to lose weight, but the second is to improve strength and overall fitness. Tracking weight is easy, but tracking the strength/fitness part is much harder. As I progressed through the first stage of this process I was dropping pounds quite regularly, but then started to taper off. However, looking at my Body Fat Percentage I noticed that although my weight has plateaued my fat percentage was going down. That was a good metric, but didn't give me enough quantitative results to keep me happy.
In the end my goal was simple: track my food intake to ensure that I'm eating better, track my cardio activity to ensure that I'm keeping myself more active, and lastly to track my strength training activities so that if I hit a plateau, I can still see that I was able to bench 20 more pounds or some other similar progress. Half of staying motivated is keeping progress, if you don't feel progress it is easy to get discouraged.
In the end, I've settled with a suite of 4 tools to track my activity, one of which is a bit redundant, but helpful for people like me that travel at lot on occasion. In the following sections I'll outline each and why I've settled on them.
RunKeeper was actually one of the first tools that I used when I started going to the gym on a regular basis. I was actually introduced to the application by a client when i worked on creating an integration between a custom application and the RunKeeper system. I started to play with it and eventually decided to use it myself to help keep track.
It is a fantastic tool for tracking items such as running, walking, biking, and elliptical machine exercies. They track total distance, average pace, etc. which are all very good items for keeping that history, sure when you started on the elliptical you did a mile in X but after two weeks you managed to do 1.5 X in the same time. That shows progress, and I haven't found another tool that does as well as RunKeeper for these activities. You can see my RunKeeper profile here. The best part is that RunKeeper integrates well with the second system that I use!
RunKeeper fit the need for tracking my cardio activity, however, it doesn't have any method for tracking weights, pushups, etc. Fitocracy is fantastic when it comes to that, you can track individual workouts, view past history, see max weights, max reps, and all kinds of other metrics. They have a "points" system that allows you to level up and groups/challenges to help keep yourself motivated. All in all a great product.
Integration between Fitocracy and RunKeeper is great as it can automatically pull in RunKeeper workouts and include them in your Fitocracy routine. The reason for needing the two is that for things like Elliptical routines Fitocracy doesn't track things at a granular level.
With this tool though I'm able to keep track of exactly how much I've progressed on a particular exercise and view my history. If you are on Fitocracy feel free to add me my username there is "mitchelsellers".
Eating is by far my biggest weakness in this whole process. I tried counting calories for a while and in the end it was too much work and even when I was properly doing things I didn't see any real results. A few of my family members started the Weight Watchers program at various points in 2012 and saw great results so I've started in on it myself. Thus far it helps provide a different perspective into how I look at food.
By giving a food a relative point value where you can compare it to other foods in raw numbers it is easier to make a decision. For example when eating out do I want the 16 point Grilled Chicken Burrito or the 7 point Taco Burger? It is with this that I'm able to try to keep a bit more perspective and given that they have so many items in their database it is easy to quickly record your points.
Lastly I do have a FitBit device and I am getting back into the habit of keeping it with me at all times. I'm not using a lot of their features, but what it does give me is a relative day-to-day review of the actual physical activity that I do. For example I discovered that on days traveling I often walk more than 2.5 miles as I'm going through airports etc. You can see my FitBit Profile Here.
Overall, these are the tools that I use. Are they perfect? Nope! But they get me some important metrics and data so I can keep myself motivated to succeed. If you are using any of these tools feel free to add me, or if you have tools that you like feel free to add comments below.