Data Can Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals, so Track Everything

MyFitnessPal_FoodDiary

MyFitnessPal…my breakfast!

Tired of bumbling around in the dark without getting any fitter, slimmer, more muscley, and so on? Yeah, I was too. So I started tracking my workouts, like I did as a teenager in the gym with pen and paper, and now I’m tracking my food, too. I’ll track my daily activities like walking and sleeping once I research an effective way to measure the quality of my sleep.

Why would I bother with any of this? Because with data comes knowlege, and the ability to analyze habits, workload, and progress. If you want to make progress, you’ve got to know where you started, what you’re doing along the way, and have some kind of end point in mind. Data — being able to watch your progress — will help get you to your goal.

In my professional life, I’m a software developer working in Big Data. On a daily basis, I work with large sets of data — managing and writing software to break the data down into usable parts. Data is very important to business, and it’s a huge industry. It’s huge for one simple reason: It helps businesses grow. We’ll use that same mindset with our fitness activities.

Have you ever done an exercise for a few weeks, and then not do it for a month or two? When you go back to that exercise, will you remember the last weight, sets, and reps you used? That’s where tracking your workouts comes in handy. Not only can you actually see your progress over time in hard numbers, you can plan your next workout based on what you’ve done in the past. It’s easy to remember how much you squatted, pressed, or curled three days ago, but you might not be so accurate recalling one, three, or six months in the past. Since muscles respond to incremental stress, you need to know where you were and where you’re at if you want to make your muscles grow.

For fitness, I don’t use pen and paper. I’ve been a programmer for a long time, so naturally I’m going to want to a digital solution. And since I carry a computer around in my pocket (currently an iPhone 5) all the time, I found an app for that.

BodySpace

I’ve now lifted more than 549k pounds…

Since joining bodybuilding.com, I’ve been using the BodySpace app to track my workouts. It’s great. I track sets, reps, and weights used. When I want to know how many sets and reps I did last week, I just click a button and my weight history shows up. I can flip back through my history, and even view my progress in data and graphs on the website. With this app, I know exactly what I’m doing next, and what I did in the past. And I’ve been pushing myself and more weight each week. It’s working.

I just recently started tracking my diet. Since I have some fairly specific goals relating to body fat and lean muscle mass, I need to know how much of what I’m eating each day. Before, I was just estimating, but I wanted hard data. I wanted to know I was getting enough calories to grow, and eating the right macronutrient ratios (fats, protein, carbs) to lose this beer baby gut I’ve got while still building muscle mass.

Currently, I use MyFitnessPal to track all my foods. It’s not perfect…it only tracks three meals and one snack. I eat more than that, so I searched all over the settings to figure out how to add more meals. I guess it doesn’t do that, but I’ll overlook the flaw because it has one serious advantage. It has a database of 4 million food items, including supplements. Hell, it even had my Cellucor C4 pre-workout, in the exact flavor I have. So now I will have all the nutrition data points I can handle, and I’ll know if I’m eating what I need to eat.

That’s really the key here. It’s not having a bunch of fancy, task-specific apps on your phone or being trendy with your shit. It’s about having the data you need to reach your goals. Eating too many carbohydrates and not enough fats? Now you’ll know. Can’t remember which set of dumbbells you need for those brutal walking lunges? Now you can go up another ten pounds.

Track yourself, and you’ll make progress faster and more efficiently than if you just guess all the time.