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How to Measure Your Fitness Progress

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Updated April 07, 2012

Azumio Instant Heart Rate App

Azumio Instant Heart Rate App

Screen shot by Wendy Bumgardner © 2011
How do you know whether your fitness and weight management program is working? We often use the scale as our only indicator. But the scale alone doesn't really tell you whether you are losing fat and gaining muscle.

Performance Improvements - Longer, Faster

For walkers and runners, you can chart your progress in how far and fast you are walking or running, and see your improvements. It is very satisfying to see your total mileage and speed going up. Being able to finish a 10K walk or a half marathon is a wonderful achievement. For icing on the cake, enter a timed event and see how well you do against the clock.
Walking Logs and Trackers

Resting Heart Rate

As your fitness improves, your resting heart rate (RHR) will decrease. Measure your heart rate while still in bed, first thing in the morning. It is easiest to just count how many times your heart beats in one minute (60 seconds). This is typically between 50 to 100 beats in one minute (bpm). Athletes have lower resting heart rates, while sedentary people have higher resting heart rates.

Measuring Body Fat Distribution

The waist to hip ratio (WHR) tells you whether you are achieving a healthier body fat distribution, whether you are losing weight or not. Research is finding that your abdominal fat is an indicator of higher risk for diseases such as metabolic syndrome and chronic heart failure. Measure your waist and then your hips, and divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement (units don't matter, you can use either inches or centimeters). In women, the ratio should be 0.8 or less, and in men it should be 1.0 or less.
Waist to Hip Ratio and Heart Attack Risk

Measuring Total Body Fat

You can measure your total body fat with several methods, including a body fat scale, skinfold test with calipers, immersion test, or taking several measurements and calculating. This body fat measurement is a better indicator than simply weighing yourself. For women, 21 to 24 percent is a good fitness level, and up to 31 percent is acceptable. Above 32 percent is considered obese.
Body Fat Calculators
Measuring Body Fat

Body Mass Index

Using your height and weight and a simple calculator can give you your Body Mass Index - BMI. This is a quick indicator that doesn't tell the whole story, since those who are muscular will still have a higher BMI, one that would indicate a false obesity. Tracking your BMI will mostly track your weight loss, as you are unlikely to lose or gain height.
Normal: 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight: 25 to 29.9
Obese: 30 and over

Sources:

Nicklas BJ, Cesari M, Penninx BW, Kritchevsky SB, Ding J, Newman A, Kitzman DW, Kanaya AM, Pahor M, Harris TB. "Abdominal obesity is an independent risk factor for chronic heart failure in older people." J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006 Mar;54(3):413-20.

You T, Ryan AS, Nicklas BJ. "The metabolic syndrome in obese postmenopausal women: relationship to body composition, visceral fat, and inflammation." J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Nov;89(11):5517-22.

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