How do you measure Improvement?
This may seem a little silly, as you may think this is a pretty obvious question. You see improvement when your lifts and reps go up or your times go down. If you answered like this you would not be wrong, but you are also approaching the question in a very black and white fashion. What happens when the question is no longer black and white, but is more of a charcoal, or pewter, or graphite, or smoke? I know I could have just said gray, but listing colors is more fun.
Let me explain a scenario to you. Roughly five months ago you did Fran at the gym. Let’s say that you logged an Rx time of 5:34. Last week you did Fran again to check your progress, and you logged an Rx score of 5:40. Did you improve? If we go by the classic definition of improvement stated above, then no. But we need to look deeper into the specifics of your situation to determine if that is actually the case. The main component that is often overlooked is how did you feel? And don’t just say terrible. I know that already, no one feels good after doing Fran.
If, on the first attempt, you felt like you were going to die and failed several pull ups and your thrusters were iffy on depth, but on your second attempt all of your reps were solid, and you were walking around pretty quickly after completing, then you likely improved. Your technique was better and you had no failed reps, so you likely are stronger now, more skilled, and have a better idea on how to pace yourself and save your muscles from fatigue.
Another marker is heart rate. If your first attempt had you at 180 bpm and about to have a cardiac event, and your second event was a much more manageable 140 bpm, then you are more fit as well. You did the same amount of work, in basically the same amount of time, but were more efficient from a cardiovascular perspective. This is improvement!
You should also consider body composition as well, especially since this a bodyweight workout. One thing people tend to overlook is how much you weigh with regards to completing benchmark workouts. A couple further scenarios:
- You gained 15 pounds of muscle between the two Fran workouts. The second time you completed the same amount of work at a heavier body weight (which makes bodyweight movements more difficult). That would be an improvement!
- You lost weight between the two Fran workouts. Now based on the first scenario you may think that this would result in a decrease in performance, and that may be the case. But in this case you need to look at the weighted movement. You will hear me say “mass moves mass,” and what this means is that larger people tend to lift heavier weights (just look at Olympic Weightlifting). If you lost weight, but were still able to do the thrusters at the Rx weight, you may in fact be fitter because it is harder to move that load at your lighter bodyweight. For a purely weightlifting workout (say DT), maintaining a similar time with a lighter body weight is an obvious improvement.
What all of this goes to show is that there really isn’t a clear definition of how we measure improvement at the gym. We have some pretty decent guidelines, but it really comes down to a case by case evaluation of the specifics of the two performances. Your mindset this month is to focus on these more obscure definitions of improvement. Try to notice and quantify the little improvements on your day to day workouts, because with time, they will add up to large improvements in your fitness.