T Nation

How Do You Judge Progress?


Hi all, I started a new training routine about five or six weeks ago. The goal is to build some strength and muscle while lowering body fat. I did my first set of comparison measurements last week. I knew its only had been a short time so I wasn't going to see any dramatic changes but it got me wondering, "what exactly am I looking for?"

I thought I'd throw that question out here and see what the more experienced folks use to judge progress. Are there key measurements you go by. Are there ones that will highlight fat gain/loss more than others? I've got calipers but I can't do the multi-spot measuring myself and the wife isn't horribly consistent.

If you are curious here were my one month changes:
Scale: I'm up somewhere between three to four pounds.
Measurement changes in inches:
Waist +.50
Hip +.25
Thigh +.50
Chest -.25
Bicep +.25
Forearm +.25
Wrist -no change
Neck +.75
BF % - .5%

Mirror: Before and after pics don't show a lot of change (didn't really expect them to at this point). The moobs seem to be going away which could account for the drop in chest size even though I've been working the chest and shoulders twice a week.

Clothes: Still on the same belt notch. The boxer briefs are more snug around the thighs.

Hard to make comparisons on my lifts because I changed programs significantly. About the only way I can think to summarize is on the big lifts:

Used to max 3x5 @ 235
Currently do 5x5 @230 (& still adding)

Used to max 1x5 @ 220
Currently do 1x5 @240 (& still adding)

Overhead press
Used to max 3x5 @ 90
Currently do 5x5 @110

Used to max 3x5 @ 180
Currently do 5x5 @160 (& still adding)


That's a good question, since it mostly comes down to "what are you trying to achieve from lifting". What's your particular goal (or goals)?

If you're going down a more physique-oriented path, then it's mostly "do I look better than I did?". If you're going down a more strength-oriented path, then it's "am I stronger than I was?". And if you're heading down the fat-loss path, it's pretty much "am I leaner than I was?". Additionally, since fat is stored differently on people, how you measure that can vary based on individual needs.

From what I gather, you're mostly looking for the "am I thinner, and do I look better", however since you mention the scale weight increasing, I'm really just not clear on what you're trying to achieve.

Lifting is good regardless of whether you have any clear goals, but what you look for for progress really depends on what those goals are. For the most part, progress in all of them involve getting stronger, getting leaner, and looking better, it's just there's a difference in priority based on whatever the end goal is.


I'm on the fatter side of things, but not ridiculous (can run below an 8 minute mile), so I try to get stronger while maintaining my weight. I will likely be reassessing my goals soon.


My goal is fat loss. I figured I'd do it through muscle gain but it sure is hard watching the scale go up. :stuck_out_tongue:


"BF % - .5%"

:smiley: I would love to learn how to measure body-fat percentage so easily and accurately


Just wondering, but if you were recording caliper readings (the raw totals, not their % calculations), wouldn't that be a decent way to assess fat loss?


IMO, the only "decent way to assess fat loss" is by how large your smile is when you look yourself in the mirror.


:slight_smile: That was just a copy paste from a tracking speadsheet I made. Obviously a half percent change is too close to be considered a margin of error. I just put those measurements in there as an example to spark conversation about what markers people use to judge. They are after only five weeks so I know they aren't accurate enough to gauge any real change.

The core of the question is the same though. You read all over the boards not to judge by simply the scale, so it lead me to wonder what you should be using to judge.


Since your goal is fat loss, I have to ask - what does your diet look like? Because that is going to play more into this than the lifting is.



What they mean by "don't judge simply by the scale" is that the scale is just one of many tool in your toolbox to track progress. It tells you if you are gaining/losing weight at an acceptable rate. That's it. Use it as often as you can as long as you can do it and not overvalue scale weight. Taking measurements, BF%, etc. are nice, but the mirror is what counts if you're a physique guy. Measurements can hint at how balanced you are, but physique is all about illusion anyway, so it's all good as long as the size of your muscles LOOKS balanced. Gym progress can be tracked by answering the question, "am I increasing the intensity?" This isn't always a straightforward thing, though, as there are many, MANY ways to modulate intensity, as a quick search of the article on this site will tell you. This is one reason why I find keeping a training log to be one of the cheapest and most effective, yet most underrated, things you can do to help your progress.