You Can’t Improve What You Can’t Measure

 Metrics is the art and science of measuring nearly anything that can be quantified by number value.  Even subjective matters such as pain levels can be quantified from a 0 – 10 scale, for instance, but the value for these numbers would vary from person to person, and thus, provide a subjective component when someone reports a 10/10 pain.  Metrics can be an art as well as science, because it involves a certain experience level that includes or excludes certain components in the measurement system in order to make the metric relevant and accurate.

In exercise science, workload is one of the most important metrics used to determine how much an individual is improving or responding to a change in programming.  For example, if an individual is able to run 1 mile in 12 minutes this week, continue practicing for the next month, we should be able to see an improvement in the mile run over time by measuring how fast they can run the next month.

In the weight room, use workload and perceived effort to measure improvement.
One of the most common measures used is the ‘max lift’ in any exercise.  How much can you squat or bench, etc.  It’s a good outcome measure to determine your ability to perform, and increasing your ‘max lift’ has it’s drawbacks after a certain point, because your body can and may only tolerate certain loads depending on injury or history.  Rather than attempting a ‘max lift’, a good alternative is adding the total workload for the exercise, or for ALL the exercises performed that day.  For example, give yourself a challenging weight for an exercise, one that doesn’t induce pain but requires concentrated effort, then perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions each set.  Give yourself a reasonable timeline, like a short resting period of about  45 -60 seconds between sets (this is important in establishing a consistent metric system), then determine perceived effort on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the highest degree of difficulty.  If you complete this exercise with an 8 or 9/10 effort this month, and the same workload next month with a perceived effort of 5 or 6/10, then you are improving and need to increase your workload to reset your perceived effort back to about 8-9/10.

On the treadmill or elliptical machine, workload is measured by distance over time, or calories over time.
How fast you can cover a distance, like the 1 mile for time, for example, is a great way to measure your workload on a cardio machine.  Some machines also use calories exerted over time, and the faster you move, the more calories you burn.  So if you gave yourself a time frame, like a 15 minute walk on a treadmill, take note of how many calories you are burning, and next time, notch your speed up or raise the incline level to increase your calorie burn.  You may not need to have a max effort every time you walk or run, but have some regularity in measuring the progress.

Yoga and body weight exercises can be measured by reach and perceived effort too!
Body weight exercises can be measured by the amount of reach that is achieved during an exercise.  Like how far away from your toes you are when you do a sit and reach, or how far you can see behind your back when doing a warrior pose.  The amount of perceived effort, like in weight training should be considered, since pain and range of motion might be a factor, and being able to reach farther or rotate more with less pain is a great functional metric of your abilities.

Whether you are in the weight room, doing cardio on a treadmill, or performing yoga, we should all strive to be challenged, and to measure our improvements.  Get your baselines established and remember, you can’t improve what you can’t measure! 

Dr. Adrian

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