According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, progress is defined as a forward or onward movement towards an objective or goal. In the context of weightlifting, progress can be defined as the gradual improvement of one’s performance.
So how do we measure progress?
In a sport that objectively defines success through numbers, it is natural that our first reaction may be, “PRs, of course!” However, I’m going to challenge this notion.
To state that progress should be measured in numbers alone is analogous to arguing that weight loss should only be measured on the scale. Defining progress based on a single number determined at a single point in time fails to take into account a multitude of factors, such as body composition changes, energy levels, and improvements in overall health outcomes, that are less tangible but equally valid indicators of growth. Most importantly, it fails to take into account how we feel in relation to our goals--the true barometer of progress.
A few themes I’ll explore today regarding how to measure progress include consistency, technique, strength, recovery, and confidence. However, I challenge you to use this post as a starting point to identifying your own metrics of progress.
Consistency is defined as a steadfast adherence to a course. It’s repeating the same behaviors persistently, despite any barriers or setbacks you may face. Do you make efforts to show up to the gym when you’re tired or lacking motivation? Are you continuously getting in every training session in your power, even on weeks when work is crazy or you’ve got a lot on your plate? Consistency is all about repeatedly making sacrifices that reflect the priority of your goal. Consistency is a very tangible metric. You either showed up and put in the work or you didn’t.
Technique is slightly more difficult to measure than consistency. However, you can ask yourself a few questions: Is each lift starting to look and feel similar? Are you making more reps than missing? Have lighter weights become easier and more routine? Has your technique carried over into heavier weights? Often times there isn’t a clear answer until you sit down and look through videos of past lifts, day by day, week by week, month after month, to show the gradual advancement of technique over time.
If technique is how well we move the bar, strength is represented by how much weight is on the bar across those lifts. This isn’t solely max effort lifts, but rather loading across reps and sets. When analyzing strength, we are concerned with how the weights feel. Are lifts feeling lighter off the floor? Are you finding you move smoother, and grind less through strength movements, like back and front squats? Is it taking you a shorter time to recover after 85-90% lifts?
Speaking of recovery, are you feeling less sore or exhausted after the same percentages/loads 3-6 months ago? Are you able to recover faster and push yourself harder during training? Are you putting in the work to make the most of your training sessions? Turning down nights out with friends for a full eight hours of sleep? Are you sacrificing things that give you satisfaction in the short term, in the interest of long term growth?
Taken together, improvements in consistency, technique, strength and recovery lead into greater confidence. This is one factor that cannot be overlooked when discussing progress. Think about how the way you approach weights has changed over time. Think back to one year ago, 6 months ago, or even the beginning of a cycle. Have you overcome intimidation towards certain numbers? For example, let’s say your max snatch is 75 kgs. 3 months ago, anytime you approached weights over 65 kgs, you’d start getting nervous and psych yourself out.
However, now when you see 70 on the bar, you approach it with confidence, knowing that you can hit it. Your PR hasn’t changed, but you’re feeling more confident in your ability to hit the percentages leading up to it. This should translate into a growing confidence that hitting 75 kgs and more is attainable. Keep in mind that this type of confidence is a prerequisite to achieving your goal. The progress from your past efforts greatly influences the presence of having the current confidence to go further than you ever have.
Consistency, technique, strength, recovery and growing confidence are all valid metrics of advancement toward our goals. But they are not the only tools we can use to evaluate our growth. I encourage you to identify your own.
Measuring progress is all about perspective. By failing to acknowledge benchmarks outside of PRs, we miss out on numerous opportunities to celebrate all of the work we have put in and all of the time, dedication and effort it has taken us to get to where we are today.