I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of tracking progress. In the world of psychology, we are taught to work with our clients/patients to form very clear AND measurable goals for treatment. My coach approaches goal-setting in a similar manner. I could write an entire post on goals (maybe several posts) but I’ll save that for later. The fact is that goals are useless unless you can measure the progress made toward achieving them. There are a lot of ways in which you can track your fitness progression. I’m going to highlight a few different tools that I’ve used in the past and offer some suggestions that may help you figure out what will work best for YOU and YOUR goals. FYI – these are all FREE tools/websites.
I purchased my first Garmin watch two winters ago and one of the first tools I began using to track my run data was dailymile.com. I’ve heard it described as “Facebook for athletes” and that is pretty accurate. You can post photos or comments (similar to Facebook statuses) but primarily you upload your workouts and share those with all of your friends on dailymile. If you feed off of encouragement and accountability, this is a great tool. I seldom post a workout that doesn’t get at least one comment from a dailymile friend. It’s also a great way to expand your friendship circle in the athletic community; a lot of dailymile folks meet up for social gatherings and, if nothing else, you may find more familiar faces at your next local race! Of course, that all depends on how active you are on the site and how many individuals you choose to become “friends” with on dailymile.
Dailymile Pros: Tracks mileage, pace, HR (if measured), calories burned and many other fun things (like how many donuts you’ve burned in the last day/week/month/year); provides social support and accountability.
Dailymile Cons: Privacy settings are confusing and there doesn’t seem to be a way (at least not one that I’ve discovered) to prevent your “friends” from seeing a map of exactly where you ride/run/swim if you’re using a Garmin watch or similar device. The website is currently not compatible with the swim feature on the Garmin 910X.
Here is a snapshot of my dailymile.com training log. You can alter the view to display different information but this gives you a general idea of the layout.
This is how the interactions appear on the main page. Your workouts pop up like this on other people’s feeds as soon as you share them. You can also comment on others’ workouts.
I spent the vast majority of 2011/2012 playing the role of “injured athlete” and, unfortunately, this resulted in approximately FOURTEEN POUNDS of weight gain! I know, I know; there’s no reason for me to have let things get so out of hand… but the truth is that I didn’t really know what I was eating. Once I recognized that the weight gain was a serious problem, I followed up on the recommendations of several Facebook friends and acquired a myfitnesspal.com account. You can connect with friends on this website, also, though not nearly as many people use this service so you would likely have to invite someone to serve as an encourager and accountability buddy. This site makes it very easy to log your food and this is coming from someone who HATES food logs. The website already contains nutritional information for a ton of foods, including specific name-brand products and generic items like “banana.” Utilizing this food journal really opened my eyes. Not only did I loose all of the weight I gained during injury (while still unable to run) but I made some huge changes in the way we grocery shop and eat. This is now a much healthier, leaner household.
Myfitnesspal Pros: Easy to look up and add food to online journal, able to connect with friends, available as a phone app for mobile access, displays your “net” calories (takes your exercise into account once you log it), display is customizable.
Myfitnesspal Cons: It seems to focus primarily on weight as a measure of success, somewhat boring layout.
Here is a shot of a portion of one of my food logs from when I was logging, daily. Very simple and easy to read/understand. And I eat too much sugar, clearly. But look at all that fiber!
Recently, I was asked to share slimkicker.com with my blog readers. I didn’t want to just throw out a random website so I spent two days logging my exercise and nutrition on slimkicker.com. It’s a very interesting site; it’s essentially a “level up” game that tracks your nutrition and exercise. You’re rewarded with “points” for logging food and exercise and these points allow you to move to the next level. The site also has a place for you to identify the reward you will give yourself once you’ve completed a level and it offers you the opportunity to connect with friends or other slimkicker users to work toward specific goals.
I have mixed feelings about this site. I honestly do not enjoy logging food so, unless I have a horrendous weight gain like I did previously (and I hope to God I am able to prevent that in the future), I’m really not interested in keeping a food diary. That being the case, it was difficult to force myself to use this site for food logging. It was not quite as easy as myfitnesspal in regard to pre-entered nutrition data, though there were many useful items in their database already and the nutrition database is growing so that should become easier with time. There are two things that I really appreciate about this site: the use of a point system helps to remove the focus from the tedious counting of calories AND the system rewards you for simply entering your food data – POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT! Positive reinforcement is great because research tells us, repeatedly, that it works! I also like that you are prompted to establish a reward for yourself at the end of each level, though I moved up from level one in about a day so I didn’t have time to think of a reward! I do reward myself after ever major race so I have a solid appreciation for the value of a personal reward system.
Slimkicker seems to be a relatively new website and next Spring they will be testing a device, similar to Nike +Fuelband or a Fitbit; basically a fancy schmancy pedometer in a bracelet/wristband that will track your movement automatically and can be synced with the website. I’ve tentatively been asked to test and review this product for slimkicker in the Spring so I’ll definitely keep you posted if that works out. I do think that this is innovative and could be very useful in helping individuals establish and work toward goals.
Slimkicker Pros: Point system is a nice substitute for tedious calorie-counting, allows you to participate in online challenges and groups, allows you to connect with friends, provides a ton of positive reinforcement and encourages you to reward yourself, website offers tips on healthy eating and creative food prep when you enter nutrition information. Upcoming slimkicker device that will automatically track movement (The motion tracking device will NOT be free).
Slimkicker Cons: Database isn’t as established as myfitnesspal, nutrition readout doesn’t account for calories burned in exercise so you have to refer to two different tabs and do the math to determine your net calories.
Here is a shot of my slimkicker homepage. I need to personalize it with a photo and a reward for level 2!
And speaking of rewards, here is the fantabulous abstract tri-necklace charm that my husband purchased for me – I had picked it out in advance – as a reward for my first 70.3! I think it’s pretty AND it holds a special meaning for me because it symbolizes a major achievement.
What’s Right for You?
I’m sure there are loads of websites that offer similar services but I wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the FREE internet based tools I have used to track my nutrition and exercise progress. How do you decide what’s right for you? Think about what you need and want. If you’re a no-frills kind of person and you just want to lose some weight, myfitnesspal may be right up your alley. If you’re someone who needs motivation and outside encouragement for increased activity AND weight loss, then slimkicker may be an excellent option. I also recommend slimkicker for anybody who finds themselves getting bogged down by calorie counting. If you find that you’re obsessing over your calorie intake, it may be good for you to take a step back and use something like slimkicker that will help you stay on track with your goals but also provide a more rewarding (literally) experience for you. For those of you who just want someone to give you an electronic pat on the back for a good workout or a soothing “it happens to everybody” for an off-pace run, you’ll probably find that dailymile is a good fit.
Give Me Your Input!
Track your progress in a way that works for you and not in a way that creates an unrewarding experience and excess workload. These are just a few of the options available. What other tools have you used to track your progress and stay motivated?