In recent years there has been a proliferation of fitness apps that record activities during workouts and provide data to the user. IMHO most fitness apps are brain dead and convey minimal information that is of any use. They create an illusion of precision by providing numerical data on a set of things the apps sensors picked up while the user was working out.
Remember: just because you can count something does not mean that it is of any value.
If you are serious about getting results for the time and effort you put in, it is essential that whatever you measure has a clear relationship to your plans and goals. The data you collect must give you clear feedback on whether you are succeeding or falling short on your plans.
Most apps simply count things that are easy to count. The data collected has no relation to a plan. It is simply tracking what you do in each workout. The relationship to improving your performance is often vague at best.
What is worth tracking and what is simply misleading?
Short term/Long term Metrics
Short term metrics are those that monitor how well you are tracking on a detailed 4 to12 week plan. For example, in a 6-week peaking cycle you would have laid out the sets, reps and weights you planned to use for each workout.
You would compare your actual workout numbers with those in the plan. Pretty straightforward.
Longer term metrics are those that can tell you how you are doing on a rolling 12-18 month time frame. Is your base strength improving? Is your level of conditioning improving over what it was 12 months before? Are you mastering new techniques that you began working on a year before?
Useful metrics enable you to compare where you are with where you had planned to be.
Useful Weightlifting Metrics
Weightlifting training has roughly two major goals: peak strength or durability/endurance. They require different metrics when recording performance and progress.
In the sections below Ill discuss the measures I have found to be useful to me over several decades of training.
These movement are designed for long term resilience and durability. My objectives are to consistently do a certain number of reps with a certain weight.
An example from my current training plan. Ill do these lifts 2 or 3 times during the week:
- Kettlebell snatch: 20Kg 70+ reps min each workout, 150-200 reps per week, 10,000 reps per year (long term durability)
- Pullups: 20/workout, 50/week, 200/month (Long term body strength)
- Overhead Squat: unweighted 50/week, 20K bar 20 reps per week (Flexibility)
These are planned targets for weekly and monthly training. In the case of the Kb Snatch, it is a plan for the year. Each of these plans is related to a different dimension of endurance or durability. The important thing is that tracking the actual performance of these exercises in each workout, over a week, over a month and then a year is a powerful indicator of a successfully executed program.
There are other useful data that could be tracked in this type of workout. One is the recovery time between sets. Another is the maximum reps in a set. Still another is maximum reps in a specific period of time. For example: Snatch 50 reps with the 20K kettlebell in 3 minutes. (The RKC Standard for men over 50).
All of these are incredibly useful measures for tracking your progress in durability training.
When doing heavy training the number of repetitions will be limited by any lifters ability to put out full power multiple times. The general guideline established many years ago by the Soviet Sports Science gurus was that in any one workout a lifter is only able to go full blast for a total of 12-18 reps in the main competitive lifts.
This means that training sessions use low rep sets where near maximum exertion is the norm. With higher rep sets the maximum exertion on any one rep is usually no more than 60%.
For low rep high intensity work, a well thought out plan is critical if any progress is to be made. Each rep is a scarce resource and forcing more reps can diminish performance over weeks and months.
The key is to get the most out of the roughly 24-36 reps you get to use each week divided over at least two sessions.
The planning period for these metrics should be the 4-8 week training cycle.
Learning a new technique
Initially learning a new move or technique should be done with little or no weight. The appropriate metric is how many reps you did in each session and how many training sessions you did in a month.
For example, learning the Olympic clean and jerk takes many days of working with a light bar or with a broomstick (no weight). The appropriate metric would be the number of days you practice, and the total number of reps each practice.
Learning movements in this way will not overtax your central nervous system and is essential to master complex moves before you attempt practice with any significant weight.
The key to learning new techniques is consistent well executed practice. Count the times you practice and do your best to make the moves perfect.
There are some popular, but generally useless measures that have found their way into apps. I admit to using these on occasion. Thus, I learned how little value they have.
Pounds lifted during a workout: Any measure that gives equal value to reps done on the leg press machine and putting a heavy barbell overhead is at best misleading. Giving equal value to high rep sets on the lat pull down machine as compared to unassisted pullups is also dimwitted.
You get the point. Some movements are extremely hard, others very easy. Their value to your training is not the same.
Total reps in a workout: Some years back some of us briefly fell under the spell of doing the 300 workout. That was 300 reps of anything you choose. The theory was that lots of work would mean tough workouts.
After we got through the first 100 reps of movements like front squat, thruster and burpees, discipline began to erode. The second hundred reps began to include things like cable crosses, toe raises, or dumbbell curls. By the time we got to the final 100 reps we were doing leg presses, seated curls, and triceps kickbacks.
High count workouts can be useful if all the exercises are difficult. That is called Cross-Fit. (Note: Im a big fan of Cross-Fit). But doing 300 easy exercises is just a lame way to justify a shower.
Every topflight lifter I know of hits the gym with a take care of business attitude. There is little wasted time and no pointless activities.
On the other hand, I have trained near some people who appear to believe that the principal muscles to be exercised during weight training are those in the jaw. Most lifters talk during training, but none of the good ones (that I know) use gym time to babble endlessly about everything that crosses their mind.
A few years ago I trained in a gym where there was a group of regulars who seldom lifted a weight but chattered constantly while standing around. My training partner started calling them the chickens.
A measure of poor performance might be a ratio of the time spent talking compared to time spent lifting (allowing for recovery between lifts). Any score where chatter took up more than 5% of the time would be major failure.
The bottom line: only measure what is of value to help you progress. Many fitness apps provide a deluge of pointless data that have nothing to do with making real progress.