Measuring Progress

One of the things we do every 4 – 6 weeks is test strength and body composition.

The best metric for body composition, by far, is waist circumference in centimeters. It’s easier to measure in half and whole numbers than the factions you get in inches. Plus the waist circumference at the belly button is far more telling than weight on a scale.

In the real world that translates as a waist size or jeans size.

Let’s say that you lost six pounds of fat while also gaining six pounds of muscle. The scale hasn’t budged, but you’ve achieved a 12 pound swing in body composition and have done one of the best things possible for your health, longevity, and physique.

We also test improvements in strength. Why the heck should you care about that?

Your ability to do strength work (especially in the four areas that we test) is pretty closely tied to how much muscle mass you have vs body fat. Generally speaking, if you want to change your shape for the better and improve your health, get stronger.

Strength progress, especially with such a diverse range of abilities as we see in class can be a little harder to pin down and measure quickly, but by setting a few markers, I think that it’s possible to come up with some good metrics.

Once you can do 25 or 26 repetitions in a one minute test, then it’s time to increase the weight or move on to a more challenging variation. Performing a high quality repetition will generally take, at a minimum, two seconds. It will take more time than that if you’re on the tall side.

On pushing yourself:

Do a weight or variation that might be on the edge of your ability. Not so much that you risk injury, but maybe where you won’t get in as many reps as you would like and your ego could take a hit. Or it might be pushing against what feels comfortable, finding that extra set of gears, and seeing what you’re capable of. Whatever the case may be, find ways, whenever possible, to safely expand what you’re capable of doing.

That being said, I still would rather see you focus on control and range of motion rather than adding more load that you can handle well. 

Measuring Strength Tells a More Complete Picture

The ability to repeated perform strength movements (strength/endurance) provides a bigger window, not only in terms of longevity, but also overall readiness for whatever life might throw your way that goes beyond the ability to lace up your shoes and cover miles.

Plus, if you get stronger, you’ll have an easier time doing other things, whether that’s running, yoga, or simply living everyday life.

Pressing (1 minute test)

The push-up is simple and elegant, but it’s also easy to do wrong. Things to ensure consistency, whether you’re doing bent knee or straight leg push ups:

  • Lower yourself all the way to the floor
  • Lift your hands off the deck very briefly
  • Press up, maintain an unbroken line, finish with arms straight
  • Allow for rest if it becomes impossible to maintain a straight line from your ears through your knees or ankles.
  • When moving up, single repetitions or sets of 2 or 3 are fine

Press Progressions:

  1. Chest Presses on gymnastics rings or TRX
  2. Knee Push Ups
  3. Straight Leg Push Ups
  4. Feet elevated on bench or stability ball
  5. Dips (unassisted)

Pulling (1 minute test)

Pulling can be somewhat interpretive in much the same way that push-ups can be, so here are a few things to practice:

  • Arms straight at the bottom of the movement
  • Arms fully bent at the top (try to get your shoulders to touch the rails)
  • Slight stretch across the shoulders at the bottom of the movement
  • Slight arch at the top
  • When moving up, single repetitions or sets of 2 or 3 are fine

Pull Progressions:

  1. Gymnastics rings row
  2. Inverted Row with knees bent
  3. Inverted Row with straight legs
  4. Inverted Row with legs straight, feet elevated on a stability ball

Knee Dominant Leg Strength (1 minute test)

Things to look for:

  • An unbroken line from ears through the shoulders, through the hips at the bottom of the movement
  • Maintain a straight spine as you move up and down
  • Legs fully straight at the top
  • Legs fully bent at the bottom, elbows make contact with the inside of the knees
  • Go Jacques Cousteau deep.
  • When going up in weight, take a breath or two at the top, between repetitions if needed

Knee Dominant Progressions:

  1. Perfect Body Weight Squat (no load)
  2. Single Kettlebell Goblet Squat (from light to heavy)
  3. Double Kettlebell or dumbbell front squat (from light to heavy)

Sub: Sumo Squat (straight arms, weights held low instead of at the shoulders)

The Hip Hinge (1 minute test)

The hip hinge is where you maintain a straight spine and hinge at the hips. The knees don’t bend very much. Think of a short stop dropping into a ready stance. This works the back of the thighs, glutes, and posture muscles.

Key things to look for:

  • An unbroken line from ears through shoulders, through the hips
  • Knees stay slightly bent, not locked
  • Think of pulling the hips back rather than diving your weight forward
  • Avoid forcing too hard or extreme of an arch in your back
  • Don’t round your back

Because everyone’s backs are different you might need to choose different progressions. Swings might work for one person, but not another. Someone else might do better with cleans. Do what’s right for you.

Hip Hinge Progressions:

  1. Stick Hinge
  2. Single Kettlebell Deadlift
  3. Double Kettlebell or Dumbbell Deadlift
  4. Two Dumbbell Clean (from light to heavy)
  5. Single Kettlebell Swing
  6. Double Kettlebell Swing

None of these things, by themselves are of ultimate value. It’s getting better across the board and not getting injured – that’s what’s going to move things forward with your training.

So keep an eye on those numbers and make every rep look great.

If you like the sound of improving and training smart, then you can try my classes for 8 weeks, from Sept. 30 – November 22, 2019 for just $150! For more, click here!

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