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How Do You Measure Your Fitness Success?

Beach with the word "success" written in the sand.What measures do you use to determine your success at becoming more fit?  How to determine whether we’re approaching our “fittest by 50” goals is one of the things Sam and I have pondered right from that first Facebook conversation that got us started on this challenge. The challenge, in case you’re a new reader, is to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we’re 50.

It’s not as if either of us was a varsity athlete back in our university days or anything, but we’re taking the challenge seriously.  How do we tell we’re approaching our goals?

There are all sorts of possibilities.  One way, easy for runners, is to go by race times.  This is easier for me, since I just started recording race times last year. Harder for Sam, whose 40-year old self ran 5K in 25 minutes. See her post, “Fittest by Fifty! Who’s the Competition? She Is!”  I’ve now got a baseline for my 10K. I did it in 70 minutes and 40 seconds last weekend. Aiming for under 70 minutes in my next race on April 26th.

And of course, it’s really the triathlons that I’m into.  So aside from times, there’s also distance.  I may not be able to go a lot faster, but I can go farther!  And I can do different things.  Swim-bike-run.  I’ve embraced the Olympic distance triathlon as my major fittest by 50 goal.

Time and endurance over distance are not the only measures, however.  What about resting heart rate? Lean body mass?  Strength (i.e. how much can you bench press? dead lift? squat?)?  My difficulty using these as comparisons over the course of my whole life is that I’ve not been tracking these stats for long.  I know that today I have a very low resting heart rate (59 beats per minute) and good blood pressure (I forget what it is, but my Dad took it for me when I was in Mexico and he was impressed).

I have no idea what my lean body mass is at the moment, but I do know that my clothes are fitting differently and better since I started the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program back in January.  I have no doubt that if I keep up the workouts and follow the healthy habits, I’ll become leaner over the next few months.

I’m also stronger, though not necessarily stronger than I’ve ever been because I was very seriously obsessed with weight training as a graduate student back in the late 80s/early 90s.

I’ve started to include other measures of success, tailored to my struggles. It’s a big success for me that I am no longer obsessed with food and weight. These are huge wins, accomplished through my commitment to intuitive eating, starting in January 2013.  I was nervous that PN LE might mess with that a bit, but in fact it’s been an entirely positive complement because in effect, they promote intuitive eating (eat slowly to 80% full).  Bolstered by their nutritional habits, I feel as if I’m finally introducing the principle of “gentle nutrition” that is part of the Intuitive Eating approach recommended by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Resch. See their 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, here.

This change in attitude and approach has had a dramatic impact on my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  I’m actually passionate about the physical activities I enjoy these days, and confident in the food choices I’m making, both in terms of quality and quantity.  I don’t obsess over what to eat and when. I’m much more in tune with what I need. And I’m even open to experimenting with different foods and different choices.  It’s been a positive experience and we’re just three months into it!

So for me, these kinds of measures of success figure prominently in my fittest by 50 challenge. If I can head into the next decade feeling confident, energetic, enthusiastic about what I’m doing, and motivated to push myself a bit without going overboard (see my post “On Doing Less” to understand why I’m cautious about going overboard), all without being obsessed about food, weight, and exercise, I will feel I’ve achieved a good measure of success.

Throw in respectable finishes in a couple of Olympic distance triathlons and a sub-70 minute 10K, and I will feel totally confident that, were I be able to travel back in time and challenge myself in my twenties, thirties, and early to mid forties, she’d have a tough time keeping up!

Upshot: there’s not just one measure, but many.

How do you measure your fitness success?

[photo credit: S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Training]

6 thoughts on “How Do You Measure Your Fitness Success?

  1. Though I still like Crossfit’s definition (increased work capacity over broad time and modal domains), for my own goals I mostly think of strength, speed, and endurance. Endurance has always been my strong suit so the two main goals I’m working on right now are strength-based (200lb squat) and speed-based (sub 8:00 rowing 2k)

  2. Very interesting question about how we measure success. Sometimes we need to rely on markers that aren’t easily defined, or only reveal themselves after a long period of time. My goal in recovering from an injury is to feel less physically vulnerable. I couldn’t measure progress in the ways I used to do (how much can I lift, how fast can I go, how much lean body mass do I have, etc.) because I had to start working well under my limits rather than at them. I had to accept temporarily getting softer, weaker, slower (frustrating!). But progress has happened. I can tell by noticing the increase in types of activities I feel safe doing. I salsa danced with my husband the other day, and that would have been a very bad idea a year ago. I’ll be signing up for my first belly dance class in a long while. Joy! So that’s my new measure of fitness success.

  3. Yeah, running isn’t my measure. Yes, I was fastish and aiming at distance, and lost a lot of weight, but I got two stress fractures and that ended most of my physical activity for two summers. I’m a lot stronger now than I was then and I’m a faster cyclist. I feel tougher and more resilient. And making great gains at Aikido.

    Love that your intuitive eating is surviving, thriving, in the LE program.

  4. I compete in powerlifting, so that’s my measure; although that’s only measure my strength, not my “fitness”. That said, before the age of 32 I did no exercise at all (except for PE lessons in school) so I MUST be fitter now, at 37, than I was at 17!!

  5. Hmm..methinks I measure my success as a continuum of success over a life time. Different times of my life, I measured my success by the total cycling annual mileage…5,000 – 7,000 km./year. Latter I’ve only done once when I was unemployed.

    Right now, I feel success just able to cycle decently for 20 km. after I fell hard on my knee yesterday on slippery rainy pavement over a streetcar track here in Vancouver. I actually can cycle a lot better than walking-limping right now.

    And another measure is how my waistband fits me…which right now is a tad tight. Oh well, we’ll see.

    During my more cycling fit months, I would vaguely be happy just doing a 40-50 km. ride in a day several times a wk.

    A local cycling-advocate of many years,fell from paragliding….he is now a quadriplegic and wheelchair bound forever. But he still follows local cycling advocacy developments which is heating up in Calgary.

    Please…after working a hospital for 3 years in Toronto that specialized exclusively on rehab. for paraplegics and quadriplegic adults, I cannot even begin to urge people to think: ever day you can walk, run, cycle….is a measure of fitness success. because one day you may not be able to do it…in the twilight of your years.

    Celebrate every day. Every single day now. Get going…please.

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