How to measure progress in strength training

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How do you know if your strength training is working? Here’s four signs you’re making progress…

We all like feedback to know that we are doing a good job, whether that’s from our bosses congratulating us for hitting a target, friends who show gratitude for them or apps that let us know we’ve hit our step count target.

It’s also great to see that we are hitting a goal in strength training. Even if you train just because you genuinely love the hour that you spend in the gym, it’s still motivating when we see some form of positive change. But what exactly should we be looking at as key signs of progress? 

The fitness industry may still focus on our weight on the scale as a sign of improvement, but we know that there’s much more positive things that come from training. Not to mention that when we add weights into our training routine, we will be building muscle, so if you are only judging your success on what you lose then you may be disheartened. Instead, let’s focus on how we know we’re gaining.

“It is important to look at what you’re doing so you don’t over or undertrain,” says Chloe Whylie, strength coach and weight lifter and powerlifter. “I think that it is important for everyone to know when to peak, deload and rest – not just athletes. You will crash if you don’t know how to balance everything.”

You feel more confident

“I always get my lifters to focus on their movement, first and foremost,” says Chloe. “That gives you more respect for the weight and your training, but also means that you start to learn how to put together your own programme.”

It is one thing to walk into the gym and make the shapes that a personal trainer or a programme tells you to make. But it is understanding why you’re doing it that is key. That way, when you remove the PT from your sessions, you can walk in and confidently put together you’re own leg workout without worry or confusion – something you wouldn’t have been able to do a few weeks ago. 

“Learning a new sport, learning structure and learning about routine is huge progress,” agrees Chloe. 

Yoga poses
Strength training can improve your yoga too

You get stronger

The most obvious of progress when it comes to strength training is how much weight you can lift. If you train regularly, with good form, then you will eventually see yourself adding plates on to the bar. But remember that strength comes in different forms, too: it can be about reps rather than kilograms, for example. It also can translate into other forms of training; if your legs are stronger, you may find you can run further. If your core and shoulders are stronger, you may find that your yoga is improving.

“You don’t need to track every bicep curl, but making a note of where you are on your bigger lifts so you can look back every six weeks or so is really beneficial. Building strength takes a long time, but sticking with your training is where the progress comes from,” reminds Chloe. And remember not to be disheartened if it sometimes feels like you take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to racking up the weight: progress is not always linear

You get fitter

Strength isn’t just about building the rippling muscles we can see on the outside – it also works our internal organs. Oxygen intake and use can be improved by doing strength training, which means that you will be see improvements in your cardio sessions too. In one study, published in the British journal of Sports Medicine, running economy (aka oxygen use) improved by up to 8% after six weeks of weight training. And runners were also able to shave 5% off of their 10k time. 

You ache less

Good news if you’re new to the gym: those pesky DOMS will get better with time. Muscle pain is by no means the only sign of a good workout, but rather inflammation. As your body adapts to the pressure of load during strength training, the inflammation will lessen, and you will take less time to recover between workouts.

Similarly, you may notice that your bones and joints feel less stiff and sticky. Strength training works to strengthen the skeletal system, and improve joint function, meaning that all round movement may feel easier.

So, get your notepad out to start seeing how much you develop – we reckon you’ll be impressed with your progress.

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Images: Getty

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