A woman places plates on a barbell in the gym before doing a deadlift

How to measure fitness progress in strength training (without using the scale)

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

Most people like feedback to know that they are doing a good job, whether that’s from their bosses congratulating them for hitting a target, friends who show gratitude or apps that let you know you’ve hit your step count target.

Knowing that you are hitting your workout goals is also incredibly motivating. Without access to gyms, your progress may not be as obvious – after all, most people don’t own a dumbbell collection that they can work their way through, enabling them to reach for a heavier weight when they’ve gained strength. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t progress in your strength training

While the fitness industry may still focus on the weight on the scales as a sign of improvement, there are much more positive things that come from training than what our bodies look like. Instead, it’s best to focus on what we’re gaining from our training. Not only for your mental health, but it also helps you get a great balance between your workouts and your rest days.

“It is important to look at what you’re doing so you don’t over or undertrain,” says Chloe Whylie, strength coach 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, structure and routine is huge progress,” agrees Chloe. Consider whether you’ve gone from following a structured plan to having the knowledge to write your own session, or perhaps you were previously googling exercises to check your form, but now you can go straight in? These are all great indicators of progress.

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, you will eventually see yourself adding plates on to the bar. But now that we’re working out from home, remember that strength comes in different forms: it can be about adding in extra reps rather than just adding kilograms, for example. 

Strength can also can translate into other forms of training; such as finding that you can run faster if your legs are stronger. Or if you’ve improved your core and shoulder strength, you may find that your yoga is improving too.

“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 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 able to see improvements in your cardio sessions too. In one study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, running economy (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 strength training: those pesky DOMS will get better with time. Muscle pain is by no means the only sign of a good workout, but actually a sign of 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 achey. 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 taking note of how much you develop – we reckon you’ll be impressed with your progress.

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).