This is a common question you may be asking yourself or even your trainer as you workout at home or at the gym on a regular basis. It can be hard to see that you're making progress, especially at the gym because you are so close to the situation. Sometimes we need to take a step back and take a larger view of the picture.
Progress never moves in a linear fashion. We think that if we work out or lift weights that each day we'll get stronger, or fitter, or healthier, or whatever our goal may be. What we run into is that our progress takes ups and downs over the course of time. Some days we kick ass and the weights move easily and we can increase them. Other days, it feels like the gravity was kicked up to 400.
The first way and usually the most obvious that comes to mind is lifting more weight. It's clear as can be, there's just more weight on the bar, or you reached for heavier dumbbells. No matter what exercise you’re doing, adding more weight increases the amount of work your doing or the overall poundage you do during the workout.
However, it’s important to earn those progressions in weight and not add just for the sake of adding weight. You still need to be able to control what you lift to maximize what you get out of it.
Increased Range of Motion
Measuring our progress in the gym can look like gaining more range of motion on certain exercises. This can come with more mobility and flexibility gains. An example of what this could look like is going from benching with a board on your chest, which is meant to limit your range to going through a full range of motion on the bench.
This could be for a multitude of reasons when it comes to the bench, but it can apply to other exercises like squats as well. What matters is that gaining access and controlling new ranges of movement is progress.
Increased Control/Slowing Tempo
It doesn't have to be about moving more weight or doing more reps. We can measure progress by how much control we can have over a particular exercise. When we're able to control a movement, it shows that our body has gotten stronger and is able to maintain tension.
While me may not initially be able to do as many reps when we’re slowing things down, we are creating more tension and stressing our muscles more. This only fuels our gains and makes us stronger.
A good example for where this shows up is pushups. We can execute more control with a slower tempo, rather than flopping our way through them. This shows that we've not only gained the upper body strength to do them, but also the core control to maintain form.
Less Rest Time
We dont really equate rest time with a sign of progress, but it is in fact a great sign that we're on the right path. One day we find that we are able to bounce back from an exercise a lot quicker than we used to. Maybe we were taking 2 minutes between an exercise, where as after a few weeks, we're down to 1 minute.
This holds especially true for conditioning exercises where our heart rate is stressed a bit. As we get in better condition, our recovery takes less time. When that happens, we're able to get more work done in the same amount of time.
When we're aiming for a goal of doing more of a bodyweight exercise, like pull-ups or push-ups, we can measure our progress in how many reps we can do. Or if we're aiming for a specific daily rep number, the amount of sets it takes to get there.
Each week, you may find yourself doing a few reps more than before. Even if its only one rep, it still counts.
One challenge I’ve given to clients is aiming for a daily rep goal, like 30 reps in a day. With a challenge like that, completing the reps in less sets is also a sign that you’re making progress.
Progress in the gym doesn't have to be about one thing. It can be seen in a bunch of different places, you just have to look for it.