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A fitness tracker acts like your own mini personal trainer: it helps you set goals and be accountable for what you do or don’t do. “A lot of people need that sense of accountability to set themselves up for long-term success in reaching their fitness goals,” says Jessica Matthews, certified personal trainer and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “By keeping an exercise journal and reviewing it on a weekly basis, you can get an accurate record of how consistent you are in your exercise program, how well-rounded your program is, and what changes you can make to reach whatever your fitness goal may be, whether it’s losing weight, building muscle, or simply feeling more energetic.”
Download our portable fitness tracker and follow these tips to track your workouts every week.
Set goals. “It’s great to review your fitness journal every week and set goals but make sure your goals are realistic and attainable so that you feel accomplished rather than discouraged,” says Matthews. “Losing one pound per week or increasing from a ten-minute daily walk to a twelve-minute daily walk are attainable goals. Losing ten pounds a week or increasing walking from ten minutes to one hour a day in one week, especially if you’ve previously been sedentary, are not realistic goals. And you don’t have to set a new goal every week. If you met your goal last week and it was challenging for you to do so, your goal for this week and maybe even next week might stay the same.” The best tactic, says Matthews, is to set short-term goals (“I’m going to walk for ten minutes every night after dinner”), intermediate goals, (“I’m going to gradually build up to a 30-minute walk five nights a week”), and a long-term goal (“I want to walk in that 5K race six months from now.”)
Measuring intensity. The duration of activity means how long you work out; the intensity is how hard you’re working, which can be trickier to gauge. To measure the intensity of an aerobic/cardiovascular workout (walking, jogging, biking, etc.), Matthews recommends the talk test: On a scale of 1 to 10, how easily can you talk while you’re exercising? A one would mean you could not only talk but sing your conversation if you wanted to, while a 10 would mean you can’t even get a word out because you’re breathing so hard. Measuring the intensity of a strength-training workout can mean how many pounds you’re lifting, how many reps you’re doing or how long you’re holding a particular pose (as with yoga, stretching, or plank exercises).
For example, if you use 3-lbs weights or the thinnest resistance tubing anddo 10 to 15 repetitions, and stop before your muscles are fatigued, your intensity is about a 5 on a 1 to 10 scale. To climb higher on the scale, add more weight (or use thicker resistance tubing) and reduce your number of repetitions to 8 to 12. When you reach the point where your muscles feel tired, you’re getting closer to a 10. If you feel like you couldn’t do one more rep without sacrificing good form, you’ve probably reached the top level of the scale.
How I felt: It’s important to track not only what you’re doing but how you feel when you’re doing it so that you can realize the emotional benefits of exercise as well as the physical ones. “People will say they hate exercise or they’re too busy or tired to fit it in,” says Matthews. “But if they write down how they feel before, during, and after exercise, and reflect on that over several weeks, they often see that exercise really makes them feel happier and more energetic, and that can be a great motivator to continue.”