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Fitness Variables

Fitness Variables

How many reps should I do? Should I do high reps or low reps? How many reps to burn fat, and what is the rep range for strength? All valid questions, yet in my experience even worrying about rep ranges is still not the first place I would have people start when thinking about what variables are worth tracking. Neither are calories, macros, micros, or minnows. Most of us are bombarded with what we should and shouldn’t be measuring for optimal health and performance and it can be extremely overwhelming. How do we know what to measure? Well no more wondering, because I’ll tell you! The top four things you should be quantifying and tracking are:

  1. Water intake
  2. Time in bed
  3. Daily Steps
  4. Morning Mood

How Much Water Should We Be Drinking?

Water is one of the first things we should be keeping track of if we want to increase our overall fitness and performance (Super easy, often overlooked). Recommendations for optimal water intake varies significantly, depending on the amount of activity we partake in any given day, and even to the temperature it is outside. The best recommendation that I have seen is via the Mayo clinic.

Of course, depending on the level of activity, sweating, medications, etc. this amount varies so it is not one-size-fit-all.

How To Keep Track of Fitness Activity?

If I were to ask you to quantify your activity, what would you show me? Would you tell me that you worked out for 60 minutes 4 times this week? Would that be it? Would that mean that for our 168 hour week, you were active for 4 hours of it, then bedridden for the following 164 hours? No, that can’t possibly be right; you also walked around the grocery store, took your dogs, Kujo and Simba, out for a walk, then helped your Aunt Gladice paint her garage door (You’re so kind). That all counts as activity, but how do we quantify that? Unfortunately, unless we lock ourselves in a metabolic chamber, or have a handy supply of doubly-labeled water to measure our absolute energy expenditure we won’t have a completely accurate measure (but that’s okay!). An easy way to quantify this activity is through tracking daily steps!

Accuracy vs. Reliability

Got a Fitbit, or an AppleWatch? These two tools are markedly reliable and can provide us with a number to track each and every day. I can already hear the purists screaming “But Coach Jon, I was sitting here and it said I took 3 steps!! It’s not accurate!!” I get it, it’s not accurate. So it can’t sense whether you were walking at 2ft/s or 3ft/s, or whether you took 6k steps or 6.2k steps. Let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees. What these tools do well is give you a reliable number each time. What this means is that if our Fitbit always indicates that we took 300 fewer steps that we actually did, that’s perfect! If we increase our daily steps from 3-4k to 4-5k, there still was an increase in activity, which is all that matters. I would recommend setting a daily minimum at between 6-7k steps (for ya know, health), and steadily working toward this goal throughout the day with short duration walks (5-10 mins). Once we achieve 1-2 months hitting this daily minimum, we can increase 1-2k per day.

How to Keep Track of Sleep?

Yes, more on sleep! I’ve harped on the importance of sleep enough in my previous blog where I dive deep into sleep. But, it is so important that we’re going to include it in our variables worth tracking. But how do we track our sleep? Our time in REM or slow-wave sleep? But if you woke up at 2am to use the restroom, how do you account for that? Sleep apps that claim to track the quality of our sleep still have a ways to go before they can reliably tell us how long we spent in each stage of sleep, and how deep our sleep was! Recording what time we first get into bed, and what time we get up can provide us with very valuable data. If we only spend a total of 6 hours in bed, it doesn’t matter if we instantly fell asleep when our head hit the pillow; the max number of hours we’re going to get is 6 hours (which isn’t enough). Getting into bed at a reasonable time is a variable we can control and track accurately which can serve us greatly.

How Do We Track Our Feelings?

Up until this point, we have been primarily focusing on objective measures or measures that aren’t influenced by personal feelings. The number of steps you take or the time at which you get into bed is pretty set in stone. Now we’re going to take a look at some subjective measures. How is your mood when you wake up? How is your mental clarity? Did you dream last night, and if so, how vivid was it? It pains my scientific mind to say this but these measures may ultimately be more important than the amount of water you drink or the number of hours you spend in bed. If we sleep for 9 hours and drink a gallon of water but still wake up with brain fog, and a poor mood, well then those 9 hours and one gallon of water are useless, to be frank.

Practice Self-Awareness

Journaling first thing in the morning is a great way to practice quantifying our mood. Rate your mood on a scale from 1-10, 1 being that you’re going to set the world ablaze in a fiery inferno and 10 is you might as well be frolicking through daisies in a meadow. Next, write whether you dreamt or not. If so, try and write down your dream as well as possible. All these measures together serve as your database. We should be cross-referencing and comparing numbers constantly. Notice the measure I chose to omit. Calories, volume, intensity, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, body weight.. just to name a few. If we can’t even keep the number of steps we take in a day over 6k, and count the hours between when we get in and out of bed, everything else is useless. Don’t get lost in the weeds, and pick the low-hanging fruit. Once we can easily track these variables, branching out may be in the cards. Until then, let’s stick to the basics.

Coach Jon

Sports Performance Coach

B.S. NSCA-CSCS

“Coach Jon, Irvine Strength and Conditioning Coach who is an athlete himself and someone I recommend to my patients. He knows what he is doing and his attention is on the proper form and injury prevention is what I love about him.”- Dr. Shakib, your Irvine Chiropractor