How to track your performance. What metrics matter?

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I’ll be honest, I use to track everything from macros, running splits, 1 rep max, to sleep. It was a lot but I thought it was all required in order to get to where I wanted to go. But then I asked myself, “well… where do I want to go?” I realized I didn’t need all of that information and that I was going through analysis paralysis. I was trying to track so much that it was taking away from the actual doing of things. In this case, it was focusing on training, recovery, and how I was actually feeling. For me, my focus is to compete in the Spartan Ultra World Championships which is a 24 hour endurance event where the athlete who completes the most laps (10K obstacle course) within that time window wins. We live in an era where we have access to so much data that it’s hard to know what’s actually important. There’s endless options of metrics to track from HRV, blood glucose levels, heart rate, steps, and the list goes on. I’m not saying that those things are not important but it’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of tracking a million things (which is exactly what I did).

In this article, I’ll highlight key metrics to track based on goals, tools I’ve used, and why they matter. At the end, I’ll do a recap of what I’ve tracked in the past and what I track today. Please note that the opinions below are based on experience. As a certified personal trainer, I know that what may work for me may not work for you but that’s also part of the fun with trial and error.

The best place to start is to identify your specific goal and I’ve listed a few examples below:

  1. I want to get lean for Summer
  2. I’m training for Hyrox
  3. I want to run a marathon
  4. I want to podium a Spartan race

From here, we can now expand on some of the metrics that will help you track your progress…

I want to get lean for Summer is a common goal for many people this time of year especially as we are officially out of the pandemic. The best place to start is to get a body composition test. This will include your weight and body fat percentage. There are other metrics that come with the test but these two are what most people focus on. You can get this done at your gym as some have body composition scales or you can purchase your own but I’ve found that neither are that accurate. If you want to get accurate data, I’d recommend getting a dexa scan which will scan your entire body versus just stepping on a scale. I’ve seen these go for around $75 but will depend on the provider and you can simply Google “dexa scan near me.” Now that you know your current state, you can start to build out your plan on where you want to go from a body composition perspective or hire a dietician (recommended). It’s so easy to take the “quick fix” approach of starving yourself to meet those goals but I will tell you that you’ll most likely gain it back. I’ve worked with two different dieticians in the past and it was the best money I ever spent. Trust me, it’s worth it. They will help you will a nutrition plan that aligns with your current fitness levels and goals from a body composition perspective. I eat more today than I ever have and am the healthiest I’ve ever been. A dietician will take all of your information and goals then provide you a plan with your macros. The other side to this is to work with a personal trainer that can help you with your programming to ensure you’re receiving the most value out of the work you’re putting in. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances that they don’t know what to do when they go to the gym so they don’t go at all. It truly breaks my heart to hear that and is the main reason why I’m in the process of building a personal training app. More on that later. Hydration is key here as it’ll impact your body composition and making sure you’re taking in enough water. Water needs vary between people but I’ve seen anywhere from half your body weight to your full body weight in ounces recommended. For the final note, if you want to take your body composition test again it’s best to space them out at a minimum of 3 months but I like 6 months. Think long term when it comes to body composition. So for getting lean, you’ll want to track macros (via myfitnesspal app), programming, water intake, and body composition.

Training for Hyrox is one that keeps coming up as the competition is quickly building popularity. I’ve done two Hyrox events so far and can tell you that they are a blast. This event combines running with various endurance/strength challenges from the rower to sled pushes. Training for Hyrox is similar to Spartan training without the need for rig/obstacle training. The events are the same in every competition so you know what you’re getting into. For me, I tracked my running volume, metabolic conditioning, and sled workouts. Running volume is important because half of Hyrox is running. Being able to run fast, stop, perform an event, then run again is the name of the game so you’ll want to have a decent base of running in your programming. If you don’t have one, I’d recommend purchasing a running watch and chest strap to track your heart rate during your runs to ensure you’re not going too hard too often. You’ll want to have a mixture of easy and hard running throughout the week (80/20 rule). For metabolic conditioning, you’ll want to have access to the machines you’ll be performing on in Hyrox. This includes a skierg, rower, sled, medicine balls, and kettle bells or dumbbells. Most commercial gyms will have these but you may need to go to a crossfit box or Hyrox affiliate gym. The metrics you’ll want to track for metabolic conditioning are your splits on the skierg and rower but also getting time behind the sled. The weight varies for age group and pro so that will determine what you should be training with. When I trained for Hyrox, I always added more weight to the sled because the terrain you push on for Hyrox is NOT smooth. It will feel like you’re trying to push the sled through sand so better to train with heavier weight. If you’re new to Hyrox, it may be best to hire a trainer who’s competed in Hyrox or specializes in conditioning. This is more of an endurance event versus strength. To recap, you’ll want to track running volume, metabolic conditioning, sled workouts, and heart rate.

I want to run a marathon is an amazing goal and quite the experience for first timers. When I did my first marathon I absolutely hated it. I followed a program I found online for free and know nothing about endurance sports. For marathon training, metrics you’ll want to track are running volume, heart rate, and fueling. Running volume is going to help you build your body to run further as you progress in your programming. For beginners, you’ll start off with a few miles a week then add a little each week. I’ve seen the 10% rule work best here and this is where you’ll add 10% volume each week to reduce the risk of injury and allow your body time to adapt. Heart rate is one I love because the longer you focus on your aerobic base (easy runs) the faster you’ll be as a runner without increasing your heart rate. Fueling is crucial here as you’ll want to start testing out fuel that works best with your stomach. This is so individualized as everyone’s stomach handles fuel differently before, during, and after training sessions. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is trying a new fuel the day of a race only to have stomach issues during the race. Not fun. A great time to test out fuel is during your long runs in your training program. Test how much you need and when you need it to feel your best.

I want to podium at a Spartan race is one of my goals for this year. I’m currently in my second year as a competitive age group athlete with pursuits of competing at the elite level. In order to get to the elite level, you’re required to hit top 5 in a race but my personal goal is to podium which is top 3 to ensure that I’m ready versus just getting in. I currently track my mileage on a weekly basis (also known as running volume), heart rate, sleep 7 hours a night, and eat mostly fish/eggs for my protein. My weekly mileage is important to me as the distance I focus on is the ultra marathon distance (50K/31 miles). Volume will vary from week to week but can range between 45 to 75 miles. Most of my running is done at a lower intensity also known as base running. When running, I always wear a chest strap heart rate monitor that syncs with my watch to track my heart rate and ensure I’m not going too hard. For more on this topic, you can read another article I wrote titled “What is aerobic performance? How do I start?” When it comes to sleep, I’m extremely regimented because it’s one of those things can easily fall off (for me). Everyone is different when it comes to their sleeping requirements but I’ve found that I perform best when I get 7 hours of solid sleep. This means turning off all electronics one hour before bed time and not looking at any for one hour upon waking up. Sleep is when your body does most of its recovery work and with all the volume I’m putting on my body I want to maximize that recovery. When it comes to fish/eggs, this is my main source of protein and I do this because I want to be taking in lean meats and build an efficient machine. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rib eye steak but you know that post meal feeling of needing to lay down? I don’t get that when I eat fish/eggs and it makes me feel more energized. The reason why this is important to me is because I want to lean out for races to ensure I have just enough on my body. Think of it this way, if you have a big motor in a little car, you’ll drive faster. So for me, I track running volume, heart rate, and eat mostly fish/eggs for protein.

Ok so we’ve covered a ton of information on metrics to track based on goal/focus. I wanted to keep it high level and not get too into the weeds as this article would then be too long. I’d like to jump into some of the tools I’ve used in the past and currently use today.

Currently use and why:

  • Running watch – I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire to track my running volume and elevation gain. Another option from Garmin I really liked in the past was their Forerunner model.
  • Heart rate chest strap – I have the Garmin HRM chest strap that provides an accurate reading of my heart rate compared to wrist heart rates. Chest strap heart rate monitors will sync with your watch so you can see a live feed of your heart rate.
  • Training journal – Each night, I’ll do a recap of my training sessions from the day and jot notes around how I felt. If there is an ache that starts to be consistent, I can look back to see when it started to find out why this may be happening. This is also a good time to write down any new fuel you’ve used and log how it made you feel.

Used in the past and why I stopped:

  • MyFitnessPal – I used to track my macros but no longer do as I know my nutritional needs and pretty much eat the same thing everyday. This is great for people new to fitness so you get a true view of what you’re taking in as most people under estimate how much they’re eating.
  • MyZone Heart Rate Monitor – This was the first chest strap heart rate monitor I ever used and really loved it. You can see a live feed of your heart rate while you’re working out on your phone. I stopped using it because it couldn’t sync with my Garmin watch but I could be doing something wrong. Great product and company.
  • Fitbit – This was the first wearable I ever used but steps don’t help me at this point. Pedometers are great for individuals who are beginning their fitness journey and want to start with daily walks. Excellent place to start.
  • Whoop – I used to track my sleep quality but learned that the heart rate data is extremely off when running which throws off the algorithm for sleep requirements. On top of that, I was doing all of the right things and was still getting bad scores in the app. Even on rest weeks where I wasn’t training but getting good sleep, I would wake up with bad scores so lost trust in the data. The app did help me get into a great night time routine so can’t hate on that.
  • One rep max – I used to track but not necessary for an OCR/Hyrox athlete. This would be helpful for a power lifter or even a bodybuilder.

So what really matters? If there was only one metric I could track it would be heart rate. Your heart is your battery to life and it’s important to know if it’s strong or if it needs a little TLC. I think macros are important for individuals new to fitness as it shows what you’re putting into your body.

To wrap up things up, I want to say thank you for reading this article. I know this is a ton of information at once but I hope it helped clear up a question or two you may have had going into this. There are so many metrics we can track but I’m huge advocate for keeping things simple. Tracking your heart rate and how you’re feeling can tell you a lot and in most cases, be enough. The most important thing to do is to get up and just start. Best of luck!