What Fitness Progress Really Looks Like
Let's talk about yoga, too. A common danger here is comparison, especially in the age of Instagram where we see yogis show off reeeeally hard poses like it's effortless. (Don't get me started... I've blogged about this before, linked here.) If you're comparing yourself to someone who can put their foot behind their head, then most likely you're going to feel a little bummed out. I get it. I would love to do a split. After 8 years of dance classes growing up, I still couldn't do a split. If I couldn't do it as a flexible child, then it's not likely that I'll be able to as a stiff adult, either. If I start to compare myself to the really bendy yogis on Instagram, I'd be doing myself a disservice. One of the BEST lessons a yoga practice can teach us is that it's not about the pose, and it's NEVER about comparing yourself to someone else. Lesson: Comparison is not a good way to measure your progress... in yoga or in life in general.
I think measuring success with fitness-related things should come down to sooooo much more than one's weight or mastering yoga postures. Instead, I like to talk about other types of results with fitness and yoga. The silent markers of progress. Things you can't always quantify, but you can absolutely notice if you pay attention.
Read the list (below) and see if you recognize some of these changes in your life. These things are about having a healthy body and perspective. The magic starts to happen when you keep showing up for y-o-u. Keep at it, whatever type of fitness you're in to. Consistency compounds. My personal strategy is just to move a little almost every day. (I've written about that before, too, here.) Try to lighten up and have fun with it. If you're having fun, you'll be much more likely to stick with it.
Markers of Progress:
• Feel better overall: you have more energy and more stamina
This one is HUGE; don't overlook it. It means you can enjoy life more. You can play with your kids, walk your dog, travel, hike, and be active. Isn't that the entire point of exercising your body? To have a better quality of life?
• Improved Mood
Don't you feel better after you've exercised? If you do it regularly, it may help you consistently improve your mood, even when you haven't been active that day.
• Increased Strength
Strength is one we sometimes can measure. Can you lift weights easier, or lift more than you used to? That's a lot of progress.
• Control and Coordination
Can you lift those weights with more control and coordination? Or can you take your Zumba class with more coordination than you used to? Are you better at a specific yoga pose?
• Improved Endurance
Whatever it is that you're into— running, dance, weights, swimming, yoga— I bet you can do more now than you could when you started, or at least hang in there more comfortably.
PLEASE look back at what you've accomplished. See the things that you didn't think you would or could ever do. Apply that empowerment to your next goal. You can do it. Just keep practicing.
• Flexibility / More Limber
Progressing in certain types of motions, poses, or feeling more limber overall is a big step in enhancing your quality of life. Into yoga? Hopefully you feel more limber after every class you take. If you practice enough, hopefully you feel better all the time.
• "Lightbulb” Moments
Those times where you've had an "aha!" moment. Again, take yoga, for example. Figuring out an alignment tweak in yoga is so exciting. It takes a pose to a whole new level. The exciting thing about this one is that hopefully you never stop having these moments if you keep practicing.
• Resting Heart Rate (RHR) Improves
Having a healthier cardiovascular system is ALWAYS a good thing.
• Blood Pressure Improves
I've had several students or clients bounce into class beaming because their doctor cut back their blood pressure medication. If this has happened to you, well done. That's a huge marker of progress on the way to being healthier.
• Body Composition Changes
Exactly what I mentioned earlier. Increasing your lean body mass and losing fat mass is looking at your overall health a little differently than simply looking at the scale. One sign of this is the way your clothes fit. If your clothes were once a little snug and now fit better, then you're making progress changing your body composition.
• Back Pain Lessens
I hear this one a lot. When people start yoga or exercising in a safe way, many times their back pain decreases or goes away. Why? They're building core strength, back strength, learning how to move safely and effectively, and being more mindful of how they treat their spine.
• Posture Improves
Why? Same reasons as the previous point. It is SO worth working on your posture. It's not just for vanity. When posture is poor, your body suffers. Here's just ONE example: If you're slouching all the time, you don't breath deeply enough, so your blood doesn't get enough oxygen. Then your organs don't get enough oxygen, and that is detrimental to your health. If you're curious about other ways poor posture can impact your health, read this article from US News.
• Breathing Improves
Partly because your posture improves, it's true. Also, you're probably more mindful of your breath (especially if you are practicing yoga where that is priority #1). Lastly, you can absolutely train your respiratory system. The more you exercise it, the better it gets. Ask a runner or swimmer.
• Body Awareness
One thing that makes my day is when someone comes to class and tells me they caught themselves slouching in the grocery store line and remembered to bring back their neutral posture... Or when someone tells me they were nervous and remembered to breathe the way we do in class. When improvements like these start to become second nature, then we're really getting somewhere.
• Bone Density Improves
With any weight-bearing exercise, it stresses the bones which helps them rebuild stronger.
• Reduced Stress Levels
Think about how much better you feel after just one bout of exercise. With yoga, there's a big emphasis on the nervous systems... bringing your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest & digest) back into balance. This is one reason that yoga seems to help with managing stress so effectively.
• Arthritis Pain Decreases
Yet another testament to moving in a safe way. For example, yoga (did I mention you should be doing yoga?!?) should be practiced by moving your joints in the direction they are designed to move in AND respecting the range of motion that you have. Yoga improves stability of joints when practiced correctly, AND mobility of joints. When you are treating your joints like this, it helps. So, yes, many people claim yoga helps decrease their pain from osteoarthritis. This can be attained by many forms of exercise, when done safely.
• Love Yourself More
Love yourself right where you're at; don't wait for your body to be perfect. Perhaps we'd all like to look like a super model, but how about recognizing how absolutely amazing your own body is. Really! How amazing is the human body? And you have one! This one seems to be especially hard for women. Maybe it's because of how society tells us we "should" look. Maybe it's because we feel the need to be perfect. Maybe it's because we are the gender that has babies and how it changes our bodies after. Having a loving relationship with your own body is absolutely essential. On your fitness journey, you will never be happy without that. Nothing will ever be enough otherwise. Love your body, respect it, nourish it and don't talk badly about it.
This quote from Anodea Judith's Chakra Balancing book says it well: "The most fundamental relationship is between mind and body... cultivate an attitude of love and reverence toward your body and all of life. This requires an unconditional acceptance of your body in whatever shape it happens to be in. It doesn't mean that you don't care about your body-- quite the opposite. To love your body is to actively care for it by giving it the right diet, exercise, rest, and pleasure. It simply means that you do not wait for your body to be perfect in order to earn your love."
• Recognize What Health Is To You
Health does not always mean a smaller weight, and having a meaningful yoga practice doesn't mean you have to be able to do a handstand. Think about what YOU want out of life, and how having a healthy body will enhance it. (I wrote about this last month, linked here. If you need a little help setting and clarifying your goals, read that post.) Remember this: it's all about having a better quality of life so you can actually go out and enjoy it.
Look at your progress from all of these angles. Focus on your victories and give yourself some credit for all of them. Be patient, and keep showing up. If you get off track, just start again. It's that simple.
Love & Light.