How to Track Your Progress with Bodyweight Exercise

When you’re working on a training program, you want to know that you’re making good progress toward whatever goals you may have.

In this episode, Andy and Ryan talk about what metrics you can use to track your progress, how to evaluate when to move on to the next progression, and the trouble with getting too focused on numbers and metrics.

Here’s a snippet of what they had to say on the matter:

“When working on bodyweight become your own coach. I’m not saying don’t get coached, I am saying get a better understanding of the body and understand what is happening.”

Here’s what you’ll hear in this episode:

(00:05) Andy can’t remember the intro.(01:09) “I’m new to bodyweight training… What metrics should I track and how?”(01:20) Some examples of training that have easier progress to track.(07:56) “How do I know when I should advance my training?”(10:59) Focus on these two things! (19:00) Know how your form is.(23:15) Try something you aren’t very good at!

Ryan: We’re recording.

Andy: All right. I guess somebody should say something then.

Ryan: Oh, yeah. Do you want to do your breaker-breaker?

Andy: All right. Breaker, breaker, one-niner. Get your ears on for the GMB Show. I can’t remember the rest of the intro I used to do. So we’re just going to cut it off there and keep rolling.

Ryan: Sounds great.

Andy: So yeah, this is the show and we’re going to be talking about something for the next 20 plus or minus minutes here that I think comes up quite a bit with people who begin training more movement-oriented, more skill-oriented training, begin working on more bodyweight style exercise, but coming from a background in maybe weights or running or another more quantity-based discipline of training, right? Those are very common.

So the biggest thing is that people have trouble knowing when they’ve made progress. So we’re going to talk about that, how you can know you’ve made progress, how you can measure your progress, how you can know if a progress is adequate and if you need to make some changes, right?

Ryan: Yeah, yeah, that’s it. To start off, like you said, if you’re coming from a weight background, bodybuilding, maybe a running background, it can be pretty easy to track your progress simply by looking at the numbers. If you’re looking at a bodybuilding-oriented program, obviously you’re going to be using weights and so you know if you’re making progress depending on either the amount of weight that you’re putting on, the amount of reps that you’re able to perform instead of adding those weights and then also looking at that over time.

So not that that training is easy but it is easier to track because you have these exact numbers and you can see exactly what’s going on. Running can be the same thing. So if you’re going for distance, then obviously depending on the day, being able to run further for a shorter amount of time is going to equate to better performance.

So that can be pretty easy. But the problem sometimes that we have in the bodyweight world is how do we know if we’re making progress and also another question around that is, “When do we know it’s OK to move on to the next movement?”

So let’s just start off talking about that a little bit. So taking a look at the bodyweight world, a lot of things come down to progressions. We can talk about variations in just a moment but looking at progressions. Now, there are a lot of places out there that focus on the progressions obviously because that’s the way that you need to do it and you always want to start with the beginning progression. So let’s say that we start off – I’m just going to throw a very difficult movement out there because we have a huge article on this tutorial on this as well.

I think it’s a good example because it not only looks at progressions but also variations. So first off, we’re going to look at the planche. Now planche is a movement that a lot of people think they want and that’s I think because it’s a cool move and sometimes you get working on it and you realize it’s not really for you and so you can move on.

But with that aside, let’s look at the first progression. First off for us would be focusing on the wrists. Are your wrists strong enough? Do you have the proper flexibility to be able to even start training for the planche? Now I’m not going to go through all the progressions but I am going to say that in this tutorial, we show you exactly how you can start and that’s the first point of it is starting off with the very basics, looking at the wrists.

You’re gradually going to take yourself up to being able to do a floating crane or basically a floating tuck planche. Now in other circles, they might say you have to hold that planche, that floating tuck, that planche – tuck planche, pardon me, for a specific amount of time before you need to move on. Let’s put that to the side and we’re going to talk about that in a moment.

I want to go into variations right now. So sometimes it’s not just the progressions because what I believe is that once you get to a certain point in some particular movements, as long as you have those first progressions down, you can then use variations of the other movements to help you get to the more advanced movement.

This is where the planche I think is a very good example. As long as you work towards that tuck, that floating tuck, from there, there are multiple ways that you can continue in order to get the full planche.

For example, Junior, our lead trainer located in Australia is a planche master, right? The dude is just phenomenal. Back of the hand planches, planches wherever you want to do, he can just do them. He didn’t just follow these progressions in order to get to the planche. He used variations as much as he could throughout the day or spreading out over a week in order to get him there.

So what I’m trying to get at is sometimes with bodyweight practice, it’s not just following progressions A to Z. Once you get to a certain point, you can then switch things up. The problem though comes down to this. When do you know it’s time to move on? And this comes back to being able to measure progress. So this is –

Andy: Before you get into that, let’s just reiterate that this is something that is maybe hard to grasp sometimes but what you’re trying to say here is that there’s not just one line that you’re going down when you’re trying to go from a skill at one level to a skill at another level. It’s not just a vertical progression that goes from zero to ten. There’s also – every step, there’s also horizontally. There are other variations that go along with it, right? Other things that are similar that give you training value but aren’t on that same line, right?

So there are other things that you can be doing and so instead of just going deep in one direction, you’re also going a little wider. That’s not saying that we want to go so wide that we’re shallow to take the metaphor – you can’t – you also can’t just have straight depths with no breadth. You can’t just go into one thing because then you find yourself specializing too much and you’re going to end up setting yourself up with weaknesses and others.

So you need to not just go vertically along this line but also spread out a little bit horizontally. Try some variations and let those variations also wedge you up the line themselves too, right? So it’s not just here. One variation might be a little diagonal up, right? So it brings you actually higher up as well as just to the side.

So this is something – visually it’s kind of my hands don’t really explain everything but you can sort of see how there’s two dimensions to this and there’s more than that. The point is, is that there’s more than just one dimension though.

Ryan: You will notice on these tutorials that I have on YouTube or I’m teaching, I say this is an example of how I might do it. In other words, this isn’t just the way. There’s not just one way to do it. There are many different options. But everything though comes down to the basics. That’s something that I want everyone to understand is the longer you spend on the basic movements, the better. You’re going to be – once you get to the point where you have the options to use variations.

So I mean there’s just so many different ways that you can skin a cat. I had to say that. So that was something we were teaching last week in a seminar. Anyway, so let’s go on then and talk about how you know it’s time to move on. What is a way that you can like measure progress and see if you’re really ready to move on to the next progression or play around with the variation?

This is tough. This is really tough. There are different ways. You can use numbers. Of course there are scales out there, Rated Perceived, Effort Technique that you can use. But I think that where a lot of people have trouble is they get too focused on numbers. They get too focused maybe also on time.

So places out there say you have to be able to hold a particular position for X amount of seconds, minutes even, before you’re ready to move on. But really, we believe that it comes down to feeling and really testing yourself and using assessments in order to check to make sure if you really are to move on.

The thing is we all come into this at different levels and so we could have someone who comes in to work with us and maybe they want to work on the planche. They have a background with hand balancing possibly and they’re pretty good with it. Well, maybe they will be able to progress with the planche at a faster pace than another person. So for us to say no, it has to be exactly this way for every single person out there.

I think it’s an injustice and I just – I don’t think it’s right because you need to figure out what’s right for you. So by using feeling and using these assessments, then you’re going to have a better judge. You’re going to be able to judge whether or not you’re ready to move on. Anything to add to that before …

Andy: No, I think that that’s great. Everyone has things that they’re strong and weak in and in GMB, we always talk about there’s strength, there’s flexibility and there’s motor control. Depending on where you come from, you might have more or less of those things in a particular situation.

So you might have more strength in pressing skills. You might have less motor control in balancing. You might have not enough flexibility in something else or you might have more or less all those things. So it’s not – again, it’s not just one line. So all those things have to develop and knowing what’s right for you is going to depend on where you are in those different dimensions.

So that’s why we try to let you assess where you are in those dimensions, which is I think where you’re headed next.

Ryan: Yeah. So this is tough because when we talk about certain things, skills, when we talk about skills, sometimes unfortunately the ego gets in the way. We don’t need to really go into the ego thing right now. But really it comes down to a lot of people trying to jump up to the other progressions, variations before they’re really ready.

So if we can kind of put our ego to the side and focus on exactly where we are and get a feeling, focusing on two things, quality and ease of movement. That’s really where it’s at.

So when you’re performing a particular movement and let’s say it’s this floating tuck planche that we have for our planche progressions. When you’re performing this, at what ease level is this? I’m not talking about it being easy because it can still be pretty tough. But when you’re performing it, are you noticing that each time it’s getting more comfortable in the sense possibly your breathing is not as labored as it was before?

Hopefully you’re not holding your breath when you’re performing it. Are you feeling the tension in your body dissipate compared to a different day? So this also is coming down as well to not just the strength movement but like Andy said, a flexibility and a motor control issue because at certain points when we progress, you might have the strength for something but flexibility could be the thing that’s holding you back.

So if you feel in your body that things are getting easier or more comfortable, well then you can check and look at quality of movement. I like to say a lot make it pretty. That’s our big thing. You want to make it as beautiful as possible because if you’re able to perform a movement beautifully, that means that you’ve probably got really good control over that movement. That motor control is the third thing that we’re looking at and by the way, these are not in order. So it doesn’t say you have to have strength first, then flexibility, then motor control because they’re all going to be different.

But looking at that is that feeling of the movement. Now let’s say you just do a – this tuck planche hold, this float, and you hold it like three seconds, you like nailed it, well, there is a particular level at which you should be able to hold it for a considerable amount of time. By considerable, I’m not talking a minute or anything like that.

For some people, it could be 20 seconds. It could even be maybe a solid ten seconds before they’re ready to move on. Once again, it depends on each person.

But look at the quality. Is your form solid? Is it good, really good? Do you have the motor control to be able to do it? Then take a look at the ease of it when you’re performing it. I like to say, “Are you able to talk throughout the movement?” This was something that came up in the seminar that I was teaching in Holland recently.

I was holding a particular movement and I was telling people how to perform this particular movement while holding it. That is ease. I practiced it so much at that level, working on the quality of the movement and looking at the ease, that I have no problem at all being in that position and talking just like this.

Now that is a good way of judging things. How does it feel in your body? Because when it comes down to it, it’s not just simply holding a scale or doing a movement. It’s making that a part of you and that’s our physical autonomy here in GMB, right?

We want this movement to be a natural movement of us even though it might not be a natural movement. So the planche, when you’re performing this movement, how does it feel? How does it look? That’s something that we really need to take a look at.

Once we have that down, that feeling, we check and this is where the assessment can come in. You move on to either the next progression in that series or take a look at a variation. Now I like this variation. So if we’re in this tuck planche and we’re holding this, there are many different options that we can use.

But let’s take a look at just one single variation that you can use and that is going from this tuck position to an open tuck position simply where we’re pulling our knees back. Now interestingly enough, some people, rather than strength, have an issue with flexibility, lumbar flexibility when performing this movement.

So if you don’t take a look at flexibility as well as motor control, along with strength, then you could possibly miss out and you can become frustrated and think you simply don’t have enough strength and end up going back to that tuck and holding that tuck for so long that you burn yourself out.

You actually don’t ever make progression. You don’t make progress because you think it’s just a strength issue instead of a flexibility issue. So that’s where these assessments I think are so important. You need to take a look at not just the strength but flexibility and also the motor control in order to help you get a better feeling for what’s going on in the movement. I will let you talk now. I just got pretty excited about what we’re talking about.

Andy: All right. I think that’s – it comes down to like you said is the feeling and it’s – it can be very difficult when you’re used to measuring something, to learning to trust your feeling of something. But the thing is – for example a tuck planche. Holding a tuck planche for 60 seconds with bad form versus a tuck planche with great form for 20 seconds, which is better? Honestly, I don’t know because at that point, how do you measure 20 seconds versus 60 seconds if you’re measuring two completely damn different things? You cannot. You cannot compare 20 seconds with 60 seconds and make time the only thing you’re measuring.

You have to know that it’s good form. Without a coach looking at you, how do you know it’s good form? You have to learn to trust your own feelings of the movement. Yes, you can take videos and pictures and compare after the fact. That’s good. But unless you begin to try to understand, be aware of the sensation of the movement, unless you become aware of this and learn how to trust your feeling, looking at something does not tell you what you need to change in your own experience, right?

You can say, “Oh, I need to lift my hips up.” But when you actually get in a position, how do you actually lift your hips? If you can’t do that, if you can’t make that transition, then you’re not going to be able to improve your form. So it’s not just saying that time is wrong. That’s not it at all. It’s saying that time is useful only if you’re comparing apples to apples.

So that means that you have to have the same form. You have to have good form for an extended amount of time, right? And how can you know if your form is good even with a coach looking at you, even with looking at a video of yourself? How can you know your form is good unless you can understand your own experience of the movement?

So that’s why it’s so important to not just be working on improving the form but to be working on how it feels and this is why we think it’s so important not to throw numbers out the window but to begin as early as possible, begin getting used to explaining subjectively your experience of the movement. In all of our programs, we actually recommend doing this. You write things down, that you log it.

You log your workouts, that you try to explain how you felt in the movements. That’s super important because that’s the only way that you’re going to train yourself to trust your own experience of it and that’s the only way you’re going to know that you’re consistently doing better, that you know that maybe you went from 20 seconds to 30 seconds and not only did you increase the time but you felt that your form was maybe not quite as good but almost.

That’s the only way is you have to train yourself to know how close your form is and if you do that, well then extending the time means something to you and that’s what’s really important.

Ryan: Yeah. I mean it’s – there’s just so much going on within this. Again, looking at bodybuilding or lifting weights. I mean it’s nice because you have those numbers. You know the weights as they increase. You’re getting stronger or time under tension or however you want to measure it. That’s great but when we look at bodyweight, become your own coach. Not that – I’m not saying don’t get coached. I’m saying get a better understanding of your body. Understand what’s happening so that you can better help your coach to help you to become better by understanding what’s going on in your body.

Andy: It’s hard, it’s hard. It is hard and this is why we’re making this show is that it is hard. We have people ask us this all the time. Well, I don’t know if I’m ready to move on. Well, the reason you don’t know is not because there’s a secret formula you don’t have and the nature of what we’re doing, it requires you to begin learning how to understand your own experience.

We could try to give you a lot of different hacks around that, but ultimately we think that it’s kind of a disservice to you in the long run to teach you that you replace one set of numbers with another set of numbers because ultimately, you’re going to need to – if you want to really attain “mastery,” because that’s …

Ryan: Everybody is working towards that.

Andy: Routine mastery, you’ve got to understand your own experience, right? That’s the only way. So that’s the truth. That’s the path is you have to really focus on your experience and I believe that if you do that, even if you don’t increase your time and even if you don’t go to a different progression, that if you keep focusing on your experience and do the same damn thing again and again and again and again and again, you will notice changes in your experience. I think you will be able to notice progress the more you notice what you’re going through.

Ryan: This is something too I mentioned the other day is a lot of people think that they’re stalling when actually happened is their awareness just went somewhere else. So here’s something you can do. Get into a particular position whether it be a push-up position, a crow, a handstand. It really doesn’t matter. Do something that you know that you can do very well.

Then take the awareness deeper. Try and focus on from the head to the toe and feel what’s going on in that hold, in that movement or whatever you’re doing. Start off at a very, very, very basic level and start working up and increasing that awareness of your body. This is a good way that you can start to learn more about your body in any particular position that you’re doing and really Andy and I, with our martial art background, having trained so much and looking at the basics and breaking everything down and what is going on when I’m doing this and not just the technical side of it, but feeling.

When I’m in this position, what’s going on? Where am I lacking energy? Wherever you want to go with it. But feeling what’s going on. Look at the quality of the movement and the ease and that’s a good place to start.

Andy: Yeah. I mean you mentioned martial arts. I’ve done some kicks so many times. It’s not a matter of – I don’t judge the kick on whether or not I hit the target. I judge the kick about three-quarters of a second before that. I know if it’s going to hit the target before it hits the target. I judge the kick on the feeling of it before I get to the target, right?

So that’s the thing that you need to know is – so I will extend the exercise you said Ryan of take something you’re really good at and notice how it feels and I would say after that, do something that you’re not very good at and work at that. Notice the differences.

I think if you do that, it will really pull into focus what good form feels like to you and what mastery feels like to you when you compare that and contrast it with something that you’re not as good at.

Ryan: Nice, I like it. All right. So a little bit of homework for all of you out there. It’s cool. You know what? Give us feedback. Let us know how that goes because we really want to hear all about it. We are complete nerds about this stuff. I mean I love talking about this stuff. So I love to hear feedback from people about it. So questions with this, with progressing, with measuring your progress and any other question that you have out there, please let us know. Please let us know.

Andy: Yeah. Ask us specific things. I mean I would love to address specific questions like, “How do I know if I’m ready for this move? How do I know if I’m ready for this move?”

Ryan: Yeah.

Andy: There are a lot of things – there are a lot of specifics that we can tell you with some of those. But most of them are going to come down to being able to feel your own – feel where you’re at, feel your own experience. So start with that. Begin by developing that and when you combine that with tracking and numbers and all these other things, you will find that the numbers actually take up more meaning for you. The ratings will actually become a lot more useful because you’re comparing apples to apples again.

Ryan: All right. OK. I think we’re going to finish it with – right now. We’re going to finish right now. We’re done.

Andy: We’re done.

Ryan: Thank you so much for listening. Thank you Andy.

Andy: And thank you Ryan.

Ryan: Always a pleasure. And until next time, keep feeling. It sounds so dirty.

Andy: Feeling yourself …

Ryan: Later everybody. Later.

[End of transcript]

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