One night, I was doing my bodybuilding training at the gym, and about to start a set of Smith machine incline presses for my chest when a large, muscular bodybuilder ambled over to speak with me.
It was obvious, even through his warm-ups, that this young man was extremely muscular and ready for bodybuilding competition. He was at least 5'10" and over 235 pounds. Upon speaking with him, I learned that he would be competing in the USA Championships the following weekend in Las Vegas and that he would be entering the heavyweight class.
After introducing himself, he asked me if I would take a few moments to look at his physique and give him my opinion. Of course, I obliged, as I really enjoy helping people get into their best shape. I didn't know if there would be much that I could do to help him, with just one week to go, and I knew that what he wanted was what many of us crave and need - constructive feedback.
In moments, the young man had dropped his warm-up pants , taken off his shirt and was striking pose after dynamic pose, his muscles rippling and striations bursting forth. After giving him a few pointers, we spoke at length. I learned that he had followed my bodybuilding career for a number of years and uses many of the same training techniques that I do. I wished him luck and I moved on, thinking about how essential it is for us to have a barometer of our progress.
The Importance of Constructive Feedback for Making Bodybuilding Gains
This barometer that I refer to is constructive feedback, and feedback can take many, many forms:
1) The most obvious form of feedback is the sight of our image in the mirror: Nobody is more familiar with our bodies than we are, obviously. But, we must be careful because this of itself can be a pitfall.
How so? Because we see our bodies on a regular basis, we can become oblivious to the progress that we are actually making. In short, we don't realize how much we are actually improving!
There are psychological factors which are directly tied to the self-image that come into play when we look at ourselves in the mirror. What we see in the mirror and how it measures up to the mental self-image that we have of ourself impacts how we feel about our appearance. Pitfalls: we can either be: (a) too hard on ourselves, not giving ourselves enough credit for our progress or (b) unrealistic about what we see in the mirror, giving ourselves more credit than we deserve. How can we remain objective?
2) Another way to get feedback is by soliciting the opinions of those we trust. Now what I would suggest is that you neither go looking for a "yes" man, who will tell you that "you look great" no matter what, nor someone so critical of you that he/she gives you bad progress reports.
3) Yet another form of feedback is measurement. This is my favorite form of feedback because it is unbiased. Measurement techniques include:
(a) Measuring body fat.
(c) Using the tape measure.
(d) Using photography.
Getting feedback on your progress is essential if you want to keep improving the shape of your body. Most of the time, progress doesn't happen fast enough. I know, we are all impatient and that's why I say that we must learn "to live with progress". Learning to live with progress means learning to accept the fact that it is only humanly possible to progress only so fast. And for that progress to be satisfying on an ongoing basis, and therefore provide you with motivation, you must measure it.
The Importance of Progress Measurement and the Various Ways to Measure It
If you don't measure progress, you won't get satisfaction from your training and dieting efforts, and you'll lose motivation. Using measurement to gauge progress can keep you on course, and headed in the direction of constant physical improvement.
Let's look at body fat measurement first. You must have access to good body fat calipers (or another reliable body fat measuring tool) or a trainer/clinician that has them. At the start of your program, you establish a "base line" body fat measurement and then, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, measure the body fat to gauge the rate at which the body fat is being dropped.
The second method by which you can gauge progress is weighing. The disadvantage of weighing is that the scale does not discriminate between lean body mass (muscle) and body fat (adipose tissue). While weighing will give you the number of pounds that you are losing on a weekly basis, it will not tell you whether it's from muscle or fat.
By combining body fat measurement with weighing however, you can get a clearer picture of what your "lean body mass" is and what you "body fat mass" is. This is accomplished by comparing the relative change between the amount of body fat from week to week with the change in weight from week to week. It is then easy to calculate lean body mass and fat weight.
Yet another method of tracking progress is to use a tape measure. This involves using a simple tape measure such as the ones that are used in tailoring and dressmaking. You can measure the girth of your arms, upper thighs, calves, waist, chest, and shoulders easily and track the measurements in a chart from week to week.
The last method of tracking progress, and one that I highly recommend in place of using a mirror for self-examination, is photography. By taking photos at regular intervals during your body improvement program, you can gauge progress.
It is important to take your picture under the same lighting conditions each time, to ensure uniformity and create accurate comparative photos. While sometimes we forget, photographs don't. It's easy to get down on yourself and think that you are not progressing fast enough, when the truth is that you're actually making great progress. By taking "before and after pictures" along the way, you can compare pictures side-by-side to accurately gauge how much you have improved.
Combining the use of photographs with body fat measurement and weighing can be an invaluable combination of tools with which to gauge your progress. As we discussed, gauging your progress and gathering feedback is essential to your continued progress in the quest for that lean body you've always wanted.
About the Author
Lee Labrada, is a former IFBB Mr. Universe and IFFB Pro World Cup winner. He is one of few men in history to place in the top four in the Mr. Olympia seven consecutive times, and was recently inducted into the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. Lee is President/CEO of Houston-based Labrada Nutrition.