What Is Progress Anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about progress lately. What counts as progress? How do I define progress? Are there metrics or something else, less tangible?

As I’ve written about, over the past year, a lot of my “progress” would actually seem like a reversal of progress. I train a lot less. I’m no longer competing. I need more rest days, lighter weights. I’ve gained weight and lost muscle.

And I still don’t feel 100% most days.

But I feel better than I did. Particularly mentally. I loved the way I felt in my body when I trusted it to do all the hard, impressive things like lifting heavy weights and pushing it to its limit. What I didn’t love was how unsustainable it felt, especially when things finally went kaput for me.

There are a lot of days when I struggle to find motivation. There are still quite a few things that I love to do, but can’t. Being in the gym less frequently means I feel less inclined to go. Working out at a heavier weight often feels slow and frustrating. Competitions are out of the question, so I often wonder why I continue to bother. What’s the end goal?

But, at the end of the day, I’ve found a lot of solace and passion around the sensation of having a barbell in my hands. While there may not be a clearly defined goal just yet, progress has to mean something else. But what?

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Culling

The other day, I spent a considerable amount of time culling my Instagram. I’ve been really sensitive lately to how much time I’m mindlessly spending on my phone. Most days after work, I watch Netflix while watching or playing various things on my phone. It feels mind-numbing.

As I started to give some accounts the boot, I noticed there was one thing in particular that I no longer wanted to see in my feed: progress photos. Even from nutritionists or coaches who promoted things like intuitive eating, body positivity, and balance, 9 times out of 10, they were sharing progress photos of clients who were progressively getting smaller in their time working together. And it just irked me more than usual.

Getting smaller, no matter how we frame the dialogue and commentary around it, is always conflated with health. Yet how many people would benefit from going to a coach who told them that, rather than working on the scale, it was time to work on hunger cues and learning to trust your body, regardless of what it looks like?

Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Scales

The other day, I went to the gym for a program that came with my membership. As part of it, they did an InBody scan for me, which measures your weight, body fat, muscle mass, and bone density. It was actually pretty cool – and enlightening since I learned I have way more strength in my core than anywhere else in my body.

But as I sat down with the coaches, they started talking about how they use this as a metric for progress. Each month, they would do a scan to see if the weight and body fat were going down, muscle mass going up.

And I thought, in the intake, we discussed my goals (or lack thereof), previous experience, and injuries. We never talked about why I was there, the history of my relationship with exercise and food (which, in many ways, could probably be treated as an injury), and what my personal goals were.

Which got me thinking about how much I would love for coaches to really sit down and approach progress with a different mindset.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Progress

Lately, for me, progress is more evaluated by something like:

How well are you taking care of your body?

How kindly are you talking to yourself?

Are you resting enough?

Do you feel strong?

Do you feel like you’re eating well/enough?

Are you excited about things? 

How balanced is your life?

None of these can be tracked easily by a scale or measurements or even photos. But they’re questions that represent a fuller picture of health to me.

I don’t expect any gyms to start having regular check-ins about self-talk any time soon, but I think it’d be kind of awesome if they did. There won’t be any special before and after pictures, but that’s not really the point, is it?

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