Making a choice to achieve a fitness goal can be exciting! Whether your goal is to build strength, gain muscle, lose weight, or even just become healthier, it is great to have something to work towards. There is nothing better than achieving something you never thought was possible. Plus, having a goal can help keep you adherent and focused on building a more consistently active lifestyle.
Now, when we decide to get started on our fitness journey, we may not have any idea what to do or where to start. It might begin with a simple Google search or we may ask our friends or even a coach for help. Whatever the starting point may be, the typical question that follows is “What do I do now?”
Well, the very first thing that you need to do when tackling a new goal is…figure out what you’re already doing. This is considered “establishing a baseline” and is one of the most overlooked aspects to getting fit and healthy.
What is a Baseline?
Simply put, a baseline is just our starting point. It is a collection of data that you or a coach uses to create a plan and measure progress over time. Consider it “the before picture.” A whole variety of measurements can make up your baseline and it all depends on your goals. For example, your current calorie intake, normal training schedule (if any), and current body composition measurements (think body weight, body fat percentage, waist/hip measurements, etc) can make up a solid baseline.
Why Is This Important?
Having numbers, measurements, or any type of data gives us the ability to measure progress, compare results, and assess if a particular approach is effective. Jumping blindly into a plan without first measuring these factors can make it very difficult for you or your coach to determine if the prescribed plan is appropriate. Think of it like looking at a map in an amusement park and trying to find your way around without the “You Are Here” marker to help you. For example, if someone decided that they wanted to lose weight, going directly into a set amount of calories without figuring out how much they’re already eating could leave them eating too much or perhaps too little food. This results in either undesirable results (weight gain) or miserably low energy levels from eating far too few calories. Neither outcome is fun nor is this a productive use of time!
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How Can We Establish a Baseline?
Depending on the goals of the individual, there are a few ways that baselines can be established. With nutrition, a helpful approach is to first record how many calories are being consumed for an entire week. This should include the weekend when people tend to be less strict with their diet. This can be done through food journaling or perhaps a nutrition tracking app such as MyFitnessPal. Doing this can help unveil dietary habits, inconsistencies with intake, and simply give us a number to work with.
With training, completing a training log/diary can be helpful to get an idea of which exercises are being performed. It can also give you or your coach a grasp on your training frequency, the exercises you enjoy, and even which exercises you wouldn’t mind discontinuing (like forcing yourself to run even if you hate running).
Body Composition Baseline
For body composition, some simple low tech measurements you can gather and track over time could be your waist measurement, hip circumference, or current weight. You could even take this a bit further and measure other body parts such as your chest, shoulders, arms, legs, and butt. Keeping track of body fat percentage can be a tad trickier, as most tests require additional help (with calipers) or additional costs. However, if it is important for you and your goals, gathering this data can be extremely helpful.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of items you can choose to include in your baseline measurement. However, these are great examples of some major data points you can use to track your success over time. Furthermore, each person and coach will have their own protocol when it comes to establishing a baseline. However, the important part is just getting something measured to put that proverbial “You Are Here” on your fitness map. From there you will have a much better idea of where to go next!
To conclude, let it be known that this part isn’t really exciting. It may even feel like a week of stalling. But please trust that this process is incredibly necessary. By gathering this information, an appropriate plan can be created, and you or your coach will have something to compare with as you progress over time. Not to mention, it is always fun to look back and see where you began! So, the take home message should be this: Before jumping into a new plan, a new goal, or going in a new direction, first make sure that you know where you stand!
For more help with your fitness journey, consider working with us one-on-one with 100% Individualized Online Coaching. We will help you establish your baseline and ensure you are heading in the right direction toward your fitness goals!