Do you ever feel as if all your exercise effort isn’t paying off?
Do you ever scan through your workout stats and wonder why on earth you don’t seem to be getting any fitter? Discouraging, isn’t it? But don’t forget that your fitness tracker isn’t the only source of information you have about your fitness progress. Take these little-known signs your fitness is improving - even if your results aren’t.
In the last 4 years I’ve entered 6 10km running events. I’ve stuck rigorously to training plans. In between times, I’ve run 5kms against the clock, just to see how my speed’s doing.
Folks, I’m not getting any quicker. If anything, I’m getting slower - but given that I’ve also got 4 years older in the meantime, essentially I’ve pretty much stood still.
I go through C25K every spring just to get a running base after the winter and I’m no closer to running the actual 5km at the end of week 8. I’m still very definitely in the “.... or continuously for 30 minutes” group.
Now, I’m not particularly competitive in the traditional sense, but I do love making progress in relation to my past self. If I just focus on the times - which I do now and then, especially when I’ve just crossed a finish line - I do get downhearted.
And yet I keep training, keep entering, keep measuring.
Why? Partly because I know I can always freshen up my fitness goals to change things around and give me something else to aim at.
But also because I‘be slowly learned to read the signs that, whatever my pace, I am definitely getting fitter. And even though I’m still aiming high with those goals, the little achievements still give me a lot of hope and satisfaction in themselves.
Here are 7 signs that your fitness is improving in ways your fitness tracker can’t begin to reveal.
You’re recovering more quickly
OK, it still hurts when you push yourself - and that’s the point. But these days, when you do interval sessions and hit the “rest” part of the cycle, you get your breath back much more quickly. If you’re doing resistance exercises, you can handle the discomfort through to the end of the repetition set much better than before.
And it’s not just during exercise that you recover better. These days once you’ve finished exercising you don’t need to spend the next day and a half with your feet up.
I’m not saying you don’t want to spend the next day and a half with your feet up, mind you. Just that you no longer have to.
There are times when you don’t have to psych yourself up to exercise
You just automatically get up and go when the timetable says so.
You might have fallen into a routine that’s so familiar to you that when it’s time to go, you just go. None of that negotiating with yourself beforehand or getting stressed because your shoes aren’t where they should be. It’s time to go, so you get up and go.
And that’s not all; this confidence that you are able to just do what you planned when you planned to might have found its way into other areas of your life, too.
That’s a load off your mental health. And as we all know, mental health is just as important as physical health.
Hormonal changes don’t floor you like they used to
Yes, your hormones are still turning your life upside down, either regularly or irregularly. But these days you’re confident that getting some exercise will probably not make you feel any worse and in fact is more likely to make you feel better.
You know know that exercising when you’re feeling your worse isn’t the risk you once thought it was. OK, it might not make you feel better every time. But you understand now that the risk of it making you feel worse is much lower than you originally feared.
You notice that your sleep has improved
There are so many things that can affect sleep and no amount of exercise will overcome all of them. In fact, too much exercise too close to bed time isn’t recommended. But a good raising of your heart rate during the day is not going to make your sleep worse.
As someone who does changeable shift work, something which really isn’t recommended if you’re trying to get proper sleep, I try to get exercise even if the same shift pattern makes me feel like curling up on the sofa all the time.
You can make your kit and preparation work for you
Over time, you’ve come to know what clothing suits you under what circumstances. You know how to buy shoes that suit you and help you prevent injury. You know when to hydrate, and what time of day suits you best for exercise.
It may not seem at all obvious, but in improving your choices and routines, we really are giving our fitness a helping hand. Not least because this is knowledge we can use in other areas of our lives.
It’s easier to get out of the chair
Maybe you no longer groan when you get up. Maybe you can get off the chair without using your hands. Perhaps you can even stand up from sitting on the floor without using your hands (if so, I’m jealous. I’m nowhere near being able to do this).
Either way, if you’re finding it easier to stand up, then that’s a big, big win and not something to be underestimated if you’re looking to keep your quality of life has high as possible as you get older.
You have fewer bumps, grazes and bruises
Although we talk about the larger muscle groups when we’re discussing improved muscle strength that comes from exercise, we shouldn’t underestimate the effect on our smaller muscles and how that helps us overall.
Take those muscles in our ankles. They have a big influence on our balance. I have noticed a very clear difference in the number of bruises I have on my arms and legs. Before I started running and in the early days of running, I almost permanently had at least 3 or 4 bruises on my body, mostly on my arms and legs, all caused by slight stumbles or trips. Nothing terrible about that and they were rarely bad enough to cause me any real pain. Still, I do like being bruise-free and it’s been a very pleasant little side effect of having improved balance through getting stronger.
From now on, why not look for these 7 little-known signs your fitness is improving
It’s easy to get consumed by our need to go further, faster, to lift more weight for longer. But sometimes going after these goals with too much laser-focus obscures gains that are good for our long term health - and also discourage us when it seems they’re out of our reach.
Why not stop and reflect on whether you recognise any of these 7 little-known signs your fitness is improving from your own experience?
If they do, then all that effort has been worth it!