Progress is one of the main motivating forces behind a successful fitness routine. It’s also one of the trickiest. “Most people are working out because they are looking for a specific result. They want to lose body fat, tone up, get strong, be healthier. So it is extremely important to have some sort of measure for yourself to know you are moving in the direction of those goals,” says certified functional strength coach Brian Bott. But sometimes progress isn’t as obvious or immediate as we hope. “One of the biggest drop-off points for people is when they feel like they are doing a lot of work for a little return.” When progress feels futile, look for it in other ways beyond the scale. Here are small signs your fitness routine is working.
You can lift a heavier weight for the same amount of reps.
If you’ve been lifting the same weight for the same amount of reps for a while, take note of when it feels lighter. This indicates your muscular endurance is building, says Bott. “Always keep track of the amount of weight you are using for your strength exercises,” he says. “You want to see if you are either getting more repetitions with the same weight, which would imply progress, or [using] a heavier weight for the same amount of reps.”
You have more energy.
Morning exercisers know firsthand the benefits of a getting in an early workout. But anyone can experience the energy-building benefits of exercise over time. Personal trainer and group fitness instructor Joseph Corella says when you notice higher levels of energy after sticking to a routine, your body—and spirit!—are responding positively. “While it may seem counterintuitive when you work out a lot, regular exercise paired with good nutritional habits can increase your energy levels,” he explains. “If you’ve been working out regularly and find an extra pep in your step after a week or two, pay attention to these feelings because you’re on the right track.”
Your jeans fit better.
No, we don’t mean because the number on the scale dropped. In fact, Bott says to resist the temptation to weigh yourself too frequently because many factors can contribute to your daily weight. What can illustrate progress is how your clothes fit—more specifically, your trusty, beloved pair of jeans. “If over the course of a year, you gained five pounds of lean muscle and burned off five pounds of fat, your body will look and feel tremendously different, but the scale will read exactly the same,” Bott says. “Having a pair of jeans that you can throw on to see how they fit can be a great indicator of your progress. Regardless of what the scale says, if your jeans that used to not be able to button now close, you know you’re making progress.”
You don’t crave unhealthy foods as much.
When you pair your hard work in the gym with some careful thought in the kitchen, you’ll find yourself feeling and looking healthier. If you keep up the dedication, Corella says you’ll also notice a big decrease in your desire for cookies, doughnuts, sugary drinks—you name it. “Filling your daily menu with healthy foods like fresh fruits and veggies and staying hydrated does wonders to reduce sugar cravings,” he says. “It’s not that you will never want a cookie or treat ever again, but you will be less dependent on processed sugar and caffeine to get you through the day.”
You’re taking shorter rest periods.
When you find yourself needing less downtime between sets, it’s time to turn your game up, stat. “One variable a lot of people neglect in the gym is how long they are resting in between sets and exercises. If you are getting the same amount of work done in less time, that’s a sign of improved fitness,” Bott says. “If you started off needing to rest two minutes in between sets of your squats and pushups but now—using the same weight and amount of reps—you’ve cut that rest time down to 30 seconds, you’ve made a huge improvement in your workout quality and shown progress in your recovery.”
You look forward to your workouts.
Corella explains that when you actually want to push yourself even more, you’ve found a sweet spot in fitness. It’s a turning point in all routines when daily motion becomes less of a chore and more of a pastime. “Some days might be easier to get started than others, but when you find that exercise that clicks with your personality and interests, fitness magically becomes fun,” he says.
Progress comes and goes and sometimes it’s harder to see than others. So, next time you’re feeling like your progress is lacking, look for these small signs your fitness routine is working to re-motivate you.