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Amy Ward does the Plank Leg Extension in Little Rock Racquet Club’s Indoor Tennis Center fitness room. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/CELIA STOREY)

Evaluating one's fitness progress can be tricky, especially if number crunching isn't your thing.

The reality is, most people won't go through the effort to track every repetition, log every mile and input every calorie consumed.

Wearable activity tracking devices could help, but the user must still choose relevant data points and check historical progress. There are a few subjective ways to measure progress that don't require a $200 fitness tracker or mastery of Excel spreadsheets.

As someone who has spent a lifetime in the fitness industry, I've seen fads come and go. I remember when spinning (indoor cycling) burst onto the scene as the newest craze in group exercise. Some time later, kickboxing and martial arts became popular for at-home workouts and in fitness centers. Then came yoga, Pilates, boot camp workouts and CrossFit. These days, the trend is all about data.

Manufacturers ranging from Garmin to Apple offer hardware and software designed to help people track their activity patterns. The idea is to capture a "true" calculation of calories burned, steps taken or distance covered. It's a great idea in theory, and I've no doubt that lives have been changed for the better because of activity trackers.

But some people aren't into data. They don't exercise to make a 0.5 percent improvement in their one-mile run over a two-week period. Lots of people exercise to feel better, fit a little more comfortably into their clothes and improve their health.

If you fall into this group, there are plenty of ways to measure your progress in less data-centric ways.

First, use the "favorite jeans" method. Each week try on the same pair of jeans to see how they fit. Notice any changes in the waist, seat and thighs. Although not particularly scientific, this method tells you whether your body is changing irrespective of what the scale might say when you weigh in.

All too often, we become fixated on weighing a certain amount and forget about developing a healthy weight distribution.

Another fun way to measure fitness progress is to choose one or two exercises that — once in a while — you will perform to exhaustion. Pushups are always a great option, but there are plenty of others. Muscular endurance can be measured with the wall sit (for the lower body), pullups (for the upper body) and with situps (for the core).

Performing any one of these exercises to exhaustion will give you a sense of how much you've improved since the last time.

This week's exercise is another easy way to measure muscular endurance for the quadriceps and core, using nothing except a step bench or similar sturdy platform. The Plank Leg Extension is appropriate for all fitness levels and can be performed almost anywhere.

1. Set up an aerobics step so it's 18 to 24 inches tall. A little trial and error may be needed to set the height just right for you.

2. Facing the floor, get into the "up" phase of a pushup with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet on the aerobics step.

3. Make sure your toes are pointed, so the tops of both feet contact the step.

4. Tighten your abdominals and slowly bend both knees until they just touch the floor.

5. As soon as they touch, return the knees to the starting plank position.

6. Continue performing repetitions at a slow, controlled pace until you've completed 12.

7. Rest for 60 seconds, then do another set.

The Plank Leg Extension won't generate much data for your wearable device, but you'll definitely feel the effects in your legs and core. Remember to tighten the abdominals throughout the motion to reduce lower back pressure.

If your back complains, stop. You can try lowering the step height to reduce the range of motion, but if that doesn't solve the problem, set the Plank Leg Extension aside for a few weeks while you work on muscular endurance. Next time, you'll be stronger. Enjoy!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Style on 01/21/2019

Print Headline: How to track your fitness without a fitness tracker


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