When I started to get serious about fitness, including properly planning training sessions, I obviously spent time defining measurable goals and deciding how to track progress. Goals are key to focus training by targeting what you want to achieve (be it enhancing cardiovascular performance, increasing strength, improving overall health, etc.) but also to build motivation. Tracking progress helps making sure the training you planned is supporting your goals and above all sustains and reinforces motivation. Motivation, ultimately, is the most important factor to guarantee that your fitness plan is successful.
I soon discovered that mainstream fitness resources, and in particular fitness apps, track quite extensively training sessions and workouts but are usually very minimal in tracking body measurements. In the end, changes to your body are what really matter to understand if you are achieving your goals. Most resources and apps usually track age, weight and height in order to compute body mass index (BMI), ideal weight and target heart rate zones for cardio training. Such measures and calculations are basically useless to monitor and understand improvements.
For these reasons, I started investigating the topic and decided to build a spreadsheet with my own body tracker (which can be downloaded below). This allowed me to take into consideration girth and skinfold measurements to calculate body fat, track additional parameters such as resting heart rate and blood pressure, be able to use more precise and advanced formulas. Above all else, I was able to understand the logic behind formulas and their reliability.
Currently, my advanced body tracker features the following measurements and calculations:
- basic information such as age, weight and height (as with simpler body trackers)
- girth measurements for 9 parts of the body
- skinfold measurements for 10 sites on the body
- metabolism measurements including resting heart rate and blood pressure
- body mass & weight calculations such as body mass index (BMI) and healthy/ideal weight
- body fat calculations based out of 7 methods (including Accumeasure 1-site manual tracking)
- metabolic rate calculations with standard and adjusted basal metabolic rate (BMR)
- heart rate calculations with maximum and target heart rates as reference for training
The tracker supports both male and female users, with specific formulas depending on the gender. Also, in many cases I included several alternative formulas to calculate the same outputs. This is because not all formulas work for everybody and it takes some time to test and select the ones that are more appropriate and reliable for your own body.
To fully use the tracker, several instruments are needed:
- a scale to measure weight
- a body tape to measure girths
- a body fat caliper to measure skinfolds
- a blood pressure monitor
- a heart rate monitor (or a watch)
I use the tracker regularly for my own fitness program, performing measurements every month or so (more frequently than that does not make sense to me). It has helped me a lot in terms of motivation and self-awareness, allowing me to adopt a more structured approach to fitness.
Below you can find the latest version of the advanced body tracker and some information on how it works. Complete references in terms of links and sources are provided so, if you want, you can fully understand where I took formulas from and investigate in detail what the different measurements and outputs represent. If you’re interested, a very good website to start with is Topend Sports.
Advanced Body Tracker Version 0.8 (Beta)
advance_body_tracker_v08.xlsx | 19 KB | Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
How it works
The body tracker consists of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with two tabs. The Readme tab contains some reference info such as color coding of cells of the spreadsheet, links and sources for calculations used in the tracker and the log of changes for the different versions. The Data tab is the tracker itself. Each column is the record of a body measurement performed on a certain date. Rows represent either input data (yellow cells), calculation steps (white cells) or calculation results (green cells).
In the first column of each row, displayed as in-cell comments, additional info is provided on what that particular row represents or how the related measurement should be performed. If such info is not exhaustive, you can always refer to the links and sources in the Readme tab.
To use the tracker, perform a body measurement session on a certain date and progressively fill all the input cells of the first empty column (starting from the left). If some data is missing for a certain calculation to be executed, calculation steps and result cells will display “N/A”. This is perfectly normal as you might not want to perform all the required measurements and only use part of the tracker. However, the more data you input, the richer and more useful becomes the tracker.
Finally, some rows (such as “Body fat %” or “Maximum heart rate”) represent result values but are in fact input rows (yellow cells). This is because the tracker, in some cases, contains several alternate formulas to calculate a certain result and these special input rows allow you to manually insert the most appropriate result selecting from outputs of the different formulas. For example, there are several formulas that calculate body fat % (each with different underlying assumptions and varying degrees of precision): you can manually insert a value for body fat % selecting the calculation output that you think most appropriate between the ones displayed (or even decide to compute an average of different outputs).