Fitness Success Course Day 2–Establishing Your Baseline

 Know Your Starting Point So You Can Plot a Course to Your Destination

compass_lensaticOn Day 1 you created some inspiring goals to help keep you motivated while you go through your fitness journey. Now that you know your destination, you need to know how to get there. In order to figure out a route, what else will you need? A starting point. When I learned land navigation in the Marines, the rule of thumb that must never be broken is to always set a known starting point and move from there. Break this rule and you’ll find yourself in unfamiliar terrain fast. A search team might be sent out to retrieve you, and you’ll wind up looking like an idiot in front of your peers.

Ever tried to get directions on Google Maps or Mapquest? One of the things you would need to input is your starting point. Otherwise, you will receive crappy directions. I once knew a dippy person from Los Angeles who drove to Las Vegas by way of Phoenix, Arizona. Entered the wrong starting point, I guess.

While it’s possible to chart your fitness course without a starting point, you might take longer to get to your end goal, or you might get sidetracked along the way. Don’t lower your odds of success at the beginning. That’s why the first step is always an objective self-assessment.  You must know where you are in your current state in order to establish a baseline so that you can set realistic goals to get to your destination.

You might not want to look at yourself too closely because it requires merciless self scrutiny.  After all, the reason why we want to start a fitness program in the first place is because we don’t like what kind of shape we are in and we are embarrassed by our stats.  I can dig this because when I took my measurements before starting P90X, my waistline was a roundish 34 inches.  If this doesn’t seem that bad, keep in mind that I’m 5’8” and my waist in college was 29 inches. Measuring yourself sucks, but it’s gotta be done, so get over it.

Here’s what you must do in order to get your baseline:

  1. Take Before Photos.

Nobody wants to do this.  I don’t know a single person who looked forward to taking their before photos. This is the crappiest part because no one wants to be seen at their worst, let alone have it memorialized in a photo.  Want proof?  Here’s my before/after photos.


You can understand now why I didn’t want to take that before photo. I was puffy, bloated, and unhappy. But you know, if I hadn’t done it, I would not be able to easily see how much progress I made. It’s also great moto for me to never let myself get that way again.

It’s important that the first thing you need to do is take your BEFORE photo. You don’t have to share them with anyone else. I wasn’t planning to share mine, but I’m glad that I have them now because they are an unbiased evidence of my progress.  Looking at yourself in the mirror everyday is not the same thing.  It’s hard to notice the subtle changes that are occurring to your body, and your brain can play tricks on you. When I was getting chunky, I convinced myself that my scale was off because my brain was telling me I looked fine. Mirrors can lie, but photos don’t (most of the time).

Besides, if you get great results from a Beachbody workout program, you can enter your before/after photos and have a shot at winning up to $100,000. Check out this video which describes how to take the best photos to record your transformation.

  1. Measure Your Body Fat

More gruesome details that you may not want to know, but you MUST keep track of your body composition, not just your weight, especially if you’re male. Your weight is nothing more than a number on a scale. It doesn’t tell you whether that weight is from fat or muscle.  I’ll use myself as an example again. When I started, I weighed about 170 pounds.  My current weight is 158. If I only took the scale into account, I lost a measly twelve pounds. Not a big deal, but if you looked at my overall body composition, you would see that I added a bit of muscle in addition to losing a lot of fat.  That means my body fat percentage decreased significantly even though my weight didn’t go down that much. Body fat percentage is the number you should be paying attention to.

The biggest mistake people make when tracking their results is they pay too much attention to only the scale.  While your weight is a useful measurement, it is more useful when compared to your body fat percentage.

You can get a decent body fat caliper pretty much anywhere. I don’t have any preference. I just use the one from Beachbody because it was practically free. For men, the hard to earn six-pack abs typically reveal themselves when you’re in single digits for body fat percentage.  Women don’t usually get below 12-15% body fat, but will nevertheless see definition in the abdominal area.

  1. Get Your Stats with a Measuring Tape

Take your other body measurements such as hips, thighs, arms, chest, calves, etc. You will either lose inches (if you’re trying to shed fat), or gain inches (if you’re trying to build muscle).  In any event, knowing your body measurements beforehand is a great way to see your transformation.  A photo may show that you gained some muscle tone, but the measuring tape will reveal that you acquired 15-inch guns.

Pay close attention to your waist because this is where most men pack on the extra pounds (including yours truly).  If your waist is shrinking, most likely your body fat percentage is going down as well.

The video below will give you detailed instructions on how to correctly measure your transformation.

  1. Take the Fit Test

If you have already purchased a Beachbody workout program, you know what I’m talking about. Every Beachbody workout program I have completed came with a Fit Test. Here’s what you can expect from the Fit Test for Insanity.  Download the Fit Test for P90X here.

Take the Fit Test and write down your results. This will be a great measure of your improvement. Believe it or not, you will see significant gains in these numbers even after just 30 days. Also, keep track of your reps and weights if you’re doing a program like P90X.  One of Tony Horton’s sayings is, “How do you know what to do if you don’t know what you did?”  Remember that one of your goals from Day 1 of my Fitness Success Course is to beat your personal best, so keep track of your personal best in each exercise. Being better than the person you were yesterday can be more rewarding than beating another person.

How Often Should You Track Your Results?

I recommend that you measure yourself once a week.  Anymore than that would be overkill. The body goes through changes frequently (especially if you’re female) during the week, so there’s no point in tracking daily measurements.  You don’t have to do a complete fit test or a full body measurement each week either, just what you want to improve.

At a minimum, I would include the following information in my weekly chart:

  • Date
  • Body Weight
  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Pounds of Body Fat
  • Waistline

I use this chart to track my results.  It’s part of my exercise clipboard. Feel free download for your personal use here. Keep in mind that as you monitor your progress, you’ll see some peaks and valleys. This is because your weight can fluctuate daily due to changes in water composition in your body, as well as other bodily functions.  Sometimes you can lose several pounds just by peeing.  Don’t freak out if the scale doesn’t always go in the right direction.  It’s more important that you monitor trends rather than fluctuations.

To calculate your pounds of body fat, multiply your body fat percentage by your body weight (EXAMPLE: If you weigh 200 pounds and your body fat is 10%, then you are carrying 20 pounds of fat (200x.10=20). Twenty pounds of fat means you have 180 pounds of lean mass.  If you are eating clean and working out consistently, you should be losing body fat, not lean mass.

One last point—try to be consistent with the time and day of your measurements to ensure greater accuracy.  I usually do mine on Sunday morning right after I wake up and go to the bathroom.


  1. Take your “before” photo. It won’t be pretty but it’s not supposed to be. Say goodbye to this person because you will not see this person again after your transformation.
  2. Measure your body fat percentage.
  3. Get your physical stats.
  4. Write down all your measurements.
  5. Download a fit test from Insanity or P90X and try it out. Prepare yourself for an eye-opening experience.

You have a lot to do in the next few days, but expect my next newsletter in your inbox soon.

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