Starting a new active lifestyle can stir up a mix of emotions, whether you’re cycling along park connectors or hitting the gym. You might feel a sense of accomplishment mixed with questions like, “Am I doing enough? How long until I improve?”

Which brings us to the big question: How should you monitor your fitness progress? Should you aim for 10,000 steps daily, or strive for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week? And what about monitoring your heart rate during exercise?

Whether your goal is training for a marathon or simply improving daily stamina, choosing the right metrics can be confusing, especially with numerous smartphones and wearables claiming to track everything—except maybe your motivation to skip a workout.

Metrics to Track Fitness Progress

Let’s start with the guideline often recommended by health authorities, including the Health Promotion Board (HPB): Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. This recommendation is based on research indicating optimal cardiovascular and metabolic health benefits.

Adjunct Assistant Professor Ivy Lim, head of Changi General Hospital’s Department of Sports & Exercise Medicine, explains, “Moderate intensity is typically 64 to 75% of your maximal predicted heart rate, while vigorous intensity ranges from 75 to 95%. Your maximal predicted heart rate can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220.”

The 10,000 Steps Myth

The popular 10,000-steps-a-day goal originated as a marketing campaign for the manpo-kei pedometer during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Physiotherapist Mok Hwee Yin from Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Department of Physiotherapy notes, “It’s a simple and achievable measure that gained popularity, further promoted by campaigns like Singapore’s National Step Challenge.”

Strength Training Guidelines

For strength training, aim for activities involving major muscle groups at least twice a week, at moderate or higher intensity. “Start with bodyweight exercises like push-ups and progress by adding weights,” advises Adj Asst Prof Lim. For weight training, aim for 8 to 12 repetitions per set, 2 to 4 sets, using resistance at 60 to 70% of your one-repetition maximum (1-RM).

Why Track Your Workouts?

Kelvin Teo, head of functional training at RetroFit, emphasizes that tracking metrics helps prevent injuries and provides a baseline for healthcare providers to tailor exercise prescriptions. “It’s similar to adjusting medications for medical conditions,” explains Adj Asst Prof Lim.

Choosing the Right Metrics

The type of exercise and your goals determine the metrics to track. “For aerobic activities like running, track distance, duration, and heart rate,” suggests Mok. “For strength training, monitor weights used, repetitions, and sets.”

Do You Need a Smart Device?

While smart devices offer convenience, they’re not essential. “You can monitor exercise using the FITT principle or gauging intensity through the talk test or pulse rate,” says Adj Asst Prof Lim. However, Teo warns against over-reliance on gadgets, as accuracy can be affected by wear and use.

Common Mistakes

Common mistakes include focusing solely on step counts without considering intensity or cheating by shaking devices to falsely increase step counts. “This doesn’t improve fitness or health,” cautions Teo.

In summary, tracking fitness progress involves selecting metrics aligned with your goals, ensuring accurate measurement, and avoiding common pitfalls to maximize health benefits and fitness gains.