The Power of Progress Pictures
The importance of tracking
Whether it be hitting a new PR or finally reaching your weight loss goal, reaching your goals is something to truly be appreciated and celebrated. The reason we set goals is so we can succeed at reaching them. If you opt to not track your progress then how can you see if the path you are taking is the right one?
As I discussed in the Body Weight vs. Body Composition post, weight doesn’t tell you everything. There is so much more to understanding how your body adapts to change (i.e. body composition, progress pictures, etc.). However, if you don’t keep record of these things then how do you know that change is happening? Just like an accountant is held responsible for taking care of assets, liability and account information you are accountable for setting your body up for positive change and are equally responsible for understanding if the changes you made are successful. In respect to body composition if you eat well and exercise properly then changes will take place; it won’t happen over night, however overtime if you uphold to your program and continue doing positive things then there will be positive outcomes.
While numerically there are numerous methods to determine if you are being successful (i.e. tracking calories, workouts, body composition, etc.). There aren’t many ways to qualitatively track your progress; this is where progress pictures come in. This method of tracking your progress is one of the most powerful methods to date to track progress in your program. The majority of people don’t just want to feel better about themselves they want to be able to see visual changes in their body. With progress pictures you can see just how successful your program was for your goals. Sure anyone can lose 10 lbs. but what does that mean, what does that even look like? The answer will be different for each individual and without taking regular progress pictures then you won’t be able to see how significant your success turned out to be.
How to take progress pictures
Pictures are by far the most influential qualitative method you can use to track your progress. While a singular picture doesn’t have much value, if you regularly take pictures and compare and contrast them you can visually observe changes in your physique.
With all this praise given to progress pictures there are a few rules and guidelines you will want to follow to consistently take quality and comparable progress pictures.
- Location: The location of your pictures should be both simple and have decent lighting (i.e. the bathroom, your bedroom, etc.).
- Time of Day: While you may prefer to take pictures in the morning prior to eating or drinking anything this isn’t necessarily required. Just make sure all of your pictures are around the same time of day and not immediately after working out.
- Attire: Wear clothing that will reveal your current physique. This means taking a picture in your bathing suit or your underwear. Women who are more comfortable in shorts and a sports bra can feel free to take pictures in said outfits, however a bikini is more ideal because it will reveal more of your current level of conditioning.
- Photographer: If possible, and if comfortable, have someone take pictures for you. This will help ensure the quality of the picture is good, granted you have someone who can operate a (phone) camera. However, if you are not comfortable with the idea of having someone take pictures of you in minimal attire then a tripod and camera timer will suffice. NOTE: Most smart phones have the capability of being Bluetooth paired to a camera remote, which makes taking tripod pictures astronomically simpler.
- Quality: If you have a high quality camera use it, if not use the back facing camera on your phone as it has a higher quality lens than the front facing camera. Take multiple pictures of you standing in one of your progress pictures poses, then choose the picture that is the least blurry and has the best lighting for you physique.
- Comparability: All pictures that you take should have a good degree of comparability. This means after you have accumulated enough pictures you should be able to place them side-by-side for comparison purposes. For your pictures to be comparable they need to be similar (i.e. same time of day, same location, same poses, same lighting, etc.). It won’t do you any good to use starkly different pictures to track your qualitative progress.
When it comes to taking progress pictures you want them to be comparable to each other. This means consistently striking the same pose and snapping a picture of you in that pose. However, your physique looks different from various different angles. Thus, utilizing your photography skills, you can take advantage of multiple angles for comparing purposes.
There are typically 3-4 pictures that I recommend taking.
- Front Pose: Stand with your arms by your side facing the camera. If you are taking the picture by yourself you can utilize your mirror; make sure to place your camera at about chest height when using this modification.
- Side Pose: Chose a side you feel comfortable with and take a profile view picture of yourself. Both hands should be down by your side and shoulders should be slightly rotated; you can either place your arm on your hip or by your side as long as it doesn’t interfere with your torso.
- Back Pose: There are primarily two different back poses that you can employ. The first is with both arms flexed and arms at shoulder height. The second is with both of your arms down by your side. I prefer the double arm flex picture, however I personally employ both because I like having multiple angles and pictures to compare with.
NOTE: If you want to take your various pictures with you flexing in them feel free to do so. However, make sure you consistently either flex or don’t flex for your pictures so they have a high level of comparability. Below is an example of some of my old progress pictures (I opted to start with flexing years ago and have stuck with it since).
Good Progress Pictures vs. Bad Progress Pictures
It’s important to make sure you follow the guidelines listed above for taking high quality and comparable progress pictures. For the example below I decided to use an example of a poor progress picture comparison. On the left I am not flexing in the picture and on the right I am. While this isn’t a huge deal for some, and arguably it makes my physique appear to have changed more than it has, this would not qualify as being a good comparison picture. Whether it is on purpose or by accident this mistake makes progress comparison, inaccurate.
Ideally your progress pictures will consistently show progress and continue to prove that your program is working. Whether your take progress pictures for gaining muscle or for losing fat they can be universally beneficial for having a qualitative understanding of your physique and the changes that result from your proactive lifestyle.
Remember a quality progress pictures needs to be taken using the same pose, needs to reveal your current level of conditioning and needs to have a productive nutrition and exercise program to ensure changes between pictures. However, if you consistently do not notice any changes in your physique and you are not progressing it’s likely something is missing (or too much is being added – i.e. food) into your program. More than likely either your exercise program is lacking in a certain area or your nutrition program is not dialed in enough to result in positive change that can be seen. At this point you may want to look into having someone create a tailored program for your nutrition and exercise needs/goals. Having a program made for you not only ensures you will have something tailored for your goals but also expedites the time it takes to reach them as well. You can learn more here about the programming services I offer.
Finally, you are your own worst critic. While you may not see much progress between bi-weekly or monthly progress pictures, change happens one step at a time. Fat is loss one lb. at a time and muscle is gained one lb. at a time. Keep doing enough of the right things and you will be rewarded with a progress picture even you can be proud of. Just because the journey is a long one doesn’t make it any less worth fighting for. Work hard, struggle and make all of your hard work result in your ultimate success. Then when you achieve what you set out to do your progress picture will only be one of many aspects you can be proud of.