8 ways to measure your fitness that aren't heart rate

Old-fashioned pen and paper can do wonders for your fitness.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read

You don't even need a smart watch or activity tracker for most of these metrics. 

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Your heart rate is important, no doubt about that. How fast or slow your heart is beating during exercise and at rest can tell you a lot about your health and fitness levels, but it's not the only way to determine how fit you are. 

Try tracking these eight metrics for a more complete picture of your health and fitness. 

VO2 max

Your VO2 max refers to how well you can utilize oxygen during exercise. When used correctly, VO2 max can serve as a much better fitness marker than heart rate, because it can basically tell you at what point your body just can't work any harder. 

Track it: The best way to test and track your VO2 max is in a fitness lab or health clinic, but there is one thing you can try that's more accessible. PAI Health developed a program to improve VO2 max using data from one of the largest health studies ever conducted. You can connect the PAI app to your Apple Watch or other wearable to track your VO2 max. 

Watch this: 5 reasons why fitness trackers don't guarantee you'll lose weight

Body composition

Body composition refers to the various percentages of mass your body comprises. Many people think that just means fat mass and lean mass, but a true body composition analysis provides numbers for subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, water mass, bone mass and lean muscle mass. As you might have guessed, lower fat percentages generally equal a healthier body, though that's not true in every case

Track it: DEXA, bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA), bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS), Bod Pods, hydrostatic weighing, and 3-D body scanners are all great ways to measure and track your body composition. If you're a member of a gym, ask what tools they provide for members. If your gym doesn't have any available tools, search for body composition tests near you. 

Some smart scales also offer body composition analysis, but they might not be as accurate as you'd hope.

As long as you use the same measurement tools each time, your progress will reflect accurately. Even old-school skinfold calipers will work if you use them every time -- you just can't expect to measure with skinfold calipers once and then with a 3-D body scan and get accurate metrics.  

Read more: How to recover from a tough workout

Deep sleep 

You get sleep, but do you get deep sleep? The distinction is important: You need deep sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, because this stage involves the slowing of your heartbeat, breathing and brain waves. Sleep deprivation causes all sorts of physiological changes in your body and makes exercise feel more difficult. One night of poor sleep can even decrease your endurance

Track it: If you have the means, you could invest in a smart bed that tracks your sleep cycle and automatically adjusts mattress settings throughout the night so you get the best sleep possible. Otherwise, you could wear a Fitbit , which pretty accurately tracks deep sleep, or try another sleep tracker or app

How to get better sleep in 2019

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Humans weren't built for speed, but some running world records would convince me otherwise. As a runner myself, few feelings compare to the one I get after beating an old 400 meter or mile personal record. In fact, I consider speed one of the top determinants of fitness for myself -- it's critical in my activities of choice, running and CrossFit. 

Track it: You could use a notebook to log runs, but with so many great run-tracking apps and activity trackers available, there's no need. 


Undoubtedly one of the best ways to measure fitness progress, logging strength workouts helps you keep track of metrics like how much you can squat and how much you can press overhead. 

These things are so critical because they translate to everyday life -- the more you can (properly) deadlift, the easier it will be for you to pick up real-life heavy objects, such as furniture, off of the ground. 

Track it: Strength is one factor I still like to log by hand. I haven't found an app I'm crazy about, so a notebook will suffice until I do. However, a variety of strength-tracking apps exist. Strong is the best one I've tried. Or, you could try these cool compression shorts that tell you how hard your muscles work.


Logging your reps, sets and weight loads during strength workouts is one of the best ways to track fitness progress.

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Another running metric (one that humans are actually designed to be good at), endurance refers to your ability to "sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity," according to Merriam-Webster. In other words, endurance is how long you can do something difficult, like running or holding your breath. 

Track it: Again, a run-tracking app or fitness watch is your best bet for tracking endurance improvements. I love Nike+ Run Club, which logs mileage, total time, elevation gain, average pace, mile splits, and more. Being able to look back on all of those variables makes it easy to see endurance trends over time. If you want to track endurance on other activities, such as cycling, check out Strava.

Read more: Should you stretch before or after your workout?


Few things plague modern workers like burnout (it's a real diagnosis!). Health and productivity can be inversely related: Poor health leads to low energy and poor productivity, while poor productivity can harm your mental health, especially if you're prone to "I'm not doing enough" type thoughts. A loss of productivity can also make you feel resentful toward working out -- as if you don't already have enough on your plate. 

Track it: Use a time-tracking tool on your computer to find out how much time you spend on certain tasks, as well as how much time you spend working each day. Look for clues like spending hours on email, which can distract you and lead to poor productivity (humans are actually terrible at multitasking, despite our best efforts). 

Happiness level

Health comprises so much more than physical changes we can see or feel. It also includes psychological changes, including stress levels and emotions: The mind-body connection is real, and it's no secret that people who exercise tend to be happier, as do people who eat healthy most of the time

Track it: Use a good old-fashioned journal to keep track of the way you feel. Writing by hand keeps your brain sharp and increases neural activity in certain cross-sections of the brain that aren't stimulated by typing. Plus, the act of writing can actually make you happier. If you don't have time to write every day, try writing once a week.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.