Meaningful Measurement

When your job is to work with humans on their physical bodies--how they move, how they look, how they feel--you are forced to confront a big, murky question: how do you measure change?

On the one hand, you have the "measure-or-die" camp. This is the view that says that the only way to improve something is if you actively and continuously measure it. While there are some major issues with this approach, I do appreciate the perspective because it forces two critical questions to be addressed:

  • WHAT exactly do you actually care about changing (enough to want to diligently measure/improve it)? This requires clarity and focus about what you want to work on. General and abstract won't cut it; only specific and defined will do. 

  • HOW will you go about changing/measuring that focus? Again, a lot of random workout ideas smushed together won't magically turn into the specific change you want; only focused effort, followed by focused measurement, will allow you to know if your efforts were successful (and the intended change happened) or not (and you should change course moving forward). Anything else is guess-work. 

There's a particular kind of honesty and humility with dealing in hard-numbers like this.

When change doesn't happen as you were planning, you can't do anything but face the facts (NOTE: this may be incredibly painful and/or shame-inducing--not a great outcome; see below), and when it does you know that the change was really real. Either way, numbers don't lie (when measured accurately and consistently). 

ON THE OTHER HAND... you have the "don't-measure-anything" camp. This is the perspective that appreciates that humans are not cold, hard facts.

We are actually hot, seething, irrational animals, who clothe ourselves with cultural norms and technology and--sometimes--cling to the commitment to only believe what we can measure (see above). As Dre Spina (founder of FRC) says, we're "apes who want things."

This is a much more abstract world-view; literally anything goes. But, as anyone who has had prescient gut-instincts about some event before it happened, this is a view that is very real, despite its resistance to measurement.

This perspective describes our emotional world, our spiritual world. Living in these worlds is central to our experience--and to our success or failure--as humans.In fact, sometimes the mere act of trying to work on a measurable task ("measure-or-die") can be overwhelming to the point of distraction; instead of prompting positive change, strict measurement can cause intolerable anxiety, and make someone quit (not so positive 🙄). 

So, when facing the question of whether or not to measure someone's work in the gym, we must content with these two, contradictory world-views... 

Do we measure doggedly, to "prove" that the physical work results, over time, in trackable results?

Or do we allow someone's internal environment/experience to take precedence, with all the randomness and uncertainty that goes along with it?

We Fitness Alchemists have a simple answer: BOTH

Most of the time, we focus on improving your awareness of that inner world, at least as it relates to your body. What is really going on at your joints? What does tension and relaxation actually feel like?

These are questions that will never have a number for an answer, and yet they are incredibly useful to ask, nonetheless.


In fact, this improvement in awareness is the main driver for measurable change that we see (when we do test), mostly because it allows your brain to make better use of your inherent capability.

As James Baldwin wrote, "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced." You truly face your body when you do CARs.

And then--as we did this week with our in-person clients--we also work to capture actual number-data as it relates to change. Every 8 weeks, we carefully test and assess specific movements that we have focused on, and take accurate note of the results. 

But perhaps most critically, we allow clients to engage with this "Testing Week" as much or as little as is useful for them.

Some people live for Testing Week, and look forward to this opportunity for hard feedback. And some people ignore it completely, because they've realized that focusing too intently on cold, hard facts makes real progress much harder, or even impossible.

We can see both sides, because each offers important information. Take what's useful, and drop the rest. 

Go find your gold, 

Coach Will