Decoding workout stats

What they mean and which ones really matter.
Published October 9, 2018

When it comes to working out, there’s nothing short of a plethora of information out there, covering everything from what kinds of workouts to do, to how long to work out for, to what time of day to work out and whether to eat before, after or both.


There’s also a lot of information about workouts stats, and quite frankly it can be overwhelming. What do they mean? Which ones do we have to pay attention to? How do we even track this stuff? So, we asked a couple fitness pros for some advice.


“Workout stats can be used to track daily performance,” says Armen Ghazarians, CEO of Finish Fit. “Whether they are stats of distance you’ve walked or sets and reps you’ve done, you can use your stats to track your progress and make course correction[s] if necessary.”


The ones we should pay attention to, he says, are:

  • Distance walked or ran – he recommends 10,000 steps or 4.8 km a day as a minimum.
  • Workout heart rate
  • Resting heart rate – a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • The number of sets, reps, and rest periods per workout

“[Your workout heart rate] is the best indicator of the correct workout intensity,” Ghazarians says. To find what your target workout heart rate should be, he recommends using the Karvonen Formula.

This requires some simple math to figure out. First, according to Mayo Clinic, find your maximum heart rate (basically the highest point your heart rate should go when you are exercising, no higher) by subtracting your age from 220.

Next, you’ll need to figure out your heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting your resting heart rate (number of heart beats per minute while you are at rest, such as when you first wake up in the morning) from the maximum heart rate you just calculated. This new number is your HRR.

You can now use your HRR to calculate your target heart rate range based on the intensity at which you want to work out. For moderate exercise, you should aim for between 50 and 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. For vigorous exercise, it’s 70 to 85 per cent.

Next, to calculate your range, choose an intensity and multiply your HRR by the corresponding percentages. So for vigorous exercise, multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70 per cent) and add it to your resting heart rate. Then multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85 per cent) and do the same thing. These two numbers give you a heart rate range to aim for during vigorous exercise.

What if I don’t have a fitness tracker?

“Use the ‘talk test’ to determine the intensity of your workouts. You’re at the right intensity if you have a hard time holding a conversation during your workouts,” Ghazarians says.

You can also track your sets, reps, and rest periods on paper, he suggests, and if you are walking or running outside, do it on a track or a field where the distance for one lap has been predetermined so you can easily calculate your total distance.

Greg Pignataro, a personal trainer with Grindset Fitness, explains what’s most important to pay attention to, is our bodies themselves – especially if we don’t have a fitness tracker to record information.


He breaks it down into two categories: appearance and physical performance.

While there are a number of appearance factors you can take into account – weight, body mass index (BMI) and circumference measurements of specific body parts – Pignataro says body fat percentage is most important.


“This isn’t to say that all of these [other] measures are useless, but they certainly only tell an incomplete picture by themselves,” he says.


“While an ideal bodyweight, BMI, waist circumference, and etc. depend heavily on body type and other less controllable factors, body fat percentage is more universal.”


“The easiest and cheapest way to measure body fat percentage is by using a handheld body fat percentage monitor, where you squeeze metal plates really hard after entering in your gender, age, height, weight, etc. The measurement won’t be perfect, but as long as you use the same device each time and the number is going down, you can be confident your body fat percentage is decreasing. Most commercial gyms have one available, and if not, they can be purchased for around $35,” Pignataro says. “This is way cheaper than spending $100-200-plus on underwater weighing, DEXA, or other such measures that may be a bit more accurate.”


But the best workout stat is your own physical performance – how you feel when you work out and what you’re increasingly able to do.


“Focusing on what your body can do is a powerful motivator,” Pignataro says, explaining that key areas are strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance.


“The beauty of these measures is that they’re very easy to understand. You can tell when you’re getting stronger, faster, more flexible, or less tired after a long workout. And if you’re working out properly, those things should increase.”


He advises writing down all your workouts and making sure you are gradually increasing their difficulty over time.

If you’re lifting weights, Pignataro suggests these methods of making your workouts more challenging over time:

  • Increase the amount of weight you’re lifting
  • Increase the number of reps in a set
  • Increase the number of total sets
  • Decrease the amount of rest between sets
  • (though this is probably the least effective, he says, it will still make the workouts harder)


If your workouts are more cardio-focused, he says, you could:

  • Increase the distance of your runs
  • Increase the speed of your runs
  • Increase the number of sprints or intervals
  • Decrease the rest between sprints or intervals
  • Add an incline


Pignataro stresses that increasing the difficulty of your workouts must be gradual and manageable.


“To illustrate, if you can run three miles at an eight-minute pace, next time try running them at a 7:55 pace, not a seven-minute pace,” he says. “Or, if you can squat 95 pounds for five reps, next time try 100 pounds for five reps, not 150 pounds.”