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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Qualitative vs Quantitative Training

There are two things I think people miss a lot when they try to make improvements in their physical life that make goal attainment a far more painstaking process. Let's be honest, if we're training then we are working towards some sort of goal, and whether that goal is athletic and performance related or a life goal that is health related we will ultimately need some form of method to make sure we're going in the right direction.

Often, we rely on a singular form of assessment and reassessment to denote our progress. This could be bodyweight, body fat percentage, weight on the bar, or the time it takes you to run a set distance. We like these things, because they are objective measures that easily quantify progress. They are numerical. But at certain times we can easily become discouraged because our quantifiable measures go nowhere.

This is where qualitative measures come in.

Qualitative measures are essentially specific subjective measures that you track over time. How you feel, what a movement looks like, how a specific weight feels, or your physical appearance. We often see transformation photos of people going through body recomposition and see a number of pounds lost or gained attached to it, but we don't often see the photos that state no change happened even when it visibly did.

When we look at qualitative measures, we're doing our best to make observations about things that are happening consistently in our training. Our bar path on an Olympic lift is more linear, our squat depth increases, the 20 inch box we've been jumping on is less daunting, and you feel like you have more energy throughout the day. These are subjective things. They are hard to quantify because they can have multiple different factors to consider. That is why they are qualitative. They are based on quality.


So how do we put this in action? Well, it starts with intentional observation and note taking. Yes, note taking. You have to be consistent with taking specific observations about yourself and about your training. This can be as simple as a note on your phone, taken once a week. Perhaps you use a training app that allows comments to be placed on different exercises. Perhaps it's taking a video of specific exercises (I highly recommend this for competitive lifters). Whatever it is, you have to be intentional about making notes and observations.

Additionally, get outside input on your qualitative measures. This is where coaches come in. Coaches allow you to have a sounding board about the different qualitative measures you're observing. A coach gives feedback and watches with a keen eye to help note those things, and can help you hone in on your progress with qualitative measures.


Now, it's important to remember that you shouldn't just switch to only qualitative measures, but that you should make sure to include both types into your training. That way, if one marker of improvement is lacking, the other may provide the full picture through the method progress is marked by.

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