Article last updated: February 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon organising my progress pictures. (I have over 1000 progress pictures)!
While organising them, I stumbled upon a progress picture from April 2011:
April 2011 GOAL PHYSIQUE
This picture brought back memories from the early phases of my skinny-fat transformation.
At the time, I had been training for a bit over 1 year, and my back was finally starting to get that wide look.
However, I was curious about how my physique looked like when I’m lean, so I drew white lines to cover up the love handles.
I remember that I was amazed at how wide my back looked when the love handles were gone. The physique that you see in my edited progress picture was my ultimate goal.
achieved surpassed my goal:
April 2011 DREAM vs. August 2014 REALITY
So, why am I telling you all of this?
Because, I believe that taking monthly progress pictures was one of the keys to achieve and SURPASS my fitness goals.
Why You Should Stop Relying On The Mirror
“If you see progress in the mirror, you know you’re headed in the right direction.”
That’s true for some people, but not for the skinny-fat guy with below average genetics.
When you have crappy genetics, you gain muscle at a slower rate than other guys:
- 1st year of proper training: 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
- 2nd year of proper training: 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
- 3rd year of proper training: 5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)
Take a good look at the monthly numbers for muscle gains.
If you’re a beginner, and train hard with a good diet, those are the kind of numbers you can expect to achieve.
Now, think about this. If you weigh 200 pounds, there’s no way you will notice a 2 pound muscle gain.
The same applies for a lighter guy who’s 130 pounds.
The muscle gains are so slow that you won’t be able to see them yourself.
To prove that this is true, take a look at my progress pictures below:
7 months of progress (didn't see a change at all in the mirror)
Do you think that I was able to see progress in my physique on a weekly or even monthly basis? Hell no.
In 7 months, all I gained was a bit of size on my back and traps, while losing some fat.
The monthly muscle gains were extremely small and gradual, therefore I never noticed them in the mirror.
Luckily, I took progress pictures, so I was able to see the slight change in my physique and thereby remain motivated to keep pushing the iron.
If I hadn’t taken progress pictures, I would most likely have given up at this point.
This is unfortunately the case for many skinny-fat guys. They rely on the mirror instead of taking progress pictures.
As time goes by, they don’t notice the small amount of progress they make, and eventually quit training.
Progress Pictures Can Save You From Getting Fat
In the section above I explained that muscle gains are so slow that you can’t see them in the mirror.
However, there’s also another side to the coin: fat gains can be so slow that you don’t notice them in the mirror.
I have experienced this myself.
In fact, this is one of the main reasons to why I let myself become skinny-fat and eventually FAT in the first place:
I didn't take progress pictures between September 2010 and February 2011
This picture shows me in February 2011, at the fattest I’ve ever been in my life.
I was about 235 pounds of fat at the time.
The interesting thing, though, is that I didn’t realise I was getting fat!
In September 2010 I was a skinny-fat 200 pounds. Each month I added about 5 pounds of bodyweight while gaining tons of strength, until I eventually ended up at 235 pounds in February 2011.
I was the guy doing heavy deadlifts at the gym, and cardio 3 times a week. I could also do about 5 pull ups.
I thought I was in good shape, and didn’t notice the fat gains sneak up on me.
This wouldn’t have been the case if I had taken progress pictures every month.
If I had taken progress pictures every month, I would have realised that I was getting fat and thereby stop my bulk much earlier.
Gain Confidence By Comparing Progress Pictures
Have you ever heard about the guy or girl who lost 100 pounds of fat, and gotten lean, but still feels fat on the inside?
The same applied to me during most of my transformation.
Despite making a lot of progress, I often felt like I didn’t make ANY progress.
The month prior to taking the picture below, I still felt like I was in poor shape!
After taking this picture, I was constantly thinking about stuff such as:
Those things bothered me so much that I wasn’t able to ENJOY the progress I had already made. I still didn’t feel comfortable in my own body.
Then, one day I sat down and compared my progress pictures.
When I saw the difference I realised one very important thing:
I’ve made a lot of progress and should be proud of it.
Instead of constantly thinking about what’s missing, I started using my own progress as motivation to train harder.
After this event, my life has improved tremendously. I’m more confident in my own body and I make more progress in the gym than ever before.
My point is that progress pictures can be extremely useful in the future.
You may not like the way you look now, but if you work hard for years, you will one day be able to look at your progress and be proud of it.
When that happens, you will gain momentum in your life, since your physique won’t be holding you back anymore.
How I Use Progress Pictures Today
This article wouldn’t be complete without some practical information that actually explains how you can use progress pictures to optimise your training and nutrition.
I personally take progress pictures of me once a month. It takes no more than 5 minutes to get it done.
All you need is:
- Back and front relaxed
- Back and front flexed
If you want to, you can do some other bodybuilding poses, although they aren’t necessary.
Ideally, you will take the progress pictures in the same place and under the same lighting. (I don’t always do this, however I should)!
If your goal is to get lean, you want to look leaner without losing muscle every month.
If your goal is to bulk up and gain muscle, you want to look bigger without getting fat every month.
It’s that simple.
Below I’ll show you 2 progress pictures.
End of cut vs. End of bulk
This is usually how my look varies throughout the year. (Both pictures are taken without a pump, although the lighting and angle is better in the cut picture).
I never get extremely ripped when I cut and I never become a fat-ass when I bulk.
At the end of my bulks I can still do 20 good pull ups and several handstand push ups, even though my bodyweight is close to 200 pounds.
When I cut, I don’t lose muscle mass, since my cuts are short. I don’t need to cut for long, because I never get fat in the first place.
My point here is that progress pictures help me stay on track.
If I didn’t take progress pictures, I could easily end up bulking too far. My appetite is huge and I gain fat easily, so taking progress pictures are crucial for me to remain somewhat lean throughout the year.
Once I start losing my abs, I know it’s time to cut back and lose about 7-10 pounds of bodyweight.
There’s also another reason to why I’m showing you these progress pictures: honesty.
A lot of fitness bloggers only show the way they look when they’re extremely shredded for 2 weeks out of the year. But how about the other 50 weeks?
How Fast Should Your Progress Be?
Often, skinny-fat guys ask me questions such as:
“I’m making some progress, but I don’t know if I’m progressing fast enough. Should I change my routine?”
“How long time do you think it will take for me to transform?”
I also had those questions in my first few years of training, but over time I’ve realised that they are TOXIC to your mind.
Those questions show me one thing: you want a great physique as fast as possible.
You want it in a few months. You’re not willing to put in YEARS of hard work to achieve it.
It took me several years of hard work to build my physique.
Yeah, I could have done it faster if I did it right from the get-go, however, who does it right from the get-go?
Very few people do.
For most people, transforming a body is not only about having the right diet and training routine.
It’s just as much about learning how to transform your whole lifestyle by creating new habits.
You may have a new-born baby that keeps you up at night.
You may lack the money to buy quality foods.
Or, you may have your final exams which require all your attention.
No matter what the issue is, everyone has their own issues to deal with.
Those issues take away time and focus from your fitness goals, but despite that YOU want to be that person who fights through it and keeps making progress in the gym.
Slow progress is better than no progress.
I saw tiny amounts of progress every 3-7 months in my training, but in the end it all added up.
My point is, that this is not a SPRINT. It’s a MARATHON.
Monthly progress pictures are one of the best ways to stay on track in the marathon, so you better start taking them!
PS: I’ll have a new transformation video up soon on YouTube (subscribe here), and I have a lot of content in draft. If there’s anything you’d like me to write about, then send me an email and I’ll take it into consideration!