How do you check your fitness progress?
Most of you probably answered by stepping on the scale. I am going to argue that this is actually NOT a good indication of your fitness level and if I could run through all of your houses and take away your scales even just for a month, I would do it. How many of you step on that scale every single darn day? Some of us might even do it more than once a day. Because let’s face it, you want to know how fast that splurge lunch hit your hips or to see how much weight you lost after your last trip to the potty…oh come on- I can’t be the ONLY one of us that’s ever done that!
Any number that can fluctuate as quickly and as widely as that scale can’t be what we base our entire measurement of well-being on can it? So why do we do that? What is running through our DNA tying us to this little box that either fills us with joy or fuels us with guilt, destroys our self-esteem, and chips away at our self-image? I challenge you to put that scale away and pay attention to some more important ways to measure your success.
When we start a new workout or nutrition program it’s natural for weight loss to be on the list of goals, but it should not be alone. How about the way you feel about yourself, how strong you can become, how your clothes fit, how you carry yourself? These are the real measures of our success. But let’s face it people want real tangible results and most of us turn to the scale to tell us if we are working hard enough. When that number doesn’t come down in a way that we feel reflects our hard work it can be crushing, but remember that muscle, fat, bone and water all contribute to the number on that scale. Here are some examples of questions that I get asked about weight as a trainer and my general answers.
What is the difference between weight and body composition?
Depending on your fitness level, your total body weight is broken down approximately like this:
Muscle: 30-55% of body weight
Fat: 10-30% of body weight
Bone: 15% of body weight
Organs and other tissues: 10-15%
*Not including the water in muscle or fat.
What this means is that the number staring at you from that scale is not telling you the whole story. Yes, many of us want to lose weight, but it’s much more important to focus on losing body fat in order to be healthier and stronger.
Does Muscle Weigh More Than Fat?
No, 1 pound of muscle weighs exactly the same as 1 pound of fat tissue, however, one pound of muscle is four times smaller than one pound of fat because muscle is denser than fat. This means that if you are gaining muscle and losing fat you could see absolutely no change on the scale but notice a dramatic drop in inches off your body.
Here’s an example:
Jane and Sarah both wear a size 10 jean. Jane works out regularly and has 24% body fat, Sarah hates the gym and loves her Netflix and sofa and has 34% body fat. Jane will weigh more on a scale because she has more muscle, but which one is more fit or healthier?
But what about water weight?
The human body is about 60% water. So yes, water certainly does account for a large portion of your total weight. Sometimes when you see quite a bit of weight drop quickly off the scale it is due to losing water weight. This kind of quick weight loss is most likely to happen when you first adopt a lower carb diet as your body turns to its glycogen stores and essentially squeezes out the water that accompanies them in your system. But beware, that water will come right back after a carb heavy meal, and then you see the scale start to bounce. Overall, if you stick to a lower carb diet that initial water weight should stay off if you are careful. However, trying to keep your weight down by not drinking water is not a good plan. Any type of significant dehydration is unhealthy and won’t give you long lasting results. If water retention is an issue for you the best thing you can do is reduce the amount of salt in your diet and increase your water intake so that your body is more likely to release its excess fluid on a regular basis.
How does fat affect your weight?
The amount of body fat on an individual can vary dramatically from person to person. One individual may have a body fat percentage of 8%, while another may find themselves over 50%.
When it comes to fat vs. muscle weight, body fat has less density than muscle and bone making it weigh less per square inch. The benefit of having more muscle here is that dense muscle burns more calories than fat. It is estimated that one pound of muscle at rest burns around 6 calories per day, whereas one pound of fat only burns about 2 calories per day. Yes please to the higher metabolism!
If you want to lose a significant amount of weight, focus on a fat-burning program and improving your nutrition, but If you want to set your body up to have a higher resting metabolism and burn more calories on a regular basis, make sure you are including strength and resistance training regularly to help build muscle while you are burning away that fat.
So What Should I use to Measure my Success instead of Weight?
So, since we have seen how body weight alone can fluctuate based on factors like salt intake, muscle gain, hormones, etc. it’s clear that we should not use it as our only way to measure progress toward our fitness and health goals.
My favorite way to track progress is to take photos each month to see the difference, by measuring body fat percentage regularly and by taking body measurements. Taking body measurements is best done by a health professional or trainer in order to ensure you are measuring accurately and in the same spots, but if you want to do it yourself here are some of the key measurements to pay attention to:
Bust: Measure all the way around your bust and back on the line of your nipples
Waist: Measure its narrowest point, usually just above the navel
Hips: Measure all the way around the widest part of the hip bones and glutes
Upper arm: Measure above your elbows, around the fullest part
Thighs: While standing, measure around the fullest part of thighs
Calves: While sitting, measure around the fullest part
Other great ways to measure your progress are to pay attention to how you feel about yourself, how happy you are when you look in the mirror or how nicely your clothes fit. Feeling good on the inside and being proud of ourselves is really what it’s all about anyway right? But if you want measurable ways to see strength and fitness growth, pay attention to measurable aspects of your workouts.
how long it takes you to run/walk a certain distance
how long can you hold a plank
how many pushups or squats you can do
Or paying attention to ways you have been able to progress certain exercises from when you started.
Seeing this type of progress and knowing you are gaining strength, confidence and power gives you concrete, indisputable evidence of your personal fitness progress regardless of the number on the scale!
So, ditch that little slab of metal and plastic and free yourself from its power over you. You are more than a number. And that number definitely does not define you.