Many times, after a reasonable number of sessions, a client whose goal is to get fit, lose weight, or look better will come to me a little disappointed because the scale isn't showing a weight loss. First, let's just assume that this client is actually doing everything I have “assigned” them to do in between our sessions! :) I can usually reassure them by pointing out that there are many other ways to measure results (a.k.a. improvement) without using a scale-and there ARE!
The scale can be affected by so many different factors, but obviously, no matter what, it can only tell you what you weigh. So if you started the program and your upper body weighed 100lbs and your lower body 50lbs. Then after weeks of exercising and eating right, the weight is distributed in a little more balanced way :) the scale shows the same weight, right? Did that make sense? A popular question I get asked is: "does muscle weigh more that fat?" Again, I refer to the scale example above-they both weigh the same, a pound is a pound is a pound…but in simple terminology, the muscles tend to take up less room :)
So what is the best way to measure progress with a fitness program? There are lots of ways to measure this, some more accurate than others, some influenced by external factors-dehydration, fluid retention, human error, machine error! Let me break it down in some basic terms that most of us regular people will understand :)
Here a few ways to measure body fat.
- For the most part your doctor’s office, medical clinic or a specially trained individual will give you the most accurate results, but the main issue with this is that it can often be inconvenient and/or expensive. Those options might be
- There is hydrodensitometry testing, this involves getting into a tank filled with water. Based on the amount of water you displace, your body density and body fat can be calculated.
- Or the Bod Pod which is a similar concept based on the air in your body.
And honestly, from what I read, researchers are getting closer and closer to an accurate, affordable way to measure body fat/lean tissue.
There are even more options available to us:
- Bioelectrical impedance analysis can be done using hand held devices, special scales or similar types of equipment, but these are very sensitive to hydration-meaning how much fluid is in your body-or isn’t! The results can be skewed by consuming caffeine, sweating, etc-anything that can dehydrate you.
- Calipers-we can literally pinch your fat, and measure it. Highly subject to human error, depends on the skills of the “pincher” and the quality of calipers.
There 2 simple ways of measuring that I usually suggest to clients-they are cheap and pretty reliable
- The Good Ole Tape Measure-accurate if you measure in the same places every time. Doesn’t everyone have a tape measure? No…well then raid your mama’s sewing box!
- How do your clothes fit? if the jeans or dress or jacket or whatever, fit you perfectly before you put on those 20+ pounds (and I DON’T mean something from when you were in high school 25 years ago!) This is an easy way to track your progress on your own! Keep in mind that some things may fit a little different than before, but for the better! Like if you had a saggy bottom before and now you have muscles there, instead well….
I know there are many more tools to measure progress or success in a fitness program, if I listed them all my blog post would be a book! But…the other thing I want to say is that I guess we need to define progress or success. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you weigh less!
- What if you were an insulin dependent diabetic who no longer needs injections or medication?
- Or you can now stay for the entire 60 minute strength training class at the gym.
- Or your doctor has taken you off your meds because your blood pressure is consistently where it’s supposed to be?
- Or you've suffered from constant back pain and after working on your flexibility, it’s disappeared!
- How about the fact that you used to walk around the block and could barely breathe and now you power walk 3 miles a few times a week? That’s improvement right?
OK-I’m done :) My point is that the number you see on the scale can be affected by so many variables! It’s only one way to track your progress. It’s a great tool to use about once a week to avoid gaining tons of weight without realizing it, and I realize that it’s so rewarding when the numbers finally go down!! But remember it only measures how much you weigh :)