When I was serious about being a musician I used to love scales, I’d spend many hours every day practicing them, trying to improve my technique. The OTHER type of scales though, wow, don’t you hate them?
I always do a weigh in with new clients, and I do them again every once in a while as part of a progress check. I weigh myself every so often as well but as an eternal optimist I interpret any result as a positive sign – lost a kilo? Must have burned some fat! Gained a kilo? That’s great, I’ve built some muscle since the last weigh in! I can remember around this time last year being very pleased with the amount of mass I’d gained on my increased calorie nutrition plan at the time, until I also noticed my belt size had gone up, as well as my other measurements!
Of course it’s easy to tell yourself those things, but really weight alone is not that much of an indicator of good or bad progress. The exception would be in highly overweight or obese people, who would expect to see some significant numbers coming off the scale due to changes in nutrition and increased activity. For the majority of us who are already in a healthy weight range according to the Body Mass Index, who are just looking to shape up a little bit and look more lean and attractive, actual weight loss is not always the primary objective.
I’m sure I’ve talked about this in other posts already, but one of the best strategies to reduce body fat is to build lean muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate – in other words, you burn more calories at all times, even at rest. Of course, that extra muscle adds to your overall bodyweight, so although you might have lost a significant amount of fat (or at least have begun to lose a small amount), simply getting on the scales may give you the reverse impression as your weight may have stayed the same, or even increased slightly.
So instead of being discouraged by a seemingly poor result on the scales, lets consider some better indicators that may show that we have made better progress than we realised.
Number one I have already mentioned. With a weight GAIN program, you’re likely to put on some body fat as well as muscle mass. If your belt size increases, that’s a good sign that you have added body fat and it may be time to consider reducing calories again. For people on a weight loss program, if your belt size decreases you have lost body fat, regardless of what the scales say.
Clothes fitting better is another good indication, but the best test is perhaps the one that seems the most obvious. Take a look in the mirror! If you can see some improvements, especially around the waistline, do not let numbers on the scales convince you otherwise. Also look for improved muscle tone and posture as confirmation of your improved conditioning, as well as increased stamina, flexibility and general fitness while training. I’ll come back to this point shortly.
Taking progress photos is another good strategy, although in my experience this can be slightly demoralising as the camera tends to be less flattering than the mirror. Still, this can be good motivation to stick to the plan and work even harder.
There are other ways to measure body fat percentage, with varying levels of accuracy, ranging from fat measuring scales (the cheap ones I have do not seem to be terribly accurate) to skin fold tests. Skin fold tests would be considered highly accurate, although it is something of an invasive process that many people are very uncomfortable with.
My suggestion is to weigh in perhaps every 6 weeks as a measure of your progress, but remember to consider bodyweight in context with the other, more significant indicators of how successful your program has been.
Getting back to talking about improved performance at training, this should really be your primary concern. If you are significantly unfit or out of shape, this is most likely the result of having an unhealthy or just inactive lifestyle for an extended period – perhaps several years. Once the body gets used to a new, more active lifestyle with an improved diet it will adapt accordingly, but this takes time!