We hear it all the time these days. You know what I’m talking about—the call to action against the scale, the refusal to let it determine your self worth. Gone are the days of the morning weighing ritual. Down with the scale!
In many cases, this is pretty legitimate advice. A scale is not always the most accurate way of measuring progress. Moreover, it should never, ever determine your mood or perception of yourself. Just last week I was discussing with my fiancé the idea of purchasing one, as we are currently sans scale, and I said to him: “Let’s make sure we find a nice one. A lot of them are really mean.”
That scale can be a real jerk sometimes, but it can be a useful tool when you are shedding significant amounts of weight. I find that with clients who have 30 or more pounds to lose, a scale can be an accurate means of measuring progress. What you don’t want is to find yourself haggling over one pound, weighing yourself every single day, or associating how awesome you are with the number the scale gives you.
Furthermore, the scale, or any tool for measuring fat loss, is not going to tell you how strong you are. Strength of body, mind, and character trump most aesthetic goals in the GGS community. Still, physique transformations are still a very motivating part of achieving a fit lifestyle. We do believe you should train to be strong, but we don’t pretend to think that strength is the only thing that motivates you.
While the last thing you want—and the last thing we want for you—is to become obsessed with a number on the scale, the fact remains that if you have physique goals, measuring your progress is a helpful tool in designing your lifestyle. How will you know if what you’re doing is working if you have no means of gauging progress?
So, although we do think the scale has some (marginal) merit, there are myriad other tools that can be more effective and accurate ways of of measuring your body transformation.
I am a huge proponent of “before and after” photos, and I ask all of my coaching clients to submit these monthly. The great thing about pictures is that they have nothing to do with a number. Placed side by side, pictures can give you a visual of how your body is actually transforming.
While the scale can be inaccurate when you are experiencing recomposition (losing body fat while gaining muscle), photos can accurately portray the changes your body is undergoing. This is my preferred method of measuring progress, but there are a few things to consider:
The way your clothes fit is an easy and somewhat accurate means of gauging your body’s transformation. The key is that your body has to be the only thing changing, so make sure that you don’t stretch out or shrink the piece of clothing you’re using as a metric. If you have a pair of jeans you’re using as a barometer, remember that wearing them often will make them roomier and washing them will shrink them back up.
Body composition and weight are not created equal. Sometimes your weight can go up as your body fat goes down. This has to do with the fact that although a pound of muscle and fat weigh the same (um, a pound, obviously), they don’t take up the same amount of space. Because muscle is more dense, you can simultaneously gain lean mass and lose fat, looking smaller but weighing the same—or more.
The downfall is that body fat measurement is not an exact science. While calipers can tell you approximately how much fat you are carrying, measurements can be inconsistent. If using calipers, make the sure the same person takes your measurements every time, at approximately the same time of day. Also, pay more attention to the skinfold measurements than the estimated percentage.
If you have access to a BodPod, you are likely to get a much more accurate body composition output.
Good ol’ measuring tape is a great stand-by should the other options fail you. Just make sure to measure at the same location consistently and keep the tape a little loose. For the waist you can measure at the belly button or around the slimmest part of your waist (your natural waist). For the hip, I find it best to measure at the widest part. Keep a detailed log of your measurements and if you are consistent in your training and nutrition lifestyle, you should see a drop in inches.
No amount of body fat shed or inches lost is going to make you a better person. True, you might become a happier version of yourself as you reach your physique goals, but deep down that happiness stems from the healthier choices you have made and the success you’ve experienced. The first step, and what I often see lacking, is to love yourself. (Full disclosure: I am currently working on this myself). When you train and eat because you love your body, not because you hate it, you are far more likely to attain sustainable results and ultimately, a peaceful way of living.
If you’re frustrated with your lack of progress and you want to learn more, you’ll love our Girls Gone Strong Progress Handbook. Within this Handbook, we discuss: