The scale is one of the worst ways to measure progress
It does work if it’s the only tool you have available , but it can be very frustrating to most people who can’t see past the number.. The only thing worse than the scale is, in my opinion, the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart.
BMI only takes into account weight and height. So, a 5’10” 200 lbs person at 35% body fat has the same BMI as someone who is 200lbs at 10% bodyfat at the same height. The chart is only somewhat accurate with a sedentary population, so as soon as you’re consistent with the gym, you’ve left that population that the chart works for.
So, how do you measure progress? There are a bunch of ways, and they range from things that will give you a number to track (for those number people out there) to things that might be hard to track but are really important (for those of you who hate numbers).
So how do you measure progress without the scale or BMI?
Percent Body Fat
This is the gold standard for a quick glance at progress. Healthy range for men range from 10-20% (and a little higher for older men), and for women from 18-28% (a little higher in older women). Below those numbers is considered athletic (to a point), above there is an overweight range, and then obese above that.
The one downside of percent body fat is when lean body mass is really low, it can give you a high body fat reading (what you might know as “skinny fat”). Body fat percentages are best when you’re looking at someone with normal or high amounts of lean body mass.
Are your clothes fitting better? Getting loose? Or Getting a little too tight?
Most people end up trying to change their diet and join a gym when they’re pants are getting a little too tight for comfort. Clothes fitting better or getting loose are one of the first things that you might notice before you really see the scale start to move. Especially if you’re new to exercise and you start putting on that the initial 5-10lbs of muscle pretty quick, which causes the scale to stand still.
Sometimes the opposite happens when you start gaining muscle mass. You might notice tightness around the shoulders, back, and arms of your clothes. And if you really like to work your legs, you better buy some pants with stretch built into them.
Measuring things like your waist, hips, and neck can tell you if you’re losing weight. On the other hand, you can see if you’re gaining muscle mass by measuring your arms, legs, and chest.
The downside to these measurements is that you might need another person to take them to be accurate.
You might not have a six pack yet, but if your triglycerides, blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C all start to improve, that is a huge victory! Get your blood work done yearly and make sure these numbers are within the normal healthy ranges.
Skill/Habit Building Success
This might not be related to your weight or pants size, but building habits is the only way to lose weight and keep the weight off long term. Learning to meal prep, tracking your food, scheduling your workout sessions, getting to bed on time, limiting (but not eliminating) snacks and desserts, and improving cooking skills are habits that can help you reach long term success.
Without some of these, you may see short term success (1-3 months) but you might not be able to continue to see progress when you get past six months.
Life Outside the Gym
Being able to lift more and having better cardio is great and all, but it’s not a great motivator for every person who walks in the gym. However, what you do in the gym can relate to the real world when: you have more energy to play with your kids, you’re able to garden and do housework for hours on end without stopping, you’re able to walk without losing your breath, you catch your breath faster after you get tired, or anything else you can think of where you need to move.
Being in better shape also helps with your mental wellbeing, so generally you are in a better mood when you are working out at least a few times per week.
If your primary goal is weight loss, tracking your percent body fat will be one of the best ways to reach your goal. But also looking at how your clothes fit and your body measurements can help you stay on track, especially when you think you lost a bigger percentage than the InBody actually tells you.
If health is your primary goal, then your percent body fat is important, but also seeing those blood work numbers improve is just as important. There are plenty of Instagram models walking around with six packs and messed up blood work. And then just being able to move around better in your day to day life is an indicator that your health is improving.
To wrap this up, there is no one way to measure your progress, and being fixated on something that can fluctuate hourly, like bodyweight, can hinder your progress. Next time you’re feeling frustrated or down about the number on the scale or what BMI tells you, take a look at some of the other areas mentioned above and see if you are making progress.