Do you jump on the bathroom scale in the morning as part of your daily ritual? It’s important to monitor your progress when you’re trying to get in shape but weighing too often isn’t always the best approach.
For some people, the scale hopping becomes an obsession. The results of their morning weigh-in sets the tone for the day. If the scale says what they want it to say, they’re happy. If not, their day starts out on a bad note.
Does this sound familiar? Here are some reasons you should reconsider your relationship with the bathroom scale and use other measurements to monitor your fitness progress besides weighing.
The Number on the Scale Isn’t a Reliable Indicator of Progress
When you step on a scale, the number you see reflects your total weight – the weight of your bones, organs, muscles, water weight, and fat mass. These components vary on a daily basis. Step on the scale when you haven’t been drinking enough water and your weight will be depressed by a pound or two. Weigh after eating a high-sodium meal and you’ll weight a few pounds more. Even a full bladder or colon can throw your weight off by a few pounds.
Ever weighed after eating a large meal? The extra three pounds you see on the scale doesn’t mean you’ve gained three pounds of body fat. It reflects an increase in water weight due to the sodium you took in, increased glycogen stores and the weight of all the food you ate and the liquid you drank. Becoming obsessed with these changes isn’t good for you mentally or physically.
Then there’s the issue of muscle versus fat. If you’re resistance training you expect to put on lean body mass. That will cause your weight to increase even though your body composition is becoming more favorable. If you look at the stats for fitness models, you’ll see some of them are above their calculated ideal body weight even though their body fat percentage is very low and they’re firm and tight. Don’t let a number that tells you very little make or break your day. Kick the habit of weighing yourself every day and use other measurements to follow your progress.
Better Ways to Measure Your Fitness Progress Than Weighing
Changes in your measurements are one way to monitor your progress. If you’re firming up, you’ll notice inches coming off your waist, hips, and thighs. One important measurement to follow is your waist-to-hip ratio since a high waist-to-hip ratio is a risk factor for health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, measure your hips at the widest part of your buttocks and your waist at its narrowest part. Then divide the two numbers. There are calculators online where you can plug in your measurements and get your ratio. Women with a waist-to-hip ratio of greater than 0.85 and men with one greater than 0.90 are at higher risk for health problems. Research shows that a high waist to hip ratio is a greater risk factor for health problems than BMI or body weight. It’s a measurement worth keeping track of.
Low-Tech Ways to Monitor Your Fitness Progress
It may not be something measurable, but keeping track of how your clothes fit and how you feel are good indicators of whether you’re making progress toward meeting your fitness goals. How are you progressing with your workouts? Are you able to lift more or do more reps at the same weight than you were three months ago? Do you have more stamina? Is it easier to walk up a few flights of stairs without sucking wind?
Keeping a daily fitness journal with feedback like this will let you see how you’re progressing in a positive way without stepping on the scale. After all, isn’t your ultimate goal to feel better and look better in your clothes?
Should You Check Your Body Fat Percentage?
Changes in your body fat percentage are a better indicator of improvements in body composition than changes in total body weight. There is a number of ways you can measure your body fat percentage but some like hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scans are expensive and not always practical. You can also buy a home scale that measures body fat percentage using bioelectrical impedance. The problem is you run the risk of becoming focused on a scale again. Plus, your body fat percentage on one of these scales can be altered by your hydration status.
One practical way to measure body fat percentage is using skinfold calipers to measure skin thickness in different areas of your body. It’s a reasonably accurate way to measure body fat percentage but you have to measure in the same spots every time. For the greatest accuracy, it’s best to let a fitness professional that does a lot of these do it for you. Some gyms or YMCA offers this service. Checking your body fat percentage every six months is a reasonable way to follow your progress, especially if it liberates you from the bathroom scale.
The Bottom Line?
Move the bathroom scale aside and use other ways to monitor your fitness progress and make sure you’re staying on track. The information you get will be more meaningful and a better indicator of how you’re progressing.
Circulation. 2008 Apr 1;117(13):1658-67.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 91998) 12(4): 243-247.
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