Once you’ve realized the futility of using body weight on a scale to measure progress in an exercise or nutrition program, you may be left feeling at a loss as to how to accurately measure progress. Or, if your goal is not weight loss or you’ve already reached your body composition goals, you may face the same question.
Here is a guide of many ways we can scientifically and meaningfully measure progress besides just looking at weight, which is really no indicator of fitness or body composition at all.
1. Physical Progress – Since this is the one most people are looking at first and foremost, I’ve started with it first on the list. There are more effective and accurate ways to measure physical progress than body weight. They are:
a) Inches – measure inches at specific sites on your body that you are trying to re-proportion, such as arm, chest, waist, hips, thigh. Take measurements every month or so.
b) Body Fat % – much more effective than weight. It tells you your actual percentage of body weight that is fat. This is the number you want lower, not your weight. Weight encompasses all kinds of other things like water, muscle, bone, and other tissue besides fat, so losing weight does not mean you lost any fat. Conversely, gaining weight does not mean you gained fat.
c) Before and After Pictures – very, very effective way of measuring progress without ever playing the mental games of the scale. Take a before picture from the front and side. Take after pictures in the same or very similar outfit every month or so.
2. Performance and Exercise Progress – Sometimes we reach our physical goals and may think, “OK, what now?” The next 2 measures are what you focus on when physical goals are no longer the priority.
a) Performance Progress – set performance goals, such as doing a harder version of a particular exercise, mastering a new exercise you couldn’t do before, adding instability or balance work to an exercise, or getting a better time on a race or workout.
b) Training Progress – There are several factors that make up what we call total training volume. These include amount of weight or resistance, length of rest periods, number of sets of exercises, and number of reps in each set. Any or all of these variables can and should be adjusted from day to day, week to week, or month to month to create new challenges to your training progress.
c) Quality and Speed of Movement – Many times people tell me, “You make that exercise look so easy”, or “Your form is flawless”. This refers to quality and speed of movement and becomes the major focus at advanced levels of training. It is just as important for beginners too. Once you’ve mastered doing an exercise regularly and you are varying your sets, reps, rest period, and resistance regularly, begin to focus on quality of movement. For example, when I do any exercise, if I focus on having the best form I can, the exercise usually becomes more difficult instantly. Also, changing your speed of movement is quite effective, particularly slowing down movements. When working with weights or your own body weight, try doing reps 2 or 3 times slower than usual, and you will be amazed at the whole new workout you create for your body. I often see people rush through reps to “get them over with”. The real reason they do this is that slowing down and using correct form is much more difficult. Don’t be surprised if when you begin to focus on form and speed in this way, you cannot do as many reps or sets as you are used to.
If you break your attachment to the scale and move to the methods of measuring progress I have indicated above, you are guaranteed to greatly increase your physical and training results beyond anything you gain from focusing on the scale alone.