If You Are Not Assessing, You Are Just Guessing
Tracking your progress is an important part of staying on track with your fitness goals. Keeping a food log, workout log, taking “before and after” photos, recording body weight, body fat, circumference measurements, and personal records (PR’s) are all great ways to keep you on track and moving in the right direction.
When first starting a program, you may not see much movement on the scale. Do not get discouraged. It is likely that you are gaining a little muscle and shedding a little body fat. This is the initial phase we all go through when our bodies are adapting to new stimuli. Stick with it.
When tracking body weight, weighing yourself every single day can sometimes do more harm than good. Your body weight fluctuates daily and at different times based on things like fluid, sodium consumption, and undigested food. Minor daily fluctuations on the scale can be discouraging to a person’s weight loss efforts. Instead, weigh yourself once a week in the morning on an empty stomach, wearing minimal or no clothing, using the same scale. Different scales will skew your readings so the scale needs to stay consistent.
Also, the scale is just one tool for measuring progress. Remember, the scale only measures WEIGHT loss. Take body fat readings each week of the month to measure FAT loss. There is a big difference between these two. Look at it like this. Hypothetically, two twin brothers agree to participate in a 6-week research study designed to assess how different combinations of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) affect body composition. Both twins are put on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, and both adhere to the same workout program. Assuming all things are constant like body weight when starting, and the amount of weight used in the workout program, twin “A” consumes 2,000 calories of Oreo Cookies each day, twin “B” consumes 2,000 calories of lean meats, vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and a fairly low amount of starches and sugars. Assuming twin “A” hasn’t had any health complications after 6 weeks (which would be a miracle), their body WEIGHT may be around the same range but who do you think will come out with a lower body FAT percentage? How about just overall better health? The answer to that is obvious.
For body fat readings, if you do not work with a trained specialist such as a certified personal trainer, strength coach, doctor or physician who can take your skin fold readings using calipers to measure specific spots on the body regularly, you can take your own body fat readings using a handheld body fat loss monitor. The most commonly used body fat reader is the Body Logic HBF 306 Body Fat Analyzer. This body fat reader is a handheld device that uses a method called “bioelectrical impedance analysis” to estimate body composition and in particular, body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI). I believe most health and fitness professionals would agree that this method is not the most accurate. I think the rate of error is somewhere between +/- 2-3%. So for example, if your reading is 20% body fat, you could be as high as 23%, as low as 17% body fat, or somewhere in between. Obviously not the most accurate, but this is the most practical for most people, so rather than focus on the actual body fat percentage number, focus on the body fat percentage range. If your body fat range is going down each week, you are making progress.
The American Council on Exercise provides the following body fat percentage ranges for men and women:
Description Women Men
Essential Fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-24%
Obesity >32% >25%
Here are a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what these ranges can look like:
In addition, take circumference measurements along with these readings to gauge progress in areas like the waist, hips, thighs, chest, and arms. Again, if you don’t work with a certified personal trainer, strength coach, doctor, or physician regularly, you will need someone to take these for you. These can be measured fairly accurately by a spouse, significant other, friend, or any willing participant. You should measure these with minimal to no clothing for the best accuracy. Personally, I used the cheapest tape measure for a few years. Every one of them broke at the tip after a few months. Five broken tape measures in all. I have since moved on to the Health o Meter Digital Tape Measure, HDTM012DQ-69 and am very happy with it. This tape measure gives you a digital reading each time and is also durable and easy to transport.
Small changes can be hard to recognize when you are looking at yourself in the mirror everyday. “Before and after” photos are a great way to go back and compare where you are now to when you started. Make sure you are taking the pictures from the front and side each week. Keep the angles and lighting consistent. This will give you a more accurate picture of changes in body composition. Below is one of mine. There is a 2-week span between each picture on the left and right. In the photos on the right, I am down from 10.5% to 8.5% body fat, lost 3.5 lbs. of fat, and gained 2.5 lbs. of lean muscle.
Last, but certainly not least, how you are feeling mentally and physically? Do you have more energy? Do you have more peace of mind knowing you could have eaten that pizza and watched that movie but instead you went to the gym? Have you noticed a change in the way your shirts fit? Are your favorite pair of jeans a little too big now? Good, keep doing what you are doing. That’s progress.
Committed To Your Health,
Brian Donovan is a certified fitness and nutrition coach, and the founder of Online Fitness Coach, LLC – an online fitness program where clients get direct coaching and personally tailored training plans and customized meal plans. Coach Brian was voted Chicago’s “Best Personal Trainer” by Chicago Reader magazine, Best Of Chicago 2014 edition. He has been featured in magazines such as Muscle & Fitness, Chicago Reader, Voyage Chicago, and Ezine Articles as well various health and fitness blogs.
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