In my last blog post, I discussed the importance of measuring progress in the gym via positive goals like increasing strength, instead of negative goals, like strictly weight or fat loss.  Even if fat loss is your ultimate goal, often times you can simply focus on performance in the gym and sound nutrition and it will help you achieve that goal.  For proof of this, check out the lovely ladies in part 1 here.


Heavy lifting + sound nutrition will get many women where they want to be in terms of fat loss results.


Focusing on Fat Loss?

That being said, sometimes you DO have to focus on fat loss to get results.  This typically happens when you are already lean, and trying to get even leaner.  It’s much easier to drop from 30% body fat to 20% than it is from 20% to 10%.  Dropping that last bit of fat requires you to be stricter and more precise with your nutrition and training, and taking measurements is an important part of that precision, so you know when to make changes to your program.


I definitely had to focus on fat loss for this event!


So What Do I Measure?

OK, so how exactly should you measure your results when fat loss is your goal?  I like to have my clients measure a number of things to get an accurate depiction of what’s happening with their bodies.


1. Scale weight – Measuring scale weight more than once a week is a recipe for disaster for most people.  Daily fluctuations can freak you out and for some people, it can ruin their whole day.  However, it can give you some valuable information about what is going on with your body.  For example, over time, if your weight stays the same, but your waist and hip measurements decrease, it is a safe assumption that you are losing body fat and gaining muscle.  If you hadn’t been weighing yourself, you may have a hard time determining if you are losing fat or losing muscle. Very general assumptions, but helpful over time.  (I had a client that was with me for 20 weeks and only lost 2 lbs on the scale, but dropped 2 clothing sizes.  I think it’s safe to say she was gaining muscle and losing fat). 

Weigh no more than once a week.  For accuracy’s sake, make sure it’s on the exact same day every week, at the same time of day, wearing the same thing you wore the previous week.  For most people, the morning of a planned treat/cheat/carb-up day is best.  You should weight after you’ve gone to the bathroom and before you’ve eaten anything.  Nude or just underwear is most accurate.



2. Measurements – I like having clients take measurements with a tape measure because it gives a bit more of an accurate picture of what’s happening to their body.  For example, if their waist measurement gets smaller, but their hip/shoulder measurement gets bigger, there is a good chance that they are losing fat and gaining muscle.  Since changes in measurements can happen slowly, I prefer to have clients take them every other week instead of every week.  Here are the measurements I like for them to take (I like taking them at halfway points as it’s easier to be consistent with the measurement spot):

Shoulders (broadest part)

R Arm (halfway between top of elbow and shoulder)

L Arm (halfway between top of elbow and shoulder)

Bust (around nipple)

Under Bust (sternum)

Waist (smallest part)

Hips (largest part)

R Thigh (halfway between top of knee and hip bone)

L Thigh (halfway between top of knee and hip bone)



3. Pictures – Pictures are another great way for clients to measure their progress.  It’s often difficult to see how much progress you have made when you see yourself every day, but when you can compare photos, it can be a lot easier to see how much your body has changed.  Again, make sure you take them on the same day of the week at the same time of the day, wearing the same clothing, in the same lighting, from the same distance away, using the same camera every time you take them.  This will make for a very accurate comparison and depiction of your progress.

4. Clothing – This is one of my absolute favorite measures of progress for my female clients.  We all have a piece of clothing that we are dying to fit into, whether it’s a dress, pair of jeans, or a pencil skirt that we adore, and the thought of being able to wear it and feel sexy in it is extremely motivating!   Plus, many females who start strength training won’t necessarily see a decrease in scale weight since they are increasing muscle mass, so being able to fit into a smaller pair of jeans is a wonderful affirmation that the strength training they are doing is changing their body in a positive way.  Simply pick a piece of clothing that’s a half a size to a full size too small, and try it on once a month to see how well it fits.  If it fits better every time you try it on, you know that you’re headed in the right direction!

5. Body Fat Testing – I would do this once a month for the general population and once every week or two for someone who is preparing for a physique competition.  I am actually working on a blog post about this right now.  Stay tuned to find out exactly what body fat measuring tools I think are the best!


There you have it!  The tools that I use to measure my progress and the progress of my clients.  Remember, if you aren’t measuring it, how do you know if it’s time to make changes to your program or not?

So what do you think?  Do you use these tools?  Different tools? Did I hit the nail on the head or am I way off base?




5 Responses to Measuring Progress Beyond the Scale Part 2

  1. Jennifer says:

    I just wanted to say that I LOVE your blog! I started my weight loss/strength training journey 2 years ago this month, right before my 40th birthday, and have hit a wall. I earned my HKC in April and am working towards my RKC in the next year. However, I have been on a pity party for the past 2-3 months due to not 1 but 2 shoulder impingements, plus the onset of degenerative arthritis in the same shoulder.

    In addition to my shoulder issues, I am a part-time care taker for my SIL who is losing her battle with Leiomyosarcoma (uterine cancer). I spend 2-3 nights/mornings a week with her, only getting 3-5 hours of sleep, if I am lucky. This along with my shoulder injury has driven me into a bit of a depression. I am up 6 lbs and I am losing my definition that I worked SO hard for over the past 2 years.

    SO I started my training again last week and am a bit discouraged as to the amount of strength and endurance that I have lost. My PT assures me that I will be back to where I was before all of this AND stronger!

    I guess I just wanted to tell you that after finding your blog this morning, I have a renewed hope!! Thank you SO much for sharing your journey…your ups and downs! I have read a bit of your EF It’s posts and it helps me see that I am not the only one who wakes up wanting ice cream for breakfast! lol

    I am working my way through your past posts….and look forward to your future posts! Thanks again for the MUCH needed inspiration!!

  2. Pingback: Weekly Reader Question # 8: Fat Loss Plateaus (Part 1) | Molly Galbraith

  3. Sylvia says:

    I’m using a tape, an impedance scale (a Tanita with handles), pictures, and I know the alert I’m gaining too much fat when I can’t fit in many of my jeans and trousers, and there is one I can’t wear and I’d like to fit it but I can’t remember the last time I fitted in… I’d like to buy another apparel, a body fat plier, but don’t know if it’s a good one (if it worth it)… But currently I can see on the mirror I’m really fat!

  4. Jan says:

    I stumbled across your website looking up muscle soreness after exercise, and it’s the best site regarding exercise and nutrition I’ve seen! I just wish your centre was in the UK. I have lost 41lbs doing WeightWatchers initially, then exercise(181lbs – to 133lbs). IFor the past 3 months I’ve trained with a personal trainer, who is brilliant, and I am fitter, stronger and leaner than I’ve ever been (I’m 52). You advice re: weighing weekly is so relevant. When I started WW I weighed myself daily and a random gain could ruin my day. I haven’t lost more than a few pound in weeks, but my waist and hips have reduced by 6cm and 5 cm respectively. It is hard to get out of the ‘weight loss’ mindset and focus on cm loss, but I’m getting there. Your other ‘reader question’ post from February about increasing calories and factoring in recovery time to stay leaner is also timely. I am finding it hard to eat more and my trainer is working with me on that.

    This is a fantastic site, I will keep reading and learning from it.


  5. Andrea says:

    You reposted this article on Twitter a few days ago and it spoke to me. That very morning I had weighed myself and I had not lost even a tenth of a pound. I was crushed…my day was ruined. Why bother continuing to try to lose weight? I felt like running to Starbucks very a very non-primal treat to make myself feel better. And then I read this article and it just makes so much SENSE! Duh, why did I even weigh myself one week after the previous weigh-in? I am now using all of your tracking methods and the number on the scale will just be one of those methods. Thank you again for your very sensible and inspiring writing. Please keep up the good work!

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