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.
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.
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?