5 Ways To Measure Progress Without The Scale

Whether our goal is muscle gain or fat loss, many of us default to using the scale as the main indicator of progress. However, there are many reasons why this might not always be the best option.

Our weight can fluctuate drastically without any change in body fat. This can be down to dozens of variables; from sodium, to fibre, to menstrual cycle to medication. These acute changes can lead us to make panicked decisions in the moment, which may ultimately be mistakes. If you are set on weighing yourself, a more efficient way to do so is taking a weekly average, over having a 'weigh in day'. This helps develop your skill of critically evaluating what might have caused a higher or lower weigh in than usual from day to day.

The scale can have a huge influence on mental state. While some of us can take the number with a pinch of salt. For others, it can ruin our mood for the entire day. I would recommend for anyone to take breaks from weighing themselves for weeks at a time to remove that stress. Remember that high cortisol levels can hold us back from making progress!

We may be undergoing a period of body recomposition. This is especially prevalent in gym newbies or people coming off the back of an intense dieting phase. During this phase, we may be able to simultaneously gain muscle quickly and keep body fat low.

These are just some reasons why I would recommend using other tools to determine whether you are making progress or not.

Some I would suggest are:

1) Logging Lifts

Increasing strength, especially while losing or maintaining body weight, indicates an increase in muscle. While the relationship isn't quite as simple as we might think, providing a new stimulus (such as heavier weight, more reps, etc), is an essential part of stimulating hypertrophy.

2) Measurements

We can use this to observe muscle gains, such as by measuring a flexed bicep, or fat loss, such as by taking waist circumference. Measurements can be useful when new to weight training as muscle mass will be gained quickly, which can cause changes in the scale that we don't expect, despite looking better in the mirror.

Woman with a tape measure at the waist

3) The Mirror

As mentioned, the mirror is an excellent tool to measure progress. Ultimately, unless you compete in a weight class, the number really doesn't matter. What is important is how you feel in your clothes. Keep a mental note of things that you like about your body, places that you are seeing changes, and what you would like to continue to work on.

4) Resting Heart Rate

A lower resting heart rate indicates more efficient heart function and greater cardiovascular health. We can observe this through the day with heart rate not being as heightened during exercise at a given intensity. A normal resting heart rate is 60-100, with athletes as low as in the 40s.

5) Other Health Markers (sleep, mood, digestion...)

It is easy to get caught up in the aesthetic side of fitness. Don't forget about why we really should be doing regular exercise and choosing healthy foods. Health! Internal health and longevity! Pay attention to how health markers that aren't skin deep change as you live a healthy lifestyle.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, if the scale is causing you anxiety, or you'd like to collect more data for a more comprehensive look at your 'progress', there are plenty of options!

About the Author

Savannah Westerby. BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Instagram: @savannahwesterby

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