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We’ve all felt that sinking feeling that comes along with stepping on the scale after weeks of working hard in the gym, only to discover that the number you saw at the beginning of your exercise journey has remained the same, or even increased. The truth is there is so much more to that number you’re seeing on the scale. In fact, it can be quite deceiving in tracking weight loss because even if the number on the scale went up, that doesn’t mean you’re not progressing.
Even if you’re working out consistently, there are factors that can cause your weight to fluctuate, including:
In other words, there’s a lot more going into that number on the scale than just exercise. With services like Uber Eats, Amazon Prime, Postmates and Instacart, we’ve all gotten used to instant gratification. You want something, and you can often get it that same day. If only that worked for weight loss. But oftentimes, we still expect it. Seeing the number on the scale remain exactly the same after a week of hard workouts and watching what you eat can be frustrating, to say the least.
Here’s the good news.
There are lots of effective ways to track your progress in the gym. Ditch the scale, and jot down these tips for gauging weight loss and body fat.
Body composition goes far beyond your weight, and encompasses both body fat and non-fat mass. Not all body fat is bad — in fact, it has a lot of essential benefits for the body, including protecting organs, regulating hormones and storing energy.
Non-fat mass is made up of things like organs, bone, water and muscle. This is why stepping on a scale can be so deceiving — it doesn’t tell you how much of that number is from essential fat and non-fat mass.
So, how do you know what a healthy amount of fat is? It differs based on your gender, age, genes, fitness level, etc. According to the American Council on Exercise, a healthy body fat percentage for women ranges from 25-31%, and for men between 18-24%. But, how do you calculate body fat percentage? There are a few different ways to do so:
This method uses a special scale to measure body fat through electrical currents. Body fat causes the currents to move at a slower rate. Some scales even connect to your smartphone to help you track progress.
Calipers are an instrument that measure skinfold thickness, otherwise known as subcutaneous adipose tissue, to track weight loss progress. It works by pinching certain areas of the skin, like the abdomen, quadriceps, triceps and pectorals, and converting those measurements into body fat percentage.
Online calculators, like this one from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), take into consideration your age, weight, height and body measurements to give you a body fat percentage.
While you can often tell if you’re making progress by the way your clothes fit, taking body measurements of your waist, chest, thighs, arms and hips can be a more accurate way of tracking weight loss.
With a cloth measuring tape flat against your skin, find your natural waist (at your belly button), exhale, and check the measurements.
Wrap the tape around the widest part of your glutes, and check the measurements where the tape overlaps.
You may need someone to help measure your chest, as your arms should be slightly raised while doing so.Wrap the tape around the fullest part of your bust, and put your arms back at your side. The tape should be snug, but not digging into your skin.
Identify the widest circumference of your arm, which may be about three inches from your armpit, and wrap the tape around. Make sure to measure both arms, as they may be different.
Find the midpoint of your thigh, or the widest part of your thigh, and wrap the tape around snugly.
It’s important to take your body measurements at the same time (i.e. in the morning before eating breakfast), and it’s best to take them twice to ensure accuracy. Additionally, make sure you’re wearing as little clothing as possible in order to get the most accurate measurements.
Relying on the scale for confirmation of progress can be disheartening, so find other means of getting that motivation to continue your workouts. For example, instead of setting your goals around a number, track progress around how often you’re working out.
Aim for 3-4 workouts per week, and see how long you can reach that goal each week. Or, that goal could be around the number of steps taken per day, number of minutes being active per week, etc. Set goals that work for you and your lifestyle.