Getting on the scale to check your bodyweight may be an inaccurate way to measure the success of your workouts.
At the end of the last year, I gave a presentation at one company's health and wellness days here in San Francisco. Among other things, I also touched the weight obsession that is so common in our culture. I explained that our bodyweight may say nothing about our health or how successful our workouts have been.
A woman raised her hand and asked,
“But how else am I supposed to tell if my work in the gym is paying off?”
It's so interesting how we're absolutely convinced that there's just one and only way to tell if our workouts are making a difference or no. We don't even know that there might be other things to focus on. So we call a diet or a workout program successful if it makes us lose weight, even if we feel like a piece of crap while doing it.
Instead, there are other, better ways to measure if the things we're doing diet and exercise-wise, are good for us. And they don't involve stepping on the scale.
Are You Getting Stronger?
I really recommend you focus on getting stronger (or faster, or more flexible… whatever it is that you're working on).
I can give you an example of how things shouldn't be. When I first started running, my race times improved all the time. I felt like I could go on and on and on and never stop running! I signed up for 10K and then half marathon. I did speed training to get ready for my races, varied my training to get better, and I got fast.
Unfortunately, I also under ate at the same time, because my ultimate goal was to lose weight. After a while, my nutrition clearly wasn't enough for my activity levels anymore, because weight loss was my biggest goal. Overtraining may not feel bad right in the beginning. After a while, it started to show though. My running times slowed down. But I didn't care, because I just wanted to lose more weight…
Had I focused on getting stronger and faster, I would have eaten normally, not starved myself.
Despite losing weight, which most people think is the ultimate sign of health, I was getting unhealthier.
If you lift weights (my preferred training at the moment), you want to measure your progress by being able to lift a bit heavier weight a month from now, or do a few more reps with the same weight a month from now.
Maybe you want to learn a new skill. Focus on getting your first pull up. Once you start making progress by getting closer and closer to your goal and then finally do it, that's how you know your work has paid off. You don't have to step on the scale the entire time.
How Is Your Energy?
I have a client who says that for her, the biggest benefit from exercise is that she feels much more energized when she works out. Whenever she ends up missing a week because of work, se feels it instantly. She says she's more tired than normally and that she has less energy at work and for her kid.
Working out should make you more energized. Of course, you're going to be out of breath and tired after a round of kettlebell swings, but you should recover from it well and feel more energized in general.
Here's an important thing to know: Your workouts don't have to leave you exhausted. You don't have to crawl out of the gym and throw up, although that's what we're often told is the right way to work out. It's not.
Sure, in each workout, you're going to push yourself a bit. Some days more, others less. But doing squats or lifting dumbbells is work, it's not the same as lying on the couch. It's okay to feel muscle fatigue when you're finishing your set, but you should feel good overall.
This good energy should carry over to your everyday life as well, so that you have steady energy throughout the day and week.
How Are Your Clothes Fitting?
I personally don't focus much on building muscle right now, because I'm still careful and don't want to ruin my hormonal balance. Apparently I need quite a bit of body fat at the moment, to keep my hormones functioning properly. If you're in the same boat, please don't focus on muscle building until your hormonal balance is rock solid again.
But if you don't have problems with your hormones and you have a decent workout routine and you hope to see weight loss, know this: Muscle is more dense than fat. 10 lbs fat takes up more space than 10 lbs muscle. That's why your clothes may fit differently — typically they get a bit looser around the waistline — after you've worked out for a few months and ate a reasonable diet that supports your fitness goals.
You may lose fat but the number on the scale may dip minimally. If you're at healthy weight already, you may not lose any weight but you will likely put on some muscle.
I know of a person who worked out with her trainer three times a week for three months, and was so excited about buying new, smaller clothes when the old clothes were becoming too big. She didn't weigh herself the entire time because her trainer had asked her not to. However when she did, after three months from starting, she was incredibly disappointed because she had dropped just 3kg (6.6 lbs) and felt like all the hard work had been pointless.
That's why we shouldn't look at the scale and let it determine our success! Why do we believe the scale more than what our clothes and energy levels say?
Is Your Everyday Life Easier?
If you work out consistently, you should feel the health benefits of it in your everyday life as well. For example, you're able to lift up a heavy bag, walk long distances, put stuff up on a high shelf without needing any help, run if you need to catch a bus and not get terribly out of breath while doing so.
Going through hypothalamic amenorrhea and not being able to work out at all (except for yoga) for six months, made my body seriously so much weaker. I was really active before and now I got out of breath even when I had to run a short distance. Lifting heavy things up became harder… This is where I realized how much functional strength I had lost.
That's why I really appreciate working out even more now than I ever have before — I want to keep my body healthy and I want to feel this health in my everyday life.
When you work out, your functional fitness should improve, making your life easier. Notice it and realize that being functionally fit improves the quality of your life. It also helps you to stay more independent as you age.
I can't even imagine that I would ever measure my health or fitness gains on the scale anymore. There are many, much better ways to see if my workouts are making me healthier and fitter or not.
If you do too much, you put yourself at risk of overtraining, which is never a good idea. Getting obsessed with your bodyweight is definitely one thing that may cause you to train more than is needed or healthy for you. There has to be a good balance of health, energy and functional fitness level. Going down a pant size may come as a side effect.
What is the way you measure your fitness — other than stepping on the scale?