10 ways to measure progress other than the bathroom scale

Ask a room full of 40 and 50 year-old women what their number one health and fitness goal is and you’re bound to hear ‘lose weight’ more than a few times.

Given that weight loss requires a multi-pronged approach (strength training, cardio, attention to nutrition and of particular importance to those experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, improved sleep and stress reduction), it’s surprising that one of the most preferred ways to measure progress is still the number on the bathroom scale.

Especially when the pounds aren’t falling off as quickly as they may have when you were younger…

While I can’t argue that seeing a smaller number on the scales isn’t indicative of weight loss, there are many other ways to measure progress along the way.

  • Metrics that encourage reflection and celebration
  • Metrics that shift the focus from how you look to how you feel
  • Metrics that emphasize ability and performance

This week, I challenge you to substitute one of the following metrics (brainstormed by me and some very smart members of my Facebook community; you’re welcome to join us!) for your daily (or weekly) weigh-in.

10 ways to measure progress other than the bathroom scale

1. Take circumference measurements; Losing weight via a combination of exercise and attention to nutrition often results in circumference measurements decreasing before pounds on the scale. Especially if your exercise plan includes lifting weights (as it should 🙂 ). If seeing numbers decrease is a big motivator for you, adding up those inches lost every month or so can be a great way to measure progress. Six inches sounds like way more than 2 pounds, doesn’t it? And because it takes a little more time and effort than simply stepping on the scales, you won’t be inclined to do it daily.

Wendy asks herself “Can I get into pants I could not get into last month, three months ago, last year? Can I zip a jacket/vest?”

2. Estimate your body fat; For most people, losing weight is really about losing body fat (I can’t think of a single client who’s ever asked me to help them reduce their muscle mass…). When fat loss is accompanied by muscle gain, body composition estimates gives us more information about our health than the number on the scale. There are many ways to estimate body fat, some of which require professional help (e.g., callipers, immersion) or specialized equipment (e.g., Skulpt Aim device, see photo below). But if you’re only looking for a ball-park estimate, a simple, online body fat calculator is good enough.

My front and back ‘muscle quotient’, as measured by Skulpt Aim

 

3. Try on your ‘thermometer’ jeans; You know that pair of jeans (or other pants) that, when they fit well, make you feel like the best version of yourself? Use them to measure progress (or to tell you when you’ve fallen off track). Note that these shouldn’t be a pair of pants you wore way back when, before you had three kids and had hours a day to devote to fitness and menu planning. We’re aiming for realistic, attainable goals here ;-).

Heat suggests that once you lose the weight you “buy new, smaller clothes and get rid of the other ones. That’s just giving yourself permission to wear them again later.”

4. Tally up the ‘toonies’ in your workout rewards jar; I like to ‘pay’ myself for every workout I do, saving the money for one or two more extravagant rewards every year. Seeing the coins accumulate in my workout reward jar makes me feel successful and encourages me to get to the gym on those days where my motivation is low.

I seem to be always saving for new shoes…

 

5. Celebrate weight-lifting PR’s; My favourite numbers to keep track of? How many pounds I lift during my a workout. I use the app Strong to record my strength workouts. It has a fun, summary screen that tells you the total number of pounds lifted and reps performed during your workout. The best thing about these types of numbers? You celebrate when they go up!

Kudos to Shayna for “pushing … [her]self a little harder every week at the gym” (and noticing the corresponding changes in her body).

6. Complete a fitness test; Remember those fitness tests you had to take way back in high school? The gym teacher who recorded how many pushups and sit-ups you could do in a row? The stop watch she wore around her neck to time your planks and wall sits? Test yourself monthly and compare your results. Even if your weight loss workout doesn’t specifically include these four exercises, consistent exercise will produce spill-over effects and improvement over time. (Want to improve your pushups? Here are some tips for getting from knees to toes)

Try one of the follow pushup variations. Keep track of how many you can do.

7. Cut your 5K time; Pay attention to how much more quickly you can perform certain activities (and recover from performing them too). Time your runs or your metabolic finishers. Aim to shave a few seconds off each time out.
Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 4.18.18 PM

In just a month, I shaved a 1.5 minutes off this metabolic finisher!

 

8. Peruse your progress pics; You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. When we’re smack dab in the middle of a weight loss goal it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. We focus on what’s not changing and fail to see what is. Taking photographs of yourself (or having someone you trust do it for you) is a great way to objectively see the changes in your body over time.

Try wearing the same, form-fitting clothing in each set of photos (one from the front, one from the side, one from the back); it makes it easier to see progress and you’ll have twice the proof when those clothes start to sag and bag…

ways to measure progress

9. Celebrate streaks; Do you wear a pedometer and count your daily steps? Log your food in MyFitnessPal? Attend 6:00 am Bootcamp Monday through Friday? Why not keep track of how many days in a row you hit your goal? Generating healthy habits is the first step towards weight loss and improved fitness. Focus on the small, day to day steps and the bigger goals will follow.

MyFitnessPal loves to announce streaks to your friends...

MyFitnessPal loves to announce streaks to your friends…

 

10. Focus on how you feel; When it comes right down to it, weight loss and fitness improvement goals are about feeling good. We all want to feel healthy, energetic, happy and light in our own bodies.

As Meg says “feeling good is my wellness scale” (see what she did there? ‘wellness SCALE’?).

What’s YOUR ‘wellness scale’? One of the metrics mentioned above? Or something entirely different?
Share your favourite ways to measure progress towards your fitness and weight loss goals in the comments section below.

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Comments

  1. Great article. Having multiple metrics is definitely the way to go- and if your goal is to be fit and healthy then surely it’s better to find a way of measuring whether you’ve achieved that goal rather than focusing on a number which measures only quantity and not quality!

    If you think about it, people are basically bags of flesh. Would you say “That was a great steak- it was 450g”? So why do so many of us do it with our bodies?

    I’m intrigued by the Skulpt Aim- looks great. Read some reviews on Amazon.com and it sounds like it has issues for quite a few people. First generation technology, eh? It hasn’t made it to China yet (and probably never will), not sure whether I’ll go to the trouble of importing one. Saying that, I’m a bit of a data nerd and I’d quite like to get my hands on one.

    Thanks for another well-thought-out article. Ish

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments Ish. I agree; it’s always good to have a few things to keep track of. Takes the emphasis off any one of them and leads to a more holistic vision of health!
      I haven’t played with my Skulpt Aim enough yet to notice any problems. As with all tech like this, I do wonder about the repeatability of measurements…

  2. Hmm, I mostly care about how my clothes fit and how I feel.
    Coco recently posted…How Do You Show Appreciation?My Profile

  3. As you know – I am a weigher & a how my clothes for person. IT works for me & I don’t get all freaked out but the scale since I have had years of this but I get others do.. the clothes fitting is most important to me though. With age though, I definitely need both due to the age thing… 🙂 I get we all have individual goals & I like to stay leaner for me so…. but as you know, I work hard at it & I have made that decision for me. I applaud others for whatever they want to do.
    Jody – Fit at 57 recently posted…Gratitude Monday for Those the Served, Weekend ScenesMy Profile

  4. Too many people, man or woman are addicted to the scale!! Its not all about numbers. Like you said ask a room full of people about their fitness goals and the majority of them will say weight loss. But during weight loss you can be putting on extra muscle. So when your looking at the scale every week, 2 weeks or monthly and your the same weight or a couple of pounds are adding on it could be muscle or extra body water. I think a way to measure your progress is with clothes. Buy something 1 or 2 sizes smaller and aim to get in that piece of clothing. also its about knowing when you are comfortable with yourself. I have to agree with the first point, when you have a PT session or a fitness assesment at the gym the trainer will measure your inches and each 3 month assessment or couple of weeks, they will see how many inches you have lost.

  5. Thanks for linking up!

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