• Brian Tully, MS, EP-C

8 Ways to Measure Progress Beyond The Scale


(As printed in Leland Magazine)

In my article last month, I suggested that the scale could be one of the contributors to your lack of weight loss and that using the scale to track progress was not the best way to go. The better way to track your progress would be to use the 8 measurement methods listed below.

To use them properly you will need to use them at the start of an exercise program and check them regularly. I find monthly to be a decent amount of time to allow for some progress to be seen and still keep you motivated.

Energy Levels – How is your stamina level during the workout and in daily activities, do you need less rest between exercises; are you able to play with your kids or grandkids for longer stretches before needing a break; are you feeling more alert and focused. How to measure: each evening make a notation of how your energy levels were that day; this can be a simple rating on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being excellent.

Aches and Pains – a proper workout regimen will create more strength and stability around the joints, which will contribute to more efficient movement; this combination of improved stability and efficient movement should decrease the aches and pains of specific movements and every day life. How to measure: take note at the start of the program of any specific aches and pains you have and rate each of these aches and pains on a scale of 1 to 10. It is still progress if the ache diminishes from an 8 to a 6, not just when it is gone all together, which is the ultimate progress.

Flexibility & Range of Motion – this is really about freedom of movement. Proper flexibility and range of motion keeps the body from having to fight itself and compensate to make the movement happen. Both of which create aches and pains, injury, and diminished energy levels. How to measure: using specific tests you can actually measure and track over time, the range of motion and ease of movement at each of the major sections of the body (hips, shoulder, thoracic spine, neck, etc.).

Body Composition – when you step on the scale you are measuring your total mass, but your mass is made up of lean mass (non-fat mass) and fat mass (body fat). The general goal is to lower the fat mass while increasing the lean mass. And if you are successful at this, the scale may not reflect much of anything. For example, let’s say your body composition measurement shows that you lost 4 lbs of fat mass and gained 4 lbs of lean mass. The scale would show a net change of 0 lbs lost; when in fact you made a significant, positive change to your body. How to measure: there are several tools and methods of measuring your body composition that range in level of accuracy. However even with the least accurate method, if you keep the variables consistent, you will be able to track trends over time to insure that you are moving in the right direction.

Strength/Muscular Endurance – the ability to overcome a greater amount of resistance by moving more weight one time, move the same amount of weight more times, hold a position for a longer period of time, or need less rest between sets. These are all measures of progress that create a stronger, more durable body. How to measure: track your workouts; write down the exercises you do along with the amount of resistance, number of reps, and amount of rest between sets. Try to match or beat the last performance each time.

Visual Appearance – the changes you are seeing in the mirror, the comments that friends and family members are making (they tend to see it before you do), the way your clothes are fitting. How to measure: take pictures in the same bathing suit and compare them side by side over time; or take note how a specific pair of jeans is fitting from month to month.

Circumference Measurements – as you increase lean mass and decrease fat mass, different areas of the body will expand or contract. Taking a direct site measurement of multiple site locations shows exactly what is happening. How to measure: use a cloth tape measure at the different circumference sites (waist, hips, thigh, chest, arm, etc.) and record the measurements for comparison.

Scale – yes the scale is still a valid measurement tool although I vilified it in my previous article. But it is just that…a measurement tool, that when used as a part of a progress tracking plan with many other elements can help paint the whole picture. It is when it is used as your sole measurement of progress that problems can arise.

In order to see progress in these items, you must take note of where you started and check your progress on a regular basis. Be specific as possible with each of the items above to insure you will recognize all progress being made. Some of them mention using specific measurement tools like a tape measure or simply taking pictures, others will be more subjective and require honest ratings. However using the above elements as a more holistic view of your progress will shed light on the fact that your exercise is improving your body and your life, even if the scale does not show the numbers you want to see right away. Focus on the positives and stay the course. The better you feel, the more you will move. The real progress will be found in your consistency over the long haul, which will allow you to be fit to handle all your life has to offer.


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