If you’re working out and getting in shape with the goal of losing a few pounds or dropping a clothing size, then you might have already noticed that the scale isn’t always your friend. People that don’t do the research will be dismayed to see their weight going UP after all of that working out!
The reason for this is simple: muscle weighs more than fat. Yes, people will argue that a pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same; that’s true. However, as you start to build muscle from working out, you’re effectively burning the fat that used to be there and gaining muscle! So it comes down to more a question of how much does, say, a cubic inch of fat weigh in comparison to a cubic inch of muscle? That’s where the numbers vary. In this case, fat weighs less.
I’ll tell you something: I weigh myself EVERY day. I do it in the morning, just after I’ve woken up and used the toilet. The numbers are up and down every day, about 1 – 2 pounds (or one kilogram) in either direction. I’m used to it, and I don’t really sweat the scale. I do it more to see if there is any major progress in one way or another, as one to two pounds every day over the course of a week can add up. I just do it to keep score, more or less. I learned a long time ago that you can’t depend on the scale to tell you when you’re doing well!!
So now that we’ve gotten the scale out of the way, let’s talk about how to actually track your progress, if the scale is determined to make you reaffirm to yourself, every day, that numbers don’t mean much. The answer is body measurements.
Body measurements show us what the scale won’t: You’re gaining weight, says the scale, but you’ve lost inches!!!, says the tape. This week, I weigh 3 lbs more than when I started my fitness challenges, but I’ve dropped a jeans size. I won’t complain about the number on the scale.
For people who have never done this before, or never walked into a Victoria’s Secret to get a bra sizing (fun, btw, and rather informative!), it might seem a bit awkward to measure yourself. It’s hard to do the first time, I think, since no one’s done this to us since the Presidential Physical Fitness Campaign during elementary school! My gyno doesn’t do it, and neither does my general doctor. So when do we get it done? Maybe at the gym if you’re meeting with a Personal Trainer. Maybe.
To do it, you need measuring tape. If you don’t have any, they are easy enough to find in the fitness OR sewing department of any store. My tape is the tape I bought as a college student for my fashion and fibers class!
Most workout programs will tell you to measure yourself somewhere between once a week and once a month. I usually do it once every two weeks.
The important places to measure are as follows:
Your chest, at its widest part:
Believe it or not, you lose and gain weight here, as well. The old adage is, ‘last place to gain weight, first place to lose it’, as in, we always want them to be bigger, but when they are it’s probably not a good thing!!!
Your NATURAL waist, at its thinnest part:
Yeah, this one’s not helpful when you’re looking for a pair of jeans. But you’ll see fluctuation here.
Your hips, at the widest part:
The measurement that most people seem to dread: If you’re doing a lot of cardio and running, you’ll see the greatest change here!!
Your thigh, at its widest part (this is near the top, below your behind):
If you’re doing a lot of running, you’ll see the change here, as well as in your hips.
Other places that are suggested for measurements are your calf at its widest, your neck, and the lower waist (I call this the ‘jeans measurement’). I’ve stopped measuring my neck, since that number never seems to change! But maybe it’s good to know if you get a lot of button-down shirts made:)
If you’re doing anything more than barely working out, you’re going to see a change in all of the above locations over time. Don’t rush it, and don’t measure yourself every day! Instead, set a time of day and a regular time of the week to measure yourself.
As I mentioned above, I do these things in the mornings just after I wake up. I chose this time for myself because it’s when my body has the least amount of water in it. I go to the bathroom before I go to bed (I have a highly active bladder) and I generally wake up when I need to use the bathroom again. So when I wake up, I use the toilet and after that, I weigh and measure myself. You can really choose any time of day, I just do it that way because it seems to be when my body is mostly dehydrated, at its ‘actual weight’.
So: don’t worry about the scale says, worry about how your clothes feel and what the tape says.