The scale is normally the primary (and only) measurement used to track progress when it comes to a fat loss (or weight gain) goal. There are lots of other ways to track progress (I will mention them later in the article), but for the majority the scale is the main attraction.
The problem is that most people don’t know how to use it properly.
This causes a lot of negative association and shame around weight loss.
First thing that you need to know when using the scale to track progress is understanding that weight can and will fluctuate throughout the day and day to day. The reasons for these fluctuations range from: hormonal changes, water weight, food intake, training and activity levels, time of day, and sleep just to name a few. The two main culprits you run into when you look at one single weigh-in are inflammation after an intense training session which makes you retain water and increase carbohydate consumption after an intense training session (or bad weekend) to aid in recovery which increases water retention. This is the reason why you need to track your weight over weeks consistently, not randomly before making any changes.
To go deeper this means you need to track your weight at least 3 days a week at the same time and day(s) (preferably first thing in the morning before you eat, after you use the bathroom, butt naked) for at least two weeks before you make any adjustments to your diet or training regime. This allows you to get real data on how your weight actually fluctuates and whether you’re actually moving in the right direction.
What most people do is check their weight randomly like on Monday morning after having a bad weekend, then they either get discouraged or upset because now they have to spend the next day or two making up for eating poorly on the weekend. If they don’t give up they eventually get their weight back to where they think it should be then continue to repeat that cycle. The issue with this is there’s no structure to see your patterns and you don’t have a plan for how to handle the weekend (which is a different topic for another time).
Once you determine the days and times you will track your weight; you should then take a weekly average (adding up your weight of all the days you tracked divided by the amount of days you tracked) to see if there was an increase or decrease in weight.
Example: Clients Initial Weigh-in is 200lb (Goal is 180lbs); decides to track weight first thing in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.
Week 1: Monday: 201lbs, Wednesday: 198lbs, Saturday: 199lbs
Weekly Average Weight = 199.3lbs; Weekly Change from initial weigh in = -0.7lbs
When you’ve tracked your weight for at least two weeks you can take a weekly average and make adjustments accordingly.
Continuing the example above:
Week 2: Monday: 199lbs, Wednesday: 197lbs, Saturday: 198lbs
Week Average Weight = 198lbs; Weekly Average (Weight change from week 1 to week 2) = -1.3lbs
In this case the client is moving in the right direction because they’re weight has gone down both weeks. For a fat loss goal the average weight loss is 0.5-1% of total body weight weekly. For the 200lb person used in the example above that’s about 1-2lbs per week.
Disclaimer: the percentage of weight loss will be a lot lower for most people because your diet is not set up correctly (or your metabolism will change while you’re in a fat loss phase which is a sign you need to make adjustments), your not training effectively (too much cardio and not enough resistance training or too little movement and exercise), they don’t have a plan for the weekend (this is typically what messes most people up), or there are some hormonal issues that need to be addressed. Also a single week increase in weekly average may not necessarily call for any major changes to be made; for instance if your weekly average came out to be 1-2lb weight gain it could be for a number of reasons and may be best to give it another week to see if there's a trend.
Other Methods To Track Progress
When it comes to fat loss being the goal, the number on the scale does have some importance, but it shouldn’t be the only tool you're using to track progress.
Other Ways To Track Progress:
Consistency (Especially in the beginning this is huge)
Strength Gains (Every Mesocycle - typically 2-6 weeks)
Progress Pictures/Body Circumference Measurements (Every 4-6 weeks)
Increased Energy Level & Improved Sleep
Health Biomarkers (Long-term changes)
More Advanced Methods:
Skinfold Measurements (Weekly or Every 4 Weeks) - Gives you relative body fat changes along with other track parameters
Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (Every Change in Phase of Training) - Gives you an idea of relative changes at the start of each phase of training. Direct number may be inaccurate, but the direction of change is reliable.
Dexa/Bod-Pod/Hydrostatic Weighing (Every 10-16 weeks or 6 months) - One of the best methods when tracking long-term changes in body composition accurately if done under the same conditions every time.
It’s clear that by simply tracking your progress using the scale won’t get the results you want; your diet, training plan, sleep, activity level outside of training, stress, and relationships will affect your progress as well. But, if you're not tracking or measuring at all you won’t know whether or not you need to adjust. I’d also recommend you to log your food for at least two weeks to get a clear picture on your eating habits to make more informed changes.
If you found value in this article please leave a comment and share it with friends and family who are looking to make changes.
Thank you Coach Wendell.