When most people want to get fit and lose some weight, the first thing they do is weigh themselves. This isn’t always a bad thing don’t get me wrong but this blog post will go into why weighing yourself isn’t always the ideal way to measure progress.
So what exactly does a scale measure? A simple scale measures weight, that’s it. It can not differentiate between bone, muscle, fat, water, clothing etc. Sure you can get more sophisticated scales that come equipped with bio impedance nodes that can estimate your body fat percentage and water levels in your body but your weight in lbs, kgs or stones by itself does not discriminate between your body composition (The different components that make up your body weight).
“Muscle weighs more than fat”
Well, that may not be semantically true because 5lb of fat weighs exactly the same as 5lbs of muscle, muscle is far more dense and compact than fat. If you look at the following image, it will give you an idea of the size difference between 5lbs of fat and 5lb of muscle. As you can clearly see from this picture, muscle takes up less space than fat so whilst you may weigh the same when you burn fat and gain lean muscle mass, you’ll be leaner by result and that’s what you’re going for, not just weight loss.
Muscle is good!
If you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you’ll know that muscle not only looks good but from a metabolic point of view, it is active. This means that it burns calories at rest (unike fat) and the more lean muscle tissue you have on your body, the more calories you’re burning at rest. Because of this fact as well as the fact that muscle provides you with other benefits such as protection, injury prevention, strength and power and aesthetics, it is important to preserve as much of it as possible when trying to lose weight. The trouble with just weighing yourself as an indication of your fitness progress is that you can think you’re losing a lot of weight and think you’re making progress when in fact you’re losing muscle too. This is typical of people who rely on crash diets and little to no resistance training in their fitness regimen
Scales don’t tell you if you lose muscle
And conversely they don’t tell you if you’re gaining muscle either. One of the biggest complaints people make when they start to work out and eat healthier is that they have either stopped losing weight or are actually putting some on. Unless you do a body composition test (fat test), then chances are you may be wrong and you’re likely gaining muscle from working out and eating better. Whilst you’re still losing weight, the gained muscle weighs more than the fat you’ve lost per so don’t be discouraged, remember the scale is not a great indicator of progress overall!
A better approach
Okay, without contradicting myself too much, weighing yourself isn’t all that bad providing it’s part of a bigger picture. Because weight loss could be from fat, water or muscle (in fact, for most people just starting a weight loss and fitness regimen, initial weight loss is usually contributed to water loss in the first week or two!), it is good to measure other areas too to track progress. these include your body composition through fat tests, measurements, heart rate and fitness levels.
Measuring body fat can be done in various ways, whilst the most accurate methods are often the most impractical (such as hydrostatic testing which sees you being placed in a dunk tank), some are more practical such as having a professional such as a personal trainer give you a skin caliper test if they’re qualified. You can also use bio impedance tests such as those found in body fat scales. Whilst they are not as accurate, they are certainly the most convenient. Just be consistent and use it as a guide to seeing if you’re losing body fat as opposed to a factual representation of your body fat percentage.