How to Assess Your Fitness Progress:
Does the Bathroom Scale Tell the Whole Story?
When you are trying to lose weight and get in shape, the first impulse is to jump on the bathroom scale to see how you are progressing. While the scale can tell you whether you have lost (or gained) a pound or two, it does not always precisely reflect the changes that are occurring in your body. Your scale can only measure your total body weight; it does not differentiate between fat, water, bone, lean muscle tissue, or the bowl of cereal you had for breakfast; because of this, it is not necessarily the best tool to keep track of your fitness progress.
Presumably, the reason you are pursuing a fitness program is because you want to reduce the amount of fat in your body and get in shape. There are a number of different ways you can keep track of your progress – a few of them are described here.
Body composition is a measure of the percentages of fat, bone and muscle in your body. There are numerous techniques for measuring body composition; most of them are focused mainly on your body fat percentage. While hydrostatic weighing is considered to be the most accurate method, this technique, which involves submersion in water, is not readily available to most people.
The skin fold method, in which calipers are used to measure subcutaneous fat, is common, but the results are not always accurate. Body mass index, or BMI (a height-weight ratio) is frequently used to determine body composition.
Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA) uses a mild electrical current, which passes through the body and measures the resistance it encounters as it passes through types of tissue. The most accurate results for this technique are achieved in your doctor’s office, under controlled conditions. However, it is possible to purchase a bathroom scale with a BIA function; if you buy one, just be aware that the measurements you get will fluctuate based on the time of day, what you have ingested recently, and your degree of hydration, among other factors.
An easy and effective way to track your fitness progress at home is to take periodic measurements of your body. Use a flexible measuring tape to record your chest, waist, hip, thigh, and upper arm measurements; be sure to measure in the same place each time, at the same time of day whenever possible.
Keep track of how your clothes fit you, as well. If you notice that a shirt that used to stretch over your belly is getting baggy, that is a good sign that you are getting smaller!
Yes, you can use the scale to check your body weight – just don’t rely on it as the only measure of your progress. Be sure to weigh yourself at the same time each day – in the morning, after using the toilet and before you have eaten or drunk anything is the best time, as you will typically be at the same state of hydration at this time each day.
If you are exercising regularly, you will probably notice changes in your fitness level almost immediately. Keep track of your progress by recording, for example, the time that it takes you to walk one mile, or how far you can walk at a brisk, yet comfortable pace in ½ hour. As your body adjusts to your new, healthier lifestyle, you will notice that you are able to stay active longer and that you feel refreshed and energized after a workout.
What is the most effective way to track fitness progress?
There is really no one preferred way to assess your fitness progress. The best answer to this question is that whichever method works for you is the one you should use. However you decide to track your fitness, remember that it is not a good idea to measure every day. Over the short term, your body goes through many different fluctuations which can affect the results you see – hydration, time of day, what you have eaten recently, even your hormone levels can influence your measurements. It is better to evaluate your progress no more than once per week, on the same day and at the same time.
Finally, you should not be discouraged if you don’t see progress every time. Your body goes through various phases of adjustment; even if you don’t see the results you want each time you track your measurements, as long as you stick to your nutrition and exercise program, you will eventually achieve your weight loss goals.
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