In 2015, I ran my fastest marathon yet while weighing 20 pounds more than when I ran my first one six years earlier. If this simple story doesn’t sum up the issue of the scale as an inaccurate measure of fitness, then I don’t know what does.
During my career as a runner and an athlete, I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how weight can play an unhealthy and unnecessary role when it comes to perception of health, fitness and self-esteem.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to gauge and measure progress without the scale.
Pay Attention to How Your Clothes Fit
If your exercise goal is to slim down and tone up, the scale can be a misleading judge of progress. Although increased exercise and a healthy diet will help you shed a few pounds, it will also likely increase your muscle mass. Because muscle weighs more than fat, it might appear as if you’re making less progress than you think when you step on the scale.
A better way to assess whether you’re getting the results you want is to measure target body areas like your arms, hips and thighs. Or, simply keep track of how your clothes fit. If your jeans and sweaters feel a little less snug, then you’re making progress.
Track Your Speed, Strength and Endurance
Weight plays only a small role in your level of fitness. In fact, if you’re underweight, it can actually inhibit your performance. A better way to measure your level of fitness is to track your gains during a race, at the gym or in a match.
If you lift weights, keep a diary of your reps and max weights to track yourself getting stronger. If you play a competitive sport, write down how many points, wins and good plays you were responsible for. If you’re a runner like me, it’s fairly simple to keep track of progress. Simply take note of your race and training run times using a running app or on paper as a measure of success.
Assess Your Energy Levels
I know I’m one of many exercisers who claims that working out regularly helps me feel more energized. In fact, research confirms that moderate exercise can “keep you sharper into old age, give you more energy to take on the day, and improve your mood.” If you find yourself experiencing these benefits of exercise, then it’s safe to say you’re making progress on the fitness front.
I hope these tips will encourage you to measure progress without the scale. Weight is just one small factor in a person’s overall health, so don’t let a number play an unnecessary role in your perception of progress.