The blueprint for weight loss is simple (in theory):
- You set a target body weight (TBW) you want to achieve with a deadline.
- You come up with a fancy-pants strategy for achieving your TBW.
- Once you have a strategy in writing, you start. Even if you think you’re not ready. You just start (go YOU! ?????).
That brings you to the fourth step—collecting data of your progress (feedback) and adjusting your strategy depending on results.
Some people avoid tracking weight loss progress because it can be painful. Painful to see that their strategy is crappy and it doesn’t work.
But that’s what measuring progress is for—to identify if your plan is working. If it doesn’t work, you use that feedback and adjust so that it would freakn’ work.
The more data you have, the more objective adjustments you can make. That said, here are three low-tech and economical ways to measure your progress:
1. Bodyweight Scales
Weight fluctuations of 3-5 pounds (1.3-2.3 kg) are common between my clients. Your body can fluctuate because of:
- Sleep patterns
- Bowel movements
- Water intake
- How close you ate to weighing in
- Salt and carbohydrate intake
- Menstrual cycle
It’s important to understand that all the above results in water retention but they have nothing to do with fat gain. It’s also important to realize that day-to-day weight fluctuations are normal.
The wrong way to weigh yourself is to do it once a week. Say you weigh-in on Sunday. It’s 153 pounds. You weigh-in the next Sunday and it’s 154.1. You’re like:
You stress out, you think your diet isn’t working thus, you make an Olympic-level leap to conclusions—cut calories to an ungodly low level and start exercising the shit out of yourself. Everything becomes unsustainable and you putter out.
Now look at the same example but this time you make daily weigh-ins and take a weekly average:
That’s why it’s so important to look at the averages. They smooth out daily fluctuations.
So weigh yourself daily, first thing in the morning after bathroom stuff is done. Then, take a weekly average (7 days of data divided by 7). Now you have a more objective number which you should compare with the previous week’s average.
Like a personal trainer, Tom Venuto, observed,
Looking at stock market charts, the short-term peaks and valleys shouldn’t alarm you. People who invest wisely and hold almost always win in the long term compared to people who panic during brief market fluctuations or jump on random tips. It’s the same with your body. It’s a positive trend over time that should interest you the most.
Look at the scale merely as a tool to collect data. Don’t get obsessed with daily fluctuations. It’s just data. It doesn’t tell anything about you as a person. The scale controls you only as much as you allow it to.
Women weight fluctuations due to the menstrual cycle:
Your weight will increase the week before a monthly menstrual cycle. Again, it’s just water weight. Don’t freak out. Stay consistent with weigh-ins and wait until your weight stabilizes after your cycle. Often, you will be happy to see that as much as 4-5 pounds can flush away overnight. Hooray!
2. Waist Girth Measurements
If your waist girth is going down, you can be almost confident that your body fat is going down too. Your body works its bippity-boppity-boo magic and you need to stay consistent with what you doing.
You can measure your hips, thighs, arms, or any other circumference too but I recommend my clients to focus only on the waist as it reflects not only the subcutaneous fat that’s under your skin but also the intraabdominal, visceral fat (that fat sucks all the donkey balls in the world. You need to deal with it).
Measurements should be taken first thing in the morning after bathroom stuff is done. Blow out as much air as you can, then tighten your core as if you’re about to be dragon-punched in a stomach. Remain upright!
This will make measurements more objective as there can be a significant variation if you “pooch” your belly out.
Measure waist girth once per week under the same conditions every time by measuring three times at the belly button area. Then, take an average.
Again, look at changes in waist girth over a longer period. Weekly measurements mean jack shit.
3. Strength Changes
Successful weight loss can be considered successful only if you lose fat and preserve/gain muscle mass in the process. Strength changes in the gym is a good indicator of whether you’re holding on or losing muscle mass.
If the scale is going down and strength is holding/increasing, it’s a good indicator that you are holding on to muscle mass while losing body fat (well done, pat yourself on the back).
By the same token, if you’re going down in strength, muscle mass losses will follow (your strategy sucks ballz, fix it).
So make sure to keep a training journal. Unless you’re some kind of sorcerer and you have a photographic memory which is very unlikely, there’s no friggn’ chance you can recall exercises, sets, repetitions, and weights you have used the last workout.
By logging your workouts, you will know your previous workouts which will help you plan your future workouts accordingly.
You don’t have to be too meticulous about tracking workouts. Track your main lifts as they are the best indicators of your overall body strength levels. That would be:
- Squat (full-ass squats, if you can)
- Deadlift (keep your back straight, don’t act like you’re intoxicated)
- Hip Thrust (posterior pelvic tilt and squeeze the shit out of your glutes)
- Barbell bench press (squeeze your shoulder blades together as you squeeze your butt cheeks when on a verge of pooping yourself)
- RDL (keep the barbell in contact with your thighs like you always keep your iPhone 5 inches from your face)
- Chin up/Pull up (depress your scapular like… I’ve run out of imagination…)
A good training journal will contain the name of the exercises done, the sets, reps, and the weight you lifted in every set.
If you want to track all exercises, I’m not gonna stop you. Just know it will take more time and effort.
This article will teach you how to design your own workout plan.
I Got My Data. Now What, Egis?
Now that you have more numbers and averages than Cosmo has freaky sex tips, what the heck should you do with all that crap? How should you interpret it?
Here’s a cheat sheet I’ve made to help you with understanding your progress:
This table isn’t complete but it’s a good starting point.
Always remember that if you’re not progressing, your diet fucking sucks. You can have the best goddamn workout program in the world but if your nutrition consists of McDonald’s for brekky which you eat until you’re sick, you need to sort that shit out.
Once you’ve made adjustments, make sure to give it at least two weeks before assessing your progress again.
Also, don’t start changing more than one variable at a time. If you change more than one thing at a time, you won’t be able to identify that one cause for the lack of progress.
Again, don’t sweat over daily changes. They don’t mean jack. Weekly changes give you cues at possible trends. Monthly changes tell the full story of what direction you’re headed.
Heaps of weeks and months are wasted because people fail to make themselves accountable for their actions and their results. Tracking progress keeps you accountable. So start doing it.