I can get anyone to lose 5 pounds with one simple trick. I put them in a steam room for an hour and don’t allow them to drink anything! But of course, for most people, that’s not the point of losing weight. This simple fact begs the question, if losing water weight isn’t the end goal, then does what the scale says even matter? Our weight fluctuates to a dramatic degree throughout the day based on all sorts of things. Are you hydrated? Did you use the bathroom recently? Have you eaten yet? Are you sick? Are you stressed? Even your sleep can play a roll in weight fluctuation. That’s why I want to talk about the physical and mental signs of improvement that make the scale irrelevant!
First Things First
For the most part, people want to see two things happen. They want to see themselves lose fat, and gain muscle. But there are so many more benefits to exercise than that. So I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to write down exactly what their goals are. Once you have a goal/goals in mind, you can start to take action and monitor the outcomes of your efforts. I don’t want to get too side-tracked here, so here are some easy steps to start taking action today.
Write down one outcome you want. Don’t over-think it. Just name the desired outcome you want most right now.
Write down some of the skills you think you’ll need to get that outcome. If you’re just starting out, focus on foundation skills. What are the basics that make everything else possible? (For instance, if you want to manage your time, you need to learn to use a calendar.)
Related to each skill, write down a behavior or two you can do today that’ll help build those skills. This can be really easy, like walking through the gym doors or even packing your gym bag for tomorrow morning.
Do the behavior today, and tomorrow, and so on. And, keep in mind, if you don’t follow through on a given day, don’t let it derail you. Each day is a clean slate.
By The Numbers
Some of the best physical markers of success are easy to see, while others take some time and equipment to measure. So for each marker, I will give you the scientific way to go about reaching it, and the DIY version.
Body Composition – This is perhaps the most revealing assessment (1). Your body composition is the ration of fat mass to lean mass (muscle, bone, water, etc.). There are loads of ways to measure this marker from the gold standard Bod Pod and X-rays, to skin fold measures, to the less accurate bio-electrical impermanence (BIA). For all intents and purposes, the BIA does a good enough job for most people and is a cheep option via a smart scale or hand held device. Seeing your body fat percentage go down and muscle mass go up is always a great feeling!
Waist Line – Using a hip to waist ratio is an easy way to self assess your overall health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/215214492). Seeing your waist line go down is an even easier way to see improvement because your clothes will begin to fit better! It’s hard not to take notice of improvement when you’re having to buy smaller pant sizes after all.
Labs – It will certainly make your doctor happy to see lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. These measurements can assess risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. For the most part, these need to be measured at your doctor’s office, but most pharmacies have free equipment for measuring blood pressure (3).
Heart Rate – This is a twofer because both your resting heart rate and working heart rate are important health markers. Watching your resting heart rate decrease over time means that you are becoming more cardio-vascularly fit (4). Having your heart rate stay stable while exercising means that your body is accustomed to doing work, which is a great sign! Testing this is simple. You can count how many times your heart beats in a minute by taking your pulse, or simply buy a heart rate monitor.
Better, Faster, Stronger – One of the most gratifying indicators of improvement is seeing your body change. You are able to see your muscles in the mirror and witness your strength increase. It always feels good to add an extra weight plate to your barbell!
State of Mind
Signs of progress also happen in the form of mental health. How you feel throughout the day and during a workout can be great indicators of improvement. So take mental note or keep a journal to document your improvement in these indicators of success.
Exercise Excitement – Okay, so not everyone enjoys exercising. In fact, most people loath going to the gym. But everyone can agree that we feel better after a workout. That’s why dreading going to the gym less and making exercise a part of your identity over time is a great indicator of improvement.
Energizer – While everyone has an off day here or there, having an off week or month can be downright frustrating. That’s why keeping note of your day-to-day energy & stress levels is an exhilarating way to experience positive changes from your efforts.
Zzzzzzz – Your sleep can be influenced by stress, aging, hormonal changes, being a new parent, getting too much light late at night, jet lag, and so on. But nutrition and exercise can play a role as well. A regular sleep schedule can be a great way to monitor your improvement as well as improve your performance at the gym and in life (5)!
Mood – Stability and improvement in your mood are also fun ways to mark your improvement. Feeling confident, clearer-headed, happier and more positive, motivated, and more open to trying new things can be subtle but very meaningful markers of improvement.
1. Gale, C. R., Martyn, C. N., Cooper, C., & Sayer, A. A. (2007;2006;). Grip strength, body composition, and mortality. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36(1), 228-235. doi:10.1093/ije/dyl224
2. Czernichow, S., Kengne, A. ‐., Stamatakis, E., Hamer, M., & Batty, G. D. (2011). Body mass index, waist circumference and waist–hip ratio: Which is the better discriminator of cardiovascular disease mortality risk? evidence from an individual‐participant meta‐analysis of 82 864 participants from nine cohort studies. Obesity Reviews, 12(9), 680-687. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00879.x
3. Nagaya, T., Yoshida, H., Takahashi, H., & Kawai, M. (2010). Resting heart rate and blood pressure, independent of each other, proportionally raise the risk for type-2 diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Epidemiology, 39(1), 215-222. doi:10.1093/ije/dyp229
4. Fox, K., Borer, J. S., Camm, A. J., Danchin, N., Ferrari, R., Lopez Sendon, J. L., . . . Heart Rate Working Group. (2007). Resting heart rate in cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 50(9), 823-830. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.04.079
5. JACKOWSKA, M., DOCKRAY, S., ENDRIGHI, R., HENDRICKX, H., & STEPTOE, A. (2012). Sleep problems and heart rate variability over the working day. Journal of Sleep Research, 21(4), 434-440. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.00996.x