Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why Do We Measure Success With a Scale?

By: Andrew Jagim

Progress should be measured using measure of performance rather than a number on a scale or body composition test. Yes, everyone likes to look better in the mirror or wow people at your high school reunion by looking slim and trim. However, I would make the argument that measuring your fitness success using strength or performance measures may be more worth your while in the long run and less mentally stressful.

People will sometimes drive themselves crazy obsessing over calories in versus calories out and always making nutrition and/or exercise-related decisions based on fat loss.  Whereas, if increasing the number of push-ups you can do, or improving your back squat 1 RM by 50 lbs becomes your main priority, it shifts your focus more on improving yourself instead of how you do/don't look good enough. If you concentrate on improving performance and re-fueling using proper nutrient intakes including vitamins & minerals the weight loss goals should take care of themselves and rather act as secondary outcome of your performance based goals.

Otherwise you may obsess over what the scale says, what your body fat percentage is or what you look like in the mirror and therefore may look to un-healthy practices to achieve a "healthy" appearance. I'd like to expand on this topic a little more as it can be confusing.  Just because someone appears to be "healthy" whether it's a low body fat percent or they appear really lean or toned doesn't mean that they are in fact "healthy." Some people may go to extreme measures by following restrictive diets, or excessive amounts of exercise to get the body they think they want. And sure, they may look like they have the perfect body but in reality they may have an eating disorder, or are overtrained or have nagging injuries that they have neglected due to their obsessions over their quest for the perfect body.  As it unfolds, their bodies are on the verge of breaking down and they are far from healthy.  I know because I've been there. I went through a period of training where I was determined to get a six-pack and see how lean I could get. Long-story short, it worked. I had the six-pack, I looked very lean and my body fat percent got down to ~5% as determined via under water weighing. However, I had such bad tendonitis in my elbows I could hardly wash my face. My knees ached from all of the cardio I was doing and my friends kept making comments along the lines of "....are you on drugs?......are you sick or something?" They could tell I did not look right and wasn't my usual self.

Unfortunately my story is more common that it should be and shame on my right? Someone who has made health and fitness their career should know better. As I mentioned earlier, this is more common than it should be and I know too many coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts who have a similar story.

So how do you avoid this slippery slope?
Focus on getting better whether it's betting stronger, more powerful, improving muscular endurance or aerobic capacity; maybe this means improving your back squat PR, or finally being able to complete a pull-up or breaking your last 5K performance.  Whatever your fitness/training goal is make it performance related. Shift the focus to an exercise-specific task rather than a body-weight one.  When you do this it forces you to focus on the nuts and bolts of a training program; meaning you will be exercising to improve your physical performance, eating to facilitate recovery and prepare you for your next training session.

Most of the time your body composition will take care of itself and you will naturally increase lean muscle mass and decrease fat-mass which in turn will help you achieve a healthy body weight and composition which is usually a common goal of most people. So ditch the scale, don't look in the mirror and instead start logging your workouts to start focusing on how your body is performing!

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