Beyond the scale: Five Strategies for Gauging Progress

Quote from a client last week:

"I didn't gain 40 pounds overnight. So I'm not going to lose 40 pounds overnight."

I followed her statement with 17 high fives, a cha cha dance, and a bear hug. (It's okay, she was cool with it.) We were having a conversation about what it takes to stay focused on your fitness routine when you're not seeing the changes, especially on the scale, that you want to see after a few solid weeks or months of training.* 


And I thought her above statement was spot on. We put weight on for a variety of reasons over the years; stress, having children, slower metabolism, maintaining the same diet at 41 as we did at 21, and when we start the journey to take off some of those pounds, the process can feel maddeningly slow. 

So how do you find a way to keep on keeping on when you haven't seen immediate results? 

1. Focus on consistency

Are you getting to the gym three days a week? Have you been doing that for the past month, when you weren't going at all two months ago? That is progress. The saying that has been all over fitness websites recently is that your best rep scheme is 3x52. Show up three times a week, 52 times a year and you WILL see results. I promise. Are you going to see all of those results after only one month? No. 

I know that you want the needle on the scale to move. I know this. And I know you want the waist measurements to go down. And the body fat percentage to go down. But focus on building the routine. The results will follow. 

2. Throw the *^%%$*& measuring stick out the window.

What is your measuring stick? One of the other mom's at the soccer game? The woman next to you on the treadmill? Gwyneth Paltrow? Your scale? What is it? Who is it? 

Throw it out the window. Yes, I just said to throw Gwyneth Paltrow out the window. And I meant it. You've been lifting. You can take her. Comparison is one of our worst enemies. 

3. Focus on performance goals

I'm willing to bet 50 yard line seats to the Pittsburgh Steeler-Baltimore Ravens game that by the time you work your way up to a bodyweight deadlift, you will have seen the results I asked you not to obsess about in number one. 

Change the focus from losing to gaining. Yes you want to lose body fat, but place the focus on your performance - the number of push ups you can do - whether or not you can deadlift your bodyweight - whether or not you can do a chin up - I promise that if you focus on these numbers and not the other numbers, and if you don't eat like a tool** you will see results.

I mean I'm willing to bet Steelers' tickets on that.***

And speaking of results, let's do the math on progress. Say you've been doing 15lb dumbbells for three sets of 10. That's 900lbs your lifting. If you can up that to 20lbs, that means you're lifting 1,200lbs. That's 300lbs more. 

300. Pounds More. 

Don't worry about the scale not moving. Because you can now break it with your bare hands. 

4. Find good people for your corner of the ring

I went to my first cornfield party when I was 16 or 17 years old - we were somewhere in rural Western Pennsylvania, there was a keg, red solo cups, and it was November....Someone had the good sense to burn a tire for heat, and the gathering ended with someone yelling cops and us scattering all over the place.

But what I remember most about the party was people coming up to me and taking my one beer out of my hands (I didn't like the taste anyway). They asked what I was doing there. I remember one guy especially telling me that I was a great softball player, was going to get a scholarship, and that I shouldn't be messing around at parties and lose that opportunity. As he dumped my beer out.

Despite the fact that we were all teenagers with under-developed frontal lobes, most folks knew I wanted to be an athlete and they were encouraging me to stay true to that journey. 

You need to find those kind of people to support you on your journey. You need to find the people who remind you to focus on you and feeling better and that you matter and are important and that good things will happen.

Find these people. Keep these people. 

5. Have a "go to" workout

I'm laid back about most things in my life. I rarely have opinions on plans, restaurants or the organization of my closet. I'm so type B I'm almost a Z. Except with my workouts. I am obsessed with doing whatever routine my coach wrote for me that day. It's taken me a long time to come up with a secondary plan for days when I'm short on time or nursing some minor injuries.

What is plan B? Well, I have a movement day that I keep in my program. And my movement day means that I'm at least going to the gym and foam rolling, warming up, and then doing 3-5 exercises. On days when I'm not feeling up to it, I get to the gym just to do this 20 minute workout. What I've found is that sometimes I feel good enough after the warm up to do the original workout. The key for me is having something in my back pocket that I gives me permission to go easy, but still gets me to the gym.

It keeps me in the routine. 

*By now, most of you know how I feel about using the scale to measure your progress. 

**It's important not to overlook this piece. You can't out-train a really poor diet. But let's focus on building the habit of getting to the gym first. 

***If anyone has tickets to the Steelers-Ravens game....I can be free.