Progress By The Numbers
I haven’t been a big fan of using numbers such as body weight and body fat to track progress over the past few years. In fact, I have pretty much avoided weighing myself or taking any kind of measurements for that matter.
It wasn’t until a recent discussion with Paul that I stopped to consider the value there may be in using numbers to chart my progress. After all, why not use every tool that is available to you?
We talked about why I rarely weighed myself. I guess one of the main reasons is because I didn’t want to see a measurement that may have a negative impact on me mentally. If I should see the scale go down, I may perceive this as a loss of muscle which we all know isn’t necessarily true. Either way, I didn’t want to subject myself to a potentially disappointing readout.
The same is true in the other direction. I didn’t want a high number on the scale to be misleading to me. An increase in weight isn’t always good if the largest percent of it is from the addition of unwanted body fat.
I never checked my body fat for similar reasons. I didn’t want to be disappointed by a higher reading than I expected. After all, no news is good news. Right?
That is when Paul explained to me a new and different way to use measurements and how they could work to my advantage. The first step is interpreting the numbers correctly and not getting psyched out by them. After all, your measurements are going to be the same whether you know them or not so you might as well know where you are coming from.
When you take your initial readings, it doesn’t really matter what the absolute numbers are. In other words, your actual weight and body fat readings are not relevant but they will give you a starting frame of reference. If you chart the numbers over a span of time you can use them to watch for trends, either good or bad.
As the weeks go by you will be able to see the progression in comparison to your original measurements and this will give you a more precise indication of your exact progress. If you see your lean body mass increasing and your body fat going down, you know something good is happening and vice versa, regardless of the exact numbers.
You should also be aware that your measurements, especially body fat percentage, may not be 100% accurate depending on the methods you are using to determine it and the conditions under which you are being measured. This is an important factor to keep in mind and another reason why the exact number is not that important.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say your body fat comes out to be 15% but in actuality suppose it is 10%. It doesn’t really matter because the number is only a frame of reference. The important thing is that you recreate the same conditions every time you get measured and use the same methods. This way you can track it and watch the changes over time. If all conditions are constant and your reading is 5% lower, you have obviously lost body fat.
The more I thought about it, the more agreed that charting my weight and body fat for the first time ever would be both useful and interesting. We could use this as another assessment tool to evaluate the successfulness of my contest preparation. This would also be a way to help indicate if I need to make any adjustments to my approach.
So Paul mapped out a protocol for me to use. To keep the conditions as consistent as possible and to make sure my body is in roughly the same hydrated state, he suggested I step on the scale at approximately the same time every day. I would start by weighing myself and taking body fat measurements for three straight days. This would give us an average and an initial point of reference. After that I will weigh myself and check my body fat once a week. I will continue to chart my progress over several weeks and monitor the trends that occur.
The method of measurement we are going to use is a Tanita Body Composition Scale. This is a state of the art scale that gives you a complete body composition analysis in the matter of a few seconds.
The Tanita scale uses bioelectrical impedance to measure body fat. Bioelectrical impedance works by sending an electrical signal through your body and measuring the resistance level of the current. This is based on the fact that lean tissue has high water content and is a good conductor of electricity and fat tissue contains a lower percent of water and is a poor conductor. After the current is passed through and the resistance is measured some important assessments can be made including: total body water, lean body mass, and fat mass.
Bodybuilding contests are won or lost during the weeks and months before the show. When you step on stage you’d better be ready or it is too late. As you prepare you don’t want to leave any stones unturned. Using measurements will help give me a more exact indication of my progress that I can combine with visual assessments. The two methods should work well together to make sure I am on the right on track.