Measure Your Losses and Make Gains in the Gym

You’ve set a fitness goal and are working hard to reach it before the wedding, class reunion, family photo, trip to Cancun or shopping for jeans. You are logging hours in the gym and are determined to reach your goal, but how do you know how you’re doing? Are you on track or jumping the tracks?

The tried and true way to ensure your training program is leading you in the right direction—toward your goal—is to regularly take objective physical measurements. Whether you want to lose or gain pounds or inches, make measuring a part of your routine so you will know if you are staying on track. Here’s how.

What to Measure: Establish a Baseline

  • Document what your body looks like when you begin your fitness journey. Take pictures—front, side, back. File away and pull out monthly to check in. Own where your magnificent body is right now. You will be astonished at the changes on the way.
  • Use a tape measure (dressmaker’s are about $2 to $4) to take circumference measurements. Ask a friend to help, or check in with a personal trainer to see if he or she provides this service. Save these measurements! These form the basis for your most accurate and revealing information—you will refer to them monthly:
    1. neck (midway)
    2. biceps (relaxed, midway upper arm)
    3. shoulders (around widest part)
    4. chest (just above the nipples)
    5. waist (right about the height of your navel)
    6. hips (typically at the widest below your navel)
    7. thighs (midway)
    8. calves (midway)
  • Get a body composition analysis. This simple procedure measures the ratio of lean body mass (LBM—muscles, bones, cartilage) to fat body mass (FBM—fat) and provides a relative “inner picture” of where your body could stand to lose or gain weight. Much more relevant and informative than what you get from the scales, check with your gym, personal trainer, or look into purchasing your own bio-impedance, hand-held analyzer.

A word of caution: It’s easy to obsess about your FBM to LBM ratio. Consider a body composition analysis as just another tool to measure relative progress and—like weighing yourself—your numbers will be influenced by how hydrated you are, whether you’ve just exercised, and what, when and how much you’ve eaten prior to the analysis. Measure monthly as best practice. And, as with the scales, measure at the same time, same clothing, same hydration each time you take a body composition analysis.

Last and least important in my book: Go ahead and hop on the scale. You’ll need the number for your body composition analysis. However, know this: The scale is not your best friend and can often be your worst enemy. Your weight fluctuates on any given day depending on how much water you’ve had to drink and/or whether you are retaining water; what you ate the night before; where you are in your cycle (women); how well you slept; how much and when you exercised before you jumped on the scale; increased muscle mass (good); and other mysterious factors—not the least of which is the accuracy of the scale. Spend your energy on working out and eating the right foods for your body, not obsessing about what the scale says. Just say no.

Note: If you must weigh, be consistent—weigh at the same time on weigh-in days, on the same scale, and preferably with the same or no clothes on. Chart your fluctuations over time. But keep it all in perspective.

Once you have your baseline established, examine your goal, adjust as necessary, and set up periodic measurements to track and compare your progress.

My favorite tool of all is how well—or not—my clothes fit. Kind of puts all my effort in perspective. If I like how my clothes are fitting, I know I’m on track. By using the tools listed above, your chances of dropping that dress size or cinching up your belt will be improved considerably. Remove the guesswork from your fitness routine: Measure and move forward with confidence.

Go Well!