Let’s face it.
A big reason we work out is to look good.
Yes, there are many other benefits beyond the physical, but what we see in the mirror every day matters. A lot.
And this is where the mirror can mislead.
You see, it takes longer than most of us realize to see marked changes in our appearance, and when the squishy parts don’t transform as quickly as we’d hoped, it’s easy to lose heart.
It can feel like all that work in the kitchen and gym is more or less for naught.
Well, if you learn to track your body composition properly, you can avoid these problems because you’ll know exactly what is or isn’t happening with your physique, and you’ll be able to then adjust your diet and exercise accordingly.
It’s pretty easy, too. There are just three steps:
- Weigh yourself daily and calculate weekly averages.
- Take weekly body measurements.
- Take weekly progress pictures.
That’s all you have to do to always have an accurate snapshot of your body composition and a clear idea of which direction things are going in.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
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Most people are way too fixated on their weight.
If you focus on losing fat and not muscle, though, you’ll get dramatically better results in the end.
All that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your weight, though. It is an important indicator of what’s happening with your body composition.
For example, if you need to lose quite a bit of fat, then your weight is going to ultimately go down, even if you gain muscle along the way.
So, tracking your weight is a good idea, if you do it correctly. And most people don’t.
You see, most people weigh themselves in one of two ways:
- Every day
- Once every week or two
And both of these methods can lead you astray.
The problem with relying on daily weigh-ins is fat loss isn’t a perfect, linear process.
Your weight will fluctuate day-to-day due to things like water retention, glycogen stores, and bowel movements (or lack thereof), so just because you’re up or down from yesterday or three days ago doesn’t necessarily mean you gained or lost fat.
By the same token, if you weigh yourself just once every week or two, you can have a “bad” weigh-in and think you’ve gained fat when you haven’t (or a “false positive” weigh-in and think you’ve lost fat when you haven’t).
That’s why I recommend that you weigh yourself every day and calculate an average every week, and that you pay attention to the averages, not the individual days.
That gives you a much more accurate picture of your true body weight. If the average is going up, you can rest assured you’re gaining muscle and/or fat, and if it’s going down, you’re losing it.
Here’s how you do it:
- Note down your weight every day.
Weigh yourself in the morning, naked, after you’ve used the bathroom.
- Add up your weigh-ins for the last Monday through Sunday.
(7 days of weigh-ins.)
- Divide the sum by 7.
And voila, you now have your average daily weight for the last week. Do that every Sunday and you’ll have a data set worth paying attention to.
Here’s an example of how this might look:
Monday: 175 pounds
Tuesday: 174 pounds
Wednesday: 176 pounds
Thursday: 174 pounds
Friday: 172 pounds
Saturday: 173 pounds
Sunday: 173 pounds
Total weekly weigh-ins: 1217 pounds
Average daily weight: 1217 pounds / 7 days = 173.9
Even when tracked properly, your weight alone doesn’t tell you how your body composition is changing.
That is, it doesn’t tell if you’re gaining or losing muscle or fat–just that you’re gaining or losing something.
“Newbie gains” also render body weight less important than many people think.
If you’re new to weightlifting and have fat to lose, you can expect to gain muscle and lose fat the same time, and that means your weight may not change as much as you expect
(I’ve seen some pretty dramatic transformations where weight only changed by 10 to 15 pounds.)
All this is why I recommend that you record several other body measurements every week in addition to your weight.
Body fat calipers are clamps that measure the thickness of your skin, and they’re a simple and reliable way to keep tabs on your body fat percentage.
This usually entails taking multiplier measurements across your body, but that’s not necessary for the purposes of this article.
Instead, I recommend you get this caliper and take just one measurement per week and watch how it changes.
Here’s how to do it:
Simply put, if this measurement is going up, you’re probably gaining fat. If it’s going down, you’re probably losing fat.
(I say probably because large fluctuations in water retention can influence these readings, although less than body weight.)
This is another reliable indicator of fat gain and loss, and is very easy to do.
With your stomach relaxed (no sucking in!), circle your waist with a measuring tape, like a belt, just above your belly button (your natural waistline), and pull it snug, but not tight enough to depress the skin.
Note the measurement down and you’re done.
These three measurements—weight, caliper, and waist—plus the weekly pictures (next step) will give you everything you need to see how your body composition is changing.
Want to learn more about measuring how your physique is developing? Check out this article.
In the end, all this fitness fuss needs to translate into visual gratification.
Sure, we want to be healthy and feel great, but if we don’t have the body we really want, we’re always going to feel like we’re missing out.
That’s why you need to take progress pictures every week.
If you don’t, you’re going to miss the subtle improvements in your physique and think nothing is really changing.
If you have a photo gallery of your progress, though, and you can compare early and current pictures side-by-side, you’ll quickly see how far you’ve actually come.
Here are a few tips for taking good progress pictures:
- Use the same camera, lighting, and background every time.
- Take the pictures at the same time every day, preferably in the morning, after the bathroom and before breakfast.
- Take both flexed and unflexed pictures because, uh, flexing is fun.
- Take photos from the front, back, and both sides. Try to get everything in the frame, too, from head to toe.
There’s no point in keeping records if you don’t turn the data into something useful.
For me, that means keeping it neatly organized and visualizing it with charts.
If you’re the same way, then you have two options for this:
If you follow these three simple steps, you’ll be able to accurately measure your body composition and track how it’s changing over time.
And that means you’ll know, bottom line, if your diet and training programs are working.
If you’d like to know more about all of this, though, including how to estimate body fat percentage and actually go about improving your body composition, then check out this longer, more in-depth article:
A smart person once said that if you can’t measure something and express it in numbers, your knowledge and understanding of it is going to be lacking.
That’s why objectifying your fitness journey and tracking your progress in terms of numbers and pictures is going to help you in many ways.
Not the least of which is simply knowing if you’re actually making progress.
If you let the data guide you instead of hunches, suspicions, or worries, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about when and what to change and why.