Five Tools to Measure Your Fitness Progress

woman measuring her fitness progress using scaleTools for Measuring Progress

You have been busting your tail at the gym, eating healthy, and doing all the right things such as getting plenty of sleep and drinking plenty of water. You feel great, you are fitter, you get better sleep, you have more energy, and everything is going smoothly until you get on the scale.  It’s amazing how a number on a scale can outweigh all the aforementioned benefits and crush someone’s confidence and self-esteem.

This is exactly why when it comes to measuring progress, the scale should just be one of many tools used to gauge where you are at instead of the only tool.  If you want to get an accurate depiction of your fitness progress, then you need to look at the big picture and incorporate as many tools as possible for measuring your progress.

I recommend using photos, measurements, clothing size and how your clothes fit, how you view yourself in the mirror, and of course the scale. Because these tools of progress have their benefits and drawbacks, using them all in conjunction with one another is the best way to measure your progress.


scale weightThe number on the scale best describes your current relationship with gravity.  Although over time the scale can give you a somewhat accurate assessment of your weight gain or weight loss progress, when it comes to daily or weekly weigh-ins, the scale has too much of a variance to put all your trust into it.  Water weight and food consumption are the two main reasons the scale has such a large inconsistency.


water weightWhen it comes to water weight there are several different factors including food consumption that could cause the body to hold more or less water. An individual’s daily food consumption specifically their carbohydrate intake and sodium intake play a key role in the body’s water retention.  The higher the carbohydrate or sodium intake the more water held in the body and vice versa. Hormones also play a role in water retention mainly for women.  During certain times of a woman’s cycle their hormones lead to an increase in water retention causing bloat.  Finally, water consumption plays a role in the body’s water retention. Despite what may seem to be logical, drinking less water causes the body to hold less water, the opposite tends to be true. Drinking more water signals the kidneys to excrete more water from the body, while not drinking enough water signals the kidneys to retain more water in the body. However, water is just part of the issue when it comes to scale variance.

Food Consumption

food consumptionIf an individual weighs themselves first thing in the morning as oppose to after their last meal, chances are they will weigh less. It takes the body several hours to digest and excrete food; therefore meal timing and meal volume play a key role when it comes to the number on the scale.  Let us say an individual normally eats a light dinner at 8pm and weighs first thing in the morning at 6am.  That individual’s weight could be significantly different if they were to consume a heavier dinner at 10pm and weigh first thing in the morning at 5am.  Because of food consumption and water retention, it is best not to solely base your weight loss or weight gain progress on a number on the scale.


how do your clothes fitGranted water retention plays a slight role in how your clothes fit; your clothes tell a much more accurate story of your progress.

If those snug jeans now fit loosely, you now know you have made progress in terms of getting smaller regardless of what the scale says. As long as you are not shrinking your clothes in the wash, rest assure your wardrobe is not lying to you in terms of progress.

However, shoppers beware of trusting those clothes you try on in the fitting rooms.  Different brands and clothing lines usually mean size variation.  Thus, be aware of this discrepancy and do not get down or overjoyed about the size of a new pair of clothes.

However, if you have owned that clothing item for a while, rest assure the way it fits is an accurate reflection of your fitness progress.


how do you look in the mirrorThe mirror is an accurate depiction of what your current physique looks like and there are only a couple of drawbacks to using the mirror as a tool.

One, it can be hard to access minor progress in the mirror due to the fact you see yourself on a daily basis and two, different mirrors have different lighting and shadows.  Better lighting or more shadows could make your physique appear better or worse than it actually is.

However, using the same mirror with same lighting in conjunction with photos solves both of these issues.


take body measurements to track progressThe tape measure is one of the most accurate tools to measure progress as along as the conditions are identical. For example, measuring your waist first thing in the morning will give you a completely different number than measuring your waist after consuming a large meal. Therefore, measuring your progress with a tape measure is best done first thing in the morning when there is no variation from meals consumed.

However, if you’re looking for the most accurate method to measure your progress, performing a body fat measurement using one of the many tools available is highly recommended. Click here to learn all about measuring your body fat.


gauge your progress with photosWhen you see yourself on a daily basis it can be hard to visually measure progress, but what if you could go back in time and look at your physique three, four, five weeks ago?

This is exactly why photos are a key tool to use when measuring your fitness progress.  The only downfall to photos is the lighting and shadows. To eliminate this issue, position the camera between yourself and your light source, use the same location, and the same time of day if you are using a natural light source when taking photos.

The Clear View of Progress

Do not make the mistake of entrusting one tool to measure your progress. Although each one of these tools by themselves is capable of giving you feedback, the accuracy of each can vary depending on certain circumstances. Attempting to keep a similar environment and circumstances when you do use these tools in conjunction with using multiple tools to measure your changes, you will be able to have a clear and well-rounded view of your fitness progress.

Author Profile: Julian Brown, BS, ACE-CPT, NASM-FNS      Julian is the co-owner of The Yard Fitness, an established fitness writer, a professional natural bodybuilder, a fitness & sport nutrition specialist, and a certified personal trainer. He began strength training at the young age of fourteen to improve his sports performance and hasn’t looked back since. Julian is a graduate of Grambling State University, ACE & NASM certified, and he has over a decade of personal experience in strength training.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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