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Measuring Progress Off the Scale

If you’re anything like me, a new year means lots of new goals, and within the world of fitness some of these goals we set revolve around our weight.  Let’s discuss why “weight” is not the best way to measure progress towards health and fitness goals.

“We should focus on the long-term goals of improving health and happiness, which are two units that no scale will ever be able to measure.”

Scales are good for telling us one thing and one thing only: your total body weight.  This includes bones, muscle, fat, fluids, hair, organs, and skin.  Changes in any of these factors can increase the reading on the scale.  This can be discouraging if we define our goal as decreasing the number on the scale.  However, we can fight these disheartening feelings and maintain our motivation by looking elsewhere for signs of progress.

Related: What Better Than Yesterday Means to Me


The best way to track progress is daily journaling. Writing down how you feel, physically and emotionally, after a workout or at any point in the day is a great way for you to take a second and think about how your journey is going.  Just quick notes in your WOD Log or on your phone about how a workout felt, or if you have more energy, or how eating is going – are all it takes to get you connected to your body and think about ways that you’re making progress. When you’re having a moment of low motivation (which will happen), you can look back at past journal notes to remind yourself how far you’ve come and what you’re working towards.

Related: 3 Reasons to Log Your Workouts


While weight on the scale is not the best indicator of progress in fitness, the weight we’re lifting is a valuable sign of improvement. Do you find yourself loading more weight on the bar, or feeling more comfortable with a difficult movement? Or perhaps things in everyday life are feeling easier?  Increasing strength is a critical sign of progress and should be celebrated accordingly, regardless of what the number on the scale says.

Related: The Importance of Foundational Strength


Whether we’re trying to lose or gain weight or not, nearly all of us can be working towards mobility goals and getting into better positions during exercises. If you’ve been struggling with a certain movement, like holding a barbell in front of you, or squatting with heels down, ask your coaches some ways you can improve your mobility. Then, track your progress in one or a few key mobility positions and test them every week or two. Good positions to test are overhead squat with a PVC, seated forward fold, or overhead reach. Just like improvements in strength, mobility gains are great for our bodies but don’t show up on a scale, so focus on these to take some power out of that machine you occasionally step on.


The majority of the time when we start a fitness program that involves resistance exercises, the muscle we gain weighs around as much as the fat we lose, so the number on the scale might actually creep up. This is just another reason why the scale might not be your best friend in measuring progress. Some alternative ways we can track body composition progress are by recording measurements around the chest, waist, and thighs, or noticing how clothes fit, or taking periodic photos. However, a word of caution with these: doing them too often robs them of some of their power. We look in a mirror every single day which is why it’s hard to see progress happening sometimes, and if we take measurements every day it will be just as hard to feel like you’re improving. Taken at regular intervals, measurements and photos are a great way to see how far we’ve actually come and can be great motivation to continue the work you’ve started.

While it might be tempting to measure progress by hopping on the nearest scale, my hope is that by focusing on some of the alternative measures of progress we’ll all be able to stop placing so much importance on the numbers that show up on that device. I definitely do NOT recommend tossing your scale out your window and eating however many brownies you want (trust me, I want them all too). But I am saying that we should focus on the long-term goals of improving health and happiness, which are two units that no scale will ever be able to measure.

–Jay Alexander