When most people start working out their initial goal is to “lose weight” but this phrase can be misleading as what their actual goal is is to lose fat. In fact they might not even really want to lose any weight at all!
When I first started going to the gym I did so because I noticed, or rather one of my friends noticed and kindly pointed out, that I was starting to develop a bit of a belly after years of being skinny due to a bad diet, too much drinking and no exercise (sound familiar?). I decided to nip this problem in the bud and join my local gym and start exercising there as I played no sports or did any training of any kind apart from walking around town.
Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat
My strategy was to do lots of cardio on the running machines and use the resistance machines in the gym. If I had a goal back then it would’ve been “to lose weight” but really what I wanted to do was “lose fat and gain muscle”.
As muscle weighs more than fat your weight might increase when you first start going to the gym as your body will be shedding its excess fat reserves while putting on some new muscle or lean mass. If you are unaware of what is going on there is a good chance you might get disheartened when you first step on the scales after a month or so of going to the gym. You will see that your total weight has gone up when the reason you started going to the gym was to lose weight – what is going on?
Scales aren’t the Best Way to Track Your Progress
For this reason using scales to weigh yourself isn’t the best way to see if your hard work in the gym is paying off. Seeing your body weight going up can be disappointing so we recommend that you track your progress in other ways. Some great ways to chart your change in body composition are:
- Use a tape measure to measure the key parts of your body. Choose the main areas of your body you think that would give you a good indication of whether you are losing fat or not such as your belly, hips, thighs and upper arms. Make sure you measure yourself in exactly the same positions each time. A good idea is to measure yourself at the widest point, so for your belly find where you are the biggest and measure there each time. Do this once a month to allow enough time to pass for there to be a noticeable change and don’t get despondent if there isn’t a change as when it comes to getting in shape patience is definitely a virtue. If you are doing weight training as well as cardio which you really should be as it is the best way to lose fat and get toned for both men and women, then you will notice that some measurements might start going up such as your upper arms, chest and possibly shoulders. This is due to an increase in muscle and is nothing to worry about!
- Take a photo of yourself at regular intervals to record the change in your body’s composition. If you are quite overweight then at first you will notice your fat deposits starting to reduce in size and visibility and then once you get to a low body fat percentage which could be less than 20% for men and maybe under 30% for women you will then see some muscle tone and definition start to become visible. This is where your weight loss might start to slow but do not worry! This means you are still losing fat but are gaining lean mass or muscle which will keep your weight level or even increasing but will result in a great new look which is toned, healthy and athletic looking. Try to ensure you take the photo in the same place such as the bathroom or the changing rooms at the gym to keep it consistent as different lighting and positions can make it harder to determine if there are any changes from photo to photo. I wish I started doing this when I first decided to get in shape as it can be a great motivator for you to see how far you’ve come and when you don’t feel like going to the gym a quick look at the photos of yourself looking fat and out of shape can give you that extra bit of motivation to workout!
- Measuring your body fat is probably the best way to keep track of your fat loss progress but it is also quite tricky to do, especially by yourself. The cheapest and easiest way to get a measurement is to use a pair of body fat measuring calipers and although they come with instructions they can often give inaccurate readings if you don’t know what you are doing. There are more reliable methods available but they require special equipment that you won’t even find in most gyms. There are of course scales that claim to be able to measure your body fat by sending an electrical current around your body which they time to calculate what percentage of your body consists of fat on the premise that the current travels slower through fat. These products are not known for their accuracy and even on the same day can give different readings so don’t rely on them for an accurate reading or even to track your progress.
The best way in my opinion is to use a combination of the mirror and measuring tape to track your fat loss and muscle building progress once you start working out at home or in the gym. One of the main reasons we workout after all is to look good and to have a healthy appearance so what better way to keep an eye on this than by using our reflection.
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