By Michaela Gibson Morris
If Tiffany Franks just went by her scale, she might think she hasn’t made much progress.
After eight months of intense workouts at CrossFit Tupelo, the Tupelo woman has dropped 10 pounds. But for her, that’s not the main payoff.
“I’ve just turned 40, and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been,” Franks said. “I’ve gone from a size 10-12 to a 4-6 … I’ve lost 32 to 33 inches” from her arms, chest, waist, hips and thighs.
She’s stopped weighing herself.
“It doesn’t tell me anything,” Franks said.
The scale has its place. Weight and body mass index – which considers weight, height and gender – are helpful, especially for screening large, sedentary populations.
“Weight is a good reality check,” said Heather Thorn, a fitness specialist at the NMMC Wellness Center in Tupelo, because it makes people confront where they truly stand, not just where they think they are.
But it can’t always tell you the whole story.
“The number on the scale is an useful measure of progress but it’s also a confusing and deceptive number that often brings frustration and disappointment to many, especially those who weigh daily,” said Kristi Beckish, co-owner of Premiere Lady Fitness in Tupelo. “When you weigh yourself daily, you don’t get an accurate view of your progress because we all fluctuate in weight throughout the day because of water levels and other factors.”
Johnny Bruce, the head trainer at CrossFit Tupelo, finds the scale can be helpful for the morbidly obese and those trying to gain weight, but for most of CrossFit Tupelo members, it can be an exercise in frustration.
“I hate the scale,” Bruce said.
Because muscle mass weighs more than fat, people who are close to their ideal weight range can remain the same weight as they exercise vigorously, especially if they have a focus on strength training. The phenomenon of a scale that won’t budge seems to hit women more often.
“Women swap out muscle for fat differently,” Bruce said.
Tracking measurements once a month can provide barometer of fitness progress.
“If you’re working out three to four times a week, you should see some changes,” Bruce said. “If you make changes to your diet, too, you will see much more dramatic changes.”
Use a measuring tape to track biceps, chest, waist, hips, thighs and calves. A trusted buddy can help take the most accurate measurements. For the best results, take the measurements in the morning over bare skin or thin fabric, Beckish said. Don’t measure after a workout.
Tracking the fit of your clothes can provide the same gut check with less measuring.
“Your pant size is a big indicator of how well your program is working for you,” Beckish said.
It’s not just about vanity. Shrinking waistlines can mean better heart health.
“I’d much rather see people go down a size in pants,” Thorn said.
Waist measurements over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men indicate a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease, according to guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Having a waist to hip ratio of more than .85 for women and .9 for men also indicates a higher risk of death from heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.
Body fat composition
Body fat composition testing can give one of the most accurate readings about the progress on your fitness journey.
“It’s the best way to make sure you’re losing body fat,” Beckish said.
While it’s not easily done at home, it is widely available.
“You can get tested at most health clubs for little or no cost,” Beckish said. “If you choose to use body fat percentage to track your progress, remember to measure under the same conditions at the same time of the day if possible.”
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, healthy ranges for men run from 10 to 22 percent body fat and 20 to 32 percent for women.
Thorn recommends tracking body fat percentages every two to three months for most people; those who are pursuing intense strength training regimens may see changes more quickly.
Beyond the gym, your health care provider can also help you track your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
“If you see positive changes there, that alone is big progress,” Beckish said.
Whatever measure exercisers choose to use to track their progress, the process of building healthy eating and exercise habits makes the biggest difference.
“It’s not about a perfect number,” Thorn said. “It’s about how you feel and how healthy you are.”