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Why the weighing scales is just one part of the puzzle and not the only metric of success

Personal trainer Kieran Hegarty on why the number on the scales is not the be-all and end-all.

The weighing scales: it's not the only metric of success.
The weighing scales: it's not the only metric of success.
Image: Shutterstock/www.BillionPhotos.com

ONE OF MY clients came to the end of a twelve week training block recently.

I asked her how she felt about the months of effort she had put in and she said that while she really enjoyed it she was a little disappointed that she had not lost more weight.

This is a conversation that, after the guts of a decade working in the fitness industry, I am all too familiar with.

So many people will lose heart when they encounter the perceived set back that comes in the form of the number on the scales.

The number in this case had dropped, but not massively (roughly two pounds).

Can we then assume that the previous effort had been in vain? That depends entirely on the start point. Remember this article where I outlined that fitness is a journey and it’s impossible to tell exactly where someone will end up. Well, this journey was no different.

It is often the case that when someone joins a gym they jump on the scales, start exercising with the best intentions, then jump on the scales again and repeat the process ad nauseam until hopefully the number starts to drop. Well, we really wanted to avoid this common mistake so we did things a little differently.

When we began working together we spent a good amount of time establishing a very definite baseline. We are a project of one so our approach should be individualised and based on my philosophy of phased lifestyle and nutrition interventions combined with a strength-based training plan.

That being said we got to work:

  • We established a food diary that highlighted eating habits and calorie/nutrient intake.
  • She filled out a series of questionnaires about how she felt, what she wanted to achieve (and a host of other things).
  • We did a baseline movement screen and some range of movement checkout tests to see if there were any limiting factors with regards her exercise selection.
  • We took circumferential measurements (neck, shoulders, bust, waist, thigh, arm and calf).
  • We took bodyfat/skinfold measurements using standardised testing sites.
  • We got a good understanding of her appreciation of intensity on the concept 2 rower with some shorter duration efforts
  • We tested her general strength in the movements she wanted to prioritise (squat/bench/deadlift) as well as some other qualities such as pull ups and different components of midline stability.

Then we weighed in on the weighing scales. Of course!

So – as you can probably guess the weight on the scales is one part of a broad spectrum of testing we used.

To focus on this and only this component would do her efforts a disservice so we delved a little deeper on completion of her training.

I asked her how she felt in general and she told me that she felt great. Her training left her energised and that she now looked forward to each workout.

The squat rack was now an important part of her weekly routine and she had built the confidence in her ability to execute the movements well enough to come in and kick ass with the best of them on the gym floor.

I asked her about how she felt when she looked in the mirror and she said she was delighted at how her shape was noticeably changing but that her old clothes no longer fit well at all and that she had to buy a whole new wardrobe (for which I sarcastically apologised).

When we revisited her measurements and there was a marked decrease in her skinfolds and she had lost over an inch off her hips despite her bodyweight not dropping ‘significantly’.

Her squat mechanics improved so much that she went from a shaky 30kg back squat to a solid 65kg with great technique. She had progressed from a difficult 60kg conventional deadlift to deadlifting 100kg (with no belt) off the floor with some in the tank then announced ‘oh yeah, I can do pull ups now – sets of three’.

The rest of the testing followed the same pattern.

You see, she had completely reinvented herself beyond a number on a scale. This was now an entirely new person weighing in – the only person who hadn’t really realised this was her.

If we had focused on using that one metric to gauge success the previous months of effort would have indeed been a failure because (and let’s be clear) the fitness industry is about results. But when we put the whole picture together for her it looked like this:

  • Happier
  • Leaner
  • Stronger
  • More confident
  • New wardrobe
  • Better educated
  • Better mobility/stability/balance and flexibility
  • Ready to take on the world

So, success then or failure?

I’m not advocating that everyone goes out and chucks their weighing scales in the bin – just realise that it is one part of a much larger overall puzzle.

If you spend a little bit of time at the front end developing a definitive start point you can comprehensively manipulate all the factors required for long term success and put yourself in a position do some truly spectacular things.

Now me and the lady in question no longer train together – she has moved off to an island in the Caribbean (lucky girl!) but one thing is for certain: no matter where she trains now for the rest of her lifting career I know that she’s doing it right, understands the process and is no longer a slave to her bodyweight.

That makes me a happy strength coach.

Kieran Hegarty is a professional strength and wellness coach and owner of EverStrength. 

For more information, you can follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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