When it comes to doing better, most people prefer simple, concrete standards. Parents in Singapore consider grades as a measure of their kids’ academic performance. A car is more fuel-efficient because the weekly gasoline expenses are less. And a fitness program that actually works results in weight loss. These things are obvious, right?
But many personal trainers like me know for a fact that when it comes to fitness and health, the actual weight isn’t exactly the most accurate gauge of a program’s effectiveness. So how do I explain this to my clients, who may sometimes look at me with either disappointment or anger when after some time in a program their weight hasn’t dropped as they hoped?
Weight is affected by numerous factors. It’s important that clients are educated properly, and not just to prevent them from mistakenly blaming their fitness trainers! So that means clients need to understand that various factors, and not just body fat, can make the weight fluctuate by 5 to 10 pounds.
The body fat can affect the weight, but only slowly. Muscle is difficult to gain, but muscle loss can accelerate weight loss, which just goes to show that quick weight loss isn’t always a good thing. Other factors here are the amount of food and liquids consumed, because they don’t magically lose their weight once people put them inside their bodies.
Carbs can also have a significant effect on weight, as they also become glycogen and take in 3 times the amount of water. A sudden increase from normal sodium intake can also lead to water retention that adds to weight. The use of creatine can also boost water retention and weight gain (or lack of weight loss). Stress and cortisol can also cause weight gain through water retention.
The weighing scale can also be used more accurately. If the client insists on using weight, then a more accurate way to track their progress is to use a moving average. A moving average minimizes the impact of fluctuation and tracks the general direction of the weight loss.
To do this, let them record their weight every morning for 7 days straight, and then get the average weight. On the 8th day, add the weight and discard the 1st measurement, so it’s still an average of 7 days. Over time, the direction of the weight loss will become more evident, while the impact of fluctuations can be minimized.
There are other standards aside from weight. The weighing scale is not just the only objective tool a trainer can use to objectively track the results and progress of a client as they undergo a fitness program.
For example, one simple way to track progress is to use photos of the front back and side, while the client wears what they normally wear to the beach. Before they start on the fitness program, ask them to take the photos as they stand straight but relaxed, and then take the photos again every two weeks or every month. These photos should be taken with the same conditions like time of day, lighting, angle, and distance from camera to subject.
You can also use a tape measure to track reductions in the arms, legs, shoulder, chest, stomach (upper, middle, lower), and hips. When they lose body fat, the loss may not reflect on the scale, but may show on one or more of the body measurements.
Their performance in the gym can be tracked as well. Progress can be demonstrated by showing that they can now do more bodyweight repetitions in a minute, lift heavier weights, do more reps, exercise longer, or require a shorter recovery time.
If your fitness program is actually working, then improvements can be demonstrated objectively with other standards other than current bodyweight. If there are no improvements on all these measurements, then maybe your client does have a right to be disappointed!
Coach Sharm, MSc