Six Meaningful Ways to Track Your Fitness Progress Without Stepping on the Scale

By: Alex Michaels

You know Aunt Nancy who only shows up at Thanksgiving dinner and spews off all her unsolicited opinions about your life decisions and gives you the side-eye when you go for your third plate of stuffing? Yeah. Aunt Nancy is like the scale: full of sass, judgment, and opinions that don’t matter.

Why the scale is not the best measurement of your fitness progress:

The scale is simply a tool that reads a number. That’s it. It does not give us a full picture of what makes up that total number and your weight fluctuates daily for a number of reasons.

Some of the most common reasons your scale weight will fluctuate daily are:

  • You ate more carbs than usual and carbs hold water

  • You ate more salt than you usually do

  • You lifted weights and your sore muscles are retaining extra fluid while they recover

  • You have to pass a bowel movement

  • Different parts of the menstrual cycle cause you to retain extra water weight

Your total body weight is made up of several main elements:

  • Lean Mass (Muscle)

  • Fat

  • Organs

  • Bone

  • Water

Each of these items will make up a different percentage of total body weight for each individual. While the scale can serve as a helpful tool when it comes to fitness goals, it can also be a deterrent from enjoying the overall process of implementing fitness and health into your lifestyle in a way that is simple and sustainable.

Let’s break down other significant ways you can track your fitness progress.

Six Ways to Track Your Fitness Progress without using the scale:

  1. Waist and Hip Measurements

  2. Body Composition 

  3. How Your Clothes Fit 

  4. Keep A Workout Log 

  5. Monitor Your Sleep 

  6. Daily Energy Levels

Waist and Hip Measurements

Measuring your hips and waist with a measuring tape is quick, easy, and something that can be kept on record.  If you can collect these numbers and look at them as data points without attaching feelings to them, they can serve as a helpful marker. 

To measure the waist, find the narrowest part of your waist just above your belly button, but below the center of your ribcage and wrap the measuring tape around, pulling until snug, but not tight. 

To measure the hips, wrap the measuring tape around the widest part of the hips. 

Body Composition

Body composition is made up of lean mass (muscle, organs, bone),  fat mass, and water. It can be measured by using a variety of tools, however some have a significant margin of error and should not be considered reliable.  Below are five of the most common methods to measure body composition. 

Non-laboratory methods are minimally invasive, quick, and fairly easy to administer.  They are commonly used in fitness centers and health clubs. 

  • Handheld Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

The best BIA devices require that a wrist and ankle electrode be placed on the participant.  Some devices only have a handheld component. This method relies heavily on hydration status, caffeine intake, and timing around exercise. They have a margin of error of about 3.5%.

  • Skinfold Calipers 

Skinfold Calipers can be used at specific sites on the body to measure subcutaneous fat to the nearest 1 millimeter.  This is another quick and inexpensive tool, however without a trained professional, there is a greater chance for inaccurate measurements.  It is a bit more intrusive and can be painful for some individuals. The standard measurement error of about 3%-3.5%.

Laboratory methods tend to be more accurate, but they are much more expensive and usually used for research studies and in large medical centers. 

  • Hydrostatic Weighing

This involves a participant sitting in a chair  that is attached to a scale and they are submerged in water.  Their body density is calculated by assessing the relationship of the person’s weight on land with their weight in water.  

  • Air Displacement Plethysmography

This is also known as the BodPod and it uses whole body air displacement to measure body volume and density.  This option is considered quick and more suitable for a broader range of people. Accuracy tends to underestimate total body fat. 

  • Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry

This is considered the gold standard for assessing body composition.  It is a full body x-ray that shows bone density, fat mass, and fat-free tissue mass.  It also shows the actual distribution of body fat in the body. The margin of error is only 2-3%, however it should not be performed often due to the exposure to radiation. 

How Your Clothes Fit

If you put on a pair of pants and they fit more loose around the waist, it’s likely you lost some inches.  If you have been trying to grow bigger shoulders and trap muscles and your shirts fit more snug around the shoulders, chances are you’re making changes to your physique.  This is a simple indicator of progress towards your fitness goals without stepping on the scale. 

Keep a Workout Log 

Use a notebook, spreadsheet, or notes app on your phone to write out your training program, the weights you use, reps, sets, and how you felt after each workout.  

  • This is an objective way to stay organized and keep simple data on your fitness progress.  

  • You can easily see how much you have increased your weight and time for exercises. 

  • You can tell how you are adapting to the training program based on the feedback notes you write in your log. 

Monitor Your Sleep

It’s recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night for a few key reasons:

  • It allows you to feel more energized during the day.  

  • While you sleep, your muscles receive more blood flow, which aids with recovery and rebuilding of muscle tissue.  

  • Your body also produces human growth hormone while you sleep. 

On the flip side, exercising can also help you to fall asleep faster and get better quality of sleep.  Observe your sleep patterns for a month along with your training program and note the following:

  • Was it an exercise day?

  • How many hours of sleep did you get?

  • How many times did you wake up during the night?

  • How restful did you feel in the morning? 

Daily Energy Levels 

At this point, you’re taking note of how you feel after your workouts and after you wake up in the morning.  Now, take a comprehensive look at your energy levels during the day.  

  • Do you have a time of the day when your energy always seems to be the lowest? 

  • Are you more of a morning person or evening person?

  • When do you feel like you are the most productive?

If you observe your energy levels throughout the day as a whole and discover the answers to these questions, it will help you to determine the most optimal time to exercise, when you may want to eat to keep you fueled and feeling good, and when you can be the most productive during your day. 

With all of the other ways to measure your fitness progress, there is no reason to rely solely on the scale.

Remember the Aunt Nancy comparison? Yep. You don’t need that type of sass in your life. If you want to track your fitness, try using the above ways and ditch the scale. Your worth and progress in your fitness journey is more than the number on the scale.