If you’re serious about getting results, you need to track your progress. The question becomes, how do we track our progress with ease, precision, reliability and without spending a fortune in the process… 


If you’re serious about getting results, you need to track your progress. The question becomes, how do we track our progress with ease, precision, reliability and without spending a fortune in the process… 

We know that the scales aren’t the ultimate measure of our progress…

Long gone are the days of looking at your standard bathroom scale and being satisfied that it truly indicates your health status.

There are way too many variables that affect your scale weigh in, and if you lift weights and train regularly, then the bathroom scale is a redundant measure of your true progress.

Emergence of technology from body pods to bioelectrical analysers have made it all too easy to track your fat status to the gram, unfortunately, when trying to calculate your progress it’s important to always be critical of whether you are being sold irrelevant numbers…

What NOT to do…

Most mainstream gyms and dodgy health and fitness experts will offer clients the chance hop on a shiny scale with metal bars and boast that it will quickly spit out your personalised body fat percentage in seconds.

These machines are known as ‘bioelectrical impedance analysis scales’, commonly known as BIA, and measure the time it takes an electrical pulse to flow through the body.

These scales are popular because they are cheap to buy, quick acting and easy to charge a lot of money to use because they promise personalised information about fat mass.

The downside is they are wildly inaccurate and anyone can manipulate the results!

How much water you drink in the day can affect BIA calculations and dehydration, often experienced after workout can significantly lower your reported body fat percentage.

This means if you are analysed before and then after a 30 minute session in the gym you might be told you’ve dropped 5% of your body fat. That is impossible. It would be great. But it is impossible.

It also can show the wrong results if you have eaten before weighing or if you have performed even moderate exercise up to two hours earlier.

The Gold Standard of Measurements…

The most accurate ways to measure leanness are a DEXA scan, underwater weighing or a body pod. These methods are backed by evidence and use state of the art technology so aren’t affected by random variables. In reality, however, most of us don’t actually need to know how much body fat we have to the milligram and don’t have thousands of dollars and a couple of hours to spend underwater.

Practical Measures of Progress

For most elite athlete teams and the general public who are particularly interested in their body composition the best way to calculate fat mass is skinfolds.

Measuring the amount of fat at certain parts of the body requires a qualified anthropometrist who is regulated by Exercise Research Australia and international organisation ISAK.

This means that calculations are consistent, the measurer can account for variables. It also much cheaper and you don’t have to suit up in a bikini or sit in a scanner for hours.

So are skin folds important?

Skinfolds can be useful if you are a competing athlete or if your weight on the scales is not changing in proportion to your training.

Otherwise, think about what your body fat percentage really means and does it even matter?

If you are going to use the BIA scales then be smart about it and control your variables:

  • Weigh yourself consistently,
    • when you wake up
    • before your workout
    • before you eat
    • at the same time of the day
  • Take the results with a grain of salt – you didn’t just burn 5kgs of fat in 45 minutes, I wish that you did, I wish we all did, alas, we don’t.

Of all these techniques the best way to track your body composition for the general public will cost you far less and makes you a lot happier.

Take a photo of yourself at monthly intervals.

Get in a relaxed pose in the same spot, wearing the same gear and in the same lighting, every four weeks. This amount of time gives your body time to actually change its composition but will also keep you motivated when you see the subtle or dramatic changes that occur.

Emerging evidence suggests this is a great way to keep up long term habits, motivation and weight loss.

My take home message is that every time you run a little further, lift a little heavier or squat a little straighter, your body composition changes and improves.

You do not need to be sold a magic number that promises to solve the problems of the universe (and your thighs) to tell you that with each PB you bust out in the gym, your muscles are growing and your fat is burning.

The better you eat, stronger you work out and fitter you feel will naturally be the closer you get to body composition perfection.

Use this measure to satisfy and push you forward.

It is a far cheaper solution and is guaranteed to make you happier and healthier.

Alexandra Schepis Bsc, BND (Hons) – Dietician for Essendon VFL & JPS Health & Fitness

If you want to learn more about fat loss, dieting, nutrition and everything pertaining to getting lean and staying lean for life, the JPS Lean For Life Nutrition workshop has a limited number of seats available, and you can reserve your seat by clicking HERE.


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