At work, I strongly believe in using data to validate hypotheses, measure success, and provide foundation for future assumptions. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to recognize that principle and use good data and/or evidence to measure success with my fitness goals.
All those years, I had it wrong. I relied on the scale no realizing that the scale is a terrible measurement tool. I love weight watchers and lost a lot of weight on it – so I’m not knocking the principle that you need to regularly check in against your goals with DATA, but I am knocking the method of measurement that the scale provides. On weight watchers, there were weeks where I didn’t eat breakfast or keep up with my usual water intake – for the sake of wanting a “good weigh in.” A good friend turned me on to “smooth move” tea, which helped me, um, clear things out before weigh in. I recognize these are ridiculous little rituals, sort of like football players who don’t shave for the season or change their underwear. Seeing results on the scale is what would motivate me to keep “at it” so in doing these little things to see results helped to keep me motivated. Back in my weight watchers days, I wasn’t really working out much so the scale was a decent measurement tool at the time because I wasn’t building muscle anyway.
When I started doing body pump and power yoga, I started running into problems with my measurement tool. I was weighing myself weekly but the scale wasn’t budging. I was frustrated that despite the healthy eating and three times a week workouts the scale wasn’t moving down… and sometimes even moved up! This derailed my progress because I felt like I was doing as much as I could — at that time — and not seeing results.
Eventually, Jillian, my body pump coach, invited me to participate in a 21 day fitness group just before Thanksgiving in 2013. I had been working out consistently for about 11 months at that point but the results I wanted to see were not happening (i.e. the scale wasn’t moving). I thought the challenge group would help me fine tune whatever it was that was preventing me form losing weight. I really wish I took “before” pictures as Jillian encouraged at the start of the group. But I was afraid to see my body – to really see it. By January 2014 as I began my third challenge group, I was so proud of my progress, I took a pictures. I wasn’t a huge fan of how I looked but I was a huge fan of my progress. I took just one and didn’t share it with anyone.
By August 2014, at the end of Jillian’s summer challenge group (and my 6th challenge group as a participant) – I posed while my mom took my pictures. She had the January picture up on the computer to make sure I duplicated the pose. She kept looking back and forth between me and the picture. I thought my pose was different and she was going to have me correct my stance. Instead, she said “Your belly! It’s not touching your arm!!” We were pretty excited and did a bunch of poses (of course I needed to show off my shoulders – I don’t think I’ve ever had muscles in my shoulders like this!) I would never had recognized the progress that i made on my back and shoulders had it not been for taking pictures because I don’t typically have the view of my body at that angle. Interestingly, at that point I was still only down about 9 pounds but the difference was incredible in the pictures.
A related sidebar, I’ve already covered the benefits of strength training and building muscle in my “Strong Mind, Strong Body” post. Or, if you wish, the cliff-notes version:
not only is a pound of muscle smaller than a pound of fat, but your body burns more fat (as opposed to muscle and fat) while at rest for up to 48 hours after a strength training workout.
Needless to say, I’m a strong believer in the picture as a measurement tool/data point for progress. I think a weekly (or say tri-weekly, like at the beginning and end of a 21 day challenge group 😉 picture will help you really look and analyze areas that you need to make changes, perhaps in your ab muscles, your inner thighs, or that little bit of flab between your arm and your chest. The scale doesn’t show you those things, and not only that, it punishes you for getting stronger!! I saw lots of progress on my back and shoulders but needed to see more results in my abs. So, I started doing more core work (and especially focusing on my core during body combat) and that extra bit of focus led to great results next time I took a picture.
Some tips on taking your first “before” picture:
- Try and have someone else take the pictures for you, if you can.
- Remember – these measurements and pictures are for you and you only – sometimes we don’t see a change in the numbers, but our bodies change for the better! You don’t have to show anyone, but maybe you’ll want to once you have a hot new body to show off!
- If you’re standing up against a solid background (and use the same solid background for your after pic), you’ll be able to focus on YOU and not whatever else is in the pic.
- Wear swimwear or tight fitting workout wear. This is the best way to see the changes that have happened in your body! Show as much of your body as is comfortable. Also wear something you don’t hate. I hate the shorts I’m wearing in my first set of before pics but I continue to wear them across all my pictures for consistency.
- Take the photos from many angles. A front view, side view, back view and at a twist. You can put your hands at your sides, on your hips, even flexing in the air! Just make sure that you have before/after photos in the same pose so you can accurately see your transformation! I wish I took a before picture, and when I finally did take one, I wish I took a few more angles. I tried to get in and out as fast as I can but now I have nothing to document the transition in my back and shoulders!
Another good measurement tool is using an old fashion measuring tape and get measurements on your various body parts. I found this method tricky because you need to measure in the same place consistently. You can either pick a “landmark” such as your belly button for your waist, or just always measure on the largest part (then you know if the largest part is getting smaller, you’re getting smaller!) Here are some measurement guidelines:
Arms: 6 inches from tip of shoulder (or widest part)
Chest: At nipple line
Waist: Smallest point (or at belly button)
Hips: Largest point
Thighs: 6 inches from in-seam (or at widest part)
You may be wondering why if I’m seeing so much progress I’m not posting my pictures here…. I will, in time, but for now they are are for me and me alone.