To Measure or NOT to Measure, is that the Question$

During one of our early morning chats, my husband and I got into an interesting conversation. It went something like this. (Me) “I need to take a client's measurements today.” (Husband) “What forms of calibrations do you normally use?” (Me) “Well, normally I take body fat with a caliber and circumference measures with a tape measure. But today I'll just take the tape measurements because she has expressed a discomfort with fat caliber measurements and does not want to have that done.” (Husband) “Well, shouldn't you take them anyway? How else will you measure her progress? She needs to know those numbers even if she doesn't like them so that she can see how well she's doing.” (Me) Measurements aren't the only way to determine progress.” Well, you get the gist of it. Basically we went at this conversation for a while with me trying to get him to see the value of evaluating progress without demoralizing my client and my husband trying to impress upon me the importance of the numbers (the empirical data). In the end, we both agreed that progress does need to be measured. The question is, what is the best way to measure progress?

I am fully aware that this is an issue that plagues the fitness industry and its participants. There is something on the inside of us that drives us to measure progress. Maybe it's that need to validate ourselves and prove that we are progressing, going somewhere, not being stagnate. Let's face it; w eights and measures were among the earliest tools invented by man. Primitive societies needed rudimentary measures for many tasks: constructing dwellings of an appropriate size and shape, fashioning clothing, or bartering food or raw materials. However, this need for precision has crossed into the 21 st century and turned ugly as many individuals hyper focus on their size and weight – never attaining contentment with their bodies. The commercial products industry has decided to feed off of our insecurities by using the drive we have to validate our efforts and translated it into products - from hundreds of variations of mechanical, digital, even solar scales to hydro measurements to the latest innovation in electrical body fat analysis devices. And we seek more! We are obsessed with the precision of measurement with little regard for those other benefits of exercise.

As a personal trainer and one who seeks to help people achieve their goals of optimum health and fitness, I believe we must learn to value those mental and physiological aspects of regular exercise that yield as high if not a higher return than the physical changes suggest we have made. If you exercise regularly perhaps you have fallen into the trap. The trap of weighing yourself everyday when you come out of the shower or perhaps you have trouble looking at yourself naked in the mirror. If so, you may be falling prey to those negative messages either from society or self-talk that tell you “you just aren't good enough.” If you don't exercise regularly, and yearn for that better, healthier physical image then measuring tools like scales have become a source of pure anxiety and angst for you. As you pass your bathroom scale regularly and reject the very notion of getting on it. After all, you already know what the scale will give you … a confirmation that “I haven't been taking care of myself” or “I haven't been exercising regularly.”

At the core there seems to be a need to adjust and “correct our thinking” about what qualifies as a legitimate assessment of how well we are moving toward accomplishing and sustaining our fitness goals. Contrary to what we've been told there are a number of ways to assess progress toward our goals. In a world where looks have become everything, we've lost sight in the fitness industry that we are not tapping into the two-thirds of the American population that are overweight and obese and whose fitness goals are as simple as a desire to “feel better” and be able to climb stairs without huffing and puffing. These goals are as legitimate and practical as telling ourselves that we would like to get into a size 6 or 10 or whatever special event outfit (i.e. wedding gown, bridesmaid dress, summer swimsuit, etc.) in the span of a few weeks.” I'm not suggesting that we should run away from empirical data. A good example of the often-irrefutable value of “numbers” is when a “healthy feeling” and active person who is perceived as the model of health, is diagnosed with high levels of cholesterol. Regular monitoring of these “numbers,” along with the appropriate behavioral modifications in diet, exercise and sometimes medication can be taken to improve the state of health of this individual. What I am saying, however, is that hitting the numbers should not be our sole motivation for regular exercise.

To address the need for a balanced perceptive on fitness goals, I've created this “Thinking Correctly” Fitness Goals Criteria Chart. This alternative measuring tool is designed to free you up from the boundaries of scales and fat calipers. The assimilation of these additional fitness criteria will help you gain a more complete picture of your fitness goals and your progress towards them. And better yet, IT'S FREE! This is how it works. Cut out the chart below or jot down the criteria and rate yourself on a scale of 0-10, with zero representing “poor” and 10 representing “total contentment” in an area. Once you've rated yourself on each nontraditional fitness criteria and made careful note of the date you are evaluating yourself, take some time to analyze the data. First make note of those areas where you rate yourself between 7 and 10. These are areas where you enjoy a great deal of “satisfaction and contentment” with your level of focus and effort. Take a moment to congratulate yourself mentally for being consistent in these aspects of your fitness program. In those areas where you've given yourself between 4 and 6 you “need to spend more time” focusing on improvement in order to achieve overall balance in your fitness program. Look at your overall exercise program and consider how these areas can be enhanced. Remember, sometimes the smallest changes can revolutionize these 4-6 range goals. Finally, if there are areas on the scale where you rate yourself between 0 and 3 you are probably suffering from the negative effects of not incorporating exercise in your life frequently enough during the week or your workout is so limited that it only addresses a limit number of fitness criteria. Kick-it-up-a-notch and prioritize this aspect of fitness so that you can have a higher quality of life. Some of these goals can be self adjusted and regulated, while others may need the assistance of a doctor, personal trainer or other health care professional for assistance. In any case, try to work on one or two connected goals at a time so that you don't become overwhelmed or discouraged with the process. You want to think of these improvements as lifestyle changes … not temporary solutions.

I hope that you will find this scale useful. And remember, having goals that support the concept of disciplining our lives to include exercise, as a regular part of our day should be our focus. Many of us including the overweight population are turned off and discouraged by traditional measurements. Think about it … getting into the gym or committing to any other fitness program is half the battle. Why distract from the purpose of achieving a more healthy lifestyle by obsessing about what the scale says when in fact your value of yourself is not based simply on that number but also on a full perspective of a healthier you. Let us support and encourage one another by focusing on the other benefits of exercise that are not as highly advertised and allow the “quiet benefits” of exercise to stimulate the corresponding fitness goals. And we know that these “quiet benefits” of exercise translate into a higher quality of life. And that higher quality of life translates into spending more time with loved ones and in doing those things that bring us the most joy. Ultimately, if we can see that regular exercise has its own inherent reward then we can make a dent in bringing down the numbers of people suffering from the negative and preventable effects of inactivity. After all, isn't that what we are really trying to achieve?