Most people start a fitness regimen to improve their health and fitness in some way. Most fitness professionals would agree that the majority of clients are looking to achieve weight loss. As a result, the typical way to measure progress is to track weight, body fat percentages, and tape measurements. I’m all about measuring progress, but when your method of measurement causes stress, guilt, and disappointment, that’s where I draw the line.

We give too much power to the scale, and I think that it often does more harm than good. I can’t tell you how many times a client has trained hard, eaten a healthful diet, and noticed positive changes in their energy and how their clothes fit, only to be crushed when the number on the scale doesn’t match what they thought it would say.

**Trainer Rant: Let’s address this before we go any further. When someone starts lifting weights, there are changes physiologically that will likely lead to a higher reading on the scale after a few months. Women fluctuate in weight day to day, so a change in fluid retention can easily affect your weight. An increase on the scale could also be due to an increase in muscle mass. Here’s the thing, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest (this is only one benefit of many—there’s more to it than this but I’m focusing here due to the scope of this article). When you stick with a strength training program over time, you’ll find that you begin to lose body fat, and increase lean muscle mass (which takes up less space than body fat, thus making you look leaner). It is entirely possible for your weight to stay exactly the same as when you started even though you look like a new woman. The problem is, no matter how many times I explain this to my clients, the guilt and disappointment surface when the number on the scale doesn’t change. Don’t get me wrong, these clients intellectually understand what’s happening, they just can’t get past the number on the scale. It’s not their fault. The fitness industry has driven it into us for years that reducing the number on the scale is the most important indicator of success. Fortunately, I think that a shift is starting to happen where more people are “smashing the scale” and looking to other indicators of success to track progress. Let’s talk about how to get there!**

It kills me that all of the wonderful, fit, and fabulous women that I work with let this number determine their success for all of the hard work that they’ve put in toward cultivating a healthy lifestyle. If this resonates with you in any way, I propose that you find a new way to measure your success. One that truly measures the effort that you put in and helps you to take control of your results. Who’s with me??

Here are five ways measure your progress:

Number of training sessions/week. If you’re new to working out, set yourself up for success by committing to a maximum of 1-2 workouts/week (less is more when you’re trying to establish a new behavior). Schedule these workouts, with a trainer or with yourself, and mark down each time you make it to your session. You could even set up a reward system that allows you to celebrate your success at the end of the week or month when you’ve made all of your sessions!

2. Performance-based goals (exercise, timed cardio, sign up for a race, etc.). I love performance-based goals. Nothing feels more satisfying than setting out to accomplish a physical task, working hard to improve your skills, and then crushing your goal when you re-test. One simple example of a performance-based goal would be to increase the number of push-ups you can do from 1 to 5 by the end of the month. This is something that you can work on and track regularly. Once you meet that goal, you can progress by adding reps or tackling a more challenging version of a push-up.

3. Healthy lifestyle changes. What’s one thing that you could change today that would set you up for better health in the future? You don’t have to choose some complex behavior or intensive exercise routine. Something as simple as committing to drinking more water each day, or eating an extra serving of leafy greens per day will have a great impact over time if you stick with it. Check out my previous articles on how to set reasonable goals that lead to real lifestyle changes. Click and for tips on creating sustainable behavior change.

4. How clothes are fitting. Do you notice that your pants fit more comfortably? Are your shirts getting a little loose around the waist? Excellent! That means that things are happening and you should feel excited about that.

5. Other Non-Scale Victories (NSVs). This PDF lists many NSVs that you can monitor as you continue on with your health and fitness journey. One fun way to track some of these is to rank yourself in the categories of choice today and check in monthly or quarterly to see how things have changed. It can help to make some notes to describe how you’re feeling today (Energy Grade: C-, I feel exhausted at the end of the day and struggle to get my afternoon tasks accomplished) so that you can remind yourself of how far you’ve come when you check in again. There’s no such thing as a small victory! Celebrate each success along the way. Check out the list of amazing NSVs you can track as a reminder that what you’re doing is making a difference and helping you become the best you possible –>

It’s your turn! Apply what you’ve learned:

1. Pick your method of measurement. Are you going to set a performance-based goal? Will you set out to make all of your scheduled weekly workouts? Think about what is attainable and will help you feel successful if you accomplish it.

2. Write down your starting point. Example: If you set out to do 5 good push-ups in one month, do a pre-test to see how many good push-ups you can do today. You might even video your testing so that you have a really great side-by-side comparison of results!

3. Come up with a goal (long-term and short-term). Use the first behavior change article linked above to help you with solid goal-setting that sets you up for success!

4. Make a plan for progressing toward your goal. The second  article about behavior change linked above will help you here.

5. Mark your calendar for re-testing. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time before re-measuring success. Usually 4-6 weeks is adequate for most short-term goals.

6. Repeat!

Note: Always have something to work toward. When you reach one goal, progress in that same area or find a new challenge

Final thoughts:

When you chase physical health, the results will follow. Allowing yourself to feel good in your own skin and enjoy the process of adopting a healthier lifestyle will help remove the stress out of the equation and take some of the pressure off of you. You don’t have control over how your body responds to your training program, but you do have complete control over how you choose to move and what you choose to nourish your body with. If you make these choices with optimal health in mind, chances are you’ll get to have the body you want for keeps. Now get out there and do something good for YOU!