Using weight alone to measure a client’s progress can be problematic, as clients can fixate on the number rather than on their real goal: to look better or improve their health.
A client may be confused when they are gaining muscle and losing fat at an equal rate, as the weight they see on the scale won’t change, even if you are making good progress. Another common issue arises when clients weigh themselves too regularly, as they are not monitoring weight lost, but day-to-day changes caused by food and water intake. If they eat 1kg of food and drink 1 litre of water, they have not “put on 2kg”, but may assume that they have. Unfortunately, issues such as these can cause people to lose motivation or give up entirely.
The first thing that can be done to combat this is asking them to take photos regularly; every 2-4 weeks would be sufficient. Clients are unlikely to see any changes in their physique when looking in the mirror each day but, by looking at photos, they will be able to appreciate any changes (or identify a lack of them) over time, regardless of what the scale says. It is, though, important that they take the photos in the same light and at the same time of day. Taking photos in a good light, after a gym session, isn’t going to help them understand their body, even if it does improve their ego. For obvious reasons, it is important that they take and store these photos themselves.
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TRACKING WEIGHT CHANGES
If you, or the client, are willing to invest in a better-quality scale, this can also help. Whilst home-use body composition scales are not particularly accurate, they should give you an idea of whether their body composition is changing, as long as the conditions are the same each time you weigh them (or they weigh themselves). If you understand what their weight is and what their body fat percentage is, you will be able to work out their fat mass (weight x body fat %) and fat free mass (weight - fat mass). Generally speaking, for an adult, an increase in fat free mass will be due to an increase in muscle mass. Understanding changes in fat and muscle mass adds context to their weight and is far more beneficial than monitoring weight alone.
BACK TO BASICS
Regardless of whether normal or body composition scales are being used, there are some basic suggestions you should be making to your clients.
You should recommend that they weigh themselves every 1-2 weeks, in the morning and on the same day each week.
They should also ensure that they are wearing the same (or no) clothes, that they have been to the toilet and that they do it before eating or drinking anything.
If you are not comfortable that the scales are returning acceptable readings, ask the client to weigh themselves three times and use the average.
By following these guidelines, they will be more likely to be able to track actual changes in weight, without them being hidden by day-to-day changes in body mass.
About the author: Matt Hancock, Sports Scientist.
Matt is a Sports Scientist, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Co-Founder of the UKPTA. He is currently working alongside England Rugby and completing a PhD in Injury Epidemiology and Performance Analysis. To find out more about Matt, visit our about us page.