I see a lot of Online Personal Trainers, Coaches and all types of fitness professional saying that we shouldn’t use scales, saying things like - they’re not accurate, they don’t take into consideration weight increase from gaining muscle, water retention and most importantly they don’t measure sexy.
All this considered, I still personally think that the scales are one of the most accurate ways of assessing fat loss.
Let me explain why…… If you have fat to lose and the scales are not moving, you could be lead to believe that you’re gaining muscle tissue whilst losing fat which is resulting in the scales staying steady, 1kg muscle gain per week and 1 kg fat loss per week, awesome, right!???
Well…… probably not, genetically we’re very limited regarding how much muscle tissue we can gain and in most cases (deepening on body fat %) the rate of fat loss will outweigh the rate in which we will gain muscle tissue.
For a lot of people losing 0.5 to 1 kg per week in fat is very possible. If we look at the overside of things and consider the probability of gaining 0.5 to 1 kg of lean muscle tissue, we can see that this is less likely without being blessed with the genetics of a Russian powerlifter, or using steroids…..or a combination of the two.
Well what about water retention I hear you ask?
Of course this can effect the true accuracy of the scales when tracking fat loss, but if you’ve got the fat to lose the number on the scales should still overall be reducing.
I can go into this in more detail, but essentially if you weigh yourself at the same time of day, like first thing in the morning, keep your diet and water intake relatively consistent, then we shouldn’t run into many fluctuation in weight due to water retention.
What about other ways of measuring progress like measuring tape, progression pictures, body fat testing, are these methods better? Possibly, but possibly not, all of these are good, some are better, but non are without their faults
Using a measuring tape there is a high possibility of human error, too high or too low around your waist can make a huge difference.
Progression pictures are great, you can see from my website that I’m a big fan of progression pictures, but these are still not without faults, lighting, camera angles and even a post workout pump can make a visible difference.
Certainly the most accurate way is body fat testing, right? Well this depends on what method or machine you’re using. The stand on ones that you grip found in gyms and even places like Boots are about as accurate as my spelling was in high school…..not very. Even skinfold calliper testing is not always accurate as there is a chance of human error and even if you had the resources to use the best methods like DEXA scans or underwater weighing, they’re still not 100% accurate.
In short, body fat testing is awesome when done the right way, just the right way is not always the most pragmatic.
So what to do?
In my opinion most people are okay with assessing progression by looking in the mirror, take that one step further and we can use progression pictures and the scales. Not accurate enough for you, no worries, let’s use progression pictures, the scales and a measuring tape. Going beyond this it would really come down to practicality and budget.
In summery, no we should not get rid of the scales, they are certainly not perfect, but they remain one of the most simplistic, accurate and by far the most practical ways of assessing fat loss.