Over the years I have been asked numerous times to provide insight into how a person can determine their level of physical fitness. In many ways, I think this question originates from people that have gone to the doctor and received those body mass index (BMI) score sheets and discovered that they were obese, based upon their height and weight. Now mind you, the people asking these questions are often those that go to the gym several times per week.
In my opinion, you can’t just look at height and weight to determine someone’s level of physical fitness. You need to look beyond that, but to what?
Certainly, you can look at the scale and determine over time if your weight is increasing or decreasing, but the problem with the scale is that it doesn’t tell the entire story. If you are building muscle because you are engaging in resistance training your weight will go up. It’s going to go up because you’re producing muscle and adding it to your skeletal frame. Simply using the scale isn’t necessarily the answer because the numbers might not go in the direction that you expect them to go.
What about measurements? Measurements work, but again they may or may not tell you the entire story. The reason for that is because a pound of muscle and a pound of fat essentially weigh the same thing… a pound. The difference between the two is the amount of space that they take up within your body.
A pound of fat, for example, is the size of two softballs versus a pound of muscle which might equal a single softball. If you are losing fat, your measurements will go down, but what happens when you reach a level of fitness where you body fat is stable? Or, how about when you’re in a muscle-build phase? In cases such as these, your measurements may or may not change much or may not go in a direction that you wish to see.
So measurements don’t tell the entire story either.
What about progress pictures? I am a huge fan of progress pictures. In fact, I take progress pictures weekly for my coach and myself year-round because there is nothing like being able to compare photos of your body at various time increments. These snapshots in time, allow you to do a side-by-side comparison of your physique to detect those “minor” changes that might go unnoticed when you are looking in a mirror. Progress pictures can tell you if your tummy is being tamed and if your love handles are become less pronounced, but they won’t tell you much regarding your overall level of physical fitness. And so, just like the aforementioned, progress pictures don’t tell the entire story.
Surpahs Digital BF Scale
Recently, I picked up a digital body fat scale from Surpahs on Amazon (Note: Surpahs Digital Body Fat Scale model: BFS-835-BK). I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I ordered the scale, but what I liked was that it combined several variables of physical fitness into one device. In addition to calculating my BMI (based upon my height and weight), the scale provides a readout of body weight, body fat percentage, total body water (e.g., hydration level), muscle mass and bone weight.
Do I think this scale is going to be the be-all and end-all to determining someone’s level of physical fitness? Nope. But, I do believe that someone can gain a great deal of directional insight into their overall health and well-being using this device.
As mentioned, the individual variables outlined above have limitations, but collectively are very powerful in determining if a diet and exercise program is helping someone achieve their fitness goals. For this reason, I always recommend collecting as much information as possible, then using this information to triangulate your level of fitness.