A few years back as a personal trainer continuing along the road to discovery, I rocked up to the gym one early morning (6 god dam thirty…uugh) for a female client. This client was quite concerned about her weight, which equally was a concern for me as I thought she was bordering on being underweight.
The client stepped up anxiously onto the scales in anticipation. The scales, with no thought for her anxieties, replied back 67.6kg. She had weighed 66.2kg at the previous measurement two weeks previously. I tried to remain positive and reassure her that that number could be down to a lot of things like hydration levels, breakfast, muscle gain, a full moon that night, etc. She put a brave face on but you could see that the scales had given her an almighty kick in the nuts, should they have been present.
Up until that point, the client had been making steady progress and getting quite strong in the gym. We had been working on changing nutritional behaviours and habits and things had been going quite well. This reading created a massive speed bump and one which I don’t think she ever got her head around.
That event made that client, who had been struggling with self-esteem previously fall even further back in terms of self-confidence and purpose. The effect it had on me was more one of anger.
I was angry that a simple number on the floor could take all that happiness, self-confidence and self-worth and cause it to evaporate along with the perspiration circling in the gym that morning. From that day on I chose to forget about the scales for clients and to work on healthier outcome measures. These are the reasons why:
The number that spits back at you can be determined by a number of things. How hydrated you are, how much you ate that day, your last toilet break, levels of sodium in your food, the time of day, what clothes you are wearing, etc. The best example of this can be shown by carrying out some self-experimentation. Weigh yourself in the morning and then before you go to bed, observe the difference. You can also see a difference if you weigh yourself before and after a workout. If you’re really hardcore, weigh yourself before and after going to the toilet. The scales can be as unpredictable as the stock market for some.
As I have said in a previous blog, when you are hopefully in your 60’s or 70’s reminiscing, you will not look back on your life as a youthful 20-30 something and think ‘god I wished I lost a few pounds back then’. You are more likely to say ‘god I wish I moved more, got stronger, travelled more, experienced more, loved more, lived life more’. We look back on our lives based on how we feel right now and what we could have done in the past to feel better. We move, we eat, we drink, we live our lives in the hope that we will feel better. The more sustainable approach to the question ‘why should I get some activity into my life today’ should be to feel better. Now don’t get me wrong, obesity is the cause of many debilitating diseases but the hope is that by prioritising feelings versus weight, both will improve. The motivation to feel better through movement is an internal driver. Being motivated by an external number, which much of the time can be damaging and unpredictable, can lead to knockout blows to motivation. A person might spend two months with a personal trainer and go from being unable to deadlift much more than a Mars bar off the floor, to deadlifting their own bodyweight off the floor, that’s awesome. In that same timeframe, for argument sake, they may go from 83kg to 81kg. In my mind our focus is on what weight is on the bar versus what weight is on the scales. How much shit you pick off the floor can stave off heart disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritic pain, depression and generally make you more bad ass.
In a recent Instagram post, fitness blogger Kelsey Wells highlighted how your body can transform beautifully on a cosmetic level yet not as stark on a floor numbers level. This post is an awesome example of when your mindset around movement and exercise changes, it can have a profound impact on your progress both mentally and physically. Kelsey started the program eight weeks after giving birth and weighed 65.7kg. She admits that before starting out she had this “warped goal” of getting down to 55kg and fitting into her skinniest pair of jeans. After a few months of her exercise program she could fit into those jeans and now weighs 63.5kg! Funnily, she has since ripped those jeans up trying to fit into them as a result of her new shape. Granted she was a stunner prior to starting the program but I don’t think anyone would disagree that this new shape is freakin awesome. What did Kelsey measure? Strength, ability, endurance, health, and happiness. Pretty good outcome measures.
I generally give these tips to people to help them determine whether they are making progress from their efforts
1: How are your clothes fitting? Simple measure. Count the notches on your belt and see how many you can reduce. What dress size can you now fit into?
2: How well do your actions align with your goals? If your goal is to go to the gym twice a week, are you achieving this, if so then great, if not then focus on making that habitual.
3: Are your numbers in the gym going up? Can you do bodyweight push-ups/pullups? If so, how many? How confident are you going to the gym?
4: What’s your self-confidence like? Do you look in the mirror and see a happy, confident, proud man/woman?
5: How are you coping with day to day tasks? If there are stairs up to work or your house, is this still a challenge? Can you now run to work instead of getting the bus? What is your capacity to move now as compared to before you started along this journey? Can you now throw your kids into and out of the car that bit easier 😉
These are all much better aspirations than looking at an unpredictable number on the floor.
Finally, it is important to also realise that when we are motivated by feelings to improve our quality of life, we embark on a lifetime journey rather than an 8-week program. Whatever you decide to use as a driver or motivator ensure that the reason is strong enough to sustain you for life. Regularly remind yourself how important it is to you and those close to you that you carry it on regardless of the inevitable challenges that arise.