Note: This article is supporting content to the Optimum Nutrition for Health and Performance course.
Author: James Sterling
In an article for Coaches completing the Optimum Nutrition for Health and Performance course James Sterling tells us his thoughts on how important a number on the scales can be:
Sometimes fitness can be all about the numbers. How many times you work out a week, what weight you can do exercises on and that figure on the scales. Personal Trainer and Optimum Nutrition Ambassador James Sterling, aka the @londonfitness guy knows all about setting healthy goals for his clients.
As a Personal Trainer I am always looking to encourage clients to set goals that are focussed away from just the scales because exercise and training provides so many more benefits than just a number. That said I absolutely believe the scales are an important piece of apparatus for tracking client progress particularly in those with weight loss goals. One of the most challenging processes when it comes to client body analysis is how to accurately measure body composition in a cost-effective way. Unless your client is prepared to spend money on a DEXA scan, we typically have 2 options.
The first option is that we can use a bio-electrical impedance monitor. My issue with this piece of kit is that much like the scales, there are a lot of factors such as hydration, or thickness of skin on the hands that can skew results. The second option is that we can use a 7 point skin-fold test to measure body fat. Personally, I feel that for obese clients the scales initially are the preferred option. It’s far less invasive than skin fold testing and easy for the client to track. The last thing somebody new to fitness and overweight wants is to have a skin fold test. Therefore it might be a better option for your leaner clients, although it still has a standard estimate of error of 3.5%.
When assessing clients with significant weight loss goals the scales give a good initial understanding of weight loss. Ultimately, the numbers should be reducing if the client is in a calorie deficit. If a client isn’t losing weight there is a high chance they are over consuming. This leaves you, as their Personal Trainer in a position to evaluate how best to manage calorie consumption or to direct them towards a nutrition expert for additional support (if budget permits!). For weight loss such as this using the scales can actually be pretty useful in motivating your client. For someone struggling with their weight it’s a great feeling for them to see progress. I am however always cautious and will emphasise that a plateaux is perfectly normal at times throughout their journey.
So here’s the reason why I think that at times the scales are often described as things such as ‘the naughty step.’ For someone who is lean or who doesn’t have significant amounts of body fat to lose the scales don’t tell the full picture. It might show fluctuation but we can’t really attribute that fluctuation to specifics in a lot of cases. For clients such as this, I think progress photos are a great tool for seeing change in body-shape.
Now for probably the most important part of this article! Encouraging your clients to seek progress in other forms such as strength, cardiovascular endurance, or just general well-being is fundamental. When clients focus on these other attributes of fitness I am always amazed by the change in mind-set of my clients; how they walk out of the gym after 12 weeks versus how they approached you on day 1.
I created a ‘baseline assessment’ workout whereby I repeat a test with my client every 6-8 weeks and track their progress in strength and cardiovascular fitness. It’s a great way of showing improvement for clients and it’s great when you can show a % increase in strength over this period. I would strongly encourage this if you don’t do it already!
As a Personal Trainer we are so much more than just gym programme writers. We are motivators, success drivers and client progress reminders! We pick the weights for our clients and sometimes forget that often they don’t even look at the weight they lift. So aside from the scales and body-fat checks, check-in with your clients across a range of measurable and the scales will become far less important!
Are you a PT, coach or fitness professional and haven't already signed up to our online nutrition course yet? Sign up to the course today! The course consists of ten online modules and on completion of these you will receive an accredited certificate in Nutrition by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and earn CPD points from your professional body.