Can I Trust the Scale?
If you want some extra information delivered with tons of added flair, skip the reading and watch this video!!
When it comes to understanding changes on the scale, there is a BIG difference between someone who's been consistently Strength Training for 2+ years and someone who just started Strength Training within the last 0-6 months.
Basically the earlier you are in your Strength Training career the more cautious we need to be when trying to understand the changes on the scale. And the longer you've been Strength Training, the more we can trust the numbers we're seeing.
Let me explain.
But first, let me take the next 30 seconds to list everything I can think of off the top of my head that causes the day to day fluctuations we see on the scale:
How much poop we have in our system
How much urine we have in our system
Women's monthly cycle
Whether or not you worked out the day before
How hard your workout was
Whether it a cardio or strength training workout
Whether or not someone else is putting their foot on the scale to play a trick on you
This list is not exhaustive. But in 30 seconds I just gave you over 10 things that cause day to day changes on the scale.
Then you have factors that don't affect weight on a day to day basis but over the course of weeks they can impact your weight. We especially see this in the first month of Strength Training. (You can read more about weight changes in your first month of strength training here.)
Then you have to factor in the big factor that Strength Training causes. Muscle mass!!
Muscle is awesome! And it does cause weight gain. So we need to be aware of that.
And muscle growth will continue to happen for months and even years after you start Strength Training.
This is where the spectrum comes in. You will build more muscle in your first 3 months of training than your second 3 months.
You will build more muscle in your first year of strength training than you will in your 2nd year.
And to put it in perspective, you will probably build 40% of your potential muscle mass in year 1. And 20-30% in your next year. And maybe 5-10% or less in the years after that. Don't get hung up on the percentages, but the key takeaway here is that...
Your first month is going to be wild. Read the article above. Just observe in your first month of strength training. Take your weight at the end of month 1 and this is now your new baseline weight. Don't worry about it too much. Just accept it for what it is.
In your first 12 months of strength training the scale is going to go down slower than it would if you weren't strength training. Not because you're losing fat slower. But because you're also building muscle which is offsetting some of the fat that you're losing in terms of what you see on the scale.
In months 13-24, the same thing that happened in your first 12 months will happen. Just not as drastically. You'll be building plenty of muscle in your second year of strength training, just not as much as your first year so the scale should move a little quicker than the previous year.
After you've been strength training for 2 years, you will continue to build muscle for the next 8+ years. But the amount and speed at which you'll gain that muscle is much slower. At this point, besides the day to day fluctuations that are sure to happen with the scale, your weight is a fairly accurate indicator of body composition. I don't mean if you're up 2 pounds today you gained 2 pounds of fat. Or if you're down 3 pounds tomorrow you lost 3 pounds of fat. We know there are a ton of factors that cause those day to day fluctuation that have nothing to do with fat. But I mean if over 3 months you're down roughly 8 pounds, you can be confident you've lost close to 8 pounds of fat. And if after 3 months you're up roughly 8 pounds, you can be confident you've gained close to 8 pounds of fat.
This is also why I like to take multiple data points. Even though there are going to be weight fluctuations commonly as much as 1-2% in either direction (and on occasion 3%+) you will definitely find an average weight you hover around. It is this average weight, or the average window of weight (maybe a 3-6 pounds range you find yourself in), that indicates whether we're making progress or not. If we're seeing our average weight or window go down, we're probably gaining fat! And if we see it going up (unless you're early in your strength training journey) you're probably gaining fat.
Whew! I know that was a lot. But I hope it's helpful!
There is a lot of information we need to know when examining our weight and making decisions based on what we see. But when we have all the right info, we can make an informed assessment and decision on our progress!