Does the sight of a spider make you panic? Or, maybe elevators give you instant anxiety? Everyone has a phobia or two that affect our day-to-day lives in different ways. But for many, stepping on the scale tops the list.
"A lot of us have really toxic relationships with the scale," says K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS. "You can't really make positive changes by subjecting yourself to punishment. Nothing good comes out of hate."
So, if you dread stepping on the scale, it's time to toss this tool in the trash. Your weight isn't the only (or even necessarily the best) way to weigh your improvement (pun intended). Instead, opt for one of these five methods to track and measure your fitness progress.
1. Performance Goals
If you want to measure your fitness progress, setting an exercise or performance-based goal is a great way to track your progress, Fetters says. These goals can include any kind of fitness feat you'd like to achieve, whether it's lifting a specific weight or nailing a certain exercise.
Fetters prefers performance-based goals, as they can give you a more internal sense of achievement, whereas physique goals often involve comparison to others. "This focus on intrinsic goals is vital for motivating change, especially when it come to exercise and health behaviors," she says.
Performance goals can also encourage a more positive relationship with fitness and exercise. Working to get better at a skill can give you a higher sense of competency, which is great for spurring more motivation.
"Feeling like 'I rock at this' is central to intrinsic motivation, and working to get better at something you love and that excites you (maybe a pull-up or pistol squat) will certainly accomplish that."
2. Health Apps and Fitness Trackers
Apps that track your food and exercise are essentially journals, says Mark Nutting, CSCS*D, author of The Business of Personal Training. Using an app can encourage more mindfulness around the activity you're tracking, whether it's your movement, food or sleep. As a result, you'll begin to notice more change over time.
You can also use wearable fitness trackers to learn about your resting heart rate or heart rate variability, which are a great way to measure your health and progress, says Maillard Howell, owner of CrossFit Prospect Heights and founder of The Beta Way, a holistic wellness program.
"[Wearable devices] are excellent to track breathing variables that improve long term with our fitness journey," Howell says. "If your resting heart rate has been trending downward, this is a plus for your health. The wider the heart rate variability, the better marker of good health it is."
3. The Fit of Your Clothes
While you don't want to buy new clothes that are too small, taking note of the way your clothes fit can be a better measure of your fitness than the scale, says certified personal trainer SJ McShane.
Muscle is more dense than fat but takes up less space. Especially if fat loss is your goal, the scale may stay the same even as you progress. At the same time, your clothes begin to fit a little looser.
4. Benchmark Workouts
No one loves taking a test, but when it comes to measuring your fitness goals, benchmark training sessions or workouts can be a great way to analyze your progress.
Meg Takacs, trainer at Performix House and creator of the #RunWithMeg app, incorporates benchmark workouts each month with her runners. Often, she sees app users log a better benchmark workout in, say, their fourth week than first week. "There is nothing better than seeing someone who used to run a 10-minute mile get that down sub nine minutes," she says.
And benchmark sessions aren't running-specific. Maybe you give yourself a pull-up test for reps. Or, maybe you test the amount of weight you can deadlift. Jot down your results and month after month, you'll be able to visually see and track your progress.
5. Keeping a Journal
Putting pen to paper can help keep you focused and organized, whether you're tracking eating habits or recording workout progress. If you want to keep it workout-specific, note weaker and stronger parts of your body, including plans for improvement.
Or keep a journal of your emotions, as McShane recommends. Writing about your feelings and reactions toward certain workouts or even meals can be a great track of your progress.
"I know breaking though fitness goals is a huge sign you're going in the right direction, but journaling your mental and emotional progress can show you how far you've come," McShane says. "When we are happy with our progress or body, we tend to be happier."