There are several methods to chart your bodybuilding progress. Some are more accurate than others. To get an accurate measurement of where you are at with your bodybuilding progress, don’t rely on just one method. Here are 5 of the most popular methods used today:
Photos don’t lie (unless you Photoshop them!) Before-and-after pictures are visual reminders of where you were and are now (or your starting point now, if you are just starting a weight/body fat loss program). Take an initial photo and then progress ones spaced about two weeks apart until you reach your goal. Compare photos side-by-side to see your progress. You’ll be amazed at the progress you have made!
Keep in mind to get an accurate representation, everything should be the same when you take successive photos – use the same background, stand the same distance away from the camera, use the same poses whether that is front-on, side or back profile pose, wear the same type of clothes (i.e. tight so you get an accurate representation of your body) or photograph yourself in the nude. Remember, you are the only one that has to see these photos.
A pair of skin-fold calipers is a great tool for measuring body fat loss or muscle gain. They work by measuring the thickness of subcutaneous fat in a fold of skin. Keep in mind for an accurate measurement, you have to measure in the same place or places each time as the thickness of fat just under the skin can vary depending on where it is measured.
A cloth measuring tape – like the type used by seamstresses – can be a fairly accurate measure of success provided you measure in the same places and pull the tape to the same tightness each time. Vary either of these and your measurements won’t be accurate. If your goal is losing body fat, your measurements should go down each time you take them. However if you are building muscle and losing body fat, some measurements might be exactly the same. In this case, you would also want to use either a caliper or photos to verify that you have indeed lost body fat and gained muscle mass.
Using a scale alone – even if it is digital – to chart your progress is a big mistake. For example, you happen to eat something containing more salt than you are used to eating, your body reacts by retaining water which is going to show up on the scale as gained weight. Retention of water is temporary and your body will expel it in a couple of days. But if you only go by what is on the scale, you’ll get depressed because it showed you gained weight when you have been working hard to lose.
Body Fat Displacement
There are several type of body fat displacement measuring devices – water displacement and bioelectrical impedance being two popular ones. If your body fat is 30% or less both can be accurate assessments of body fat.
However with all of these measurement devices, don’t hold too much stake in a particular number, but rather watch for trends. If you are steadily going in the direction you want to go, you are making progress.