I’ve been helping a friend of mine lose weight and get in shape, advising him primarily on weightlifting and nutrition. The other day, he asked me this puzzling question:
“When will I see noticeable improvements?”
I suspect my friend had looked at himself in the mirror recently, and was having trouble telling if he was making progress. This is tricky business, for a number of reasons:
- We see ourselves in the mirror often
- Our memory isn’t perfect, and blends together
- We can talk ourselves out of noticing changes
In addition to this, maybe the scale wasn’t moving. Maybe he looked in the mirror and looked at the scale and was unsure he was making any progress.
My first thought here is: “Are you logging your workouts?”
Because if you are, your progress should be immediately apparent in your log.
- Are you lifting heavier weights?
- Are you lifting for more reps?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you are making progress.
The single best indicator of muscle mass is strength.
Strength = Muscle
More Muscle => Improved Aesthetics
However, this progress would never be apparent without a log. No matter what tools you use to get strong, dumbbells, barbells, cowbells, or kettlebells…for God’s sake log what you’re doing. Otherwise you’re just dicking around with some weights.
I keep my log in a standard lab notebook, but something a little handier like this might be your preference.
Some other random thoughts:
If you are using dumbbells, don’t be surprised when you increase the weight if the number of reps you can do drops by a lot, this is normal. You can’t progressively load dumbbells as easily as you can barbells.
So let’s say you normally do dumbbell bench press with 35lb dumbbells for 8-10 reps. Changing this to 40lb dumbbells is a 12.5% increase in load and one would expect you to only be able to perform 4-5 reps. This is fine. Your goal is then to be able to perform 10 reps with 40lb dumbbells, and each time you go to the gym you strive to do more reps. Once you can do 8-10, increase the weight again and the process repeats.
There will be weeks in any weight loss journey where the SCALE WILL NOT MOVE. Anticipate this happening, because it will. But don’t let it stop you. Look at your log and notice that you are still making strength progress. You are trading in fat for muscle, and the scale isn’t changing.
So log what you do, and take a picture of yourself for a before/after comparison. If you haven’t taken your before pic and are in the middle of your weight loss plan, do that now. You won’t regret it.
As a final example, I leave you with a before/after picture I’m stealing from my favorite weight loss blog: foodisforfuel.com
After 6 months of weightlifting. Her weight is exactly the same, 137lbs.
Still think the scale means a lot?
Her reddit post, if you’re interested in the workouts she did: