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To weigh or not to weigh? Should Trainers Ditch The Scales Once and For All?

May 18, 2022
5 minute read

Never has there been so much need for fitness professionals! 

As the world emerges from 2 years of Covid hell, people are going to want to focus on their health and fitness more than ever before – but we might have some damage to undo first! Months of lockdowns, inactivity, being generally more sedentary and eating in a way we never have before, exacerbated by increased stress, mental health strain and massive life changes, our bodies are ready for some much-needed TLC! And of course, there has been the dreaded Covid weight gain. People know they have put on weight, and we are here to help them! But we as fitness professionals need to shift the focus from solely how much someone weighs and how much they have gained or lost. It is an old, outdated way to track progress, and leads to people giving up when they don’t achieve massive weight loss instantly!

I work exclusively with the bigger client, and those who have had Bariatric (weight loss) surgery. While weighing in is a ‘normal’ part of the gym/personal training/exercise experience, I want to share with you a different way of approaching this. I use alternative methods to monitor the progress of my bigger clients, but these methods can be used with any client you are working with. 

By using methods other than just weight scales to monitor results, your clients will be able to see all their effort (and yours) is paying off, meaning they will likely stay engaged with your services for longer. If they feel they aren’t making progress, or worse, losing progress, retaining them as a client becomes that much harder. This will also give you to chance to show them a further path of progression going forward, with other goals to work towards which are not solely weight related. 

This type of re-testing and planning is a fantastic retention tool for your business.

Jumping on the scales constantly is not a good measure of how well your client is doing – don’t get me wrong, weighing in as one part of many testing tools you can use to measure progress is a no brainer. And 95% of people say they want to lose weight when they engage the services of a fitness professional. But if your client could also lose dress sizes and measurements, would they still be so focused on the number on the scales?

When weighing on the scales is the ONLY tool you use, particularly with a bigger client, and there isn’t a drop in weight, this may trigger out of control eating, feeling depressed, feelings of failure and wanting to give up. Especially for those bigger clients with a long history of weight loss and weight gain, and an unhealthy cycle of dieting behaviour, weighing in then becomes an obsession and too much of a hyper-focus, leading to food restriction and over-exercising. Remember that the bigger client may have walked down this road many times before – and given up every time they feel they aren’t making enough progress fast enough. Standing on the scales every day, sometime more than once a day, sets people up to feel like a complete failure if the number hasn’t moved or gone down.

There are so many variables associated with actual ‘weight’ loss. Particularly if the client has started weight training or has never exercised before. You know that number on the scales could potentially go up a bit before it starts going down! It is also not uncommon for women to gain 1-3 kilograms on the scales due to their menstrual cycle and this is certainly not an indicator of anything other than normal hormonal weight fluctuations. But try telling someone that once they have seen that number!

This is where you, the fitness professional, can make a real difference.

By setting realistic goals with your clients, focusing on all the other aspects they are changing (health, strength, fitness, flexibility, mobility) not just their weight, you will set them up for success rather than having them always feeling like a failure from their experiences with exercise and activity.

One tool I use for the impatient, instant gratification client who wants to lose 10kgs in a week, is a very gentle reminder that they didn’t become overweight overnight, so it will take some time, effort, and consistency to see some results. Might sound harsh, but I believe being open and honest with your client will help them to trust you and know that you have their best interests at heart. Sometimes you have to have those difficult conversations – remember you could be dealing with a client who has many years of unhealthy dieting and exercising behaviour that you have to slowly unravel, plus advice that may have come from other fitness professionals who didn’t know that one size certainly does not fit all. You get to be the difference to this person’s life, and this is what true holistic training is – physical, mental, and emotional. Motivation can be hard enough at times, so let’s not encourage the definition of success to come from a set of scales!

Here are some reminders for your clients when they are struggling with ‘the number’ –

  • The number on a set of scales does not define them as a success or a failure. Showing up and being consistent does.
  • It does not make them a good or a bad person. 
  • That number does not define their health – AT ALL.
  • It does not define their wellness or well-being. 
  • It does not define happiness more than momentarily. 
  • That number does not make them whole person. 

Tools to measure client progress (that don’t include the weight scales) –

  1. Body anthropometry – measurements, body fat, BMI, hip to waist ratio, Body analysis scanning
  2. How they look
  3. How they feel
  4. How they fit their clothes
  5. Their progression with the exercises they are now doing compared to when they started with you
  6. Identifying the changes they have made in their life – dietary, with activity, behavioural, mindset, energy levels, sleep, hydration, etc
  7. An improvement in mental health through being active and doing something for themselves
  8. Achievement of any goals set with you or with themselves
  9. Health related changes - Any medical testing such as blood tests to monitor cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, or a change in blood pressure, less pain in joints, a decrease in medications, and the list goes on.
  10. Fitness testing – cardiovascular (aerobic), strength, anaerobic, endurance – there are so many types of testing methods you can use or create something specific to the client you are working with. For example if you are working with a bigger client, you may need to alter standard testing methods. 

Here are 3 examples of testing you could use with a bigger client depending on their capabilities: 

  • Step up test with a lower step – maximum steps in a minute
  • Sit to stands (bench/chair/box) – maximum in a minute
  • Wall push ups – maximum in a minute

These 3 tests are easily conducted with minimum equipment, and any improvements are instantly seen for the client during re-testing.

So to ask the question again... to weigh or not to weigh? If you are working with bigger clients, or any client that has some body image issues, a history of disordered eating, over training, years of weight loss and weight gain, previous bad experiences with exercise – yes, but use weight scales only as a guide and with caution if you can. A tool to monitor progress along with some of the other progress methods mentioned... Not as a tool of self-destruction for your client.

For any information further information about training bigger clients, check out my course, flick me an email or DM me!

Instagram – vanessawarren_twc

Training the bigger client - from obesity through to Bariatrics (10CECs)

You can also listen to the podcast where I have a chat with Jono and Travis about this topic and what is covered in the course on the Fitness Education Online Podcast – The Bootcamp Blueprint. Link here

To weigh or not to weigh
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Fitness Education Online are one of the leading providers in the world when it comes to the professional development of Personal Trainers. We have over 30 registered AUSactive CEC courses.  Click here to check them out!


About The Author: Vannesa Warrren

Vanessa Warren (TWC Wellness Consultant) is a leading Health, Wellness and Activity specialist. She is the premiere Bariatric Exercise Specialist in Australasia currently located in New Zealand, and has spent the past 13 years working exclusively with hundreds of people who have had bariatric weight loss surgery. She has combined her vast experience and knowledge of 30 years working in the health and fitness industry, and has created the TWC Bariatric Programmes covering all stages of the weight loss journey from the pre-surgery phase through to 12 months plus post-surgery.

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