We’ve come to let numbers define us: our weight or body fat percentage, our calorie count, our miles logged or our bench-press max. It’s not wrong to judge yourself—especially concerning progress—with these numbers, but make sure you understand what you’re measuring.
I’ve come to hear more people talk about their body composition rather than their scale weight, which is a good thing because body composition factors in bone density and muscle mass.
There are different tools for estimating (not measuring) body fat percentage, including skinfold calipers or a bod pod, which measures air displacement. Body composition allows one to see if he or she is at a healthy body fat instead of just comparing height to weight.
The only way to truly measure body fat and muscle composition is by dissection. Since no one really signs up for that, estimating is the next best option. Please note that if you have a body composition test done by a fitness professional, it’s only an estimation, and there may be measurement error.
There are no universally accepted norms for body fat percentage; however, a range of 10-22 percent for men and 20-32 percent for women is commonly viewed as healthy. If you’ve had a body composition test done, remember the test is an estimate and that number is just a number.
Second, the dreaded calorie count: You’ve seen the book guides, the smartphone apps, the marketing promotions, but do you know what calories actually are?
A calorie (scientifically seen as Calorie or kcal) is a unit of energy. We need calories to live. Typically, we assume a 2,000-calorie/day diet is satisfactory for most adults, and generally more for men and active adults.
If you’re counting every bite you eat, it’s most likely you’re not enjoying your meals. Use your app or book or a handy website (try supertracker.usda.gov) for a week to log in your meals and snacks to get an idea of how many calories you eat and burn, then use it as a guideline instead of a strict program.
If you’re eating more than 2,000 calories per day and are feeling happy and healthy, then there’s no reason to stress. If you’re trying to lose some weight, only cut back on a few calories per day (300-1,000), avoiding drastic measures. Limit your intake of “empty calories,” those from solid fats and added sugars, and instead add in healthy fats like avocados, and plenty of fruits and veggies.
Remember, there is no one-plan-fits-all for counting calories, so pay attention to your own body and not someone else’s counting.
Lastly, miles run or bench-press max or number of pull-ups someone can do is a way to competitively compare yourself to others. It can help motivate you to get back into running or head to the weight room, but don’t jump into running 30 miles per week if you haven’t laced up your tennis shoes in a while.
Progression overload is a key workout requirement for you to make progress and improve. It’s simply doing more over time. For example, you could be adding more weight to the bar (intensity), doing more reps (volume) or doing the same amount of work in less time (density).
Starting with where you’re at, increase by no more than 10 percent each week. Your body will adapt to the increased training, but the demand is not so much that you’ll be injured or in pain. Building from your baseline means keeping your body alert and adapting, which means you’ll see progress on your goals. But, take it slowly.
Numbers are useful, and while they shouldn’t define us, they tend to in the world of health and fitness. The key thing to remember: Stop comparing your numbers to everyone else’s. They’re your own numbers.
(Please note: I am not a licensed personal trainer (yet). These tips are meant only for helpful information.)