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Weight: It Really Is Just A Number

ImageThere probably isn’t a single adult out there who hasn’t had the goal at one time to “just lose a couple pounds.” We’ve all experienced it, whether it be for bikini season, fitting into your tux for your daughter’s big day or just wanting to be a little slimmer to boost your confidence, everybody has put an extraordinary emphasis on their gravitational pull.

But why weight? Humans are complex beings. We’re made up of different mass structures featuring different densities. We’re not gold. Our value doesn’t come from how much we weigh, or don’t weigh. And contrary to popular belief, neither does our fitness or level. Does it offer guidance to assessing the level of our health? Yes, but it’s not the alpha and the omega of the equation.

Take the Body Mass Index (BMI) for example. Many people has used BMI for years to determine a healthy weight range. The BodyMass Index was invented by Adolphe Quetelet in the mid 1800s. It’s a simple calculation that involves dividing your weight by your height squared (multipliers are needed if working out of the metric system). There are a couple flaws to this formula. For one, it doesn’t take muscle mass into consideration. I’ll use myself as an example. Although I’m not a body builder, I maintain a decent physique and have a body fat percentage of less than 10% on my 5’10, 175 lbs frame. However, according to the BMI, I am considered overweight with a BMI score of 25.1. Anybody who uses a regular weightlifting regimen in their workout routine will skew towards the overweight end of the BMI scale.

What we should be focused on is body fat percentage (BF%). BF% is a much more indicative measurement of our fitness level, especially as it pertains to our quality of life. Not only will a lower BF% help you stay more active and mobile, it also helps steer you away from obesity related conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. In fact, people who are considered lean by BMIs standards but still have a high BF% are still at a high risk for diabetes. In other words, BF%, not weight, is the more important factor in regards to type II diabetes.

Another reason weight is just a number is it’s not an indicator of physical fitness. To try and define what it is to be physically fit would be an exercise in failure. However, generally labeling it as a three-legged stool that balances on strength, agility and stamina can probably be agreed upon. The absence of one makes the stool fall over. A marathon runner who is 6′, 145 lbs can have the lung capacity to run all day, but if he’s legs aren’t strong enough to carry him, what’s the point? Is he more fit than a 5’10, 195 lbs man (who’s BMI is 28) who can run three miles in 20 mins, deadlift two and a half times his body weight or have a 32″ vertical just because his weight  and BMI are lower? I would argue no.

ImageImageIf you’re one of those people who started exercising avidly after becoming overweight but have failed to see that number on the scale drop, don’t lose hope. More likely than not, if you’ve been keeping a proper diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine, you’re body is re-proportioning itself by shedding fat and replacing it with muscle. So although your weight may not have dropped at the rate you wanted, your physical ability has in all likelihood improved. So for future self-evaluations, don’t use your scale, but your ability instead. See how much time your drop on your next 5k run, or how many pullups you can do or the amount of situps you can do in a minute. All of these are much better indicators of your fitness level than the digits you find in your bathroom.

So if you really want a true evaluation of your change fitness level, ditch the scale, pick up a body fat caliper, like the one found here, and test yourself on about five difference fitness goals (ex: the three listed above, max reps of pushups and maximum vertical jump) and use those tools as your measuring devices. The numbers you come up with will have a much higher bearing than anything that scale will spout out.

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