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Muscle Growth, Fat Loss, Resistance Training

Why You Should Stop Looking at the Scale if You Lift Weights

By Joe Talarico on Mar 21, 2023 9:00:00 AM
5 Minutes Reading Time


It’s easy to get caught up on the scale when you are trying to lose weight. It has become a lot of peoples default way of tracking their progress. The issue with this is it isn’t reliable. It is leaving far too many variables out that play huge roles towards whether your weight stays the same or changes.

Muscle Matters

For starters, muscle matters. If you weigh 180lbs, at 15% bodyfat, you would have 27 lbs of fat mass, and 153 lbs of lean body mass. If you were to lift consistently and put on muscle the ratio may change to dropping down to 18 lbs of fat mass, and 162 lbs of lean body mass at 10% body fat. By following only the scale you’ll still only read that you are 180 lbs and think you have failed this entire journey. As we can see from taking a deeper look is quite the opposite. You DROPPED 9 lbs of fat, and GAINED 9 lbs of muscle! That’s an insane shift! When following a proper nutrition regimen where you are eating at maintenance and enough protein, while adhering to a proper resistance training protocol, this is very much possible yet so little talked about. What we must remember is there is a lot more to changing your physique than simply lowering your weight. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want to lose that much fat and gain that much muscle, versus just losing fat.

Weight Fluctuation

We also have to keep in mind the day to day changes. You can adhere to a whole foods diet, eating good Mon-Fri, and Saturday and Sunday you just go out to eat at a restaurant. Maybe you overate calories for one day, or ate very salty foods. Either situation will falsely tell you the next morning that you have put on 2-5 lbs. Eating more food than normal for one day can definitely give the illusion of having “gained weight”. It is usually from eating saltier foods. The salt draws in more water weight, but it also can make you look/feel bloated. That’s a double whammy for looking in the mirror and stepping on the scale and wondering how it all went so wrong. Don’t fall into that trap.

Our glycogen also stores a lot of water. Glycogen resides in the liver and in the muscle. When a bodybuilder gets ready for a competition, what they’ll usually do leading up to it is deplete their body of water, and the morning of the show overload on carbs. What they are hoping to achieve here is that their body depletes so much water from their body, that the moment you add carbs, because glycogen stores water in the muscle, all the water will go straight to the muscles giving you a much fuller, muscular look.

Muscle Gain IS Weight Gain

Let’s also not forget, putting on weight isn’t always a bad thing. What if you worked really hard in the gym and started adding muscle? That would still show the scale moving up yet in this case, isn’t that good news? 

The Solution

We have to remember why we are using the scale in the first place. I’m assuming you had a goal in mind of looking a certain way. Regardless of whether that is to put on size, or lose weight, the common thread is looks. A scale has no role in that other than information. It is giving you a snapshot of that second, of THAT particular day only. It doesn’t aim to show the whole picture of every day, based on what foods and work was done that day. So what is a better solution? Use the mirror instead. Take weekly progress pictures. By taking progress pictures, it’ll give you a more accurate representation of if you are hitting your goals. If you do happen to be replacing fat with muscle, and the scale isn’t moving then after a month, the pictures should still show huge physique changes. Focus on your strength in the gym. If the scale is going up, but you look the same in the mirror, AND your numbers are going up in the gym, then you’ve hit the jackpot. You have now found the sweet spot of burning fat and building muscle. While this won’t last forever, I would continue what you are doing for as long as it’ll last to reap the rewards.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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