Canstar Community News - ONLINE EDITION

Finding effective alternatives to the scale

  • Print

I’ve written about the evils of the scale before. Today’s column is about all the different ways you can measure your progress in health, fitness and body composition, without ever getting on a scale.

The problem, of course, with using simple body weight as a measure of progress, is that it is simply not a good indicator of true health, fitness, or even body composition. Many doctors still use a combination of height and body weight, or BMI, which is only slightly more useful than using simple body weight. This provides virtually no useful information for healthcare or fitness professionals. It doesn’t tell us how fit someone is, and doesn’t even help us predict risk of death or disease.

Body composition is a better indication of long-term health as it takes muscle mass into consideration. The most common and least expensive way to estimate body composition is bioelectric impedance. It works by measuring the speed of an electric current going through the body. You can buy a bioimpedance body composition scale at any department store. Although it is easy to find and inexpensive it can be quite inaccurate. A person’s hydration, stomach and bladder contents can dramatically change the results. For this reason I don’t recommend this method.

Hydrostatic, or underwater weighing, has historically been the gold standard for measuring body composition. The idea is to measure water displacement based on the Archimedes principle. The Bod Pod uses a similar concept but measures air displacement instead of water displacement. Both methods are quite accurate in most situations, but are not readily accessible to the general population and harder to use on a regular basis to measure progress over time.

The new gold standard is the DEXA scan, or Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry scan. This is essentially an X-ray machine that was traditionally used to measure bone density. However, it can measure the body’s fat mass, bone mass and lean body mass, so it is extremely accurate.

Like the hydrostatic weighing method however, it can be difficult and expensive to access, usually only found at universities and research facilities. For this reason it is not ideally suited for repeated measurements geared toward tracking progress over time.

Taking skinfold measurements is another common way to estimate body fat. Skinfold calipers are used to measure the thickness of folds of subcutaneous fat and the measures are then used to provide an estimated body fat percentage. The accuracy of this method depends on the skill and experience of the person doing the measurements. This method is inexpensive and accessible at many gyms and clinics. If you can get measured by the same person regularly, it can be a good option when working with a trainer.

Last but not least, here is my favourite way to track progress. First, take a photo of yourself from the back, side and front. Then take a tape measure and measure around your waist and hips. Third, test how many pull-ups, pushups or burpees you can do in one minute. It’s free, it only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to see if what you are doing in the kitchen and the gym is making you look better, feel better and perform better.

Tania Tetrault Vrga is owner and head trainer at CrossFit Winnipeg. Send questions to her at

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller

Fall Arts Guide

We preview what’s new and what’s coming up in Winnipeg’s new arts season

View our Fall Arts Guide

Readers' Choice Awards

Best Of Winnipeg Readers Survey

See the results of the 2014 Canstar Community News Best of Winnipeg Readers' Survey.

View Results

This Just In Twitter bird


Which movie quote best represents your thoughts while you were out getting bottled water in the wake of the city’s boil water advisory?

View Results

View Related Story