Non – Scale Ways to Measure Progress

Losing weight is hard… Watching the scale barely budge week after week when you KNOW you’re eating well and working out hard really sucks and is very discouraging. For me it feels like a watched pot that never boils.  But guess what?  While you’re working out and eating well, there are lots of changes going on in your body at the cellular level – changes that the scale just isn’t capable of capturing.  For that reason I like to gauge my progress with other tests and tools – things that gauge changes in my PHYSICAL FITNESS – not just aesthetics.  I’m a strong believer in eating well and being active for OVERALL HEALTH – not just for the way my clothes fit, or how I look in a bikini.

In my opinion, overall health is a combination of:

  • cardiovascular endurance,
  • flexibility,
  • strength, and
  • balance.

Keeping in mind the 4 things above that contribute to overall health, here are 4ways to measure progress:

1. VO2 Max Test (cardiovascular endurance):

VO2 Max is a measure of how efficiently your body can deliver oxygen to your working muscles during exercise which reflects how physically fit you are.To estimate your VO2 Max, you can do a 15 minute run test, designed by Bruno Balke.  This test is one of many field tests designed to measure aerobic fitness. This test has a formula to predict VO2max from the run distance.

  • aim:  a running test to measure aerobic fitness (the ability of the body to utilize oxygen to power it while running).
  • equipment required:  flat oval or running track,  marking cones, recording sheets,  stop watch.
  • procedure:  Place markers at set intervals around the track to aid in measuring the completed distance, then run for 15 minutes, and then record the distance covered. Walking is allowed, though you should push yourself as hard as  you can.
  • scoring:  The original formula by Balke:  VO2 = 6.5 + 12.5 x kilometers covered

2. Sit & Reach Test (flexibility) :

Low back flexibility is very important because tightness in this area is implicated in lumbar lordosis, forward pelvic tilt and lower back pain. The sit and reach test is a common measure of flexibility that specifically measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.

  • instructions: go for a jog and do some stretching. Remove your shoes and sit on a flat surface, legs extended in front of the body, toes pointing up and feet slightly apart, with the soles of the feet against the base of the step (if there is no step, just any flat surface will do). Place the ruler on the ground between your legs or on the top of the step. Place one hand on top of the other, then reach slowly forward. At the point of your greatest reach, hold for a couple of seconds, and measure how far you have reached. If you have trouble straightening you legs, get a friend to help by holding the knees down flush with the ground. See also video demonstrations of the  Sit and Reach Test.
  • measurement:  Mark or take note of your best score, take a measure in cm or inches beyond the base of your foot, or you did not reach your toes, measure how far before the feet you were (a negative measurement score).
  • how did you do?  Compare your results to the table below. Remember, these scores are based on doing the tests as described, and may not be accurate if the test is modified at all. Don’t worry too much about how you rate – just try and improve your own score.
cm inches cm inches
> +27
> +10.5
> +30
> +11.5
+17 to +27
+6.5 to +10.5
+21 to +30
+8.0 to +11.5
+6 to +16
+2.5 to +6.0
+11 to +20
+4.5 to +7.5
0 to +5
0 to +2.0
+1 to +10
+0.5 to +4.0
-8 to -1
-3.0 to -0.5
-7 to 0
-2.5 to 0
-20 to -9
-7.5 to -3.5
-15 to -8
-6.0 to -3.0
very poor
< -20
< -15
< -6.0
table source: topendsports (based on personal experience)

3. Push Up Test (strength):

A strong upper body is important for everyone who wants to perform everyday movements, such as carrying luggage or picking up children, with ease and without risking injury. Push ups, is a  simple exercise that engages muscles throughout the entire body, with a specific focus on  chest, shoulders, triceps and core strength. Because of this, push ups  are  a good way to test your upper body muscular strength and endurance.
  • how many can you do? Men should use the standard “military style” push up position with only the hands and the toes touching the floor. Women have the additional option of using the “bent knee” position. To do this, kneel on the floor, hands on either side of the chest and keep your back straight. Do as many push ups as possible until exhaustion. Count the total number of push ups performed.
  • how did you do?  Compare your results to the table below. Remember, these scores are based on doing the tests as described, and may not be accurate if the test is modified at all. Don’t worry too much about how you rate – just try and improve your own score.

    Push Up Test (Men)

    > 56
    > 47
    > 41
    > 34
    > 31
    > 30
    Good 47-56 39-47 34-41 28-34 25-31 24-30
    Above average 35-46 30-39 25-33 21-28 18-24 17-23
    Average 19-34 17-29 13-24 11-20 9-17 6-16
    Below average 11-18 10-16 8-12 6-10 5-8 3-5
    Poor 4-10 4-9 2-7 1-5 1-4 1-2
    Very Poor < 4 < 4 < 2 0 0 0

    Push Up Test (Women)

    Age 17-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-65
    Excellent > 35 > 36 > 37 > 31 > 25 > 23
    Good 27-35 30-36 30-37 25-31 21-25 19-23
    Above Average 21-27 23-29 22-30 18-24 15-20 13-18
    Average 11-20 12-22 10-21 8-17 7-14 5-12
    Below average 6-10 7-11 5-9 4-7 3-6 2-4
    Poor 2-5 2-6 1-4 1-3 1-2 1
    Very Poor 0-1 0-1 0 0 0 0

    * Source: adapted from Golding, et al. (1986). The Y’s way to physical fitness (3rd ed.)

4. Standing Balance Test:

Did you know that Dr. Oz believes that falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in America?  Why do people fall?  The simple answer is because they lose their balance. As we age, our kinesthetic awareness decreases, but we can maintain a lot of that by remaining active.

  • how to test: stand on one leg for as long as possible. Practice balancing a few times before starting the test. Then time how long the elevated foot stays off of the ground or until you hop or otherwise lose your balance position. The best of three attempts is recorded. Repeat the test on the other leg.
  • scoring:  time the total length of time you can stay in the balance position. Strive to stand longer every week.
Question/Sharing: What other NON-SCALE ways can you measure fitness progress?


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  • apkussma
    September 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I never wanted to know my VO2 Max badly enough to get lab tested… I had no idea I could use a run test/math formula… Thanks for posting this!

  • MyFitCoach
    September 7, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Love, love, love reminding folks that there are so many ways to measure progress beyond the scale. Great job!

  • Janice - Fitness Cheerleader
    September 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    @apkussma Yes – a run test with a math formula PREDICTS your VO2 Max, while lab testing will measure your exact VO2 max. I’ve personally done BOTH tests and the prediction comes very close to your actual VO2 Max. Doing the lab test is VERY hard (not to mention the expense),

  • Janice - Fitness Cheerleader
    September 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    @MyFitCoach Yes – there is also MUCH more to fitness than looking good. I love these methods because they take into account overall fitness.

  • juliecmboyer
    September 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Great job Janice!

  • ErinBrooks
    September 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    This is pretty cool! I so have to try some of these!

  • Janice - Fitness Cheerleader
    September 10, 2011 at 12:08 am

    @juliecmboyer Thanks Julie!

  • b.nijhoff
    September 13, 2011 at 3:44 am

    These are really good tests and I’m going to them all 🙂 If I dare I will post the results later. Thanks for this great post I hope you post more posts like this.

  • Manfred
    November 13, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hi Janice,

    I tried your test number 2 and 3 described in your post. The results told me I am an average person of 54 years. However, I started approx. 4 month ago to do a little bit for my body.

    It´s the first time a heard about these tests and how to evaluate it. Thanks for this info. I will check again in the future and hopefully will see some improvements.

    I am 3-4 days a week 30 minutes on my elliptical trainer. I measure the increase of the burnt calories. In the last 3 months I could increase the level from 365 kcal to 616 kcal. I think not so bad but maybe I should add different activities as my test results were only average. I loose also 6 kg (approx. 13 pounds) but I changed also a little bit my food intake.

    In my opinion the best way to go is doing something for the fitness in combination with a more healthy eating. I feel already better after only 4 months.

    Greetings from Germany

  • team building cooking
    April 17, 2012 at 2:23 am

    I want to measure my progress on a weekly basis. Once the calipers resolution goes from 0.5mm to 0.2 or 0.1 mm the price increases drastically. The thing I’m wondering is, if my pinches decrease by an amount…Thanks..


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