Body Weight: It’s Just a Number

Body weight is a funny, shifty thing.  There are so many factors (food and water intake, type of food consumed, hormones, bathroom usage) causing our weight to slide up or down during the course of any given day, that it really makes more sense to talk about our body weight in terms of a weight range, yet most of us have a single number in mind as our perfect weight.  Often that ideal weight is based on some chart we’ve seen at a doctor’s office or in a magazine.  Sometimes that ideal is based in our own experience, a weight at which we felt happy and satisfied with our lives.  For some of us, the number the we designate as our perfect weight is a lower number, one that we’re trying to regain.  For some of us it’s a higher number, one that we believe will reflect desired muscle growth.  For a handful of us, that number is the one we see reflected back to us on our scales.  Whatever the number, for many of us body weight is a number to which we become emotionally attached, and whether or not we achieve or maintain that number becomes another way for us to judge ourselves.

scale5In reality, our weight is just an indication of the force with which gravity holds us to the earth; and there are very few instances where the number on the scale actually matters outside of our own ideas of what that number says about us.  Like many, I have kept an eye on the number on my scale, but as I become more involved in strength training, my relationship with this number is changing.  During my teen years, I was overly and unhealthfully concerned about body weight; the number on the scale in the morning largely determined what I ate or did throughout the day and also how I felt about my body and myself.  I spent most of my twenties intentionally avoiding scales, refusing to purchase one or even keep one in the house.  I realized that knowledge of this number had informed my opinion of myself too much, so I looked for other ways to shape those views.  Early on those measures were external, the number of miles I logged on a long run or during a week or the size on the clothes I bought.  As I got older, I learned to use more elusive, internal measures, like how much energy I had throughout the day or how comfortable I felt in my own skin.

When I started strength training, my interest in knowing my body weight more exactly increased, but my attitude toward that number has shifted.  Rather than body weight serving as a straight-up measure of self-worth, as it did when I was younger, I want to know how much I weigh so I can calculate percent body weight on my lifts.  One way of understanding an individual’s strength is to look at the total amount of weight on her bar, but to understand that more accurately in relation to the strength of another individual, you need to account for body weight.  Mass moves mass.  So if two lifters both squat 200#, but one weighs 200# and the other weighs 120#, that’s not an equivalent lift.  The 200# individual has squatted her body weight, but the 120# individual has squatted 1.67 times her body weight.  This is why the frequent follow up question to a report of how much an individual has lifted is how much the individual weighs.

Percent body weight calculations are interesting and help us to understand lifts in a different way; they provide a way to compare apples and oranges.  Just as with actual body weight though, it is easy to get emotionally attached to percent body weight of a lift or to use that number to judge our value.  When we get right down to it, in most cases our attitude towards ourselves matters more than any body weight related measurement.  More than any number or percentage, what we allow ourselves to believe about ourselves, our ability, and our worth ultimately is far more important.