Fitness: Do numbers matter?

Numbers seem to dominate the ‘fitness’ world at times. What’s your PB? How much can you lift? How much do you weigh? What’s the optimum macro division? But I have to question – does it really matter?


On the one hand…

Paying attention to numbers can be a great way to help you train. I’m in the process of preparing for a 10K and would really like to improve my time. By varying training sessions – paying attention to distance and speed – I am seeing improvements. Sometimes I’ve been running a long distance slower, sometimes I’ve been adding in shorter but faster sections and sometimes I’ve been trying to maintain a ‘race pace.’ To do this successfully, it’s necessary to pay attention to numbers.

The same is true for weight loss. There’s no real trick to weight loss itself – you simply need to expend more calories than you consume. It’s a simple equation. Technically, you could eat nothing but chocolate bars and still lose weight provided you expend that energy than you consume. It’s therefore useful to know something about the number of calories consumed.

To improve your health or to even change your body composition, numbers are also useful. Food is much more than a number of calories. Tracking calories and macros via something like My Fitness Pal is a great way to track this and help with focus. I’m not a massive fan of simply using weight as an indication of health. But it’s now not difficult to measure body composition or just to keep a note of measurements like waist size etc. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate anyone being a weight that affects their health in a detrimental way – I do think weight is a personal preference. If someone wants to lose weight so that they look a different way – or equally if they want to gain weight – then measuring can help measure progress.

But there’s a flip to that too…

Fixating on numbers can also really be a negative. There have been times when I’ve been really disheartened by seeing numbers not do what I wanted. The most obvious being weight increases. But anyone who has weighed themselves regularly – or even throughout a single day – will know that weight can fluctuate massively. It’s not always an accurate measure.

There’s also a whole myriad of reasons that you can gain or loose weight. It could just be down to hormones or water intake rather than a change in muscle or fat.

The number on the scales simply does not tell the whole picture. I know there’s the age old mantra that muscle weights more than fat; but I always want to roll my eyes at this one. It seems so unfair that working out more can translate to a weight gain. However, I am very conscious that I weigh the same now as I have before yet I’m a very different shape. I have dresses that no longer fit across my shoulders but trouser than are now loose. In short – the number doesn’t tell the full story.

Nothing shouts this more loudly than the numbers we find on clothing labels. In some shops, I wear an 8 whereas in others I may need a 14. What does this number really tell me? In one shop I’m thin and another I’m fat – or rather the numbers across the industry are ridiculous? I suppose I could just shop in the place that tells me I’m thinner or I could completely disregard the number!

Additionally, looking at numbers isn’t the same as learning about good nutrition. Meal times should be an enjoyable experience, if tracking calories and macros leads to viewing food in a negative way – then that’s not good! Feeling guilty or upset about enjoying food is just ridiculous. A good friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about some kind of meal replacement liquid that tasted like yeast and left them feeling bloated. I have no idea how that could possibly enhance life!

I have to wonder whether the time really matters at the end of my 10K. In my heart of hearts, I have to admit that I do care… but at what cost?

I’m still covering the distance. I’ll still be out of breath, sweating and consequently improving my health and fitness. Should I then be disappointed by a number on a clock?

I’m concerned that the numbers that so dominate my life are in fact sapping my life away.

As I step on the scales each morning, disappointed that I’m not under 10 stone what am I really doing to myself?

I ran 9 kilometres on Monday – the furthest I’ve run in one go in three years – yet instead of celebrating this I was disappointed I wasn’t two minutes faster.

Are numbers beneficial to me? Perhaps at times. Should they dominate so much? No.

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