Strength Monday 6/24/13 (w/ Bonus Scale Rant)


In my quest for lean superhero-ness, Dave and I are hitting the craptastic gym in our Converse to lift heavy stuff and work on skills a few times a week. (If you’re new to strength training, here’s a great overview of what all the lingo below means.)

For about 18 months or so, I’ve been using the Wendler 5/3/1 strength training program. It did a brilliant job of seeing me through my n=1 experiments and definitely increased my strength, but the way my body looks hasn’t changed the way I want it to. So in the interests of both science and vanity, I’m starting a new training program that I’ll tell you all about very soon. For now, I’m reacquainting I’m, getting sweaty with workouts that combine heavy lifting with higher-volume, lower-weight work.

3:00 treadmill at 3.9 mph
5:00 jump rope: singles, fancy boxing footwork
arm circles, shoulder work with PVC pipe


1st combo
5 X 6 pushups
5 X 6 bench press: 80#, 80#, 75#, 75#, 75#
5 X 8 inverted row
rest :30 between repetitions of the trio

2nd combo
4 X 11 dumbbell shoulder press, 15# dbs
4 X 11 lat pulldown, 70# db
rest :30 between repetitions of the duo

3rd combo
3 X 11 dumbbell hammer curl, 15# dbs
3 X 11 triceps press down (cable machine): 40#, 40#, 30#
3 X 11 upright row with band
rest :30 between repetitions of the trio


:30 side plank, L & R
:60 plank

I have to tell you something else. I weighed myself today… for the first time in, oh…. probably 4 years.

Sure, I have to step on the scale whenever I visit a doctor’s office, but I always ignore that number because I’m fully clothed, wearing my shoes, and have usually eaten at least once prior to the heinous weigh-in. I really haven’t worried at all about the number on the scale during my hormone adventures. Yes, I knew I was gaining weight, but I don’t need the scale to tell me that, and I genuinely don’t care what the number shows up on the display.

Because here’s the thing about scales: Scales are stupid for many reasons. They are not an accurate measurement of overall health, of athletic ability, or of general value as a human being. The scale doesn’t know that you have a charming smile or that when a friend needs a really good listener, you’re the first person that gets a call. And, focusing on the purely physical, the scale doesn’t know that you’ve got badass amounts of muscle.

But I am very. very. serious. about getting my body in shape — and part of celebrating is knowing when I’ve made progress, and that requires that I know where I’m starting. I’m not using the scale as a way to “hold myself accountable” nor will I use it to apply blunt-force trauma to my psyche (because that’s bullshit), but I think in some cases, the scale can be one of many tools to help track how things are going.

Note that I said “help” track. The number on the scale is just one data point I have at my disposal to help me in my quest for superhero-ness. The other is a really cute pair of denim shorts that are currently a bit too tight to make a public debut.

So, knowing what I know about the scale — and with other tools like a tape measure, body fat measurement, and the aforementioned denim shorts at my disposal — why did I weigh myself?  Honestly, part of it was curiosity. The rest of the answer is one of the dirty little secrets of working at home in a climate that’s hellaciously hot. And it’s this: most days I wear clothes that feel like pajamas. My work “uniform” is either the so-light-I-can-barely-feel-it sundress that I’m wearing right now (candy-colored polka dots on a black background) or whatever I happened to shrug into for my workout that day. (Are you sensing the overwhelming glamour of it all yet?!)

Which means when my body starts undergoing it’s fantastic transformation (which I just have to believe it’s going to do), I might not notice right away. The expand-o-matic qualities of my current wardrobe might not indicate to me that I’m shrinking. So once a week, I’ll use the scale at the gym to see what that’s all about, and then I’ll come home and try on those damn denim shorts, and once a month, I’ll check in with my measurements. I’m promising myself (and all of you) that all of these measurements will occur in a judgment-free zone — and if any of it starts causing me mental anguish, I’ll banish it immediately.

To be clear: I’m not a fan of the scale. I don’t think it’s the right tool for everyone, and I don’t think something like daily weigh-ins are right for anyone. But for now, I’m feeling comfortable about adding the scale back into my toolbox.

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  • Tricialew says:

    So much truth here. Love your outlook and pretty much everything you’ve let us know about you. We are transformers. Believe that.

  • Cat says:

    Right there with you! It always annoyed me when people say ‘the scale lies’. Uh no…it doesn’t. It may not tell the whole story but it certainly doesn’t lie. The scale doesn’t not form judgments…we do that to ourselves.

    This morning, I stepped on the scale for the first time in almost 2 years myself. I wanted a starting reference point…nothing more. And like you, if I feel it working it’s way into my psyche, I’ll step away from it again.

    • Mel says:

      I’m actually SO SO SO happy that stepping on the scale didn’t ping my emotions at all. Back in the day, when I went to Weight Watchers, I would cry if the scale didn’t change. I’m so delighted to find that I’m over being worried about the actual number I see — I just want to watch it trend.

      • Sara says:

        “I’m actually SO SO SO happy that stepping on the scale didn’t ping my emotions at all.”

        AMEN! I had a similar experience the other day, stepping on the scale for the first time in two years. I was pretty worried (didn’t want to go all basket-case on my poor trainer doing the measurements), but I ended up being surprisingly chill about the number. I still think scales are not for me, but it’s really empowering when you see that you’ve gotten over tying your esteem to a number. Awesome!

  • Felicia says:

    Using a scale or some other method to accurately measure body fat percentage (not BMI) may be more useful than just measuring weight.

    • Mel says:

      I’ve actually had my body fat measured with the DEXA scan several times. I’m not very concerned with actual numbers this time around. Instead, I’m using the scale as a very dumb, blunt tool to see if my weight is “trending in the right direction.” I agree that body fat measurement is a much more accurate way to gauge body comp, etc. but I’m not overly concerned with my stats. I just want to watch for trending in the right direction.

  • Danielle says:

    Mel, I’m right there with you! Working with Amy Kubal to get back my mojo after the sh*tstorm this year… LET’S DO IT!!! xo

  • Cathy M says:

    I’m spending the year alternating between strict Whole 30 and a little looser Whole 30ish months, and for the first time in my life, I’m weighing myself once a month. The strict Whole 30 says no weighing during the month, but even when I’m not being strict, once a month seems reasonable as part of a complement of ways to track progress. I have always before vacillated between daily (sometimes more than once a day!) weigh-ins and ignoring all measurements completely for years at a time. Balance and perspective are the new buzz words! Hope things trend in the right direction for you!

  • claudia says:

    Hi Mel. Just wanted to let you know that ever since I found your site (about 5 days ago), I haven’t been able to stop reading your posts. They are absolutely addictive -I enjoy your writing so much! I have recently purchased the Whole 30 book (waiting for Amazon’s delivery), and your Well Fed book will be next in line for sure, I am extremely excited.

    Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations on being awesome.

    (super awesome).

    • Mel says:

      I’m glad you found me — and thank you for the sweet words. I’m really happy you’re finding my posts helpful. You’re going to LOVE ‘It Starts With Food’! Enjoy it!

  • Karen B. says:

    I use a scale too and refuse to apologize for it (and you shouldn’t either!). You just have to do what works for you and use what tools are available. It’s especially useful for us gals (and guys, I suppose) who are thyroid deficient. We tend to put on weight differently than those who have natural metabolisms.

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for this: “I use a scale too and refuse to apologize for it (and you shouldn’t either!).”

      I feel like it’s politically incorrect to want to “lose weight” and to use a scale… but I think it’s worth experimenting to see what tools work well for each of us. And yes, with thyroid issues, our situation is different than a “normal” person… although at this point, I’m not sure what a normal person would be.

  • Claire says:

    I am right there with you. I bought a scale 10 days ago, complete with the shock that came when the number popped up (confession, I checked to make sure my kitten hadn’t joined me on the scale). A leather pencil skirt is my goal attire. Thank you for this post, I feel less crazy now! I look forward to reading about your success.

  • ~Lori says:

    It’s funny, because when I am losing weight, I weigh myself every. single. day. without fail. But I have learned not to let a jump of a pound or two bother me. I use an app that calculates a weighted moving average and shows my weight loss (or gain!) as a smoothed plotted line. The graph of actual weights is usually quite jagged. If I didn’t weigh everyday and enter it into my app, I’d be haunted by the suspicion that I’d hit the higher-weight days and miss the low-weight days! Nothing like a day like today, when I stepped onto the scale and saw that I had made it under 200…. It might be 201 tomorrow, or it might be 197, but either way, today is a red-letter day.

    Just like most things, everyone has to find what works for them. I’m always happy to hear when someone has found the winning combination for some aspect of their life. I hope the new workouts do all you desire! I so admire your dedication to your strength training. I do believe it might just inspire me to start doing it myself one of these days! Probably not until I lose enough weight to see my sexy muscles, though. 😀

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective — so awesome that you found habits that work for you. Right on! And thank you for the lovely words of support and encouragement.

      Re lifting weights: Lifting heavy things will actually help you lose “enough weight to see sexy muscles” so you might want to just TRY adding strength training to your life once or twice a week. If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll do a blog post about how to get started.

      • ~Lori says:

        I would love to see a blog post about it, Mel! I can’t see joining a gym in my situation (too many reasons to enumerate here) but strength training at home is certainly an option. If I could do it while avoiding free weights, that would be even better. 🙂

        • Michele says:

          Hello Melissa, Lori,

          Yes please – a post on how to get started would be great. I do mostly Mark Sisson, Primal Blueprint fitness stuff but am also interested in another perspective. What I enjoyed about Mark’s info is that he gives different levels for the different movements – from beginner to advanced.

          Melissa, do you think it would be helpful to include goals you would shoot for (like beginner, intermediate, advanced)? I know goals are very personal but I’d be interested in what you think is realistic.

      • Maureen says:

        Yes, please! Blog post about how to get started. I find it really scary, don’t know why.
        Unrelated – your squash pad thai is hands-down the MOST delicious thing I made on my Whole30. Came back to your site to find the recipe to make again — at my husband’s request, no less.

  • Bree says:

    It’s funny, when I wasn’t able to work out much through nursing school, I would weigh myself weekly to see if I was gaining weight since I wasn’t very active. I relied on it to tell me if I needed to eat more, less, or whatnot. However, when I can eat right AND be physically active regularly I could care less what number pops up because the combination of those two factors usually makes me feel great (emotionally and physically). I recently did a 21 day bootcamp workout where they did a weigh in and body fat measurement on the first and last day. I hadn’t stepped on a scale in months and wasn’t too surprised when the first number was where my body comfortably sits. However, the last weigh in showed that I had gained weight, but lost 2% body fat, proving to me that a number on the scale doesn’t mean much. I have found over the last few years that I feel my best when I am eating whole foods and being active regularly, not necessarily when the scale reflects a lower weight. I still weigh myself maybe once a month (mostly out of curiosity), but I am content in knowing that my worth does not depend on that number.

  • De23 says:

    Good for you, Mel! I am sadly in the habit of weighing myself every day and bemoaning how I’ve gradually crept up 10 pounds over what I weighed 10 or 15 years ago. But you got the thinking – we just got back from vacation in Yosemite, a repeat from 15 years ago. Back then, we did a 8 mile hike and I struggled to finish and I was wiped out for a week. This time, I hiked to the top of Half Dome (16.5 miles, 4800 feet up and down, pull yourself up nearly vertical granite on cables the last 400 feet). I had no trouble with any of it (thank you rope climbs at CrossFit!), and wasn’t even overly tired at the end – I could have gone further! So forget you, scale! What does it have to do with anything anyway? Hmph!

    Also, I just wanted to say how much I miss reading your blog regularly since I started back to work full-time. I am always encouraged by both your successes and the struggles you share. I’m trying to get back to working from home – know anyone who needs a copy editor? 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Sounds like the reason you “crept up” is because you’re made of solid, totally ass-kicking, beautifully badass muscle. RIGHT ON! Congratulations on tackling Yosemite like a boss… that sounds like so much fun!

      Sending you good vibes to get back to working from home. 😉

      • De23 says:

        Thanks! I do have a lot more muscle but also a big fat layer on top, which is the problem. But yes, it was loads of fun! My husband didn’t want to do it so I went by myself and met all kinds of cool and interesting people along the way!