Why We Won't Weigh You At Rocket
There are few things as controversial in the fitness industry as ideas around body fat and weight. The loss of both of those things is a key marketing tool for many gyms, and we're not stupid, we know we could lure in more people by marketing loss of both as a goal. But, as I've said a bajillion times, that would make us liars. More than that, it would feed an aspect of our culture that I find harmful.
It's simpler than that though. Weight and body fat are simply not useful measures of fitness, and there are other way to measure "progress."
First, because I can sense all the eye-rolls out there: I am not saying there's anything wrong with weight loss. I do believe that there are some ways in which truly excessive body fat limits one's ability to "live one's life fully." HOWEVER, that definition of "excessive" and "live one's life fully" are 100% subjective and no one except the person whose body it is has any right to decide what that body needs.
Now, why do I believe weight and body fat are not useful metrics? Let's start with weight. I'll use myself as an example. I've hacked my nutrition enough that I know exactly how food makes me feel. I know how I want to feel. I know how to use food to get there. For about 6 months, I ignored everything I knew, until I found myself in a place where my joints hurt, my sleep sucked, my workouts were slog-fests at best, and I generally felt like shit. I have spent the last 26 days eating how I know my body wants me to eat, EVERYTHING is better, I have absolutely lost at least one size (based on how my clothes fit) and I have lost 0.1 pounds. At the far ends of the spectrum, weight MIGHT have some relevance. At best, it is a corollary factor, not a causal one. It's a meaningless metric and chasing it as a goal is futile, frustrating and sure to make people feel like they're failing.
But what about body fat? Well, that's a little trickier, but not a whole lot. I absolutely believe that at some point, excessive body fat limits what you can do. I mean, if I were going to throw on a 50# weight vest and go through my day, it would limit me, I would feel it in my joints. For sure. So I'm not gonna say that losing that 50# is a bad idea. What I am going to say is that how the fitness industry generally goes about addressing that is wrong. Arbitrary goals based on numbers and appearance rather than a personal assessment of how you feel and what you can do are even more wrong.
So, what's a better way to set goals? Better ways to measure health and fitness?
There are relatively easy ways to measure health. Doctors measure all sorts of things from bloodwork: blood sugar, hormones, cholesterol (though there's some reason to be skeptical about this measure) and more. Doctors, and many gyms, can measure things like VO2 max, cardio capacity etc.... All of those things are measures of health that do not involve weight or body fat. There are also relatively easy ways to measure the more nebulous concept of wellness. How is your energy level? What's your sleep quality? How's your immune system? Mood?
In the gym, however, CrossFit gives us really easy things to measure. CrossFit is built on 10 elements of fitness that were published in the CrossFit Journal in 2002:
CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE: The ability of the body systems to gather, transfer and process oxygen.
STAMINA: The ability of the body to process, store, deliver, and utilize energy.
STRENGTH: The ability of a muscular unit or a group of muscular units to apply force.
FLEXIBILITY: The ability of maximizing range of motion at a given joint.
POWER: The ability of a muscular unit or a group of muscular units to apply maximum force in a minimum amount of time.
SPEED: The ability to minimize the time cycle of a given movement.
AGILITY: The ability to minimize transition time between one movement pattern and another.
COORDINATION: The ability to combine many distinct movement patters into one precise motion.
BALANCE: The ability to control the placement of the bodies’ center of gravity in its relation to its support base.
ACCURACY: The ability to control a movement in a given direction and at a given intensity
At Rocket, and in most CrossFit gyms, these are the things that we do every day. We ask you to use an app called SugarWOD to track your workouts. Not because you need to hit arbitrary targets, but because it's a great way to see that you are making progress. Not towards weight or size, but towards improving all of those markers are fitness. In 8 years, I've never seen anyone NOT achieve better fitness based on those metrics.
When you can look back and see the changes in your fitness level, it's motivating. It's validating. It keeps you coming back for more. Where shame is a thing that people will inherently hide from, success is a thing we seek. Shaming someone for their body is likely to eventually send them away. Helping them feel good for their progress is a thing that will keep them coming back. It's basic psychology, and basic business.
Have some of those people lost weight? Yes, for sure. We've seen a lot of weight lost. We've also seen weight gained. Bodies that are functioning optimally look all sorts of ways, and we've seen it all. We've seen people go off of meds for blood pressure, blood sugar and other chronic issues.
More importantly, we've given countless people ways to measure the power of their body without tracking weight and body fat. We've given them the motivation to keep coming back, not because they still feel like failures, but the exact opposite, because they feel good. Another quick illustration for you. We had a member once whose doctor kept telling them they had to lose weight. Sure, to the eye, they looked "heavy." But they were strong as hell, could run farther than I could without getting winded, could lift heavy and do all the things we do in our workouts without any more or less problem than everyone else in the room. We were talking once, and they started crying with the frustration of not being able to lose the weight their doctor told them they had to. So I asked about metabolic testing, what did all the tests say? The tests were fine, all of them, they indicated a perfectly healthy body. The only metric outside the standard was weight. "I don't know what's wrong with me," the member implored. "I think maybe nothing is wrong with you," I responded.
The fear and shame that they about their body was doing far more harm than their fat was.
Along the same lines, there are some people for whom their body fat IS limiting their lives. They don't need me, or anyone else, to point that out to them. They know. They live in a world that is constantly telling them they are bad and weak and wrong. So we won't. We'll just ask them about their health, their wellness and their fitness. We'll set goals based on doing things they want to do, and getting better at the things we can measure that actually matter. We will, literally, never mention their weight.
Look, I do believe that strong, healthy bodies come in every shape and size. I also believe that weak, unhealthy bodies come in every shape and size. Size just isn't a metric worth focusing on, not when there are so many objective and quantifiable metrics that do a better job, without all the emotional baggage.
Does size matter? Maybe.