One of the questions we get the most from people trying our extreme workouts like P90X Workout or Insanity Work Out is why they haven’t dropped as much weight as they had hoped. Three, four weeks into the workout program, and they’re standing on the scale, looking down at the numbers with a mixture of resignation and defeat as they see that they haven’t changed as much as they had hoped. Despite the work, the sweat, the effort and careful eating, the pounds haven’t fallen off like water. Are they doing something wrong? In fact, they are. They’re focusing on the wrong thing.

People need to understand what’s going on inside their body before they become discouraged. The sole goal should not be weight loss, but rather the change in body composition. While the public at large is slowly becoming aware of what this entails, clearly there is still some confusion. Let’s take a look at what body composition mean, and then apply it to what happens to your body when you begin to exercise regularly.

When you stand on a scale, you see a number, but what does that number measure? Your weight, but what is being weighed? The contents of your body. You’re not just one homogeneous mass, but rather are composed of various substances, such as bone, fat, blood, water and lean muscle mass. You have minerals, organs, your brain, and some other minor amounts of various substances we don’t need to detail here. Add them all together, and you have your combined weight. Makes sense, right?

Now, when people say they want to lose weight, they probably aren’t talking about dropping a few pounds of bone or brain. So what have you lost when you step on a scale after dieting for a few weeks, and see that you’ve lost some six pounds? That you probably lost either fat, water, or muscle mass. But which?

When you exercise, you burn fat, but also build muscle. Volume wise, muscle weighs more than fat. So if you are adding a lot of muscle to your frame while losing fat, you may not actually lose much weight, even though are losing fat. See how that works? People who are solely focused on losing weight may become discouraged even though their body composition is improving, their energy levels are up, and how they look naked is vastly better.

In fact, those are much better gauges of your health levels than just weight; take a look in the mirror, and see what you look like. You will notice differences if you are swapping fat for muscle. Check your energy levels. Have they gone up? All those can be indicators that your exercise is having real results, and not just dropping water.