How to take useful progress pictures in 3 steps
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re starting a program thinking you aren’t seeing enough “weight” come off (don’t use the scale as your only indicator of progress!) or that certain areas on your body aren’t responding “fast enough.”
That’s why I always recommend taking progress pictures and measurements periodically and methodically throughout your journey, because it helps you see yourself more objectively and helps you see the bigger picture of progress you’re making (rather than focusing on one area every day).
I want you to be sure to read The Truth About Your Weight to understand body composition so you can enjoy the journey and not be hard on yourself for no reason!
1. Take your pictures and measurements at the same time every week, from the front, sides, and back.
You can also do every other week if you like too, just pick an interval and be consistent. Add a reminder to your calendar every 7-10 days or at your chosen interval so you can stay on top of it.
Wear the same outfit ideally, using the same lighting. This will be really helpful when you line your pictures up side by side and look for changes.
2. Take more full length body shots than just pictures of your abs or one specific body part
It’s tempting to just zero in on the areas we most want to see change in, but if I personally just focus on my stomach or butt, I miss important changes happening in my arms, legs and back!
I see this all the time with the women I work with – they write me discouraged that their stomach isn’t changing fast enough – and they are totally missing the awesome muscle tone they’re creating in their legs, back, arms and other places…which if they keep going will affect their abs shortly!
We have to be able to look for the actual progress we are making – all of it! Not just the physical changes that show in a picture, but also our energy. Our mood. Our self-confidence and strength.
Yes, it’s ok to want to look your best, but beating yourself up mentally along the way is NOT the way to enjoy the journey, and you never need to feel bad about yourself.
So look at the big picture (literally take a picture of your entire body) and remember to pay attention to the other changes that you can’t see in the photo.
A couple notes on progress and fat loss –
Fat does not come off the body in the order that we want it to, it’s a fact of life. We can’t spot reduce areas on our body either. So doing a lot of crunches or ab exercises is not going to make your stomach flat.
Burning off your fat systemically (meaning all over) AND adding lean muscle to your body is the fastest way to change your shape. Fat comes off in the order it went on – an order primarily governed by genetics. So if you gain first on your stomach, guess what – it will come off the stomach LAST.
In the picture of Joanna, she did not lose her stomach fat by doing a lot of ab exercises. She did a combination of strength training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) in her Rock Your Life challenge workouts, and she stuck with her healthy eating.
Having the group to check in with and us coaches to talk to helped her stay focused, accountable, and keep going. She didn’t see a lot of change between day 1 and day 7, but once she took her day 14 pictures and lined them up with her day 1 pictures, she was able to really see the difference, which motivated her to keep going.
This is EXACTLY why you want to look at your entire body to see the changes that you’re making. If you’re making some changes, you’re heading in the right direction. The LAST thing you should do is stop, get discouraged or quit now!
Here is an excerpt from Sculpted and Strong: How Muscle Works (a great post to read next):
How muscle impacts your body composition
If fat burning is a focus for you, building muscle is one of the most effective ways to support that goal as with each contraction of your muscle, you’ll use more energy (and burn more calories).
I know it may not be on your radar to focus on muscle gain over fat loss because we’ve been so trained by diet culture to think about our “body fat” as the primary needle mover, but I want to reframe that viewpoint, and break down some important things you need to know about what muscle does, how it works, and how important it really is to preserve as you go through your life as a strong, capable and healthy woman.
Body composition is often overlooked in “weight loss” focused training. Five pounds of muscle and five pounds of fat both weigh five pounds, but they take up very different amounts of space in our bodies (see picture below). Fat is looser and takes up more space per pound than muscle, which is dense and compact.
As you add muscle to your body, not only do you become a more efficient fat burner (as muscle burns more calories due to the increased energy output when a muscle contracts) but you also change the shape (composition) of your body – usually to an aesthetically tighter, more “toned” shape.
This doesn’t always translate to the amount of “weight” lost – if you were to replace a pound of fat on your body with a pound of muscle, you would not change your “weight” but the composition and shape of your body would change to look smaller and you’d be reaping all the benefits of carrying that additional muscle tissue.
Losing fat without strengthening and growing muscle may make the body appear smaller, but looser. While I dislike the term “skinny-fat” this accurately describes the flabby state of a non-muscular body.
People who focus on excessive cardio and dieting (without any focus on strength training) can experience negative results, including a lowered immune response and an increased stress response – which contributes to muscle breakdown, and slows fat loss.
When weight loss is your goal, consider adjusting your frame to include “muscle acquisition” as a shared goal with fat loss.
If adding or improving the quality of our muscle is already a goal, we can directly impact fat loss in similar ways as we impact muscle strength – with mobility and flexibility work, resistance training, cardiovascular training, healthy eating, regular rest and good sleep, and mitigating our stress levels.
3. Line your pictures up from oldest to newest left to right.
Since we read left to right, this is the easiest way to look at your pictures. If you share your pictures with us after rocking a Betty Rocker program, we’ll rearrange them this way for you if you haven’t done it already because it’s just easier to look at.
I recommend lining your pictures up one pose per collage, side by side of the same pose. It’s harder to focus on the body parts and changes when you make a big collage of 6 images all together. You can do whatever you want of course! We just find it’s easier to appreciate and focus on what we’re looking at when there are just 2 images per picture.
When I’m working on a goal, I’ll line up my first picture in one pose on the left and each week, drop my newest picture in the same pose to the right. I’ll mark them with the dates so I can see the progress on a timeline.
Apps like Live Collage, Diptic, Pic Stitch or similar work great for all of this. I personally like to take my own progress pics in the morning before I’ve eaten, but that’s totally up to you.
I really don’t see changes in myself day to day just looking in the mirror – and as we’ve talked about the scale really isn’t a great indicator of “progress.” It can be one interesting data point, but it should not be what dictates how you feel about your progress as so many factors can influence your overall body weight.
Remember: how you feel is the most important thing. Don’t push yourself when you’re low on energy, don’t train hard if you haven’t slept well. It’s a journey, not an overnight express train. The things you learn about taking care of yourself and the habits you create along the way are the same practices you’ll need to use to maintain that healthy lifestyle and fit physique.
A progress pic is great, but what goes into creating it, and how you feel before, during and after is what really matters. ❤️
We talk about these topics (and more) in Rock Your Life, my online home workout studio and women’s fitness community!
Come join us and let us support you on your journey of fitness and health – with home workout challenges, workout classes, healthy recipes, and our private support group!