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The Mirror, Calipers or Scale?

Guys…there’s been a lot of debate lately about perhaps too many of us (myself included!) being too “anal” about following our body composition, and that we should “just look in the mirror”.

My feeling is that these are not “either/or” propositions, and that many of us should, and often have to do both! I really think that the only difference would be to what degree OR how often one may have to look at their body composition. An experienced lifter, with years of being in tune with their body…maybe not so much…a “fat-hardgainer” like me…a lot more. However…I do agree that the mirror is the “ultimate” judge.

Your thoughts?

I use all the kinds of methods described, but they all have their downfalls. Have you ever noticed how you look really lean in one mirror (maybe it’s the lighting or the angle of the mirror) and then you see much less definition in another mirror? That really annoys me.

i totally agree with you !!!.. i think the mirror is a measurement of total progress, per sea, but not a good indicator of small progress that you can only get with calipers. let’s say your ab measurement is 23 MM, then later it’s 20 MM. the mirror won’t hardly (if at all) show that good progress. 20 MM in the mirror might tell you yer still about 23 with just looking. which can be frustrating and make yourself question if it’s all worth it. but being able to see MM after MM dropping, that keeps me focused and motivated !!! i constantly measure my BF and weight to determine LBM and BF% to see where i’m at and what i need to adjust. the mirror doesn’t tell me near as much as good ol’ numbers will, but i’m sure when i drop below 10%, i can probably come closer to measuring my progress with a mirror than before, but i doubt it.

I haven’t used the calipers in a few years. At this time, I have no use for them. I rely on what I see in the mirror as I really couldn’t care how low into the single-digits I may be when trying to lean out or how much fat I may have gained when bulking. I won’t let the calipers dictate to me how I look, only the ladies.

I’ve recently become a fat of the “bulk up to two abs, lean down to four” method of bulking and cutting. I have great control over my diet, and know what my maintenance food intakes are. Then I can add or subtract eggs (I eat 8 a day for maint.) to bulk or cut. …course, you’d never know by looking at me…

Brent: It mostly is the lighting. What many novice competitive BBs’ do is pick a mirror in the gym where they look awesome - it’s due to the lighting. Novices’ use this area to gauge themselves, while more experienced BBs’ use it as a way to “show off”. The more experienced BB will use a variety of lighting - I like to use the worst lighting - that way, if I look good, it means under the bright lights of a stage, I’m gonna look fantastic.

Mufasa: I use the mirror. Calipers are good for me to get a grip as to the changes in my body composition prior to a contest or in between contests. But that's it, really. Good old fashion mirror works just fine for me.

Wow…Brent brings up an EXCELLENT point…when I read it, it reminded me of how that over the past few years (with the advent of DNA testing) they have found out how imperfect the “eyewitness” account is in Criminal Investigation. I think that the mirror can be one of those things that can be distorted by “the beholder”. (That’s why the Pro’s will often have an outside third person evaluate their physique).

Again…by the post so far, I think that my original post may be getting misconstrued…I think that both body composition measurements AND the mirror are tools…and that each have their own place and validity…

The mirror and others’ judgment comes before the readings on a set of calipers. Who cares what the reading is if you look good? If it comes back that you are 12% body fat yet every ab is showing and you look decent, are you really going to start dieting? And if so, what sense does that make? Mufasa, I think I see what you are getting at, however, my take on it is this. If you are just beginning and the goal is to gain much more muscle than you have now and you are considered “small” or “skinny” by most, worrying about your body fat percentage could have the potential to hold back progress. The main focus should be gains in strength and overall body size, not an overly concerned attention to what number the body fat percentage is at. Once you have the basic mass, then yes, focusing in on the smaller details can help refine your physique, but let’s not try to skip steps here. Unless you are already fat, trying to hold onto a single digit body fat reading when you are trying to gain much more size is like getting your car detailed and then changing the engine, getting a new paint job, and buying a spoiler. First things first, build the size, sculpt it afterwards. In my opinion there is no other way to push your genetics to their limit. I have yet to see someone gain muscle faster while trying to maintain their abs year round. It sounds good and sells magazines, however, who the hell is making the most progress out of those bulk up to gain and those who attempt to stay near contest level year round?

I have to use them all. The mirror and my wife see the real thing, but I also like to use actual body comp methods for an objective measurement of my progress.

Sure, I've been the most vocal about how to use the body comp methods available to you, but I know as well as anybody that a number on a scale does not correlate well with looking good in the mirror.

I think it all comes down to what kind of person you are. Some people are very number-oriented (I won’t go running unless it’s on a treadmill, because I can see the mph I’m going) and those people probably like to see the % on the scales and calipers go down. I know I’m that way, and I know it doesn’t really matter if you’re 7% or 10% as long as you are seeing what you want (abs, etc). I think I got way off what we’re talking about, but I just understand why people (me being one of them) tend to trust the scales and calipers (and numbers) more than the mirror. Even though I think you’re right mufasa, and the mirror is the ultimate judge.

Professor X, I agree with you here. Which is why I believe in that “middle ground” of BF/fitness. Even though I compete, I still don’t enjoy at all the need to get really, really, lean for BB contests. It’s not the dieting (cuz my “diet” consists of picking up my calories prior to a show),but the “look” of a ripped/shredded BB competitor that I just don’t like. I prefer a higher degree of BF so that I can “operate” better. Plus I think it looks healthier.

I think some people get what I call the "Low BF Paranoia" that occurs with competitors. You fall more and more into that pit of "I've gotta get LEAN" and fear that any iota of BF gained will destroy all your efforts. So, as Mufasa said, it's good to have that "third person" to keep that paranoia at bay. My person is Ko. He's NOT a competitor and has a TON of common sense. Definitely keeps everything in perspective.

I agree with you completely on the ripped paranoia. I feel much better at 7-9% bf than I do at a contest at 5-6%. Even 10%. I have much more strength, duh at the higher bf. I must admit though I never like to get higher than 10-11% even in off season. I have a much better mental capacity at the higher bf and gennerally feel better. Like reading your posts, they are always interesting. Stay real. By the way a mirror in poor lighting (especially a large wide mirror) will for sure tell no lies.

…Thank you :)))


I think Podge and I feel very similar on this subject. Short term progress can only be measured by the calipers sometimes, but long term progress shows up great in pictures and the mirror.

Lean folks who have been in the game for a while may not need the encouraging feedback from body comp measurements or need the safety net that they provide. But people who are still "works in progress" need some objective feedback more frequently than the mirror or pictures can provide.

Calipers are the best method. Whether you are cutting or bulking they give you a better understanding of the “tweaking” needed to succeed. Using the mirror, even under different lighting, dont allow you to properly evaluate yourself. This is because your mood could effect your own self image. If you just had an awesome day and banged 3 strippers you might look at yourself and think you are rocking. If you just lost your job you’ll think you look like shit.