Taking Body Measurements During Weight Loss
When it comes to exercise and weight loss, there are plenty of ways to track your progress. There’s the scale, of course, which is probably the easiest and most accessible, but there’s a big problem with the scale. Unfortunately, it will regularly lie to you about your progress.
The scale measures everything—every sip of water, every bite of food, your bones, muscles, organs, fat. There’s no way to distinguish between what you’re gaining (which could just be water) or losing (which, again, could be water).
That’s where body measurements come in. Taking your measurements is a better way to track progress because you get an idea of what’s really happening with your body.
You may be focused on, say, your abs or arms but if you have multiple areas to look at, then you can find out exactly where your body is losing fat. This is important information since we all lose fat in different areas and in a different order.
Taking your measurements will reassure you that the fat is coming off, even if you’re not losing fat exactly where you want just yet.
It does take time for your body to get around to those stubborn areas, so patience is also an important ingredient.
Before You Take Your Measurements
There are a few things to keep in mind when taking body measurements. First, wear fitted clothing or no clothing at all if you can. Stand with your feet together and body relaxed for all the measurements.
Be sure to use a flexible, inelastic tape measure. A cloth measuring tape is a good option, or you could use one specifically made for taking body measurements, such as the MyoTape Body Tape Measure.
For accuracy, take your measurements at least twice. Take the average of both measurements to get your final numbers. Don’t worry if you lose inches without losing weight. That’s actually a sign you’re losing fat and gaining muscle, which is great progress.
How to Take Your Measurements
For all measurements, pull the tape measure so that it sits on the surface of the skin, but doesn’t compress the skin. You can record your measurements in this Progress Chart every 4 weeks to see if you’re losing fat.
It’s a great idea to take your measurements first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything. Every time you retake your measurements, take them at the same time, under the same circumstances so you can trust the results.
Here’s where to measure different body parts:
- Abs: Stand with feet together and torso straight but relaxed and find the widest part of your torso, often around your bellybutton.
- Arms: Stand up straight with the arm relaxed and find the midpoint between the shoulder bone and the elbow of one arm.
- Calves: Measure halfway between the knee and the ankle.
- Chest: Stand with feet together and the torso straight and find the widest part around your bust.
- Hips: This is the widest part of your glutes. Try looking in a mirror while standing sideways. Make sure the tape is parallel to the floor.
- Thighs: Look for the midpoint between the lower part of the glutes and the back of the knee, or the widest part of the thigh.
- Waist: Find your natural waist or the narrowest part of the torso.
Maintaining Your Measurements While Losing Weight
One thing people want when they start a weight loss program is to make the fat go away in some areas, but stay put in other areas.
For example, a woman might not want to lose a breast size but may want to lose more from the hips and thighs. A man might want to lose his spare tire, but keep his glutes the way they are. The question is, can you preserve certain areas while losing in others? Unfortunately, we can’t choose where the fat comes off.
Spot reduction, or doing an exercise for a certain body part in the hopes of getting rid of fat there, doesn’t work any more than trying to keep a certain area of your body the same.
Your body loses fat as a whole and the areas that hold excess fat take longer. The bottom line is, you can’t control where the fat comes off, but you can look at your own body type and that of your parents and get a decent idea where you tend to store more fat and where you don’t.
To some extent, we’re all held hostage by our genes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to your body. To do that, make sure you have a complete exercise program that includes a combination of cardio exercise 3–7 times a week, strength training for all your muscle groups 2–3 times a week, and a healthy, low-calorie diet that allows you to burn more calories than you eat.
Follow that plan and allow your body to respond to that. It can take weeks or months to see results, so it helps to focus on other goals like getting healthy or stronger.
Are Your Measurements Normal?
Many of us may wonder whether our measurements are normal for our weight and height.
The short answer to this is yes, whatever your measurements are, they are normal for you. Look around and you’ll find that everyone has a different body shape and size. It helps to know the general body types, which determine where we store extra fat.
For women, we tend to use body shapes:
- Apple: An apple-shaped person has broader shoulders and narrower hips.
- Straight or rectangular: This shape usually has a waist measurement that is less than 9 inches than the hips or chest.
- Pear: This person has hips that are larger than the chest.
- Hourglass: In this shape, the hips and chest are almost the same with a narrower waist.
Some women also wonder what a ‘normal’ shoulder width is. Again, like all other measurements, the width of your shoulders is normal for you, but maybe not for someone else.
On average, shoulder-width for women hovers around 17 inches. That’s measuring along your back from the top of one armpit to the other. Keep in mind that, for women, the hip line is usually the broadest part of the body and in men the broadest part of the shoulder line.
For men we generally categorize body types rather than shapes:
- Ectomorph: People with this body type tend to be lean and may even have trouble gaining weight due to a faster metabolism.
- Endomorph: This body type tends to have higher body fat, big bones, and a slower metabolism, making it hard to lose weight.
- Mesomorph: With this type, a person is more muscular and may have an easier time losing fat and gaining muscle.
Most of us fall somewhere on this continuum, but what does this information mean to you?
Knowing your body type or shape tells you where your body stores excess fat. Understanding your body can lower your frustration level if you don’t lose fat in those stubborn areas right away. As long as you’re losing fat somewhere, you’re on the right track.
Why Don’t Waist Size and Pant Size Match?
One of the more frustrating aspects of weight loss is buying clothes. You can measure your waist all day long, but go to any department store and pick up five different brands of pants in the same size and they’re all going to fit differently.
When we’re trying to lose weight, many of us equate weight loss with a certain clothing size. For example, there’s a rumor that if you lose 10 pounds, you typically go down about a pant size.
The truth is, these two measurements just don’t correlate, so there’s no way to know how much weight any person might need to lose for smaller clothes.
Why? There are a couple of good reasons. Firstly, there’s a lack of standard sizing among manufacturers. We’ve all experienced that situation where we’re one size in one store and an entirely different size in another store. That’s because of what we call Vanity Sizing – which comes down to putting a more attractive size on clothes without changing the measurements.
In addition, everyone’s body is different. You could take five people who are the same weight but find that some have bigger waists while others have bigger thighs or calves. This makes it impossible to predict just how much any one person needs to lose to fit into smaller clothes.
To deal with this, keep these measurements as separate entities since they don’t correlate. It’s perfectly normal to lose weight without experiencing much of a change in how your clothes fit.
Another tip – Choose one pair of pants to go by and try them on every 4 weeks or so. Pants don’t lie!
Why Your Weight Doesn’t Always Match Your Size
Another odd phenomenon of weight loss is that it’s entirely possible to lose inches from your body without actually losing weight on the scale. This is another reason that the scale can be deceptive because, as mentioned previously, it weighs everything and it can’t tell you what comes off or what goes on.
This can be frustrating if you’re watching the scale…you may feel your clothes getting looser, so why is the scale staying at the same number? Or worse, getting bigger?
This is what happens when you’re gaining muscle. You’re losing inches even though you’re not losing weight and that’s perfectly normal if you’ve added strength training to your routine or you’re doing a new activity that triggers your body to build more lean muscle tissue.
Muscle takes up less space than fat so, while the scale may be telling you one thing, your clothes are telling you something else: That you’re slimming down.
That’s why taking your measurements can tell you more than the scale and also why it’s body composition, not your weight, that really tells the true story. The more muscle you have, the slimmer you are no matter what the scale says.
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- Whaley M, Brubaker P, Otto R, Armstrong L. ACSM’s Guidelines For Exercise Testing And Prescription. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.