Weights and measures, fitness style

Without an accurate map, it’s hard to see where you’re going. For those looking to lose weight, figuring out a system to track your progress is important.

The standard tracking system for years has been scale weight. While the scale tells you how much you weigh, it’s not as good at telling you what all that weight is. Muscle occupies less space than fat does, which can create a situation where you are wearing smaller pants, but weight more than your “goal” weight. Additionally, environment can impact scale numbers. Grab a Libertarian taco from Torchy’s and the sodium will cause an overnight spike in weight. That 2 pound gain means you have extra water in your body, not extra fat.

Using a tape measure is a good way to mark progress. Circumference measurements of key body sites can give you a good idea of your progress. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests using the following sites:

  • Abdomen
    • level of umbilicus (belly button)
  • Waist
    • narrowest part of waist above umbilicus and below xiphoid process (about half way between bottom of the breast bone and your belly button)
  • Hip
    • maximal girth of hip, or buttocks
    • Above gluteal fold (where the butt and leg connect)
  • Thigh
    • maximal girth of thigh
    • below gluteal fold
    • legs slightly apart
  • Calf
    • maximum girth between knee and ankle joint
  • Arm (bicep)
    • Arm in anatomical position (relaxed at your side, palm facing forward)
  • Forearm
    • maximum girth of forearm
    • arm hanging downward and slightly away from trunk
    • palms facing forward

The recommended method is to do all measurements on your right side, take three sets of measures, then average them out.

Body fat percentage is the last of the methods available to help measure body composition and weight loss progress. There are a variety of methods available, and the accuracy can vary. For most folks, the caliper measurement or bio electrical impedance method is most common. Calipers are used to measure skin folds, and those measures are then plugged into a formula which estimates your body fat levels. Bio electrical systems can be found in scales or hand held systems like this Omron fat loss monitor.

All of these systems have strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to realize that every single one of these numbers is an educated guess. The only way to be 100 percent accurate about what’s going on inside of you is an autopsy. I’m pretty sure that none of us want to go to that level of detail.

What I suggest is using a combination of all three systems to get an idea of where you are going. Each week I take a single set of measures using a tape measure, I weigh on the scale, and I check body fat. So long as two out of three of those numbers show a downward trend, I call it good and move on. Because each measure accounts for something different, a bad week on the scale may not translate into a bad week on body fat or tape measure.

It takes about 10 minutes first thing in the morning to get these measurements done. With information in hand, you can plan out your next week and help keep your weight loss on track.

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