When it comes to weight loss there are plenty of ways you can track your progress. You’ve got your trusty ol’ scale (which I’m sure you have an interesting relationship with…maybe it has a name, or a crack or two from being kicked across the floor…all kidding aside…), the mirror, and taking strategic body circumference measurements.
They all have their place. In fact, using all three is the way to go. The more data you have the better!
This article will focus on how to take body circumference measurements and how to use them to track your weight loss or lean muscle gain progress.
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Taking measurements is pretty straightforward, and is a great way to track your weight loss progress.
But it can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before.
Let’s dive into the areas of your body you should measure, exactly how to do each one, and some tips for being consistent.
How to Take Your Body Measurements
The first thing you’re going to need is a flexible, roll-up tape measure. The type seamstresses and tailors use. You can pick these up at most grocery stores, or any local fabric store for super cheap.
There are specific tape measures made for body measurements, like the MyoTape Body Tape Measure. these have a built-in tensioner so that you pull with the exact same amount of tension each time. This makes them incredibly accurate from one day to the next.
If you don’t have that style of tape measure but you want to get started right away, use anything bendy. A string, long shoelace, robe belt. Anything that you can wrap around yourself. Then use a tape measure or ruler to find the actual measurement.
Pull the measurement tape so that it sits on the surface of the skin, without pinching or compressing. Do your best to pull with the same tension each time.
The best time to take your measurements is first thing in the morning. Get up, go to the bathroom, and then measure. This will ensure you get the most accurate measurement.
This is the same time that you want to use your bathroom scale to track weight loss. Weighing and measuring first thing in the morning will help you get the most accurate body measurements.
Regardless, always take your measurements at the same time, under the same circumstances. And always at least a week apart. Don’t take these daily!
And remember that you can lose inches without losing weight. The scale isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. This actually is a sign that you are losing fat and gaining muscle!
What Areas Should You Measure?
You can measure pretty much every single area of your body if you want to.
But there are five areas you always want to measure. These are going to help you track body fat lost or gained.
These areas are the thigh, hips, stomach, waist, and chest.
I’ll explain exactly how to measure most areas of your body, but I’ll go much more in-depth into the five main areas.
This Video Will Walk You Through These 5 Important Measurements
How to Measure Your Thighs
* middle of the thigh, halfway between hip crease and end of the knee
Start by sitting on a chair and finding the natural 90-degree angle created by your hip and thigh on one side.
Hold the tape measure in this crease (this area has an interesting feel to it…you’ll always place the tape measure in the same spot, trust me) and extend it to your knee. Stop at the nearest whole inch mark closest to the end of your knee.
Divide the total length in half and place a finger at the halfway mark.
This is where you are going to take your circumference measurement.
Place the end of your tape measure or string next to your finger that’s marking the halfway point, wrap it around your thigh, and then stand up.
Stand with your feet together, legs straight and relaxed. Do your best to put most of your weight on the leg you are not measuring. We want the target leg relaxed.
Note your measurement to the nearest 1/4 inch.
All done 🙂
While we’re at it, please make sure you always measure the same leg. Don’t switch it up. Unless you want to measure both. Which is a-okay.
This is how you make sure you measure the same spot each time:
How to Measure Your Hips
* widest area of your hips
Here you’re looking for the widest part of your glutes (usually the middle of your rear end, hence the term “butt measurement”). A creative way of finding the widest area of your glutes is to stand sideways in front of a mirror.
Do your best to keep the tape measure level, or parallel with the ground. You don’t want the tape to be higher in the front, back, or one side. That will make your measurement larger than it actually is.
This can take some practice, so try and use a mirror if you are just starting out.
How to Measure Your Stomach
* right across your belly button
Your belly button is the natural landmark for measuring your stomach. This also makes it one of the easiest measurements to be consistent with.
Place one end of your tape measure directly on top of your belly button (covering it, not above it) and wrap the tape measure around your torso like a belt.
When you have the tape measure completely wrapped and you are ready to take your measurement, take a deep breath in through your nose. Now, let your breath out through your nose is a very relaxed fashion.
When you reach the end of your natural breath out, take your measurement.
Do not suck in or breathe out unnaturally. Just a nice relaxed breath out.
You will do the exact same when taking your waist measurement.
How to Measure Your Waist Circumference
* narrowest part of your torso
Your waist is the narrowest part of your torso. Just above your belly button, but below your rib cage.
The easiest way to find your waist is to bend to one side, kind of like a side crunch. The part of your side that creates a natural fold is your waist. This is usually the smallest part of your torso.
Wrap your tape measure around your waist, which you just found, like a belt.
Deep breath in through your nose, and then out naturally, just like you did when taking your stomach measurement.
How to Measure Your Chest
* directly over your nipple line or under your breasts as high as possible
I usually have men and women take the chest measurement slightly differently.
Men, use your nipples as your natural landmark.
Because there will often be a divot between your pec muscles, the most consistent way to take this measurement is off to one side. Just use the same side each time.
Hold your tape measure on one side of your body, just outside your chest but still where you can easily see your measurement.
Wrap the tape measure around your body keeping it in line with your nipples (covering them). Make sure the tape measure stays level! Not up or down on one side, front, or the back.
Just like you did with your stomach and waist, deep breath in through the nose, breathe out naturally and take your measurement when you finish your natural breath out.
Women, while you can use your nipple line as your natural landmark, I find that it’s easier to be more consistent if you use a different placement.
Place the tape measure under your breasts, as high up as possible, where your bra wire would be located.
This tends to be a more consistent landmark for measuring.
Other than your landmark. the steps are exactly the same as for men. Take your measurement slightly off to one side and make sure the tape stays level.
Remember, the most important part of all of this is just to be consistent with how and where you take your measurement.
Other Areas You May Want to Measure
You’re done with the most important measurements. Pretty quick and easy!
But you may have other areas you want to track. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! Here’s how to take some of the other common measurements.
Stand straight with the arm you want to measure relaxed and hanging straight. Find the midpoint between your shoulder bone and your elbow. Wrapt the tape around and take your measurement.
You can do both arms if you like.
Some people like to take flexed measurements, and you can do that as well.
Hold your arm up and hit a biceps pose! Find the highest peak of your biceps, and take your measurement.
This can be pretty hard to do without a helper, but it can be done.
Find the halfway point between your knee and ankle. Or the widest point of your lower leg.
Stand with your food flat, not up on your toe. And try and stand with most of your weight on the leg you aren’t measuring.
Unless you’re really focusing on growing your calves. Then stand with weight on the leg you are measuring and flex hard! But still, keep your foot flat.
Again, consistency is all that really matters here.
The final measurement I can think of would be your neck.
Wrap the tape measure around your neck, just above your traps. A great landmark for this spot is the most pronounced bone at the top of your spine that you feel.
Place the tape measure directly on top of that bone, wrap it around, and use a mirror or partner to note the measurement.
Tips for Taking Body Measurements
Consistency with your measurements is key. The following tips will help you be as consistent as possible so that you know when you are making progress and when your progress has stalled.
And help avoid some frustration.
- Wear tight-fitting clothes or no clothes at all. You don’t want your sweats bunching up and making you think you’re going in the wrong direction.
- Use a seamstress or tailor measuring tape. If you don’t have one, use a string, shoelace, or belt, and then use a ruler or rigid tape measure to find your mark. Just make sure and use the same one every time.
- Try and use the same amount of tension on the tape measure each time. Don’t pinch or compress the skin. You’ll get very consistent with this as time goes by.
- Keep the tape measure level, parallel with the floor. Use a mirror in the beginning while you’re getting the hang of things.
- Use your landmarks and make sure you measure the same spot every time. Consistency is far more important than finding the exact right spot.
- Relax! Take your measurement after a natural breath out, but don’t suck in or hold your breath.
- Track progress on a chart or journal.
This may seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it.
The mirror and scale don’t always tell the whole story and can be frustrating because people tend to use them too often.
There’s no better feeling than noticing body measurement changes month to month!
How Often to Take Your Measurements
Definitely do not take measurements every day! Even once a week is too much.
Every two to four weeks is good. Once a month is great.
The middle of your workweek is best because you are well into your routine. And first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom.
Tracking Your Progress
Keep a journal where you note your weight, calories, and activity.
This can help you see patterns and adjust your diet and exercise routine as needed to match your goals.
As you lose weight, you may need to change the number of calories you consume and the intensity of your workouts.
Compare your weight week to week, and your body measurements month to month.
Adjust your calories and activity level based on those comparisons.
But make small changes! Do not drastically add or reduce calories if you’re not seeing the progress you want. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Too fast and you run the risk of adding more body fat than you want or of plateauing in your weight loss journey with nowhere else to go.
Now that you have taken the most important measurements we can talk about the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).
The WHR is a quick assessment that can let you know if the excess weight you are carrying could potentially lead to health risks. Especially cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
To find your waist to hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
For example, if my waist is 30 inches and my hips are 40 inches, my waist to hip ratio would be .75.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy waist to hip ratio is below 0.85 for women and below 0.9 for men.
In both men and women, a WHR of 1.0 or higher increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death. (1)
You may have heard of BMI, which stands for Body Mass Index. BMI isthe ratio of your weight to your height, but it doesn’t take into account how your body weight is distributed. For example, you could be very muscular with low body fat, but be considered overweight, unhealthy, or obese according to BMI!
WHR is a better indicator of health than BMI because it focuses on areas that typically are enlarged due to body fat, especially visceral fat, and not muscle.
Visceral fat is the dangerous fat that surrounds your organs and has been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Understand that neither BMI nor WHR are perfect indicators of health! But since you’re taking these measurements anyway, you might as well do a quick little math and see what your WHR is.
Information is powerful.
Can I Direct Where I Lose Weight From?
All the scale tells you is how much weight you’ve lost or gained. It doesn’t tell you where that weight is coming from. That’s what makes circumference measurements so nice!
Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose where you lose weight from. You could lose an inch around your waist, but gain an inch around your thighs.
Not the ideal scenario, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Your body loses fat everywhere, but some areas are going to hold on to fat longer the others. And this differs from person to person.
Circumference measurements will tell you where fat, or inches, are coming off. While you can’t necessarily control this, it’s great data for you and your coach or dietitian to know.
And remember that there’s no such thing as spot reduction, and specific exercises or eating programs are not going to target any particular area.
Just focus on gaining or losing at a consistent, healthy rate.
Everything will eventually fall into place.
Lean Muscle vs Body Fat
Okay, here’s where things can really get frustrating!
It’s entirely possible to lose inches without losing any weight on the scale.
Especially if you are just beginning to follow an exercise program, you may be losing fat but gaining muscle.
This is a great thing!!! More muscle means a higher metabolism and more calories burned at rest!
This is another reason why taking body measurements can be so helpful. They give you more information than the scale alone and can help you understand that you’re gaining muscle even though your weight isn’t changing.
And please don’t worry about bulking up!
Gaining lean muscle is so hard. Gym bros spend incredible amounts of time in the gym, focusing on supplements, sleep, and eating a ton of food, just to gain a pound of lean muscle.
Yes, in the beginning, it’s pretty easy. Your body is adapting to a change and stimulus. But muscle gain will eventually slow down.
While we’re at it, we should talk about different body types and how they can affect how and where you lose weight. These are not absolutes, but understanding them can really help you feel like you’re on the right track.
Body Types Can Help You Understand Yourself and Your Progress
First off, there is no normal. You are different than everyone you know.
But we can look at some averages and general body types. This can be helpful because the general body types tend to carry fat in the same areas.
If you don’t lose fat in those hard-to-lose places right away, understanding your body may help you feel less frustrated. You’re on the correct track as long as you’re losing fat somewhere.
Typical Body Shapes
Apple: carries weight around the abdomen. Stomach and waist measurements will be larger than hips and chest. This shape is more common in men, and the stomach and waist will likely be the last areas to lose weight.
Ruler (straight): very little measurement differences between the chest, waist, and hips. Pretty even fat distribution. This shape tends to lose weight evenly, which can make weight loss (or gain) harder to notice without measuring.
Pear: shoulders are narrower than the hips. Carry more weight in the hips, thigh, and buttocks, which will likely be the last area to lose fat.
Hourglass: hips and chest are almost the same measurements, and both are larger than the waist. This is the least common body shape. Weight distribution and loss tend to be even.
Typical Body Types
The three main body types are the ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Remember, these are just generalizations that may help you along your journey.
Ectomorph: tend to be lean, or have the Ruler/Straight body type above. May have a hard time putting on weight or muscle. They also tend to have long legs, arms, hands, and feet.
Endomorph: kind of the opposite of the ectomorph. Tends to have higher body fat, gains weight easily, and finds it more difficult to lose weight. Typically fall into the Apple shape above.
Mesomorph: This is what most people think of when they think of athletes. Tends to be more muscular and has an easier time both gaining muscle and losing fat.
Remember, these are just a way of describing common characteristics. Few people fall into just one, but you can probably think of some friends or family members that really fall into a specific category.
The majority of people fall into more than one category, like an ecto-mesomorph.
And body shapes can definitely adjust to your lifestyle!
When Should You Stop Tracking Your Measurements?
This is really up to you, but the goal should be to reach your goal and then maintain it. You don’t want to have to take measurements for the rest of your life!
Stop taking measurements when you have reached your goal weight, or if you’re just happy with where you’re at.
Now that you know exactly how to track your progress, you can always do it again in the future if you feel the need.
How to Take Your Measurements Frequently Asked Questions
Can you spot reduce?
Unfortunately, no. Your body will lose weight first in some areas, and then in others. You cannot control this. Just know that if you are losing weight in any area you are on the right track!
How often should I take body measurements?
Once a month. This is enough time to notice any changes that are taking place, but fast enough to make changes if you need to. True change takes time, so if you take your measurements too often you run the risk of becoming frustrated and bonding your journey early.
What kind of clothing should I wear when taking my measurement?
Tight-fitting clothing, or no clothing at all, is best so that your results are consistent.
How to Take Body Measurements for Weight Loss Conclusion
Taking and tracking your body measurements is a great way to monitor your progress over time. It can be especially helpful at preventing frustration. While you may not see a lot of movement on the scale, changing circumference measurements will let you know that you are on the right track.
Remember that everyone is different and that you will lose or gain weight at your own pace. Be patient and stay the course, making small adjustments as needed.
When you reach your goal weight, stop tracking your measurements and enjoy your new, healthy body!
If this seems like a lot of work on your own, there are ways I can help! Let me know if you need any help along the way. That’s what I’m here for.
What is your favorite way to track your progress?
- Moosaie, Fatemeh et al. “Waist-To-Height Ratio Is a More Accurate Tool for Predicting Hypertension Than Waist-To-Hip Circumference and BMI in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Study.” Frontiers in public health vol. 9 726288. 7 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2021.726288