How to accurately take and track body measurements

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When starting on a fitness and health journey, we are often consumed with thoughts of weight and the numbers on the scales. Often, however, before changes are seen on the scale, some changes can be noted in body measurements.

Why are body measurements important?

One way of seeing progress is to check circumference measurements of several body parts. You might notice your clothes are fitting better but the number on the scale has not changed much. Taking body measurements can give you a clear indication that what you are doing is working.

How do I take accurate body measurements?

It is best of have a friend, workout buddy, coach, or personal trainer take the measurements for you, using these guidelines.

  • All measurements should be taken with a flexible, yet inelastic tape measure.
  • If only one limb measurement is taken, it should be taken on the right side of the body. Both sides can be done for comparison.
  • The tape should be placed on the skin, but not compress any of it.
  • Take at least two measurements at each site and retest if the second measure is not within 5 mm of the first.
  • Do not do the measurement for the same body part immediately. Rotate through all of the body parts to allow skin time to regain normal texture.*

The American College of Sports Medicine gives these guidelines for taking body measurements. A skilled health coach or personal trainer should know these.

Photo: ThomasKohler/flickr
Photo: ThomasKohler/flickr

Abdomen: While standing, upright and relaxed, the measure is taken at the height of the top of the hip bone, usually at the level of the umbilicus.

Arm/Biceps: While standing, arms hanging freely, measure at the midway point between the elbow and the shoulder joint.

Buttocks/Hips: While standing, measure is taken at the largest circumference of the buttocks. This is the measure taken for the waist/hip ratio.

Calf: While standing, the measure is taken at the largest circumference of the lower leg between the ankle and knee.

Forearm: While standing, the measure is taken at the largest circumference of the lower arm, between the wrist and elbow

Hips/Thigh: While standing, legs slightly apart (about 5 inches), measure at the largest circumference of the hip/thighs.

Mid-Thigh: While standing with one foot on a bench so the knee is flexed at 90 degrees, a circumference is measured midway between the knee and the bend of the leg near the hip.

Waist: While standing, arms at the sides, feet together and body relaxed, measure at the narrowest part of the torso above the umbilicus and below the bottom of the sternum. This is the measure used for the waist/hip ratio.*

It is also interesting to note that obesity is now not only being defined by a number on the scale or a Body Mass Index (BMI) ratio, but also by waist circumference. For a man a waist circumference of more than 40 inches is at high risk. Note that this is the actual circumference measurement and not the pants size a man might buy. In a non-pregnant woman, a waist circumference of more than 35 inches poses health risks. These health risks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

When you begin a health journey, it’s important to be equipped with all the tools and measurements you might need to succeed. If weight stops coming off, it might be a good idea to re-check your body measurements, or % body fat. These measurements can keep you motivated and keep your health in good shape!


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