When you are putting in the hard work in training, it is always nice to see a clear sign that your hard work is paying off. If you are training for your first half marathon for example, clocking a new longest run or a faster time for a 5km or 10km will help you to know you are on the right track. But what if your goal is to change the way your body looks, whether this is to slim down, increase your toning or build muscle? When you see your body every day, any changes are very hard to spot visually. You may eventually notice a change in how your clothes fit, but if you are looking for more immediate feedback, taking body measurements is the best way to do so.
Your waist-to-hips ratio (WHR) provides an indication of your current health and fitness levels, and so your waist and hips are useful to measure whatever your fitness goals are. This ratio provides an indication of your fat distribution, and if you are carrying too much fat around your middle, this can increase the risk of suffering from diseases linked to obesity such as Type 2 Diabetes¹. A WHR of more than 0.85 for women or 1.0 for men can indicate an increased risk. You cannot simply move where your fat is distributed in your body, even by targeting specific muscle groups during your training. Therefore the best solution is to reduce your overall body fat levels – over time your WHR will start to drop. It is the ratio rather than the measurements that is of most relevance here, so you can measure either in centimetres or inches, as long as you are consistent in terms of which one you use.
Whilst for general health levels the waist-to-hips ratio is the arguably the best measurement you can take, people looking to tone their bodies or build muscle can measure virtually any group of muscles, from your neck all the way down to your calves. These measurements will indicate whether specific muscles are growing and at what rate. You can also compare ratios – for example, if your biceps:thighs ratio decreases over time, this would indicate that your biceps are growing at a faster rate than your thighs. This might be exactly what you were hoping to achieve, or alternatively this could indicate that you need to change your training to improve the efficiency of your leg exercises.
How to take the measurements
Muscles are not a constant size, which can make taking accurate measurements difficult – it isn’t fair to compare your biceps fully flexed one week with your biceps at rest the next time you measure them. Therefore the best option is to ensure that your muscles are always fully flexed when you measure them, which will mean that your muscles are always at their biggest and making comparisons over time fair (when measuring your body fat percentage your muscles should be at rest however). The tape should go around the widest part of whichever body part you are measuring, and needs to be in constant contact with your skin but should not be pulled tight. Meeting all of these criteria can be difficult on your own, so if you are able to get somebody else to help take your measurement, this can make things easier and help to ensure the measurements are correct.
When to take the measurements
Whilst you can take the measurements at any time of the day, I find it is most convenient to do it when I’m getting changed either at the start or end of the day. In terms of how regularly to take measurements, it isn’t necessary to measure yourself every day as change doesn’t happen overnight. It can take several months or more to see any significant changes, so once per month is as regular as you would ever need.
Taking body measurements not only provides an indication as to progress made thanks to your training programme, it provide an indication of your overall health levels too. The important factors to remember is that the way you measure needs to be consistent, so that any ratios or comparisons made over time are fair. If you manage this, a few measurements once per month is time well spent.
¹For more information please see here.