Fitness Articles

Body Composition Measures Results

Use these Numbers to Track your Progress

748SHARES
Some people can measure their weight loss by the way they feel and look: firmer thighs, a smaller waist, jiggle-free arms. But then there are the number-crazy ones who desperately need some kind (any kind!) of concrete proof that all their hard work is paying off. They want to gauge their progress a different way. Give them numbers on paper, or some kind of chart and they’re ecstatic.

There are so many numbers to go by (pounds, pant size, inches), but not all are created equal. So, which figures say the most about your own figure? If you are someone who gasps when the scale shows a one or two pound weight gain ("I haven’t cheated at all. How could I be gaining?"), then learning about body composition will help you see real, measurable results.

Body composition. We hear a lot about it... but what exactly is it? Well, to be considered "fit," you have to meet minimum standards in 5 different areas, known as the Components of Fitness. Body Composition is one of them (in addition to flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic fitness). Body composition itself deals with four areas:

1. Weight
Your total body mass. We’re all too familiar with this one, in most cases. But weight alone doesn’t tell you the whole truth about your progress or fitness level. For example, it doesn’t tell you how much fat you carry. People generically want to lose "weight." You could start lifting weights and actually gain weight…but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are tipping the scales towards obesity.
  • How to use it: Forget your preconceptions about the number on the scale. Knowing your weight is good, but not crucial—you want to lose fat, not necessarily weight. If you must weigh yourself, don’t make it a daily habit. Weight tends to fluctuate throughout the day, and from day-to-day, by as much as 5 pounds or so. Most of these regular changes are due to food and water. If weight is an important record to you, then do it under the same circumstances (no clothes or shoes, first thing in the morning before eating, etc) and no more than every 1-2 weeks.
2. Fat Mass Usually referred to as body fat percentage. This number tells you how much of your total body weight is actual fat. Men and women go by different minimums and healthy ranges of fat. For example, men need about 3%-5% essential fat at the lowest levels, whereas women need at least 12%-15% to be considered healthy and be able to sustain a menstrual cycle (and numbers this low could be considered underweight). A standard height and weight chart cannot accurately tell you if you are overweight, but body fat percentage, on the other hand, can.
  • Track your progress: Observing change in body fat is the best way to measure "weight" loss. There are user-friendly formulas that can estimate your body fat percentage, but the most accurate readings come from a qualified fitness professional. To see a trend, reassess your body fat every four to six weeks. Continued ›
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • Thanks to everyone for sharing. - 7/28/2014 6:14:03 AM
  • I saw someone mention earlier that having body composition measurements taken can be expensive. That's a myth, it doesn't have to be.

    Take some time to do the research, then have a look at the wonderful world of scales that Amazon has to offer. I recently purchased a scale that measures body fat %, skeletal muscle %, generic weight, BMI (if you care to measure that), visceral fat level (the dangerous fat that hangs out in your belly and around your vital organs) and even your Basal Metabolic Rate (rate your body burns calories at rest) at the time based on your body's composition. It was only $75. I say "only" because that was a 1-time payment, and I can weigh myself as often as I like without paying a professional something close to that each time.

    There are slightly more expensive models that also measure bone density (if you're concerned about osteoporosis etc.) and water weight. Those are the really complete ones. In my research before I made my purchase, I found a ton of different options ranging from $50 to about $140. And you know what? I saw the EXACT same device that a personal trainer used on me at the gym I used to be a member of to measure all of those things. The scale I ended up getting requires you to both stand on foot sensors AND hold sensors in your hands (like the devices many personal trainers use). So instead of just gathering info from my hands being the point of contact, it's gathering data from both hands and feet - slightly more accurate in my opinion.

    The brand I got was Omron and I've very happy with the scale. I can keep track of my body composition at every weekly weigh-in and have the ability to see how I'm changing and what behaviors or slip-ups may have stalled my progress and how. It's enlightening and empowering. And yes, $75 may seem expensive and doesn't always come easily in this economy. But let's be reasonable, your health is THAT important. The next time you're thinking of picking up that new game for the Xbox (which usually run $60 to $70 bucks) or detour to Starbucks or elsewhere for your ... - 1/13/2014 2:11:44 PM
  • I'm so glad someone took the time to write an article like this. For too long we've heard that BMI is the way to go for measuring your weight, health and disease risk. BMI, however, doesn't take critical measurements into account. The weight of your body is made up of bone mass, muscle mass, fat percentage and water percentage. That will be completely different for every person, and much of one's natural body composition is genetic in nature. Just because someone's BMI is 32 doesn't necessarily mean they're super unhealthy.

    For example, a couple of weeks ago I lost a bit of body fat but gained a bit of muscle. That's a GOOD thing, an indication that I'm moving in the right direction. However, my BMI went up. To a traditional doctor, that would be a bad thing. Never mind that the loss was fat and the gain was muscle. They just see the BMI getting higher and want to instill fear in you.

    I stopped paying attention to BMI a while ago, and I wish health professionals would as well. Instead, I bit the bullet and invested in a body composition scale. It was expensive, but worth it. At least now I have a way at home to measure more than just my total weight and BMI. It may or may not be as accurate as whatever the professionals use, but it's got my thinking and behavior going in the right direction and that's what's important. Now when I weigh in, I'm not so naive. If I've lost weight, I'm more concerned about seeing WHY. Was it fat I lost, or muscle? If it was muscle, I evaluate my eating and activity level over the past week to see what may have caused the loss. I usually notice a drop in muscle mass when I have a few "bad" days and eat a bit more junk food, or don't get enough sleep. These are all good things to know and to be able to evaluate for better results, rather than just looking at an unexplained number on a scale and assuming I'm doing good because I'm losing weight. - 1/13/2014 1:58:59 PM
  • Great article. Losing weight is fine. But tighten up everything is crazy. But I keep pushing myself and doing what I need to do to see results. Slow but they come. Woohoo - 9/7/2013 2:05:03 PM
  • I do weigh in frequently but my self-worth is not dependent on the scale and I understand fluctuations. I have lost almost 50 pounds in the past four months so I am happy with the scales but my main concern is the body fat percentage...and mine is way too high. I am working on that and have seen a little bit of improvement but I still have a long way to go! - 4/18/2013 2:08:19 PM
  • This is a good site for DIY body fat measurements - most of them require a caliper, but if you click on the 'Tape' button, you can use it to estimate your current body fat %, amount of fat and amount of lean body (non fat weight).

    http://www.line
    ar-software.c
    om/online.html - 12/1/2012 10:19:15 AM
  • At my local YMCA, I was able to get a Personal Fitness Assessment. I was weighed and measured all over. they even tested my flexibility. The purpose was to determine how much and how far I could push( and challenge) myself with the workouts and classes I'd chosen.
    The results were surprisingly more favorable than I'd expected. My BMI was 42. That's still high than I want, but its also down from the 45 that it was only 6 weeks before. My weight was down as well.
    I HATE weighing myself. I choose to measure my changes in inches loss.
    - 9/1/2012 6:09:11 PM
  • I STILL HATE BMI charts!!! I recall as a kid even hating those stupid height weight charts. Even at my thinnest and fittest (a 34 inch waist in grade 11) I did not fit into those charts. So those guys that compete in those world's strongest man are CLINICALLY MORBIDLY OBESE??? That is what's wrong with this WHOLE SYSTEM. - 2/14/2012 8:54:00 PM
  • So, where do I go to get this done?

    - 10/15/2011 1:14:43 PM
  • "and just as typically, fat in the stomach is usually the last to go. " I wish this was true for me - 4/21/2011 10:28:47 AM
  • Great information, but since getting body comp. measurements done regularly is neither simple nor inexpensive, it's a bit of a shangri-la approach for most of us! - 11/20/2010 4:55:41 PM
  • I enjoy reading articles like this, because the scale is really such a poor way to measure your sucess. I tend to loose slowly, but have lost over 10 lbs since April. I am still 186 or 187, depending on any given day, but I have gone from a size 16/18 to a size 14, and down a bra size too. My arms are no longer doing the wiggle dance, and my thighs are very muscular from running and strength training. I also disagree that doing stomach exercises do not work, because by strengthing your core muscles, you stand taller; and this alone gives you a slimer and stronger appearance. - 11/20/2010 2:46:43 PM
  • This is one reason (among many others) why I have never felt the need to join a popular weight loss meeting program. You do not let the scale determine your success, and a 2-pound difference in fluctuating weight is absolutely inevitable from day to day or even week to week. Who could ever become a "lifetime member" unless they stayed well below their selected target weight goal. The best way to determine fat loss or lean muscle gain, which are the most important factors, is to find your selected measuring tool, whether that is BIA impedance testing, skinfold calipers, hydrodensitometry weighing and many others. The cheapest measure is skinfold calipers; even though they may not be as accurate as other measures, they give a trend-type accuracy to measure progress. The one you don't want to rely on is fat-measuring scales. Lack of water in the body can skew fat percentage much higher than it really is. Here is a link to the many different types of measurement devices:

    http://new-fitn
    ess.com/body_
    fat_analyzing.html - 11/20/2010 10:37:08 AM
  • i find it very informative and comforting to be weighed at the clinic on the impedance scale. because if the number goes up, stays the same or shows a loss - it tells me what exactly is going on. i tend to hold a lot of water - so when the scale says no loss or worse, a gain - it prints out the water is the culprit,.
    also i have lost a lot of muscle mass - dieting was one culprit over the years, but also a thyroid problem and other factors contributed to that - i never realized it. this knowledge has a huge impact on how you proceed with diet and exercising. - 11/20/2010 8:44:09 AM
  • CILOCA
    I had just dealt with the issue of seeing no weight change on my scale, and another member reminded me to look at the bigger picture, so I measured my inches again and was amazed to see the change... Great article- came to my inbox right when I needed it! Keep up the good work, Spark! - 11/20/2010 8:04:30 AM
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