Weight or Inches: Which is a Better Measurement of Fitness Success?

Posted January 12, 2012 by

“How much do you weigh?” It’s a question that can cause people to recoil in horror, or even get you slapped for asking—our society is obsessed with the scale and all of the interpretations to be made from the sinister 3-number sequence that it displays. However, is the scale necessarily the BEST measure of one’s health, body composition and/or level of fitness?

One thing my clients get accustomed to is having their inches measured on a regular basis as well as their weight (and their body fat, where applicable). While weight can tell you at a glance the general ballpark of where you’re at, it doesn’t take body composition into account. This poses a problem because having a lot of muscle mass isn’t a bad thing, but will make someone quite heavy relatively speaking. For example, a 100lb female made mostly of muscle will look much smaller and WAY tighter than a 100lb female made mostly of fat. Additionally, the muscle-bound woman would have a much higher metabolism and be at less risk for many diseases.

Additionally, depending on the time of the month, a woman’s weight can vary by as much as 10 pounds or more simply due to water retention from hormonal changes, so accurately judging health or fitness levels based on weight alone is very hard, if not impossible, to do.

Inches, on the other hand, tend to follow a more predictable pattern. While your limb circumference can increase due to a gain in muscle mass (rather than fat mass), it takes a significant amount to make a measurable difference, so the only way it’s going to increase is if you’re purposely trying to gain muscle rather than lose fat. Additionally, inches almost always go down correlating with a decrease in body fat, so all in all they are a much better measurement of fat loss than weight. Inches are easy to notice a change in because it can mean the difference between that favorite pair of jeans fitting or not, or boots being tight on the calves, etc. In other words, inches is a more “real world” measurement because you can see the benefit of decreased inches within your daily life.

However, in my opinion the best measurement for tracking progress is a combination of the two because the truth is, the more ways you can measure your progress the better. Some weeks you may find that your weight doesn’t budge, while your inches drop rapidly; other weeks perhaps the opposite happens. Either way is progress though, and having constant feedback on the efficacy of your program is critical to your ultimate success.

Obviously, an even more accurate and relevant method would be a measurement of your body fat, either with calipers, a BIA device or something more formal like hydrostatic tank testing. However, unless you have a personal trainer around who knows how to administer these measurements, or unless you have a hook-up at your neighborhood laboratory (hydrostatic testing can be very expensive), your best bet for self-measurement is still going to be a combination of body part circumferences and weight.

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