How to Take Body Measurements

Tracking body measurements can help you assess body composition changes

Woman wearing short top and fitness tracker measuring waistline

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When it comes to exercise and weight loss, there are plenty of ways to track your progress. Of course, there's the scale, which is probably the easiest and most accessible, but there's a big problem with the scale it will regularly lie to you about your progress.

The scale measures everything—every sip of water, every bite of food, your bones, muscles, organs, fat. There's no way to distinguish between what you're gaining (which could just be water) or losing (which, again, could be water).

That's where body measurements come in. Taking your measurements is a better way to track progress because you get an idea of what's really happening with your body. Knowing how to take body measurements is a valuable tool if you are trying to change your body composition by losing fat and/or adding muscle.

How to Take Body Measurements Yourself

For the most consistent results, there are some things to ensure you are doing when taking body measurements. You should either wear fitted clothing or no clothing at all so that the garments do not factor into the measurements. When taking body measurements yourself, stand tall with your feet together, and stay relaxed without tensing, flexing, or sucking in your stomach.

Cropped shot of a young woman measuring her waist in the bathroom
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Be sure to use a flexible, inelastic tape measure. A cloth measuring tape is a good option, or you could use one specifically made for taking body measurements, such as the MyoTape Body Tape Measure.

For accuracy, take your measurements at least twice. Take the average of both measurements to get your final numbers.

For all measurements, pull the tape measure so that it sits on the surface of the skin, but doesn't compress the skin. You can record your measurements in this progress chart every four weeks to see if you're losing fat. Some people may lose inches without losing weight. That may be a sign you're losing fat and gaining muscle.

Every time you retake your measurements, take them at the same time and under the same circumstances, so you can trust the results. For example, some people prefer to take measurements first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything.

Where to Take Measurements

Here's where to measure different body parts:

  • Abs: Stand with your feet together and torso straight but relaxed, and find the widest part of your torso, often around your belly button.
  • Arms: Stand up straight with one arm relaxed, and find the midpoint between the shoulder bone and the elbow of that arm.
  • Calves: Measure halfway between the knee and the ankle.
  • Chest: Stand with your feet together and torso straight, and find the widest part around your bust.
  • Hips: This is the widest part of your glutes. Try looking in a mirror while standing sideways. Make sure the tape is parallel to the floor.
  • Thighs: Look for the midpoint between the lower part of the glutes and the back of the knee, or use the widest part of the thigh.
  • Waist: Find your natural waist or the narrowest part of the torso.

How Body Measurements Change Over Time

Everyone's body composition—how much fat, muscle, and other tissues you have—is different and will change over time based on your lifestyle and activities, as well as the aging process.

For this reason, it is important to understand what influences these changes in measurements. Here is what you need to know.

Body Composition

Your body loses fat all over, but the areas that hold excess fat take longer. The bottom line is, you can't control where the fat comes off, but you can look at your own body type and that of your parents and get a decent idea of where you tend to store more fat and where you don't.

To some extent, we're all influenced by our genes, but that doesn't mean you can't make changes to your body. To do that, make sure you have a complete exercise program that includes a combination of cardio exercise, strength training for all your muscle groups, and a nutritious eating plan that allows you to effectively fuel your body.

Muscle vs. Fat

Another odd phenomenon of weight management is that it's entirely possible to lose inches from your body without actually losing weight on the scale. When you gain muscle, you may be losing inches even though you're not losing weight, and that's perfectly normal—especially if you've added strength training to your routine or you're doing a new activity that triggers your body to build more lean muscle tissue.

Keep in mind that while muscle weighs more than fat, it takes up less space. If your goal is to build muscle, this is a great sign that you are achieving your goal.That's why taking your measurements can tell you more than the scale and also why it's body composition, not your weight, that really tells the true story.

Tracking Your Progress

It's wise to take measurements every 2 to 4 weeks to see how your efforts are affecting your body composition while you are actively trying to build muscle, manage your weight, or both. If you are trying to maintain your results, taking measurements every month or two should suffice.

Spot reduction, or doing an exercise for a certain body part in the hopes of getting rid of fat there, typically doesn't work for most areas of the body. Taking your measurements will reassure you that your body composition is changing.

Different Body Types

Many of us may wonder whether our measurements are normal for our weight and height. The short answer to this is yes, whatever your measurements are, they are normal for ​​you. Look around, and you'll find that everyone has a different body shape and size. It can help to know the general body types, which describe where we store extra fat.

One way to understand differences among people is to look at different body types. While these body types are not a scientific description of people's bodies, but they are a way to describe common characteristics. Most people fall into more than one category. But your body type can change with your lifestyle.

What's more, knowing your body type or shape tells you where your body stores excess fat. Understanding your body can lower your frustration and let you know you're on the right track.

Different Body Types

  • Ectomorph: People with this body type tend to be lean and may even have trouble gaining weight due to a faster metabolism.
  • Endomorph: This body type tends to have higher body fat, big bones, and a slower metabolism, making it hard to lose weight.
  • Mesomorph: With this type, a person is more muscular and may have an easier time losing fat and gaining muscle.

A Word From Verywell

Taking your measurements is an effective way to track your exercise, nutrition, and weight management progress. Not only does it allow you to get an idea of what's really happening with your body, but also can be reassuring as you see the results of your effort. It also may help to talk to a healthcare provider about your goals. They can provide advice and suggestions to keep you on the right track.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Measuring obesity.

  2. Harvard Health. Preserving muscle mass. February 19, 2016.

  3. Hernández-Reyes A, Cámara-Martos F, Molina-Luque R, et al. Changes in body composition with a hypocaloric diet combined with sedentary, moderate and high-intense physical activity: A randomized controlled trialBMC Women's Health 2019;19:167. doi:10.1186/s12905-019-0864-5

  4. Barakat C, Pearson J, Escalante G, Campbell, B, De Souza EO. Body recomposition: Can trained individuals build muscle and lose fat at the same time? Strength and Conditioning Journal: 2020;42(5):7–21 doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000584

  5. Paoli A, Casolo A, Saoncella M, et al. Effect of an endurance and strength mixed circuit training on regional fat thickness: The quest for the “spot reduction.International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(7):3845. doi:10.3390/ijerph18073845.

  6. University of Houston. The three somatotypes.

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."