Taking Body Measurements During Weight Loss

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: Unfortunately, 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

Cropped shot of a young woman measuring her waist in the bathroom
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There are a few things to keep in mind when taking body measurements. First, wear fitted clothing or no clothing at all if you can. Stand with your feet together and your body relaxed for all the measurements.

How to Measure Yourself

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 Measure

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

Body Composition

One thing people want when they start a weight loss program is to make the fat go away in some areas, but stay put in other areas. Unfortunately, we can't choose where the fat comes off. 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.

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 held hostage 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 three to seven times a week, strength training for all your muscle groups two to three times a week, and a healthy, reduced-calorie diet that allows you to burn more calories than you eat.

Follow that plan and allow your body time to respond to it. It can take weeks or months to see results, so it helps to focus on other goals like getting healthy or stronger.

Muscle vs. Fat

Another odd phenomenon of weight loss is that it's entirely possible to lose inches from your body without actually losing weight on the scale. This is another reason that the scale can be deceptive, because, as mentioned previously, it weighs everything, and it can't tell you what comes off or what goes on.

When you gain muscle, you may be losing inches even though you're not losing weight, and that's perfectly normal 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. Muscle weighs more than fat, but 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 two to four weeks to see how your efforts are affecting your body composition while you are actively trying to build muscle, lose 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 the fat is coming off, even if you're not losing fat exactly where you want just yet.

Normal Body Measurements

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.

For women, we tend to use body shapes:

  • Apple: An apple-shaped person has broader shoulders and narrower hips.
  • Straight or rectangular: This shape has little difference between chest, waist, and hips measurements.
  • Pear: This person has hips that are larger than the chest.
  • Hourglass: In this shape, the hips and chest are almost the same, with a narrower waist.

Some women also wonder what a "normal" shoulder width is. Again, like all other measurements, the width of your shoulders is normal for you, but maybe not for someone else.

On average, shoulder-width for women hovers around 17 inches. That's measuring along your back from the top of one armpit to the other. Keep in mind that, for women, the hip line is usually the broadest part of the body, while for men, the broadest part is the shoulder line.

For men, we generally categorize body types rather than shapes: These body types are not a scientific description of people's bodies, but rather a way of describing common characteristics. Most people fall into more than one category and your body type can change with your lifestyle.

  • 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.

Most of us fall somewhere on this continuum, but what does this information mean to you?

Knowing your body type or shape tells you where your body stores excess fat. Understanding your body can lower your frustration if you don't lose fat in those stubborn areas right away. As long as you're losing fat somewhere, you're on the right track.

A Word From Verywell

If your waist circumference is over 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men, you have a higher risk for certain chronic diseases. Work with a health care provider to help you lose abdominal and overall body fat to improve your health.

8 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.
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  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. Penn Medicine. What your body shape reveals about your health.

  7. University of Houston. The three somatotypes.

  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Assessing your weight and health risk.

Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner
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."