Body composition is the term used to describe what your body is made of, such as muscle tissue, fat mass, bone and water, etc. There are many ways to measure body composition, the most accurate methods are often in science labs and require very expensive pieces of kit.
The problem with this is the average person doesn’t have access to this equipment – but luckily, you don’t need to. Three of the most simplest and most effective methods to measure progress are tools you already have in the house or can easily acquire online; bodyweight scales, tape measure and photographs.
What you decide to use, is totally up to you. However, it can be beneficial to use more than one method. For example, sometimes the scales won’t move but your body circumference measurements will reduce by a few centimetres.
What are the benefits of monitoring body composition?
- Understand where your starting point is
- A good way to measure and track progress
- Powerful motivator
Scales measure your total body mass, they are cheap and easy to use. However, to make your results more accurate you need to control the conditions and be consistent.
- Weigh in the morning, after going to the toilet, before eating or drinking and in minimal or no clothes.
- Weigh daily if possible. The more you can weigh yourself, the more data you have, this will allow you to analyse daily fluctuations and compare weekly averages.
If using bodyweight scales has caused you to feel bad about yourself in the past, or triggers negative feelings, then there are other options you could try. However, it’s useful to be aware of the short-term influences that can impact your total body mass and the effect it can have on the data.
It’s totally normal for the scales to fluctuate and go up or down 1lb or so daily. This can be down to hydration status fluid retention, undigested food, glycogen storage etc. It’s also important to note that for women, the menstrual cycle can have a big impact on the scales, some women gain or lose 7-10lb across the cycle.
If you are unaware of all this, then I can understand how someone might feel demotivated about their progress. Regardless of all this, over the long-term, if you lose a lot of body fat over a long period of time, you will likely weigh less overall.
A tape measure is a good way to measure the circumference of body parts. For clients who are not keen on bodyweight scales, a measuring tape can be a good alternative to monitoring changes in body composition.
One of the main issues with a measuring tape is the reliability of measurements. With this in mind, there are some simple guidelines you can use to help overcome this. The typical measurement techniques are below and the tape needs to be perpendicular to the limb:
- Waist: Measure at the navel, or 1cm above, or the narrowest part
- Hip: Measure at the widest part
- Chest: Measure under the armpits
- Bicep/thigh/calf: Measure the widest part, flexed
Lastly, it’s important to get someone else to measure you for more accurate data.
Taking photos is a great way to visualise progress over time. As we see ourselves in the mirror daily, we don’t really notice when physical changes occur. Taking monthly photos allows you to “see” how your body is changing and can be very motivating and inspiring. Here are some tips to follow:
- Use the same lighting (ideally in the same spot) and having someone else, or a camera on timer, taking the pictures.
- Opt for both sides, front and back relaxed – in underwear or tight clothing.
As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words and changes in body composition might be more apparent from the photos, than on the scales.
Measuring changes in body composition doesn’t need to be overly complicated or expensive for the average person who is looking to lose or put on weight. If all else fails, simply noticing how your clothes fit can also be a good indicator of progress.