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How to Track Your Body Composition in 3 Simple Steps

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How to Track Your Body Composition in 3 Simple Steps

If you want to know how to quickly and easily know if your body composition is getting better or worse (if your hard work is paying off or not), then you want to read this article.

 

Let’s face it.

A big reason we work out is to look good.

Yes, there are many other benefits beyond the physical, but what we see in the mirror every day matters. A lot.

That’s why a big part of staying motivated to stick to our meal plans and training programs is seeing progress.

And this is where the mirror can mislead.

You see, it takes longer than most of us realize to see marked changes in our appearance, and when the squishy parts don’t transform as quickly as we’d hoped, it’s easy to lose heart.

It can feel like all that work in the kitchen and gym is more or less for naught.

Well, if you learn to track your body composition properly, you can avoid these problems because you’ll know exactly what is or isn’t happening with your physique, and you’ll be able to then adjust your diet and exercise accordingly.

It’s pretty easy, too. There are just three steps:

  1. Weigh yourself daily and calculate weekly averages.
  2. Take weekly body measurements.
  3. Take weekly progress pictures.

That’s all you have to do to always have an accurate snapshot of your body composition and a clear idea of which direction things are going in.

Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Weigh yourself daily and calculate weekly averages.

Most people are way too fixated on their weight.

This is too bad, because, if all you want to do is lose weight, you can starve yourself and do a ton of cardio. You’ll lose weight, alright, but you’ll also probably wind up skinny fat.

If you focus on losing fat and not muscle, though, you’ll get dramatically better results in the end.

All that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your weight, though. It is an important indicator of what’s happening with your body composition.

For example, if you need to lose quite a bit of fat, then your weight is going to ultimately go down, even if you gain muscle along the way.

So, tracking your weight is a good idea, if you do it correctly. And most people don’t.

You see, most people weigh themselves in one of two ways:

  1. Every day
  2. Once every week or two

And both of these methods can lead you astray.

The problem with relying on daily weigh-ins is fat loss isn’t a perfect, linear process.

Your weight will fluctuate day-to-day due to things like water retention, glycogen stores, and bowel movements (or lack thereof), so just because you’re up or down from yesterday or three days ago doesn’t necessarily mean you gained or lost fat.

By the same token, if you weigh yourself just once every week or two, you can have a “bad” weigh-in and think you’ve gained fat when you haven’t (or a “false positive” weigh-in and think you’ve lost fat when you haven’t).

That’s why I recommend that you weigh yourself every day and calculate an average every week, and that you pay attention to the averages, not the individual days.

That gives you a much more accurate picture of your true body weight. If the average is going up, you can rest assured you’re gaining muscle and/or fat, and if it’s going down, you’re losing it.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Note down your weight every day.

Weigh yourself in the morning, naked, after you’ve used the bathroom.

  1. Add up your weigh-ins for the last Monday through Sunday.

(7 days of weigh-ins.)

  1. Divide the sum by 7.

And voila, you now have your average daily weight for the last week. Do that every Sunday and you’ll have a data set worth paying attention to.

Here’s an example of how this might look:

Monday: 175 pounds

Tuesday: 174 pounds

Wednesday: 176 pounds

Thursday: 174 pounds

Friday: 172 pounds

Saturday: 173 pounds

Sunday: 173 pounds

Total weekly weigh-ins: 1217 pounds

Average daily weight: 1217 pounds / 7 days = 173.9

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

2. Take weekly body measurements.

ways to measure body composition

Even when tracked properly, your weight alone doesn’t tell you how your body composition is changing.

That is, it doesn’t tell if you’re gaining or losing muscle or fat–just that you’re gaining or losing something.

“Newbie gains” also render body weight less important than many people think.

If you’re new to weightlifting and have fat to lose, you can expect to gain muscle and lose fat the same time, and that means your weight may not change as much as you expect

(I’ve seen some pretty dramatic transformations where weight only changed by 10 to 15 pounds.)

All this is why I recommend that you record several other body measurements every week in addition to your weight.

The first is a caliper measurement.

Body fat calipers are clamps that measure the thickness of your skin, and they’re a simple and reliable way to keep tabs on your body fat percentage.

This usually entails taking multiplier measurements across your body, but that’s not necessary for the purposes of this article.

Instead, I recommend you get this caliper and take just one measurement per week and watch how it changes.

Here’s how to do it:

Simply put, if this measurement is going up, you’re probably gaining fat. If it’s going down, you’re probably losing fat.

(I say probably because large fluctuations in water retention can influence these readings, although less than body weight.)

Another measurement I recommend that you take is your waist circumference.

This is another reliable indicator of fat gain and loss, and is very easy to do.

With your stomach relaxed (no sucking in!), circle your waist with a measuring tape, like a belt, just above your belly button (your natural waistline), and pull it snug, but not tight enough to depress the skin.

Note the measurement down and you’re done.

These three measurements—weight, caliper, and waist—plus the weekly pictures (next step) will give you everything you need to see how your body composition is changing.

Want to learn more about measuring how your physique is developing? Check out this article.

3. Take weekly progress pictures.

In the end, all this fitness fuss needs to translate into visual gratification.

Sure, we want to be healthy and feel great, but if we don’t have the body we really want, we’re always going to feel like we’re missing out.

That’s why you need to take progress pictures every week.

If you don’t, you’re going to miss the subtle improvements in your physique and think nothing is really changing.

If you have a photo gallery of your progress, though, and you can compare early and current pictures side-by-side, you’ll quickly see how far you’ve actually come.

Here are a few tips for taking good progress pictures:

  • Use the same camera, lighting, and background every time.
  • Take the pictures at the same time every day, preferably in the morning, after the bathroom and before breakfast.
  • Take both flexed and unflexed pictures because, uh, flexing is fun.
  • Take photos from the front, back, and both sides. Try to get everything in the frame, too, from head to toe.

BONUS TIP
Organize and visualize your data.

 There’s no point in keeping records if you don’t turn the data into something useful.

For me, that means keeping it neatly organized and visualizing it with charts.

If you’re the same way, then you have two options for this:

  1. Spreadsheet
  2. App

If you’re into spreadsheets, go with Google Sheets, and if you want a workout app actually worth using, check out Stacked.

Want to Know Even More About Measuring and Improving Your Body Composition?

 If you follow these three simple steps, you’ll be able to accurately measure your body composition and track how it’s changing over time.

And that means you’ll know, bottom line, if your diet and training programs are working.

If you’d like to know more about all of this, though, including how to estimate body fat percentage and actually go about improving your body composition, then check out this longer, more in-depth article:

How to Measure and Improve Your Body Composition

The Bottom Line on Tracking Your Body Composition

A smart person once said that if you can’t measure something and express it in numbers, your knowledge and understanding of it is going to be lacking.

I agree.

That’s why objectifying your fitness journey and tracking your progress in terms of numbers and pictures is going to help you in many ways.

Not the least of which is simply knowing if you’re actually making progress.

If you let the data guide you instead of hunches, suspicions, or worries, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about when and what to change and why.

What’s your take on tracking your body composition? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • TamTam Hudson Bush

    Very helpful! Thank you. I ordered the caliper and plan to start tracking composition along with my weight! 👊

  • Need to start taking my measurements again! Previously focused on weights/HIIT and calorie management but now that I’ve hit a weight loss plateau I’ve been focusing more on weight lifting to hopefully burn some fat and build muscle while not starving myself! This post was a great reminder for me.

  • I only weigh myself and look in the mirror. Those two things are enough to know where my BF is at. I’ve been at it for almost a year now and progress is slow. The only place where I visibly saw any difference was in my chest, and I haven’t gained much muscle to speak of. I’ve decided the only way is to bulk and not care about what you look like. That’s the only option I have left anyway.

    • Great!

      With a good program, you should be making good progress if it’s been almost a year with proper execution of cutting and bulking.

      • Well, with all the talk of newbie gains and body recomp I didn’t spend much time bulking. I was mostly maintaining or cutting. I have seen some improvement but it seems minimal compared to the so-called newbie gains mentioned. At least I’m not afraid of bulking anymore. I’ve gotten a lot stronger but have gained hardly any muscle mass. I guess it only makes sense that for your muscles to grow you have to give them a surplus.

  • Lyndon Phillips

    Mike! Where’s your app? Still, work in progress?

  • Tony Santangelo

    Great article. I picked up the Accu-Measure caliper a few months ago but I wasn’t sure I was getting the right location until your video. I’ve been measuring 2mm for the last 4 or 5 months which is 8.5% at age 54. (so unfair..) At my age I really don’t know if its healthy to maintain less than that. I’m using your periodization information in BBLS to program my lifts. My goal is a slow bulk to try and add 5 or 7 lbs of lean muscle without creeping up the BF% too much.

    I’d love to see more articles and or podcast on building muscle after 50. Most of the information out there is for new lifters or just weight loss.

    • Aaron Pascoe

      Hi,
      Thanks Mike – another good article. I have worked to get my BF down to around 20% with a 15% target, but my BF scales have me fixed at 33% since I started – they are truly rubbish! Getting accurate measurement is not easy! I also struggle using calipers,

      I would also like to see more info on training when over 50 years olds. I have been following the BLS training, with a couple of 30 minute runs a week and a 400 calories under TDEE. Slow but steady. I think your recommendation to not have too much volume is good advice when my age. Your Mark Rippetoe video is the only thing I have seen for this age group.

      I’m loving moving higher weights and so the programme works geat for me.
      Thanks

    • Nice work with the single digit BF%! Take a look at this:

      https://legionathletics.com/fitness-at-any-age/

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-body-fat-percentages/

      Hope that helps.

  • Ceci

    Hi this doesnt belong here but im lost
    Lifting 6 days/week
    Legs
    Bíceps and back
    Shoulders chest
    Legs.
    And doing 30 min ti 1 hour of cardio everyday running on treadmill and i just want to grow my booty and gain muscle mass should i stop cardio?

  • Colin Tranter

    Hey Mike, a bit off topic here butin your BLS book you talk about sups and in particular your consumption of egg protein, surely you mix something else with it, it tastes foul on its own. Can you mention some recipes for it pls.
    Regards, Col.

  • Abhijit Chanda

    I can’t wait for Stacked to be available on Android.

    • We’re working on it, Abhijit! Thanks for your patience and support.

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