The Basics of Circumference Methods and Why it’s Critical To Track Them Pt.1

This week on the podcast we kicked off our 2 part episode on The Basics of Circumference Methods and Why it’s Critical To Track Them Pt.1

Most people start a fitness journey without a clear picture of their success. This can oftentimes lead to them becoming disheartened by their appearance – even after making progress on their weight scale. Perhaps even the opposite, they’re happier with their look but not so much with their progress on the scale. If either, or even both, of these scenarios sound familiar, then the episode is 100% for you.

Three Things You’ll Learn

1) The Basics of Circumference Measurements and Why Track Them

I think it’s best to start with a definition. Simply put – body circumference measurements are the measurement of any body part’s circumference, usually identified through the use of a tape measure.

The most common measurements are usually taken from the waist, shoulder, chest, biceps, thighs, calves, neck, wrist and ankles. Now unless you’re planning on being the next Mr or Ms Olympia, not all of these body parts need to be measured religiously, especially as the classic process can be long and tedious.

However, without a doubt the most useful measurements for the average, every day male would be their waist and shoulder circumference, with the waist and chest circumference for their female counterpart.

So why track them? Well first of all they keep you healthy. A 2014 study carried out by Mayo Clinic, looking at data from 650,000 adults concluded that life expectancy decreased 3 years for men and 5 years for women between the subjects bearing the highest and lowest waist circumferences. It’s key to note that this effect was independent of other risk factors, such as age, BMI, physical activity, smoking history and alcohol use.

Secondly, they offer so much more than a simple weight scale. Simply a whole new dimension of feedback to your fitness progress. The vast majority of people track their progress through a loose, uncoordinated collection of mirror photos and numbers from a scale. Beyond these methods offering very inconsistent feedback, (depending on factors such as differing lighting or the sensitivity of your scale) they also completely lack numerical feedback on specific body parts.

In his book ‘The 4-Hour Body’, Tim Ferriss says: “Pounds can lie, but measurements don’t“. He goes on to explain that that an increase in carbohydrate intake can result in an up to 20-pound water weight gain (depending on the size of the person) within 24 hours. Yet in the same period of time, the measurements of the person will remain more consistent to their progress – removing the confusing fluctuations the weight scale would bring.

2) How To Take Measurements & Key Measurements

Here’s 5 golden rules when it comes to taking your circumference measurements:

  1. Ideally, the measurement should be performed against your skin with no clothing on.

    1. If you do measure yourself with a piece of clothing on: first make sure it is as tight as possible (think compression gear)
    2. You will need to ensure that you wear the same clothing every time you take measurements to prevent the thickness of the clothing affecting your measurements
  2. Don’t apply excessive force with the measuring tape, whilst the tape should be snug to the skin it should not be pressing in

  3. Take your measurements in the exact same location every time – aka don’t one day take your waist measurements over your belly button and then decide to take them from just below your ribs the next time.

  4. Take your measurements in consistent conditions

    1. Pick a time and a state (e.g. every Friday morning before breakfast) and stick with that. Whilst circumference measurements are more accurate than a scale, having your muscles filled with glycogen after a carb intensive meal as opposed to depleted in the morning isn’t exactly the best thing for the consistency of your long-term tracking.
    2. Measurements should be done by the same person each time (and averages taken).
  5. Be honest with yourself

    1. Lying about your measurements or sucking in your torso for example does nothing but harm to yourself, hindering your progress in the long run.

It’s important to measure correctly as many of your circumference measurements can be used to indicate your health levels. The best of which is your waist circumference. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), you should measure your waist circumference in a horizontal plane at the midpoint between the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs.

Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. According to the National Heart and Lung institute, the risk of these increases with a waist that is larger than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for non-pregnant women.

Here’s something else interesting: the Harvard School of Public Health concluded through a study that your waist circumference is just as effective as DXA scanners at recognizing cardiovascular disease risks.

Additionally, reducing your waistline by only 1.97in (5cm) can lead to an 11% reduction in these risks for men and a 15% reduction in these risks for women!

3) The Ratio You Should Track

Let’s talk about the waist-to-hip ratio. As mentioned before, fat stored in this area gives a great indication of your risk to obesity related diseases. It can therefore be used to determine whether or not you are on the right path of lowering this risk.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies the healthy ratios as 0.9 or less in men and 0.85 or less in woman.

For women a high WHR can be a sign of menstrual irregularity, abnormal growth and distribution of hair, diabetes/ insulin tolerance, hypertension, stroke, gall bladder disease and even reproductive problems… so worth being mindful of.

Studies from the Norwegian University of Science & Technology as well as Deakin University have even shown that this ratio can be more accurate for predicting cardiovascular disease than BMI measurement and even your waist circumference!

The WHR is also great for indicating your current body type e.g. rectangle, pear, apple and inverted triangle. This is important to identify as you can use this knowledge to be more aware of the health related problems that you are at risk of. 

Measuring with ShapeScale

ShapeScale’s primary feature is circumference measurement taking. When performing a scan, ShapeScale uses a depth sensor that will accurately create a 3D model of you. Once this model is created it will slice specific areas of your body, measuring the circumference of that body part.

Currently ShapeScale will measure your neck, shoulder, biceps, waist, hips, thighs and calves giving you consistent, reliable feedback on your fitness journey.

Unlike the more tedious old-school method of circumference measuring, ShapeScale’s measurements are fast and consistent. ShapeScale has taken hundreds of scans that have been compared to manual measurements. These scans have shown that human measurement error is consistently far greater than that of ShapeScale’s algorithms.

If you currently manually record your measurements, you will know that it can be a time-consuming process that requires you to interpret your results for yourself. Oftentimes, you will find yourself staring blankly at 100s of numbers on a page with no comparison as to how the changes have translated to your appearance.

With ShapeScale, these measurements are almost instantaneous. By picking any two scans from any two dates you will immediately be able to see both numerically and visually how much your body has changed. Giving you a clearer picture of your success and how much closer you are to it.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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