The Basics of Circumference Methods and Why it’s Critical to Track Them Pt.2


This week on the podcast we are rounding off the series on circumference measurements with Part 2 of their importance, and why it’s critical to track them.

Here’s a recap of what we covered in Part 1: 

    • Basics
    • Why they are important
    • Do’s & Don’ts
    • Key ratios for health & longevity
    • Tracking with ShapeScale

In part 2 we dive deeper into more specific cases, such as losing body fat // building muscle & why tracking your circumference measurements is important & can help if you’re trying to do one or the other.


1) Tracking Body Circumference Measurements For Fat Loss


Now we already know that tracking your waist circumference can be a great way to identify and prevent possible health risks that come with obesity. However, keeping track of your measurements can do a lot more for fat loss than just this.

Periodically measuring the circumference of each body part makes it quick and easy for you to identify if, and where exactly it is that you have been dropping the fat that you have been working so hard to lose. Unfortunately, when it comes to fat loss you cannot specifically target a certain area. When you are in a caloric deficit your genes, gender and hormone levels will largely determine where it is that you will loose fat first. However… there are ways to guesstimate where it is that you will loose your fat first!Can help you identify whether you’re losing // if yes, where you’re losing from // is it fat or muscle

Typically, you will be more likely to experience fat loss first in the areas that you have last experienced fat gain. When you are losing fat, imagine that your body is playing your recent fat gain in reverse. Measuring these susceptible areas will be a great way in identifying whether or not your fat loss journey is working for you.

Men and women also tend to loose fat first in slightly different areas. Men see a loss in body fat around their waist (lower body) first whilst women usually will see it in their bust (upper body). Unfortunately, fat around a women’s waist and hips will tend to be more stubbornand slower to go as evolution expects you to be constantly ‘baby’ ready.

If you don’t have any resistance training in your regime, the reduction in the size of typically leaner areas (e.g. arms, calves, shoulders) will most likely be from a loss in muscle (not fat) and counterproductive to your goals.

Slight strength loss can also be expected when losing fat, as even with resistance training it’s very hard for your body to maintain muscle in a caloric deficit. However, if your strength loss is much more significant, then your diet may be a little too extreme – a sign of significant muscle loss (this is most definitely not wanted). Other factors such as poor protein intake, very high levels of cardio, and even a lack of sleep can all contribute to this also.

When it comes to fat loss, the best measurement to indicate your success remains your waist circumference. It has generally been considered that a weight loss of 2.2 lbs (1kg) is associated with a reduction in your waist circumference of approximately 0.39 in (1cm).

Adding to this, based on our own data you can expect to lose anywhere between 0.433 to 0.591 in (1.1 to 1.5cm) in your waist circumference for every 2.2 lbs (1kg) of body fat that you lose!

However, it is important to be mindful that this range will vary depending on how much muscle you maintain and also how much body fat / muscle that you have to lose. Generally you need to lose about 6-8 lbs (2.7-3.6 kg) to drop one inch (2.5 cm) in waist circumference and 10-20 lbs (4.5-9 kg) to go down an entire dress size!

Height also plays a fundamental role when determining your ideal measurements as it is used to find the perfect waist circumference. Your waist circumference is then used as a starting block for multiple other body part measurements (more on that soon).

Once educated about your height’s ideal measurements you can set yourself a target depending on how close you want to be to these ‘ideal’ goals. This allows you to make sure that you are on the right track with your fat loss goals and in turn can be quite motivating.


2) Tracking Body Circumference Measurements For Muscle Building

You could probably have guessed that measuring the circumference of your body parts can be useful in seeing where you have gained muscle. However, these measurements can do a lot more than only saying that you have put an inch of mass on to your chest. Depending on your goals, taking your measurements allows you to make sure that you are putting on your desired lean mass without taking your ‘dirty bulk’ too far.

In bodybuilding or even the broader fitness industry, the goal is to have symmetrical muscles along with some size. Taking your measurements can therefore expose some of your aesthetic weak points without the burden of paying for a coach. For example if your thighs are well defined and at the ‘perfect’ size for your height but your arms have a 2 inch size difference between them, you will have a good idea of what to work on.

Circumference measurements have been a tool used by bodybuilders and athletes for centuries. This is because in bodybuilding, the goal is to achieve the largest, most defined muscles whilst remaining symmetrical.

Athletes training for increased power also see increases in muscle mass in the areas that they have trained. So therefore, the success of the resistance training that you have been performing specific to your chosen sport can be measured by…. your circumference measurements!

So, what are the essential measurements that you should take to determine your muscle mass growth?

Everyone has different goals when it comes to building muscle so the given would be to measure the body parts that you are focusing on in training. That being said, if your goal is to build muscle it is definitely worth comparing yourself to your chosen ‘ideal’ body ratio to determine how close you are to your goals.

Despite there being various takes on the ideal physique, the majority of them agree on the Golden Ratio being the perfect shoulder-to-waist achievement. This ratio can not only be found in the ancient greek sculptures, but also everywhere in nature and our everyday lives.

However, the power of this ratio has been greatly exaggerated over the years and multiple studies have debunked the claim that we have an innate preference for this ratio…. so be careful not to fall into that trap!

Popular ‘ideal’ physique formulas such as the Grecian Ideal and the Adonis index use this ratio, however, the Adonis index expresses that for this look to work the waist must be ‘small’…. sorry modern Mr Olympia mass monsters.

So what is classified as a small waist then? According to the Grecian ideal, used by golden era bodybuilders,(and our own, more modern data) the perfect waist size is one that is 41-47% of your height. Achieving this waist line usually requires less than 20% body fat.

Both the Grecian ideal and the Adonis index are inspired by ancient greek sculptures. The Adonis index mostly takes inspiration from the famous Discobolus (discuss throwing) statue, whilst Eugen Sandow, creator of the Grecian ideal and regarded as the father of bodybuilding, studied multiple ancient greek physiques at various museums before publishing his ‘perfect proportions’.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the ‘perfect’ size of other body parts for men, people’s opinions begin to differ.


3) Tracking Body Circumference Measurements For Improved Athletic Performance

If bodybuilding isn’t necessarily your thing but you still want to gain muscle and strength to improve your athletic performance then circumference measurements can still help you. One study found in the journal of Human Kinetics found a significant positive correlation between participants shoulder and chest circumference and the performance of their compound lifts.

A wider shoulder and chest circumference meant that you would perform better when snatching, clean and jerking, front squatting and back squatting.

Typically for these lifts you would focus on training your legs to become more powerful. However, from this study we can see that training your upper body and improving your shoulder and chest measurements will also help lead to significant improvements in the performance of multiple exercises. Even if the upper body is not really needed for some of them.

It is also important to be mindful of your waist circumference when bulking and trying to improve your shoulder and chest measurements. The relative muscle gains in these measurments should outweigh that of the waist to prevent you from gaining too much fat!

The same study also revealed a slight negative correlation between the participants Waist-to-Hip Ratio and their clean and jerk performance. But unless you are an aspiring Olympic weightlifter this shouldn’t matter too much. If you actively avoid building too much muscle because you are a long distance athlete, circumference measurements can still help you. Another study revealed that there is a significant association between the upper arm circumference and the performance of a group of long distance runners.

The smaller the circumference of their arms, the better they performed! Interestingly, this circumference was a better indicator of their performance than their height, weight, length of limbs, circumference of other limbs or BMI. That being said if you have small arms and you don’t exercise you will not be more athletic than an NFL quarterback.

The reduction in the size of these endurance athletes arms can actually be put down to the shrinking of their fast-twitch muscle fibres. This is because their bodies have adapted to become as efficient at running as they can after years of training.

Whilst their slow-twitch fibres do grow, they do not grow at the same speed as the loss of their fast-twitching counterparts. So ultimately if you are a land based endurance athlete then measuring changes in your upper arm circumference can be a great indicator of your progress.

However, it is important to keep in mind that this measurement is only an indication that your training is paying off. Actively trying to lose muscle seeking the worlds smallest arms will not necessarily make you more athletic.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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