While going through your fat loss journey, measuring your progress can be critical for both staying on track as well as motivation.
If you are tracking how much fat you’re losing, you can make sure you’re always headed in the right direction, and take pride in real progress that is being made. Relying on just your own perception of your body is not reliable, as your perception of how your body looks can change day to day even if you are headed in the right direction.
In this article, we’ll show you how to measure your fat loss progress in a reliable way, so you have a foolproof system to track your fat loss along your journey!
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Different Methods of Tracking Fat Loss
The most reliable way to measure fat loss progress is using a combination of four methods.
In this section, we’ll walk you through each of those methods, and then show you how to combine them to create a fat loss progress measurement system that is sure to keep you on track.
Method 1: Record Your Weight
To start recording your fat loss progress, you’ll want to record your weight every morning, just after you go to the bathroom.
We mentioned in step 2 of our Fat Loss Journey, you should know that you want to aim to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week! This is an ideal rate of fat loss for most people because it doesn’t risk any muscle loss in the process.
By stepping on the scale once a day, ideally in the morning just after going to the bathroom, you can make sure your weight is staying at that pace. You’ll want to take the average of your recorded body weights each week to see how much weight you are losing. That means taking each of your daily weight recordings Monday through Sunday, adding them all together, and then dividing the total by 7. That will give you your average weight for the week.
If you aren’t much of a mathematician, we recommend using this spreadsheet created by redditor 3-Suns, as it will automatically calculate the averages of your weekly weights and show you whether you are headed in the right direction. If you enter how many calories you are eating each day, it will even give you a constantly updated estimate of your TDEE!
Regardless of how you track your progress, once you have a few weekly averages, you’ll get a good idea of how quickly you are losing weight. As long as the weekly average is going down by 1-2 pounds each week, you’re on the right track.
It’s important to note, though, that weight does not tell you the whole story. You may be losing the ideal amount of weight, but you also want to make sure that weight is fat. That's why we also recommend using other methods in combination with recording your weight.
Method 2: Measure Your Body Fat Percentage
Measuring your body fat percentage once a week is also a great way to keep track of your fat loss progress.
While there are many methods to measure your body fat percentage, we recommend using the Navy Body Fat % Formula, as this has shown to consistently deliver a fairly accurate estimate. This formula uses the ratios of the different body measurements to give an estimated body fat level.
To estimate your body fat using the The US Navy Body Fat Formula, first you want to measure the following body parts using a tape measure like this one.
Neck Measurement: To take your neck measurement, wrap the tape measure around your neck, just above your Adam's apple.
Waist Measurement: To take your waist measurement, wrap the tape measure around your waist, just above or below your belly button while standing. Take a breath in, let your breath out, and then take your measurement. Don’t suck in your gut!
Hip Measurements (Women Only): If you’re a woman, you’ll also need to take your hip measurement to get an estimate of your body fat percentage. To take your hip measurement, wrap the tape measure around the largest part of your glutes while standing.
Once you take your measurements, you can plug them into this Navy Body Fat % Calculator, along with your age, sex, and height. This will give you a fairly accurate estimate of your body fat percentage!
Combined with weight averages, measuring your body fat percentage takes most all guesswork out of measuring your fat loss progress.
Method 3: Track Your Lifts
While you are losing fat, you’ll also want to track your lifts during any resistance training you may be doing. To lose fat as quickly as possible, you’ll want to retain as much muscle as possible so your body has no choice but to burn fat.
If you know your lifts are all staying steady, and you aren’t getting weaker, you can be more confident that you aren’t losing any muscle while you burn fat.
Method 4: Take Progress Pictures
Another simple way to keep track of your fat loss progress is to take progress pictures! While it may be tough to judge how much fat you are losing day to day, taking a weekly or monthly progress picture allows you to compare your body over different periods of time, side by side.
If you are taking progress pictures, you’ll want to make sure you are taking them in a consistent environment. Finding somewhere indoors you have access to like your bathroom or the gym locker room are great picks for a location because they will have consistent lighting and mirrors that will help you snap a photo on your phone.
You’ll also want to take your picture under consistent circumstances. In the morning just after you wake up is a great option, just after you record your weight.
If you’re making a serious effort to lose body fat, measuring your fat loss progress is key. In this article, we covered:
- The best way to track your fat loss progress is to combine the following four methods:
- Take recording your weight daily. You want it to go down 1-2 pounds every week. Use this spreadsheet to track your progress!
- Take measurements every month
- Track your lifts every workout, and ensure they are going up or staying the same.
- Take progress pictures every month
Fat loss is a gradual process, so patience is key. This makes tracking your progress all the more important, as knowing you are heading in the right direction can be the difference between sticking to your plan and quitting along the way.
For all the information you need along your fat loss journey, be sure to visit our Fat Loss Journey page!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about measuring fat loss progress!
What is body fat percentage?
To put it simply, your body fat percentage is what percentage of your body consists of fat relative to muscle, bones, and water.
Nerd Fitness defines body fat percentage as “the amount of fat in your body, compared to everything else”, which includes your organs, bones, tendons, muscles and stored water.
A common misbelief is that body fat percentage is the same thing as your BMI. This is incorrect. Your body fat percentage is a more accurate representation of your body composition through fat measurement, while your BMI (body mass index) only uses your height and weight.
Your body fat percentage is what you’re going to be focused on most in your fat loss journey, and is the primary determinant of how “defined”, “shredded”, or “toned” your body and muscles will look.
How Often Should I Take Measurements?
How often you take measurements will depend on which method you are using.
We recommend measuring your weight every day if you want to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.
Since your body fat percentage is slower to change, you’ll only want to measure that once per week using the Navy Body Fat % Formula.
You should track your lifts every workout to make sure you are improving between lifts.
You’ll want to take progress photos about each month as well, but you can take them every week if you’d like!
What Time of Day Should I Take Measurements?
What time you take your measurements also depends on which method you are using. The important part of timing your measurements is to make sure you take the measurements at a consistent time of day under consistent circumstances.
With that said, we recommend recording your weight and body measurements right after you get up in the morning, just after you go to the bathroom. This ensures that you have been fasting for at least 8 hours (if you are getting enough sleep), and won’t be bloated with food or water.
You can track your lifts whenever you grab a workout, ideally right after each set so you don’t forget.
You can take your progress photo whenever you’d like, but make sure it's with consistent lighting! Lighting can make a huge difference.
What are some other ways to Accurate Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage?
While using the four recommended methods in combination will surely get you a great estimate of your fat loss progress (record weight, Navy body fat percentage formula, tracking lifts, and progress pics), there are other methods that can be effective when it comes to measuring your body fat. We’ll list some of your other options below.
The Jackson-Pollock 3 Point Formula
You can also use the Jackson-Pollock 3 Point Formula to estimate your body fat percentage. This formula uses caliper measurements to get a body fat percentage estimate.
Calipers measure subcutaneous fat, or the fat just beneath your skin. The areas of the body where you must use the calipers differ for men and women. Calipers are also relatively cheap- here is a set we recommend!
There is a specific method you want to follow if you want to use calipers to measure your fat:
- For each measurement, place your thumb and index fingers on your skin about 2.5 inches apart from each other.
- The calipers are 2.5 inches apart when fully extended, so use them to approximate the distance.
- Pinch your fingers together, pulling up on the fat against the muscle underneath.
- Measure the skin fold using the calipers.
- The measurement should be halfway up the fold of skin and about a quarter of an inch from your fingers.
Athlean-X also recommends using calipers to measure your body fat, as he says that it is a very cheap and easy method for anyone to do at home. You can watch his video tutorial on taking caliper measurements right here.
Men should take the following three caliper measurements to get an estimate of their body fat percentage:
Pectoral Caliper Measurement: To take the pectoral caliper measurement, pinch the skin diagonally halfway between your armpit and nipple. Measure that skinfold with your calipers.
Abdominal Caliper Measurement: To take the abdominal caliper measurement, pinch the skin vertically an inch to the left of your naval. Measure that skinfold with your calipers.
Thigh Caliper Measurement: To take the thigh caliper measurement, pinch the skin vertically halfway between your hip crease and the top of your knee cap. Measure that skinfold with your calipers.
Women should take the following three caliper measurements to get an estimate of their body fat percentage.
Tricep Caliper Measurement: To take the tricep caliper measurement, pinch the skin vertically halfway between the top of your shoulder and your elbow.
Suprailiac Caliper Measurement: To take the suprailiac caliper measurement, pinch the skin diagonally an inch above your hip bone and an inch to the left of your naval.
Thigh Caliper Measurement: To take the thigh caliper measurement, pinch the skin vertically halfway between your hip crease and the top of your knee cap.
Once you have your caliper measurements, you can plug them into a Jackson-Pollock 3 Point Method Body Fat % Calculator. That will give you another estimate of your body fat percentage.
DEXA scanning may be the most accurate way to measure your body fat percentage, although it is likely the most expensive option as well.
DEXA scanning is a process where a full dual X-ray of your body composition is taken, and is considered to be one of the most accurate methods, according to Nerd Fitness.
This can be done at a health facility, and involves lying on an X-Ray table for about 10 minutes. However, it is typically expensive, as it can cost anywhere from $50-150 per session depending on where you go.
Hydrostatic weighing is another more formal method of measuring your body fat percentage.
Hydrostatic weighing, also commonly referred to as underwater weighing, involves comparing an individual’s land weight to their underwater weight. NASM provides a clear explanation of how the process of hydrostatic weighing works:
“This method is usually done in an exercise physiology laboratory that has the assessment equipment, including a water filled tank. The process itself requires the client to wear a thin swimsuit, submerge themselves into the tank of water (usually a warm 95 degrees fahrenheit) while sitting in a chair suspended from a scale. Clients will then expel all of the air from their lungs, and then a weight is recorded and computed against land values”.
Although the measurements that hydrostatic weighing gives are usually very accurate, the method itself can be uncomfortable and challenging for most individuals, including even fit athletes. Therefore, this measurement technique is only recommended for those who are fully comfortable with water, and if the other methods do not provide the best results.
Air displacement plethysmography
Air displacement plethysmography is another method of measuring your body fat percentage in a more clinical setting.
This technique is done in a professional setting, according to Healthline, and is extremely accurate. It involves undressing, then entering a computerized, egg-shaped chamber called a BOD POD that totally encloses your body.
Your body density is determined through your weight and volume, which the machine then uses to calculate your body fat percentage.
Body fat scales
One method of measuring body fat percentage that is becoming more popular is through special body fat scales that measure both your weight and your body fat percentage.
According to Healthline, “body fat scales use technology called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). When you step on the scale, an electrical current passes through one leg, up to the pelvis, and down the other. Fat conducts far less electricity than the water and muscle you have in your body. So, when the scale picks up more resistance, it records more possible body fat”.
The scale utilizes your entered height, weight, age and gender to provide you with your body fat percentage. Body fat scales are not very expensive, but the results you can get from them are known to be fairly inconsistent and unreliable. There are many factors that can all alter your body fat percentage reading with a body fat scale including:
- Your hydration level
- When your last workout was
- When you ate your last meal
Be sure to carefully read your instruction manual before trying out a new scale, so that you can try to get the best possible measurement.
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