Measuring changes in body composition is one of the most effective means of evaluating whether your health, diet, and workouts are moving in the right direction. Lowering your body fat percentage is also crucial for getting not only a great physique but improving your health. Unfortunately, finding an accurate way to track your changes in body composition can be challenging with tons of different techniques… and, each with their own set of pros and cons. After years of trying different techniques, here are two simple measurements that make a difference.

Take two measurements: your body fat and your waist measurement.

Measuring Body Fat

Body fat scales or bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) scales are the most popular way of measuring body composition because they are inexpensive and widely available. BIA uses an electrical current on the body and measures how quickly that current is conducted. Lean tissue and fat mass conduct electrical signals differently so the scale can use conductance to estimate body composition. Even though it’s one of the most popular methods of measuring body composition the accuracy can widely vary depending on an individual’s hydration status and other factors.

The inaccuracy of a device may depend in part on body shape. Because the electric current passes through only your legs, the scales might underestimate body fat if you have a big belly but slimmer legs and overestimate it if you carry more weight on your hips and thighs. Results can also vary depending on whether your feet are wet or dry (they should be dry), whether you recently exercised, and how much water you had to drink.

Even though body fat scales may be inaccurate, they are at least consistent in one area- repeatability. When you use one tool over time you get to know what effects you’re read-out.  And for a quick and dirty measurement available to you anytime, it can be a good tool.  So you can count on the scales for body-fat repeatability to track your composition over time.

Measuring Your Midsection

Simple. Tried and true. Requires low tech. It’s the measuring tape and it can be one of your best friends in determining if things are moving in the right direction.  The circumference of your waist is important because it’s a good indicator of how much abdominal, or visceral, fat you have — the fat you carry around your middle, including your belly.  You should watch your waist size because belly fat, more than fat elsewhere on your body, is linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and early death. In women, a waist measurement of 35 inches or greater is cause for concern; in men, it’s 40 inches and up.

The best way to measure your waist is a simple measuring tape. Just wrap it around your bare abdomen at about the level of your belly button or your natural waistline, stand with your legs together and measure after exhaling.  If your waist is expanding over time, you’re gaining fat. If it’s shrinking, you’re losing fat.

For Best Results

For the best results, check your body composition every six to eight weeks to measure your improvements with a higher accuracy technology. A DEXA scan lets you know your precise body composition, and it will also break it down by body segment so you can see where you’re holding the most muscle and fat. They may be harder to find and quite pricey but it can also be used as good motivation.  Train for 6 weeks and as a reward get your scan done. You could also go to a lab with a Bod Pod for about $75 per session, they can be an effective alternative to DEXA and are extremely accurate.