Measuring Female Abs Progress Using More Than Just Scales
By Elle Brown
Getting slim female abs and an attractive figure isn’t just about losing weight. It’s about losing fat. I draw the distinction because all too often we get fixated on how much we weigh, to the exclusion of everything else. But if we want to see our abs, the bottom line is that we need to shed the fat that’s concealing them. It’s a good practice to get on the scales each morning in order to stay motivated and on track (I do, every day), and it’s certainly very satisfying to drop a pound or to hit a goal weight. But the primary goal isn’t just to lose weight. It’s to trim the flab from our waistlines (and other places…), and reshape our our bodies to be slim, toned and attractive. In fact, depending on your body composition and the way your body works, you might even end up losing fat and trimming your waistline, without losing much weight, as you reshape your body, trim your girl abs, and gain lean, toned muscle. And it’s not just muscle and fat that contributes to your weight: a single cup of water weighs about half a pound, and you drink and expel much more than that each day, so your weight can easily fluctuate by a few pounds depending on your level of hydration. In other words, when you measure your weight, you’re measuring more than just fat, and your fat measurement can get lost in the noise.
So what other ways are there to set goals and measure progress, aside from stepping on the scales?
The simplest way is to use a tape measure. Measure your waist and and any other problem areas (e.g. thighs), and keep a record so you can see your progress over time. If a tape measure seems a little dull and unmotivating, a more fun and rewarding way to judge progress is by the clothes you can wear. After all, one of the things you’re trying to achieve is to look good and be able to wear slim, attractive clothes comfortably. While jumping on the scales can give you a measurable goal, it’s somewhat inert and abstract. Clothes, on the other hand, can give you a goal that’s measurable, achievable, meaningful and desirable. Try this: pick an object of desire, like a pair of cute jeans, or a party dress, that’s one size smaller than you can currently comfortably wear. I mean comfortably – I don’t mean squeeze into. Maybe it’s something you already own that used to fit you, or maybe it’s something new that you have your eye on. Try it on as often as you like. You’ll notice it gets easier as you get in better shape, and when you achieve your goal, you get to wear the prize. This is way more emotionally rewarding than the readout on a set of scales, and it doesn’t matter how much you weigh, because you know you’ve made great positive progress. It’s best not to skip sizes, since this will take longer to achieve, and you run the risk of getting demoralized.
If that’s all a bit touchy-feely for you, rest assured, there’s also a very technical way to approach this. What you need to do is measure your body fat composition – the percentage of your body mass that’s comprised of fat. Women need a body fat percentage of around 25% to look trim, and around 20% to look athletic. If you’re a teen or young woman, these percentages can be lower: around 20% and 16%. These are the lower-end figures, and are only a guideline. The mid-range is about 7% or 8% higher, and may in fact be more appropriate for you depending on your goals and the way your body works. Pick your own goal percentage. But whatever you do, don’t set a goal that’s below these minimums. If you go down to 15% or lower, you’re exiting the healthy range, and run the risk of experiencing health problems.(1)
There are a lot of ways to measure body fat percentage, some of which require a visit to a special facility. But there are a couple of practical do-it-yourself options:
- The most convenient is to use an electronic “bio-electrical-impedance” fat analyzer (for example: the Omron HBF-306C Fat Loss Monitor). These gadgets pass a tiny electric current through your body that you can’t feel. Because muscle and fat have different electrical conductivity, the gadget can estimate of how much of your body is made up of fat. These machines are very easy to use – you just hold onto it for a few seconds and it displays a result. The drawback is that there are a lot of people that these don’t necessarily provide accurate answers for (e.g. growing teens, elderly, athletes), basically because your body composition falls outside the parameters the machine is tuned for. So check the fine print.
- An alternative is to use calipers. These provide very accurate results, but they are more difficult to use. Basically, you pinch the skin and fat away from the muscle and bone at various parts of your body, measure the thickness with the calipers, and lookup the results in a table that will tell you your body fat percentage. The drawback with calipers is that they can be difficult to use your own, and it’s pretty much impossible if you need to pinch part of your arm (since you need one hand to pinch, and the other to hold the calipers, and you only have one arm). It’s best to use calipers only if you have somebody who can do the measurements for you. Basic calipers only cost a few dollars (like the Accu-Measure Fitness 3000 Personal Body Fat Tester). You can also get electronic ones that save you having to look up your results in a table.
In summary, keep watching the scales, especially if you’re overweight, but don’t worship them. If your goal is to get a trim and attractive figure, wear the clothes you’d love to wear, and feel healthy and vibrant, then there are additional ways to measure progress, some of which may be more meaningful.
1: Body composition percentages: Fitness: Theory and Practice : The Comprehensive Resource for Fitness Instruction