Pounds versus Inches: You Be the Judge©

By LaRue E. Cook, BS, MHA, JD

Many, times in my training career, a client has come to me with one fitness goal in mind, “to lose weight.” While for many of them, this is truly their goal, oftentimes when questioned further, it all boils down to something like “I want my clothes to fit better,” “I want to wear a smaller size,” or “I want to be healthier.” Whether they want their existing clothes to fit a little looser, want to wear a smaller size, or become leaner so they can perform better on the tennis court, the truth is that this goal is really more about lost inches, not pounds.  Poor pounds get a bad rap, when it’s actually inches that should be looked at as the real culprit!  When you lose body fat, you lose inches, but not necessarily pounds.  So, let’s take a look at this whole issue of pounds versus inches.

To illustrate what I mean about reduced inches or body fat really being the issue, let’s take a look at two fictitious people, A and B. Person A weighs 120 pounds, and has 40 percent body fat. Person B weighs 140 pounds and has 20 percent body fat. These numbers translate into 48 pounds of body fat for A, and 28 pounds of fat for B. Just looking at these raw numbers, you probably already recognize that B is probably the healthier person—- at least in terms of B’s body composition. B’s lower percentage of body fat also probably translates into smaller sized clothing, the goal of many seeking to “lose weight.”  Muscle, or lean tissue takes up less space than fat, and this means fitting into smaller sizes, or having your current size fit more comfortably. And, assuming B’ s body fat measurement is within established norms, B’ s body composition is also healthier. In another article, I identified body composition as one of the elements of fitness.  This is the ratio of body fat to lean tissue (muscle), and the normal healthy ranges for this ratio are published in many sources. A certified trainer can help you identify yours.  Generally speaking the lower this ratio within this range, the better.  So often, people will lose weight, but do nothing to change their body composition. So, although the scale says they’ve made “progress,” according to their measure of success, they’ve actually done very little to make themselves healthier since their ratio of body fat may have changed very little. You can improve your ratio with an exercise regimen that includes a combination of aerobic workouts and weight training.  As you begin to lose excess body fat and gain muscle, you’ll begin to notice a change in how your clothes fit—- they’ll be looser.

But, since a pound is of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat—- but takes up less space, your increased muscle, reduced body fat, and healthier body composition could mean little change in the number on the scale that many people use as their measure of success.  But, does this really matter so much if your goal is to become leaner, healthier, and fitter?  In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no!”  Here’s what I suggest for those of you who are hooked on numbers—- focus on a different number.  I have a friend who has clothes in her closet ranging from size 4 to 10.  They represent different fitness phases in her life.  To gauge her progress in becoming leaner, I recommended that she look at what clothes size she’s wearing at any particular point in time as we progress through her exercise regimen. If this number is getting smaller, she’s probably making progress in reducing body fat. 

So, as I constantly remind my clients, if your goal is to develop a leaner, healthier body composition, forget the scale.  Instead, as you go along in your exercise routine, periodically have your body fat measured, and look at how your clothes fit.

Remember, losing inches by reducing body fat, and building healthy lean tissue (muscle), does not necessarily translate into lost pounds. But whether your goal is to fit into your current clothes better, wear smaller sizes, or improve your athletic performance by becoming leaner, pay more attention to your inches instead of focusing on those pounds!

As with all forms of exercise, you should consult with your physician or healthcare professional, before undertaking any of the fitness training discussed in this article. Any application of the techniques, ideas, and suggestions in this article is at the reader’s sole discretion and risk.


LaRue E. Cook is a certified personal trainer, tournament tennis player, and fitness author with over 14 years training experience. He also competes in sanctioned tournaments throughout the country, and uses this unique blend of training and tennis-playing experience to help other players get fit for tennis through his “Tennis Fitness Program.”  LaRue has trained a variety of tennis players, including “elite” junior players, many who are nationally, and regionally ranked, adult tournament and league players, and people new to tennis.  He also works with a variety of general fitness clients, including the elderly, and those looking to lose weight or firm-up. LaRue’s first tennis fitness book, “A Tennis Player and Racquet Athlete’s Guide to Stronger Shoulders and Core Muscles” has recently been released. This E-Book, and information on his training and training seminars can be obtained on his website www.tennisfitness.net.  He can be reached at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .

Copyright LaRue E. Cook 2003-2006, All Rights Reserved