It’s surprising: often women don’t want to lift weights because they’re scared of getting big and bulky like a man. In fact, think back to the last time you were at the gym… I’d be amazed if there wasn’t a group of guys in the free weight section, flexing in the mirror, grunting and throwing weights back as if they were getting ready for a strong man competition.

And tell me if this doesn’t sound familiar: masses of women on treadmills running their little hearts out; sweat pouring down their faces, which are set with a look of agony because they can’t stand cardio!

Just to get rid of those last 10 lbs.

So it’s worth it, right?

The thing is: are they burning fat, or muscle? You see, those 10 lbs could be more muscle than fat.

But, you exclaim, that’s the good stuff; we want to keep the muscle! And, of course, you’re right! The problem all stems from a little misconception many people have. Let me explain…

Step away from the scale

If you go ask five people if muscle weighs more than fat, at least one – if not more – will tell you it does. But how can muscle weigh more than fat?

Fact: It doesn’t.

A pound is a pound. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pound of fat, or a pound of muscle – it’s still a pound! It would measure exactly the same if you placed it onto a scale.

However, because muscle is more dense than fat (about 18% more dense) 1lb of muscle looks smaller than 1lb of fat.

Here’s a visual comparison for you:

This leads us to the big problem with the scale: it tells you nothing about your body composition. Think about people who are skinny-fat… they’re skinny all right, but they’ve got absolutely no muscle tone to their bodies either. In fact, they may even have a belly pooch.

Enter the body mass index (BMI).

What is BMI?

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women.

Formula: BMI (lbs/inches2) = (weight in pounds x 703) / (height in inches)

You can use the above formula to manually calculate your BMI, however keep in mind that it is just a formula and you will get a more accurate reading using a scale that does these types of measurements.

BMI is not perfect either…

The biggest problem with using this formula is that it doesn’t take into consideration those who have a low percent body fat, and high percent of lean body mass, or fitness level.

Many athletes are considered obese according to their BMI.

BMI Categories:

Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

You can combine your BMI reading with a percentage body fat reading (BF%) to get a better idea of your body composition.

What is Body Fat Percentage?

As the name implies, body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your body compared to everything else (i.e. muscles, organs, bones, tendons, and water).

Men and women’s body fat percent varies.

Body Fat Percentage Categories

Classification Women (% Fat) Men (% Fat)
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32%+ 25%+

How to measure BMI and BF%?

Bioelectrical impedance scales (BIA) are used to gauge the amount of lean mass, water, and fat in your body by sending a current from the metal plates under your feet through your body and timing how long it takes.

Your gym might have big fancy scale which does this for you, but you can also get a scale from a department store for $19.99. It’s not going to be as great as accurate as the one your gym has, but the readings should give you a good idea of where you’re at.

Make It About Inches Not Pounds

From now on if you get on the scale and see the number has gone up or stayed the same, don’t be disheartened. If you are looking leaner it means you are building and maintaining muscle and dropping body fat.

Congratulations, you’re heading in the right direction!

Instead of worrying about whether muscle or fat weighs more, step away from the scale and pay attention to inches. Monitor how your clothes fit, take progress photos every couple of weeks.

And when someone says muscle weighs more than fat, just tell them a pound is a pound.

Teena Cathey

Teena Cathey is a certified personal trainer who focuses on endurance and energy training. She runs two group fitness boot camp classes called Go Harder in Detroit, MI. Teena is author of the free ebook, How to Find The Right Personal Trainer. When not with clients Teena enjoys painting, playing basketball or with her dog Mister. She’s very social, follow her on... Read More

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