In my last blog post I covered many of our Adonis equations and some people were asking how do I apply these equations to women?
More specifically, women have been asking ‘how much should I weigh?’ and ‘What’s a healthy weight for me?’ Both very difficult questions to answer, especially because it is always controversial to tell someone their ‘ideal measurements’. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a try…
To understand your ideal body measurements we have to start with an estimate of how much Lean Body Mass you can carry on your frame. This is the ‘good weight’ – the Muscle, bone, organs etc… Basically everything ‘in’ your body, not including fat. We can estimate your Lean Body Mass fairly accurately using some predictive equations – For those of you have been following the Venus Index workout, this is part of the the ‘rule of sevens’ we developed, only simplified into one equation.
Our equation for women (Called the Venus Equation) is as follows:
C x H3
Where “H” is your height in meters and the coefficient “C” is what we use to control for age just like we do for men. C = 10 at the age range that is associated with the highest degree of lean body mass in women… And this is where we start to see some very important gender differences.
While men are in ‘maximal muscle potential’ between the ages of about 18-25, women don’t hit this phase until much later in mid-life (around 45 years of age). I’ll explain why this is ultra-important, but first the age ranges for the coefficient C are as follows:
18-24 = 9.6
25-34 = 9.8
35-54 = 10
55+ = 9.8
(With the standard deviation being 0.5)
So for your average 5’6” women who is 36 years old the equations would be as follows (LBM means lean body mass):
LBM = 10 x 1.67643
LBM = 10 x 4.711
LBM = 47.11 KG
LBM = ~104 POUNDS
In this case ~104 pounds would be the average lean body mass for a women aged 36 who is 5’6″ tall.
Now to get the range, we use the Standard deviation. Since Lean Body Mass is normally distributed, we can use 2 standard deviations to the right or left of average to get the range that 95% of the population is likely to fall into.
In this case the range would be between:
9 x 4.711 and 11 x 4.711
94 to 114 pounds
And this is where it gets fun. So we would expect a 5’6″ woman at age 36 to have a Lean body mass that would fall somewhere within this relatively small range.
***NOTE: Some people missed this part, but the equation above is for LEAN body mass, not TOTAL body mass.***
Now part of the Venus Index is trying to create an ideal look through having a well proportioned body, and this is where these numbers are so important. With men, having a high amount of muscle mass is a visual queue for ‘youth’ since the highest amounts of lean body mass are found in men usually around the age of 25. For women it is different, too much muscle can actually make a woman look older since the highest amount of lean body mass is typically found in women aged 45+. So with the Venus Index we want IDEAL muscle mass, but not AS MUCH MUSCLE AS POSSIBLE.
Ideal is almost always somewhere in the range mentioned above. So while it is technically possible for some women to build more muscle then our equations suggest, it still may not be advisable to do so.
But how do you tell what’s ideal on YOUR Body? For Venus we use body circumferences as our metrics. Specifically we use your waist measurement and your shoulder measurements.
***REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF BELOW****
A woman’s waist (for our measurements) is NOT at her navel. If I were to ask a group of young girls to show me their waists they will almost always point to their belly buttons.
This is not where you measure!
The natural waist is the smallest point on the torso above the navel, and for most women it’s right underneath the rib cage. (A very short-waisted person can have her waist skim the bottom edge of her ribs.) Even the leanest fitness models may have trouble hitting these numbers if they use that location for their waist measurement.
For most women an ideal ‘look’ typically occurs at a waist circumference that is roughly 38% of their height. Much lower than that (lower than 35%) and you start to look emaciated, much higher (anything over 43%) and you will start to lose that natural ‘shape’ as body fat will start to cover it. Similar to men, anything over 50% and you are carrying excess body fat that you simply do not need and may be detrimental to your long term health.
38% = Our Ideal
35 – 43% = Good range
Under 35% = May be lacking lean body mass, probably time to slightly increase calories / decrease activity level
Over 43% = May be carrying more body fat than you need, time to assess.
Over 50% = More body fat than you need, possible risk to long term health.
An important part of this approach is that there is an ideal, and from our work with transformations and fitness models it is an attainable ideal. Fitness and health is not a ‘get lean at all costs’ game – we’ll leave that for runway models and people with food-issues.
Barbie has a waist that is 25% of her height, this is NOT ideal.
(Oddly enough, her natural waist is at her bellybutton, but that’s the least of her worries)
The other part of this is that equally as important to your waist measurement is your shoulder measurement. Measured around your shoulders at ‘about armpit level’ the shoulder circumference is a great indicator of overall muscle mass, without being confounded by breast size, like a simple ‘chest measurement’.
Having shoulders that are roughly 62% of your height is generally indicative of a woman who would be described as ‘toned’ or ‘athletic’ (think Kelly Ripa or Jessica Biel), but not to the point where she actually begins to look older or more masculine.
By having a shoulder circumference as a target metric it also helps keep the Venus look as a healthy look and not a ‘skinny at all costs’ kinda look.
With respect to shoulder circumference, once women are relatively lean (under 25% body fat) having a shoulder circumference that has decreased by more than an inch (consistently over several days of measurement) may be a sign to slightly increase calories, even while dieting.
How to put it all together…
I understand this is a long and fairly technical blog post, but the information within is useful because it creates an excellent guideline for a women trying to lose weight. It gives you a goal to work towards, and metrics to track your progress, without simply aiming for ‘weight loss’.
As an example, using our 5’6″ example woman we know that at a body fat percentage of ~20% her weight will fall around 120 to 140 pounds, it may deviate from this estimate, but probably not by more than 4 or 5 pounds in either direction.
Now, keep in mind that 20% body fat is ‘very lean’ (border line fitness competitor levels of lean), and it may actually be leaner than you want to be, but it makes my math easy, so we’re going to stick with it 😉
Obviously 120-140 pounds is a fairly large range of body weights but it gives us a better way to set a target goal weight compared to what is typically done; – arbitrarily picking some random number like 118 pounds because it’s what a certain movie star or celebrity was said to have weighed in some magazine.
Based on our metrics we can guess that a 5’6″ woman will weight between 120-140 pounds if they have a waist of around 25 inches and a shoulder circumference of around 41 inches. At this size she will also probably have around 95 and 105 pounds of lean body mass and 25 to 35 pounds of fat mass, making her around 20-25% body fat.
Once we have a good baseline weight range, we then use our metrics to dictate how much we train and eat.
If weight, waist and shoulders are lower than these guidelines then it’s probably time to eat a little more and concentrate on weight training. You may think you still have ‘tons of fat’ to lose, but you really won’t know until you add a little bit of muscle to your frame. Remember, it is the muscle of your body that dictates a lot of your shape. No muscle, no shape. But be warned, at this level we would want you to eat a little bit more, aiming to bring up your weight and shoulders measurements while SLOWLY increasing your waist circumference. If you are fasting I’d move to one 24 hour fast per week at the most- This is not the time to be doing excessive cardio, dieting or fasting. And remember, go SLOWLY. I am not a fan of bulking for women. While bulking in men causes a decrease in testosterone and elevation in Leptin, in women it causes and increase in testosterone and an increase in leptin. So go slowly.
If weight, waist and shoulders are close to our ideal ranges, then it’s time to zero in on small changes in diet and exercise and see what it does to the waist measurement. If you are already close you don’t need to make MAJOR changes, and nor should you try to. Slow consistent changes is what is best at this point. At this point the scale probably won’t tell you much about what’s going on inside your body, and you are better off concentrating on your circumferences. This is the sweet spot – where you can find the perfect blend of exercise and diet to have the body you want, with the goal of eating as much as you want, without gaining body fat. If you are fasting you can do so once OR twice a week, depending on how much you like to eat on your non fasting days 😉
If weight is in the high range, and waist is well above 43% of height (especially if it’s above 50) then we look to diet to get the waist back into the range we would like, while keeping shoulders as close to ideal as possible. You could probably handle fasting twice a week and most likely will need to explore a reduction in calorie intake even on the days you are not fasting. Calories will be low to start, but don’t worry, as you lose weight you can slowly start increasing your calories. Pay special attention to your waist circumference – each inch you lose off of your waist should reflect about a 5 pound loss in body weight.
As I’ve said before, knowing how much you should eat is a bit of an art, but it’s a lot easier when you let your body guide you rather than aiming for predetermined calculations of what you ‘should be eating’. Our calculations are ‘best guesses’ and if there is any doubt you could always get a DEXA done to actually see how your body weight is divided between fat mass and fat free mass. Either way this all leads me to my next point.
Your scale cannot tell you how much you should eat or workout.
Knowing your weight can give you a starting point, but it won’t give you a good target for where you should end up after your diet, and it’s really not a good indication of your progress. Your measurements are different. They can give you a good idea of how well you are moving towards your goal. So having a general idea of an ideal weight range for your height, combined with the metrics of shoulders and waist give you an excellent approach to shaping your body.
And, your circumferences are a far better tool than simply following some pre-determined calorie count. A body-centric or body-first approach will always lead to better results than a ‘calories first’ approach where you randomly plug numbers into an online calculator, regardless of your height or body circumferences, get an amount of calories you are supposed to eat, then you eat those calories, then get distressed when you didn’t get the results you had hoped for.
That’s just madness.
Better to start with an understanding of what’s possible for your body and with the goal of improving your overall shape. This starts with your current measurements and how they compare to your specific ideal ranges. From there use the numbers to guide your diet and exercise program. Once you are lean, you will have a very good idea of what your lean weight and metrics are then can use those as guide to help you stay lean.
If you gain weight but your waist stays relatively the same then there’s a chance that weight is muscle (especially if your shoulder circumference goes up or your strength goes up). If you gain weight and your waist is consistently measuring and inch or two higher then there is chance you have added some body fat.
We really don’t have a magic mirror that can tell you what’s going on underneath your skin, but these simple measurements can guide you during your attempts to lose fat, gain muscle, or stay right where you are.
That’s what we do with Venus Index.