The Body Weight Factor
Your body weight contains much more information locked inside than just how many pounds appear on a scale. Because of the close relationship between lean mass, fat mass, and metabolism to your body weight, that magic number can play a role in many important equations. Sometimes people tend to complicate their fitness journey by over-computing using complex equations and trying to reach a precision that isn’t practical. Using something simple like your body weight can assist you with determining just how many calories to consume and how to make adjustments when you aren’t reaching your goals.
Of course, just because two people weigh the same doesn’t mean they are the same level of health or should train or eat the same way. The most important factor that impacts this is your body fat. Your body fat is literally the percentage of your total body weight that is fat.
Consider two people who are the same height and weigh 200 pounds. One person is an avid bodybuilder who practices healthy nutrition habits and trains consistently. The other is a couch potato who feeds on fast food and only exercises enough to bend over and pick up the remote. The bodybuilder has about 20 pounds of fat on his frame, so the remaining “lean” mass is 180 pounds. The couch potato, on the other hand, has 60 pounds of fat on his frame and only 140 pounds of lean mass.
As you can imagine, there will be a tremendous difference in the level of health between the two individuals. Not only that, the overweight individual will be at higher risk for various health conditions. Now that we understand the difference between total body weight and body fat and lean mass, let’s talk about weighs you can use the body weight factor to build your training and nutrition routine.
Weight Lifting Goals
A common goal is to be able to bench press your body weight. This means for an individual weighing 200 pounds, the goal would be a 200 pound bench press. For some people, this is all of the strength they will ever need. Competitive power-lifters, on the other hand, regularly bench press several times their body weight. If you set this as a goal, you can use One Rep Max Calculator to determine how many pounds for 5, 10, or even 15 repetitions this would be, and design a resistance training routine around those weights.
The bench press goal also factors into other lifts. A few strength training coaches claim that you should be able to perform a bent-over row at approximately 85% of your bench. In our example of a 200 pound bench press, that translates to a 170 pound bent-over row.
While there is no generally accepted ratio between bench press and squat or dead-lift, another common ratio for a goal is to be able to squat 1 1/2 times your body weight and dead-lift slightly more. Again, taking a 200 pound individual, that would be a goal of a 300 pound squat and perhaps a 350 pound dead-lift.
These are just general numbers but they can help you formulate long term goals as you piece together your training program.
Setting Weight Loss Calories
Another important body weight factor is calorie goals. I always stress that every person is different and therefore you cannot assume a goal based on your weight is going to be the final answer. However, it is a good estimation for a starting point and with a few tweaks and adjustments, you can find out the right nutrition target for you.
I general suggest basing your calorie goals on lean mass, not total body weight, whenever possible. This is because your muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain than fat tissue. Therefore, basing calorie goals on lean mass will be more accurate when two people weigh the same but have different body fat levels. Because not everyone knows their body fat, I’ll share equations using both body weight and lean mass.
First, for weight loss, I typically suggest taking your goal weight and multiplying by 10 – 12 for a target calorie range. Why such a large range? Again, everyone is different and has different Basal Metabolic Rates. In fact, you can impact your metabolism through various habits.
As of writing this article, I am 220 pounds but with a goal of reaching 200 pounds by summer. So I take my goal weight:
200 x 10 = 2000
200 x 12 = 2400
So that’s my range. I’ll pick the higher end to start with, or 2400 calories per day, as a target.
Now, here is the key … I track my calories and my weight, and as long as I’m losing weight from week to week, I’m fine. However, once I have a week that does not result in weight loss, I will alternate between adding calories from exercise and subtracting calories from nutrition. I have two options:
1. Add my bodyweight in calories burned per day, or
2. Subtract my bodyweight in calories eaten per day
So, let’s say I hit 210 pounds and then I’m no longer losing weight. Fine! I’ll add a walk on the treadmill after my weight training workouts, with a goal of burning 210 calories each day. That may work for a few weeks, and then I again adapt to the new level and am stuck. This time, I’m 205 pounds. So I’ll subtract 205 calories from my daily intake, and target 2200 calories per day instead of 2400.
It’s really that simple.
Second, if I know my lean mass, I’ll make my goals based on lean mass. I’ll assume I’m going to preserve my lean mass when I’m shedding fat, I don’t try to gain because its counter-intuitive to being in an energy deficit. Again, let’s start out:
220 pounds at 20% body fat, goal is 10% body fat
220 x .2 = 44 pounds of fat, which means 220 – 44 = 174 pounds of lean.
Now my goal is 10% fat. Notice I set a goal for body fat, not weight. I want to be 10% body fat with my 174 pounds of lean mass. How much should I weigh? At 10% body fat I’d have 90% lean mass. So, it looks like this:
Weight x 90% = 174 pounds
Using our old algebra skills, we find that
Weight = 174 pounds divided by 90% or 174/.9 = 193 pounds. That’s my goal for 10% body fat without losing lean mass.
Now, my calorie equation is simple: lean mass x 12 – 14 calories. That’s a little higher because lean mass is lower, so it works out to this:
174 x 12 = 2088 calories
174 x 14 = 2436 calories
Wow! We’re really close to the body weight equation. It won’t always work out that way. I can then adjust my calories the same weigh, except I’ll do them in increments of 174 instead of my current weight.
If you haven’t heard of zigzagging calories, read this article. I believe zigzagging calories to be one of the most effective means of sustaining fat loss for prolonged periods of time. Some people create complicated equations to determine their zigzag, but I actually think it can be quite simple, especially when you use the body weight factor!
Again, let’s take the example of dropping weight from 220 pounds to 200 pounds. We’ve used the formula above to determine our goal calories to be 2400. Now, let’s build a menu plan around this.
My first week I start out at 220 pounds. So my target calories will look like this:
Monday: 2400 calories
Tuesday: 2180 calories
Wednesday: 2620 calories
Thursday: 2400 calories
Friday: 2180 calories
Saturday: 2620 calories
Sunday: 2400 calories
Notice how I don’t have more than two days in a row with the same calories. They are zigzagging. But wait … don’t I have some days with 2600+ calories, even MORE than what I determined to be my range? That’s fine. If you recall your statistics class, to get the average, add up all of the calories for the week and then divide by seven. What’s the result? 2400 calories.
Because we are going higher AND lower, we average to 2400 calories per day exactly … I’m still hitting my target, but only when you look at the entire week instead of a given day. I can use my higher calorie days for my splurge meals.
So how did I manage to average the target calories? Again, it’s very simple with the body weight factor:
Tuesday: target – body weight
Wednesday: target + body weight
Friday: target – body weight
Saturday: target + body weight
As you can see, simply by adding your body weight in our out of the equation you can easily create a zigzag goal for the week. At the end of the week, you weigh again, and then make adjustments for the new week based on your new weight. Notice that if you get heavier, the fluctuations will be higher, resulting in a wider zigzag which in my experience can in fact improve fat loss over time.
Putting It All Together
As you can see, keeping track of your weight is about more than obsessing over a number on the scale. There’s more to weight than meets the eye. You often hear people exclaim, “Throw out the scale, the scale lies!” But I disagree. The scale doesn’t lie if you know what to look for and understand the difference between body weight and body fat. Most people I know who have been successful maintaining a healthy weight for a long period of time do so by continuously monitoring their weight and making adjustments. It is said that to improve something, you must first be able to measure it so you can show progress. The body weight factor is the perfect way to gauge where you are at, set goals, and then modify those goals to reach your ultimate destination.