Why The A4 Waist Challenge Is Awful

A4 Waist Challenge

Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more media-related fitness images to make women feel worse about their bodies, I discovered the “A4 Waist Challenge.” That’s right, a simple test using an A4 piece of paper can tell you in seconds whether or not you are the PERFECT size. It’s easy: Just tuck the piece of paper under your bra, let it hang down over your midsection (in portrait rotation, not landscape) and pray that your waist doesn’t peek out from behind.

You can thank China for this one; tens of thousands of women have taken to Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter) to show you how “fit” they are! In case you’re wondering, A4 paper measures 8.27 inches wide and 11.69 inches long. Let’s put that in perspective for my American friends: A US size triple zero (000) measures a mere 23″, which might not even give you the right dimensions to “pass” this ridiculous test.

Can you tell where I’m heading with this? I sure hope so. Here are three reasons why you should bypass this new fitness test trend.

The Paper Doesn’t Tell The Truth

While measuring your waist is sometimes used to predict health (often referred to as Waist Circumference), the “scoring” is quite different than the unrealistic 8.27” the A4 Waist suggests. According to WebMD, your waist size can be an indicator of risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. But the measurement is a circumference. Women are generally looking to stay under 35.” It’s worth mentioning, the recommendation for Asian women is 32.”

The waist-to-hip ratio, a common measure of fat distribution, is another metric often used to predict important health risks such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to find your score. (For example: 32″ / 42″ = .76, which means you should be fine.) If you score higher than .85, you are considered high risk for the mentioned health concerns.

Admittedly, neither of these measurements speaks to the aesthetics or the “fitness” level of a woman with a waist of 35” or waist-to-hip ratio above .85. But shouldn’t we be concerned first with someone’s health and longevity before worrying about how they look in bathing suit?

“Waist”ing Away Won’t Work

Focusing solely on your waist measurement may lead you astray when it comes to your health and fitness journey. In an effort to get the tape measure to move, you may succumb to the ever prevalent spot reduction myth, leading to countless crunches, side bends, and other waist whittling exercises. Or, when that doesn’t work (because it won’t), you might feel pressured to increase calorie burn with excessive cardio workouts and bypass strength workouts. Worse still, you could feel pressure to severely restrict your caloric intake to tip the scales (and the results of the paper selfie) in your favor.

None of this will work. Getting to a healthier place requires a well-rounded fitness and nutrition program. Core training is important for everyone, and must include exercises beyond those you feel will shrink your waist. Exercises such as the basic crunch, side bends or hip lifts alone won’t melt the muffin top and certainly won’t strengthen you in the way your body needs for a lifetime of movement. Cardio is necessary, but not to the exclusion of strength, core, and flexibility training. You need to exercise your heart with cardio, but you also need to strengthen and stretch every single major muscle group in your body. And, actually, building muscle is the quickest way to decrease your body fat, size, weight, and more. But that’s a conversation for another day!

A Losing Proposition

My biggest fear is that this trend will stick around as yet another unrealistic expectation for women. Not that weight loss isn’t important; so many Americans are in need. According to the Journal of American Medicine, more than 1/3 (34.9% or 78.6 million) Americans are obese. Yes, we must get moving for the health and wellbeing of the nation. But here’s where that gets complicated.

We are already plagued by photoshopped pics of celebrities, airbrush filters on our friends’ Instagram photos, and runway models that are genetically gifted. Now, we have a “perfect” 8.27” waist to contend with. But we know that the average American woman is 5’4″ and weighs about 140 pounds. The average clothing size for women in the U.S. is between a 12-14 (much smaller in Asia). What is being set as the “ideal,” what people are aiming for, is simply too big a leap from where we are.

While many people reading this will say, “So what, people need a swift kick in the a#$!” I say, “Oh SH#%! Does this really have to be our measuring stick though?” People face immense internal conflict and struggles when expectations don’t meet reality. And when you embark on a fitness journey with such unrealistic expectations, the chance of it becoming your reality and feeling accomplished are incredibly rare. This can lead to an all or nothing mentality—which skews to “nothing,” for many people, since the goal is so far away. I’d rather you take small steps every day to adopt a healthier lifestyle and eradicate disease than kill yourself for a short time to achieve a waist small enough to hide behind a freakin’ piece of paper. Seriously?

I’m all for measuring a client I’m training to see how he or she is responding to activity and nutrition change. I’m all for setting physical goals and striving to achieve those goals. But is aiming for unrealistic measurements that only a small portion of the population can achieve anyway the best way to motivate people to move? NO! It is a self-defeating prophecy, one that will most likely end in frustration and possibly abandoning any movement in a positive direction. That is the LAST thing we need right now. I don’t care what people look like; I want a healthier planet. And a healthier planet requires finding joy in movement, not judgment. Now, go put the damn paper away and get outside and take a walk!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is a fitness business and programming consultant who has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, and BOSU® over the last 20 years. As an experienced educator and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable, a member of the ACE Board of Directors, is the owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool, and Balletone®.