It seems that the conclusion is that there is consensus BMI is a really unhelpful metric for determining ideal weight.

Indeed, at 5'9" my ideal weight is about 150 according to BMI. The last time I was 150 was in Jr. High School (now in excess of 20 years ago), and I now clock in at 235.

For sure, I'm overweight, but as I design an exercise program for myself, how do I choose a realistic, science-based goal weight?

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    Dont aim at a weight, aim at a body fat percentage. Or a waist circumference, if measuring your BF% is too difficult.
    – K.L.
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 14:26
  • Thanks @K.L. for the advice, but the question still remains: how do I choose an achievable goal? How can one accurately measure BF%? Or, should these be separate questions? Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 14:31
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    How to measure body fat percentage. Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 14:42
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  • There are more ideal weight, body fat, body shape formulae than you'll ever be able to read. Academics have a requirement to publish something every few years and a slightly different ideal weight, max heart rate, lung volume... appear to be popular themes. Anyway there are numerous free App's around that will detail several possibilities. Personally I'd concentrate on the physical activity, pop to a new gym with a taster session and discuss setting: daily / weekly distance / push up / crunch / sit up / weight targets.
    – arober11
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 17:24

5 Answers 5


BMI is an actuarial table, and while grossly inaccurate for people with muscular or other types of extreme builds, for a general guideline it will work, especially if you are mainly targeting fat loss. So, take a look at the BMI scale, pick out a reasonable weight goal and aim for that in the beginning.

To start, I would not only design an exercise program, but I would also design a lifestyle nutrition plan. I don't say diet, as diet implies a short term change. There are two main components to fitness, one is exercise and the other is what you eat. Only if you really pay attention to both, can you really be successful at losing the weight and getting fitter.

Get a physical, start with moderate level, low impact exercise such as cycling, swimming, walking, and basic weights. Get your weight into a manageable level, and along the way find out what kind of exercise you like, and design your exercise plan around that activity. If you hate weightlifting, you won't do it for long, for example.

Bodyfat can be measured by a Tanita type scale, bodyfat calipers, circumference measurement, and advanced methods such as underwater displacement weighing and DEXA scans. The last two are the most accurate, then calipers, then the rest. A Tanita scale, while possibly very inaccurate, does at least give a general trend. One of your best aids will be the mirror and your clothing.

  • My question is in fact how does one pick a goal? My ideal weight according to BMI is almost 100lbs less than what I am now, and seems arbitrary and unachievable. I can pick a closer weight, say 210, and while potentially achievable is totally arbitrary, and based not on science but on whim of someone who knows nothing (me). Either option is pretty demotivating. Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 15:48
  • @PaulProgrammer - Well, even at the higher weight range, it's still 65ish lbs. Once you get rolling, it's easier than you think. I'm 165 now, and at my heaviest (5'11"ish) I was 209. The BMI tables are pretty good if you're not an athlete or overly muscular, actually. Set a 6 month, 1 year and 5 year set of goals. Much easier that way.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 16:21
  • I hope it's easier @JohnP. Taking an hour out of my day at 5am to ride a stationary bike and/or lift is not my idea of fun. The results had better be stunning. So, not sure what to make about your "set some goals" statement. That's my primary question, isn't it? How to come up with goals that work and aren't totally arbitrary... Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 17:47
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    @Paul - You're a programmer (As am I). It's no different than planning a program. Main goal: Lose 50 lbs in the next 4 years. Sub goals. Eat a healthier diet, increase fitness, etc etc. Then lay it out. Within 3 months, have cut out 80% of fast food and boxed meals. Within 6 months, have increased mileage on bike by X amount. Etc etc. If you find that you are falling behind on goals, or not meeting milestones, then you need to see if it's you or the plan that is failing. If the plan is too ambitious, scale it back a bit. If it's you that's failing...well, get a workout buddy or something. :)
    – JohnP
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 18:20
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    @PaulProgrammer - As a side note, you need neither get up at 5am nor spend an hour riding a stationary bike or lifting weights to lose weight/get in shape. Find something you like to do and find a time when you're consistently most motivated to do it, and you'll be a lot better off.
    – Shauna
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 19:14

Science-based goal?

  • Weight is not the best choice to judge your diet and fitness program's progress. A low weight person can have a high percentage of body fat. Conversly, a higher weight person can have a low percentage of body fat if that weight comes from muscle mass. So you are right to think that picking an ideal weight is somewhat arbitrary. Generally, 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week is considered healthy. However, once your body composition begins to change and you begin to add muscle weight, your body fat percentage will become a better guideline.
  • Waist Measurement: One of the easiest ways to track progress is your waist measurement. Because the ideal waist measurement is about half of your height or less, the average waist measurement for men should be less than 35 to 40 inches (less if you have health risks or are Asian). Women's waist measurements should be less than 32.5 to 37 inches. To calculate a good goal waist measurement, multiply your height of 69 inches x .55 = 37.95 inches. (Women would multiply by .53. See reference from our site below for other waist ratios such as waist to hip ratio that are helpful in determining health risks.)
  • Body fat percentage: Tracking your body fat percentage will give you good insight into how your diet and fitness program is working. The easiest methods allow you to track your trend on a regular basis and make adjustments to your program as needed. The simple AccuMeasure lets you determine (roughly) your percentage with one suprailiac measurement. A bioelectrical impedance or body fat scale is also easy to use. Your ideal body fat percentage would depend on your age and gender. For example, 8-19% body fat is healthy for a 20-40 y.o. male, but a 60 y.o. male could be considered healthy up to 25%. (See chart.)
  • Body Shape Index: As @Dave has already mentioned the BSI takes into account your height, weight and waist measurement.
  • Medical Values: Check with your doctor for health values that you can use to set goals and monitor your progress - blood work or blood pressure for example.


  • Almost any goal is achievable given enough time, an effective plan and the discipline to stick to the plan (and a plan to get back on the plan when you falter). Although 100 pounds may not seem achievable to you today, once you’ve altered your lifestyle and begin to reap the benefits of an improved diet and activity levels, you may be very surprised to find that it is not such a remote goal as it seems at this point in your life. As you get healthier and feel better, you will be better able to determine your ultimate healthy values.

    The key to getting to your ideal weight, ideal body fat percentage and ideal waistline is to give yourself intermediate, attainable goals with specific time frames so that you can succeed at each step along the way. Keep track. Looking back at your progress can be very motivating during the slow times or plateaus, and informative as to what is working for you.

    Initially, it will be easier to create "process goals" - I will do cardio (45-60 mins on a bike @ about 145-155 BPM) 4-5 days per week and strength training 2x/week, rather than "outcome goals" - A 37" waistline and 15% body fat in one year. Cut your big, long term goals down into monthly and weekly goals, revising them as necessary or adjusting your plan to meet your goals.

Diet - Although not part of your question, do not overlook an appropriate diet. Exercise alone will not get you to your goals.


A good self-improvement metric is measurable and productive. Some good alternatives to BMI are:

  • body fat percentage, which is hard to measure accurately frequently and without tools
  • Body Shape Index, which seems to be a predictor of one's risk of death. Keep in mind that while it takes belly fat into account, it still does not keep track of muscle or actual markers of physical health, like mobility, strength, inflammation, diabetic state, or cardiovascular disease. BSI = Waist Circumference/[(BMI^(2/3))*(height^(1/2))]
  • performance metrics, which have the advantage of being easy to measure and more fun than checking one's own measurements. They are also easy to break into short, easy goals and long-term, harder goals: "finish a 5k" can become "run a 5k in under 30 minutes" then "run a 5k in under 25 minutes" then "finish a sprint triathlon". Weight training, running, bicycling, and so on all work well with this approach.

If body image is the underlying goal, it may help to take consistent progress pictures every, say, six weeks (using the same lighting and clothes every time) while otherwise ignoring how your body looks. This frees you up to focus on getting your deadlift up, or biking to the next town and back, or not missing a workout.

Picking a goal weight is difficult if you choose to strength train, since muscle gain can make the scale seem to say you're not losing fat.

  • My gym routine right now is alternating days of cardio (45-60 mins on a bike @ about 145-155 BPM) and cardio (20-25 mins) + med weight (mostly upper body) med rep (I think -- I'm no expert). Is that strength? I don't know! I haven't been doing it long (3 weeks), and see some light movement in the right direction, but actual effectiveness is still unknown. Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 15:52
  • @PaulProgrammer Strength work includes weight lifting, chin-ups, dips, and so on. For people that are out of shape, cardio can be strength work too. It sounds like about a third of your workload is strength-oriented, so keep in mind that the scale might not budge if you're losing fat and gaining muscle. Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 16:25

Focus on fitness and let that dictate your weight, not the other way around.

You can't pick a science-based ideal goal weight. My ideal weight is 77kg - why, because I think its a not too heavy and thats the upper limit for middle class olympic weight lifters. While I don't compete, its nice to dream and gives me a goal to work towards. I didn't sit down and scientifically come to that decision, I literally said "I like weight-lifting, but don't want to be too big"

Your ideal weight should be related to your ideal activity.

Want to be a olympic or powerlifter or martial artists, look at weight classes you feel competitive in. Want to be a swimmer/runner/cyclist, focus on building the muscle needed for your event. Want to look good with or without clothes (don't we all) focus on minimising fat and maximising muscle until you are happy with how you look.

As a statistician, I'm pretty pro-BMI even on an individual level, but both BMI and weight aren't great goals. BMI is a metric and weight is mostly arbitrary. Focus on perfecting your fitness goals and you will hit your ideal weight.


For men: (height in centimeters) - 100 = ideal weight in kilograms. For women the same but minus 110.

As a rule of thumb for natural bodybuilders this is the maximum weight for entering a competition. Of course, not everyone is a competing natural bodybuilder - in fact, my mother taught me this 'weight standard' when I was a kid, and I was surprised to learn that it applies to bodybuilding too. In general, you should strive to weigh that much while being as muscular as you want. Even if you don't have much muscle you'll look good and healthy at that weight. If you actually are interested in natural bodybuilding and that seems light to you, consider you'd be weighing that much with a very low bodyfat percentage...

So for a 6 ft male: 182-100=82 kg=180 lbs

As you can see, the weight in pounds is actually almost equal to the height in centimeters here, but that isn't the same for other heights. For a 190 cm tall man the ideal weight is 198 lbs, not 190.

  • Congratulations! You've found a way of defining ideal weight that's even worse than BMI.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 2:20

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