What the heck is the Metric System?

Outside of the United States, the metric system is the preferred system of measurement. Find out more about the mysterious kilogram here.

With the rise of olympic lifting and crossfit you've heard people talking about how many kgs they lift. Let's clear up what some of those numbers are.

Measuring food in kilocalories, height in centimeters, weight in kilograms, it all sounds so foreign, that's because it is. The United States is one of only 3 countries in the world that hasn't adopted the metric system.

There are many theories behind why this is the case ranging from engineers to pirates, yes pirates.

Without going into a history lesson or conspiracy theory, let's learn how to think using the metric system.

Pass the Meter Stick

Here are some examples of some of the differences:

Everywhere else in the world

  • Meters-length
  • Liters-volume of a liquid
  • Grams-mass of an object

The United States

  • Feet-length
  • Quarts-volume of a liquid
  • Ounces-mass of an object

The Importance of 10s

It helps to remember that the metric system is based on the number 10. Each denomination is 10x larger or smaller than the last. The metric system also uses prefixes. A prefix is something you add to the beginning of a word to mark a unit of measure. The word we're adding to in this case is the base.

The prefix tells the size of the measure.

The base tells what the quantity is measuring.

Examples of (prefix)+(base):

  • centi+meter
  • kilo+meter
  • centi+liter

Remember-the prefixes all represent how many deviations they are, larger or smaller, from the base unit in 10's (gram, meter, liter) Ex. kilogram=1000 grams.

The prefixes in the metric system:

  • Kilo-1,000
  • Hecto-100
  • Deka-10
  • Deci-0.1
  • Centi-0.01
  • Milli-0.001

Once you can understand and remember these prefixes and the decimal system, it will be very easy to do conversions. Just move your decimal over the appropriate number of spaces.

1 Kilogram=100 dekagrams

1 Kilogram=1000 grams

1 Kilogram= 1000000 milligrams

Does everything need to be thought of in this way? Of course not. Food labels use household measures as well as these to make things easier on you. Cups, quarts and teaspoons are examples of this.

One Final Step

With the help of a couple conversion formulas, you can easily understand how much of something a measure is. 

Some examples of a conversion:

  • 1 pound= 0.453592 kilograms or 1 kilogram= 2.2 pounds
  • 1 ounce= 0.03 liters
  • 1 centimeter= 0.39 inches
  • 1 ounce= 28 grams
  • 1 cup= 8 oz

Now that you know a little more about the metric system, you can confidently follow your favorite athlete's workouts on instagram.

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.