Body Composition and You


When I ask someone what their fitness goals are, the most common answer to my question has got to be, “To lose weight”. I’ve heard it at least a thousand times, and that is no exaggeration!!

Our bodies are made up of lots of things, but to make it pretty generic, we are made up of muscles and bones, organs and blood and, of course, fat. To these people who want to “lose weight”, to the majority of them it doesn’t matter what they lose. They are just looking for a smaller number on the scale. I assure you, it matters.

Body composition refers to the proportion of fat and fat-free mass in the body, or in other words, how much lean muscle mass vs. fat you have. The only 100% accurate way to determine what your exact body composition is, is an autopsy. Since none of us relish the thought of being dead and being picked apart, the good news is that there are other options. Granted, they are not 100% accurate, but then again, you don’t have to be dead to give them a whirl either. That’s a good thing…

Hydrostatic Underwater Weighing

The procedure for hydrostatic underwater weighing is as follows. The dry weight of the  person being weighed  is first determined. The person, in minimal clothing, then sits on a specialized chair. The person then expels all the air from their lungs, and is lowered into the tank until all body parts are submerged. The person must then remain motionless underwater while the underwater weight is recorded. Usually,  this procedure is repeated several times to get a dependable underwater weight measure. Sound fun? Not to me. Seriously afraid of water…especially if it’s over the top of my head.

Lucky for me, and all the other aquaphobics, there are other options!

Caliper Testing

The procedure for this method of figuring out body composition is the next accurate way (as long as your trainer knows what they are doing, lucky for all of you, I do!) The most common method is a three site test. The three sites for women are the right tricep, supra ilium and middle of the right thigh. The three sites for men are the chest, abdomen and middle of the right thigh. The reason that the sites are different for men and women is because of where each gender typically stores fat. These three measurements are then plugged into a formula longer than “the one that got away” (you know, that’s what the guys always say when they come home from a fishing trip…as they show you the  fish they came home with and then tell you the grandiose story of “the one that got away”…  “But I almost had him. Next time I’ll get him.”,   they say. Little do they know, the one that got away was actually a Mama fish, that’s why she got away! She was smarter than the guy trying to catch her! Just kidding….) Anyway, after the monstrous math formula is computed, you have the  numbers of two very important things.

1. Body Fat Percentage

2. Lean Muscle Mass

This is the method that I use to calculate where each of my clients are at with their body composition. It is not as accurate as underwater weighing, but is more accurate than bio-electrical impedance, which is the next option we are going to go over.

Bio-electrical Impedance

There are a lot of trainers who use this method to determine their clients body fat percentage. Unfortunately, these devices are often inaccurate as they under read body fat percentages. The way they work is as follows. There is a low grade  electrical current sent through your body to determine the electrical impedance, or opposition to the flow of  the current through your body tissues which is then used to calculate an estimate of your body fat. These devices are used all too often in my opinion.

They do have their place however. For those individuals  who   are obese, bio-electrical impedance can be a way to get an idea as to body composition. As an example, when I first started out, calipers were useless on me. My skin-folds were simply too great to get an accurate reading. As a result, I had to use bio-electrical impedance to begin with.

So why does all this even matter? I’ll tell you! Lean muscle mass burns more calories to sustain itself than fat ever will, which makes sense when you are up and active. But this fact applies even when you are at rest. Knowing that, why on earth would you want to give up just this  benefit alone by losing muscle? In addition, you have to remember that 15 pounds of lean muscle mass will be much more attractive in your swimsuit,  jeans or that little black dress we have talked about  than 15 pounds of fat will any day of the week. But that’s not the only reason! There has not been a single  study  ever completed that shows any negative health risks of having a higher percentage of lean muscle mass. However, the higher your body fat percentage, the higher your risk of coronary artery disease, CVD, stroke, myocardial infarction, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension and the list goes on and on.

Now that you know the difference between “losing weight” and “fat loss”, you’re smarter than the average Joe!

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