Body Composition Measures ResultsUse these Numbers to Track your Progress
-- By Nicole Nichols, Personal Trainer
Some people can measure their weight loss by the way they feel and look: firmer thighs, a smaller waist, jiggle-free arms. But then there are the number-crazy ones who desperately need some kind (any kind!) of concrete proof that all their hard work is paying off. They want to gauge their progress a different way. Give them numbers on paper, or some kind of chart and they’re ecstatic.
There are so many numbers to go by (pounds, pant size, inches), but not all are created equal. So, which figures say the most about your own figure? If you are someone who gasps when the scale shows a one or two pound weight gain ("I haven’t cheated at all. How could I be gaining?"), then learning about body composition will help you see real, measurable results.
Body composition. We hear a lot about it... but what exactly is it? Well, to be considered "fit," you have to meet minimum standards in 5 different areas, known as the Components of Fitness. Body Composition is one of them (in addition to flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic fitness). Body composition itself deals with four areas:
Your total body mass. We’re all too familiar with this one, in most cases. But weight alone doesn’t tell you the whole truth about your progress or fitness level. For example, it doesn’t tell you how much fat you carry. People generically want to lose "weight." You could start lifting weights and actually gain weight…but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are tipping the scales towards obesity.
- How to use it: Forget your preconceptions about the number on the scale. Knowing your weight is good, but not crucial—you want to lose fat, not necessarily weight. If you must weigh yourself, don’t make it a daily habit. Weight tends to fluctuate throughout the day, and from day-to-day, by as much as 5 pounds or so. Most of these regular changes are due to food and water. If weight is an important record to you, then do it under the same circumstances (no clothes or shoes, first thing in the morning before eating, etc) and no more than every 1-2 weeks.
- Track your progress: Observing change in body fat is the best way to measure "weight" loss. There are user-friendly formulas that can estimate your body fat percentage, but the most accurate readings come from a qualified fitness professional. To see a trend, reassess your body fat every four to six weeks.<pagebreak>
- Look for gains: Your lean mass can be calculated by subtracting your total fat (as a percentage or in actual pounds) from your total weight. This number will probably be relatively stable, or increase over time, as long as you are exercising. Gains in muscle mass will increase your metabolism, thus enabling you to burn more calories during every activity—even sitting! So, while you do want to lose fat, setting a goal of increasing your muscle mass will help you get there.
- Room for improvement: Changes in fat distribution happen when you are losing fat and building muscle. Typically, the body burns fat all over, and just as typically, fat in the stomach is usually the last to go. There are no exercises you can do to speed up fat burn in any particular area. Cardio activity, utilizing large muscle groups, burns fat all over the body. So, don’t waste your time doing lots of crunches to lose the belly fat, or boxing to lose your arm jiggle. You can measure these changes with a simple tape measure, or just by how your clothes look and feel.