Weight loss is the sum of all of the following: muscle, fat, water, bone, and food you may be digesting. If you are dehydrated and starving you're going to weigh less than if you are hydrated and full. So, should we focus on weight loss as a goal for fitness? In general, no. However, there may be some instances where gross weight is important. For example, you're an athlete and need to make a weight class, or you're in a weight-loss competition and you want to win. Focusing on fat loss is a tricky thing, though. here are many different ways to measure body fat and they all have different levels of accuracy. At the end of the day pick an assessment that you can do repeatedly so you can compare that measurement to the last measurement of the same type, this way you're comparing apples to apples. I'll be going over different assessments in detail in the following section but I highly recommend doing a DEXA scan with Bodyspec. Here is the link to schedule a scan. https://www.bodyspec.com/what-is-dxa
If you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to add to the discussion or email me directly. I have no affiliation with bodyspec and get no kickbacks from referrals.
Why Get A BodyFat Test?
As a fitness leader I get asked daily, "What can I do to lose this gut?", or " I want to lose 30 pounds, what exercises should I use in order to drop the weight?" I always sigh because it's a much more complicated question than just do this workout and you'll be good. Fitness can be a lot more complicated than just running a lot and eating less. At the end of the day most people don't care about weight. They care about losing fat and I'm going to try to explain why it's an important difference and why you should care about it. The more body fat we have the less healthy we are. When our body fat percentage is higher than 25% we are at a higher risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, stroke, hypertension, and the list continues. Not to mention that having more fat is exhausting. Lugging around an extra 25 pounds of dead weight is never something we'd want to do. But if you wanted to add muscle weight you would get all the benefits that combat all of the issues with a high body fat percentage with the added benefit that muscle actually helps you move around unlike fat. Muscle is not dead weight. So why care if you're losing weight or body fat? It's simple, a bad training program can make you lose muscle that in turn can make you less healthy, or using plastic surgery to get rid of excess fat but doesn't exactly make you healthier.
So How Do You Measure Body Fat?
There are actually a number of different ways to measure body fat with different levels of accuracy. The most important part isn't so much the accuracy as the consistency of the measurement. Of course, if the test is accurate it's going to be consistent but with a consistent measurement, you can at least use the measurement as a reference point to see your progress. Here's a list of body fat tests in order of most accuracy.
- Hydrostatic Weighing
- Circumference Measurements
DEXA basically is like an Xray/MRI for fat. It takes an image of your body and it's able to differentiate between muscle, fat, and bone. It's super simple. There is no special gear you need to wear, you just lay on a table and you get imaged. 5 minutes later you get your results. Very accurate. A test can start at 40 dollars.
Measures fat by measuring your density through air displacement. Very accurate but expensive and not a lot of places have it. Test can run around 140 bucks.
Fat floats, so when you get weighed underwater your weight is only the muscles and bone. Pretty accurate and accessible. A test is about 75 bucks.
Uses electrical conductivity to measure the fat in your body. This method can be a bit inconsistent. Depending on dehydration and food intake. It's a quick and easy way to measure your body fat. It is also very inexpensive. Most scales check body fat % with this method. They cost from 30-100 dollars. It's very important to try to get your measurements under the same conditions. Same time, same fluid intake, same clothing.
There are a couple of different methods for Circumference measurement calculations to fat. They all revolve around measuring 4 spots on the body.
The good thing about this method is that you can track measurements.
Calipers can be tricky, if you don't have a skilled person doing the measurements you won't get accurate or consistent measurements. Calipers pinch the skin so it mostly measures fat under the skin. This can be skewed as a lot of fat is under the skin between muscles and organs. I've had clients that have had a lot of fat register with low numbers because their skin was much thinner than normal. This method also requires someone to do it to you. no way to take your own measurements with the calipers.
If you care about getting results and want to make sure that you're making progress in the right direction you should do as many measurements as possible. Body fat assessments will help. Use Dexa, BodPod, or Hydrostatic weighing on a monthly or quarterly basis in order to track your progress. More often if you want to make more frequent changes to your program.