Using Proper Tools for Measuring Progress: I am a big believer in listening to how your body feels or judging how your clothes are fitting as feedback on whether or not your workout program is working for you. However there are many clients who turn to a scale to give them more analytical feedback. However I have found that using a scale can be a shot in the dark in terms of giving you a realistic idea of progress you are making—or not making—with your workout programs. For example, as you become more fit, you can actually end up weighing more as your body fat percentage goes down. So if you are looking for exact feedback on the physical changes your body is making, I recommend using more sophisticated measurements than a scale can provide. Below is a list of five better ways to get much more specific feedback and ideas about what your diet and workout programs are doing for your body.
1. Body Circumference Measurements:
Body circumference measurements will tell you where you're gaining in size. They are crucial to tracking the physical results of a workout program, because they show exactly where your body is changing, or not changing. Is your bicep and chest measurement getting bigger AS WELL AS your belly button measure? Then the increase may be more body fat than muscle. So remember that these measurements will only tell you where you're gaining, not what. To take body measurements, use a tape measure and measure the following points on your body. Keep records for comparison over time. Measure the following areas monthly if you are actively working to change your measurements, and quarterly if you are not. 1. Belly button: Measure straight around your waist with the tape right on top of your belly button. 2. Chest at nipples: Measure straight around your chest with the tape on top of your nipples. 3. Chest at armpit: Measure straight around your chest with the tape up tight in your armpits. 4. Shoulders at armpit crease: Measure around the outside of your shoulders with the tape measure right at the crease formed by your armpits in front. 5. Biceps: Measure the peak (or largest part) of your bicep while it is flexed. 6. Thighs: Measure straight around your thighs exactly half way between the top of your knee cap and the bony front part of your hip. (You may want to measure vertically and then divide by half rather than eyeballing it, since you are measuring both sides.) 7. Calves: Measure straight around your calves at the largest circumference when they are flexed. 8. Hips: Measure straight around your butt with the tape at the largest part of your rump.
2. Body Fat Testing: There are several ways to test your body fat. I recommend them in the following order, from most to least accurate:
1. Hydrostatic body fat testing: This method uses an under-water scale to eliminate situational variation in the test results. It is one of the most accurate weighing method because it is not influenced by environmental factors. The basic principle is one of buoyancy, as discovered by Archimedes: bone and lean muscle sink; fat floats. By weighing you on land and then in water, a formula can calculate your buoyancy—how much of you floated, and therefore was fat. Hydrostatic testing has to be performed at a special testing facility, however. Try to locate a local test site using BodyFatTest.com or a similar site in your area. You can also try local university sports clinics or hospital wellness centers. The only draw back to this method is that many clients may find it tough to truly release all the oxygen out of their lungs during the test, therefore skewing the results.
2. Bioelectrical impedance testing: This method sends a very low-level electrical current through the body, measuring the amount of resistance that current meets. Essentially, the water surrounding fat will have a different conductivity than bone, and from that conductivity we can infer the amount of fat in the body. But it's important to use the right machine, and get the most accurate readings; I recommend using a professional e-scale that also reads your impedance/hydration level in order to determine you are getting comparable test results each time. You should also follow all the scale's guidelines for when to test each time—such as not eating for 3 hours before, never testing first thing in morning when you're not hydrated, and never working out for 12 hours before a test.
3. Calipers: Calipers are the most widely used body fat test method, and yet they carry the biggest risk for getting faulty results. Calipers depend heavily on the consistent ability of the tester and on the equation the tester uses to calculate an estimate for the entire body's fat level. For my clients, I only use the calipers to get comparisons for each pinch site instead of using the equation to calculate full body fat percentage. Calipers can get you a baseline for comparison for a specific site over time, but any general body fat number derived from them is only a guesstimate and can often be several percentage points off.
Test your body fat monthly if you are actively trying to change your body fat. Otherwise, test quarterly.
NOTE: None of the above methods are a perfect measurement of body fat so I always recommend to clients that the resulting body fat percentage number never be used as an exact measurement but more as a comparative number to watch your changes over time.
Author: Billy Polson, Founder/Owner DIAKADI Body