Strategies to Measure Body Composition And Their Effectiveness
This is one of those topics that I think about 5 years from now a lot of the information and accessibility of what I talk about here in this post is going to change.
So, what are the most effective (and accessible) ways to track our progress?
Let us first define what I mean by progress.
I would define progress for most people as losing body fat, increasing lean muscle (tone look) and perhaps seeing the number on the scale go down.
Now, the number on the scale issue is simple. Use a regular store bought scale. That will tell you your overall body weight. Easy.
But what about body fat? How does the scale hold up to that measurable?
Regular scales can not differentiate between what is muscle, fat, water, bone, feces and other lean tissue. Meaning that we are really shooting in the dark if we are using a scale to determine if we are making progress.
Muscle can go up, fat can go down, and we will never know the difference.
So what should we use?
Well, I've got some good news and bad news.
The good news is that there are some great pieces of technology out there that do a fantastic job of tracking progress and determining accurate body composition.
The bad news?
They may not be all that available to you.
The cream of the crop at this point in time may be the DEXA Scan.
In short, a DEXA scan can accurately measure all of the different components that make up the human body. Body fat, muscle, bone etc.
The problem (at least if you live in WNY), is that there currently is not one located in New York state (but there is one in Toronto).
DEXA ranks high in accuracy, but at this time, low in accessibility.
Coming in at number 2 for me would be the InBody Scan.
Inbody makes a type of Bioelectrical Impedance Scale that can accurately gauge body composition better than the off the shelf BI scales or hand held devices that you can get at your local Wal-Mart.
The nice thing about Inbody is that these devices are more available and likely less expensive than a DEXA scan, but almost just as accurate. A quick google search should help you find the closest location (usually a gym or weight loss clinic) to you that carries one.
Now, if you aren't keen on going down the path of either using the DEXA or InBody, there are other alternatives for tracking progress. Just know that at this point in time, the technology just won't we as good or as accurate as the two methods I stated above.
"What about the scale I bought at Wal-Mart that spits out my body fat percentage?"
This type of scale is BI yes, however it is not nearly as accurate. It measures half of the body and estimates the rest.
This article on InBody's website does a great job of explaining the difference between the hand held/stand-on scale you can buy locally and their own unique product.
"What about calipers?"
A good portion of my education at personal training school was actually focused around using calipers. However, times have changed. The chance of pinching someone in the exact same spot with the exact same amount of skin is very very small, which leads to inaccurate measurements.
Now, if I were to recommend anything I would probably say that measuring your own waist circumference with a tape measure while looking in a mirror (looking from the side to make sure the tape measure is horizontal to the ground), I would say that combined with how your clothes fit and perhaps your overall weight in pounds may not be a bad way to track progress.
It's simple, easy, cost effective and while it may not be super accurate it is better than simply not knowing or guessing.
Like I said, I believe that about 5 years from now we will have a little device that we can purchase and put around our wrists that can ACCURATELY measure our body composition. But for now, what I mentioned above is what we have.