Measuring Progress: The Scale vs. Body Composition
re you training for weight loss or fat loss?
When we talk to people who are starting to work out and question what they want, the most common answer is that they are looking to lose weight. Digging a little deeper, however, reveals that a vast majority of them are actually looking to lose fat, not just body weight. In other words, they are looking to improve body composition. The term body composition refers to the proportion of your body that is fat versus fat free mass (muscle, water, and bone). Improving body composition usually means reducing the amount of fat you carry and maintaining or increasing the amount of muscle. This is associated not just with better health, but with greater strength and physical capability.
The catch with improving body composition is that sometimes the number on the scale does not change as much as you would like. In fact, sometimes it even goes in the wrong direction! People often get hung up on the scale while ignoring all the other indicators that they are getting fitter and healthier: clothes fit better, they feel better, they are getting stronger, and they have more energy. The scale is an easy tool to use because it provides an ostensibly objective measure of your hard work. However, it provides only some of the necessary information. Imagine that you are driving somewhere and all you can measure is how far you have driven. It is 100 miles from your starting point to your destination, so how far you have traveled gives you some information. But, it does not tell you if you are driving in the correct direction. The scale is a bit like this in that it is possible to lose a lot of muscle mass, be happier with the number on the scale, but be fatter, weaker, and unhealthier than when you started.
Though it is not essential to give up the scale, it is important to put that number into context with some other measures. For example, circumference measurements (around the waist, hips, arms, legs, etc.), how clothes fit, and strength improvements all help to paint a more complete picture of changes in your body. Another method is to indirectly measure body composition. We say indirectly because short of autopsy, there are no direct measures. There are a variety of different ways to do this, but the method that is the most cost effective and accurate is bio-electrical impedance analysis (BIA). This method runs a small charge through your body (one you cannot feel or that affects pacemakers) and records the resistance. Fat is an insulator and provides more resistance to the charge than muscle and water do. Using some fancy formulas, the machine is able to provide an estimate of your body composition. This provides a more objective and traceable metric to assess your efforts.
At The Strength Network – AHP, we track body composition so that you know exactly how your body is responding to the hard work that you put in. It helps to keep you and your coaches accountable and informed.