Body composition is a classification of the amount of stored fat in proportion to lean mass. Fat is an essential component of our bodily system. We need the right percentage of fat, also known as essential fat, to let our bodies function correctly. The stored fat in our bodies is the extra deposit of fat under our skin, or around our stomachs and hips. For a body composition to be termed healthy, our stored body fat should be the right percentage of our fat-free lean mass, i.e. the mass of our bones, organs, and tissue. Because of intense exercise, athletes have lesser stored body fat, which may benefit them in their sport, but usually having a very low body fat percentage leads to health problems. For female athletes who have a lower body fat percentage, it can cause injury or other issues such as amenorrhea, reduced bone mass, eating disorders, and an augmented risk of fractures and osteoporosis. A high Body fat, on the other hand, requires changes in lifestyle to decrease it in order to improve one’s health, well-being, and performance, reducing many health risks. Body composition tests are important in order for one to make necessary changes in order to bring it up or down to a suitable level.
Knowing one’s total weight does not provide an accurate picture as people can have the same body weight but have totally dissimilar compositions or types of bodies, thereby prone to different health risks. Measurement of body fat puts your weight into perspective, without which, it is difficult to interpret the body’s condition. The body fat proportion needs to be maintained at an appropriate level to avoid illness. Body fat if maintained has a significant impact on cholesterol levels – increasing the good cholesterol that helps remove the damaging LDL, in order to reduce the artery-clogging cholesterol in the bloodstream, putting less stress on the heart. Knowing what our weight is comprised of is more important than knowing one’s total weight. Some indexes may interpret a woman to be overweight but if she maintains a healthy body fat percentage of 25%, then she has nothing to be worried about.
Body composition is measured in a number of different ways, some precise while some provide a rough estimate. Most calculation methods that one can find online require measuring the waist size, hip size, and other variables such as height, gender, or weight to estimate body composition. Cloth tape is used to measure the belly and neck for men, and the waist, hips, and neck of women (Jampolis, 2011). Trying a US Navy-approved measuring calculator online using cloth tape, my results came out at 27.7%. As part of the study, I tested my body composition using a more accurate test method. A DEXA or Dual Energy X-ray absorptiometry machine was available at the Muscle Metrics Gym at Leawood, Kansas. The test came out at 28.5% indicating that there was a difference in the accuracy of the tape-based measurement from the X-ray based. To set a realistic health goal, it is worth investing in a more accurate measure of body composition method. In the manual tape-based method, a lack of repeatability in the tests are present as it is difficult to find the same spot again, to take measurements. More advanced and precise tools to measure Body composition include the BOD POD, DEXO, the BIA, and the Skinfold, but each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages in providing an accurate result.
The BOD POD, for example, works just like how the underwater weighing method is used but measures air displacement instead. The results take seconds to obtain. An egg like pod is used in which the subject is placed inside to measure the volume of air he/she displaces. The pod measures the overall body density, which can help calculate the body fat composition. It is convenient to use and more accurate than BIA, but still prone to the same errors as underwater weighing. The second method is the BIA or the Bioelectric impedance analysis. It is the most common method popularly used in fitness centers. It works by passing a small electric current through the body calculating resistance. The time taken for the current to travel from one point to the other predicts how much more lean mass and less stored fat the subject has. Its accuracy is stated at ±3% of the actual body fat, but its been seen to overestimate body fat for many people who have used BIA and other more accurate methods.
The skin fold method uses calipers that pinch parts of the skin. This method calculates composition based on the relationship between hypodermic fat and total body fat, to estimate it based on the amount of fat underneath the skin. Although it is known to produce good results if properly done, since it is not able to measure visceral fat properly, the accuracy may vary. The fact that people’s skins can pinch differently also affect its accuracy. The dual X-ray system, DEXA was the one I chose for my own test, and it is generally considered the favored method for fat composition testing. It produces accurate results directly evaluating the composition but sometimes the DEXA machines tend to produce inaccuracies when measuring for obese people. It has a 3-5% precision error, and sometimes needs a doctor’s prescription to get a scan done. Nonetheless, it is considered the most accurate among other methods but it can be costly (Fewtrell, 2006)
There are several advantages of recommending body composition tests for our clients in health and wellness centers. The notable advantage is that we can tell them how their hard work is paying off. The trainers can use the data to design specialized workouts to meet the client’s stated goals according to the test reports, with progress available as proof. As the trainer and client observe the results together, One can guide them better on which part to focus more on, in order to achieve their goals (InBody, 2015). This lays the foundation for a good personal relationship with the client, allowing the trainer to give them individualized attention to achieve their particular goals. Since not all exercise programs are suited to each person, body composition assesses the effect of a particular program or helps guide the client to a new or better option more suited for them. It opens up opportunities to build a good trust relationship and loyalty with the client and enhances the trainer’s reputation in the community, which subsequently attracts new members to the center.
Fewtrell, J. C. (2006). Measuring body composition. Arch Dis Child , 91 (7), 612-617.
InBody. (2015, November 20). Increasing Gym Member Retention and Revenue with Body Composition. Retrieved from InBody USA: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/77232321-increasing-gym-member-retention-and-revenue-with-body-composition
Jampolis, M. (2011, September 30). Which test should I trust when measuring my body fat? Retrieved February 10, 2018, from CNN Health: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/expert.q.a/09/30/body.fat.testing.jampolis/index.html