“I’ve been training so hard for months but my weight is not going down.” Does this sound familiar?
After all these years, I still get the sense that people don’t understand body composition.
The tendency to jump on the scale and freak out at the number that appears is still quite prevalent in society. In fact, I often tell anyone who fusses about their weight to simply throw away their scale if they are not willing to look at and understand what the kilograms actually mean.
We often educate people that muscle weighs more than fat but it seems we are struggling to wrap our minds around this. When we train (of course depending on the type and intensity of the training) our muscles grow and would typically result in your overall weight being heavier.
In turn (also depending on the type and intensity of training) fat cells get burnt and unfortunately this is one component that we don’t see on a traditional scale.
What is body composition?
Body composition is a direct term that relates to what your body is composed of. The body is composed of muscle, bone, fat, water and your organs.
The weight of organs is not an easy one to determine so when referring to body composition, we focus on muscle mass, bone mass, fat mass, fat percentage and body water content. The two components that most people prefer to focus on because they are easier to understand are fat percentage and muscle mass.
To give you an example on how body composition can be slightly complex than just standing on your daily traditional scale; imagine two people of the same sex who both weigh 60kg but they look completely different. Person A could have 30% body fat and 15kg muscle mass. Person B could have 15% body fat and 30kg muscle mass.
The numbers are similar and you would expect them to look alike, but they don’t due to their body composition. This is the primary reason why I always recommend that individuals who want a better understanding of what their body weight is composed of should undergo a full body composition assessment with a biokineticist or sport scientist.
What to expect when going for a body composition assessment
The two types of assessments that are easily accessible to the general public are known as bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) and skinfold assessments.
BIA involves stepping on a special scale barefoot or holding onto a specialised unit with your bare hands. An electrical current then flows through your body tissues and estimates the fat percentage, muscle mass, total body water, fat-free body mass and bone mass. This is not a painful or harmful procedure and you do not feel the current flowing through your body tissues.
The skinfold assessment which is used to primarily assess body fat percentage, involves the specialist using a tool called a skinfold caliper to grasp seven areas on the body that will help determine fat percentage. The areas include triceps (back of upper arm), chest (for men only), mid-axillary (between armpit and waist), subscapular (below the scapular bone), suprailliac (above the hip bone), abdominal and front thigh.
In addition to both BIA and skinfolds, you will be required to have certain body parts measured using a measuring tape. The body parts measured can include but are not limited to your waist, hips, thighs, calves, upper arm and chest.
You will also be required to step on a scale to provide your total body weight. This is done in order to create an extensive report on your body composition.
To give you an idea of what a comprehensive body composition assessment report could look like, here is an example of one of my past BIA assessment reports. You will notice that this type of report provided a lot more information than just the basics. It all depends on which tool your specialist utilises.
The BIA assessment tool used here was a Tanita BC1000 Scale. The tanita assessment is quick and can take five minutes at the most. Many biokineticists, sports scientists and some personal trainer have this type of scale.
So, before you become discouraged because you have been training hard for months and your weight on the home or gym scale “tells you” that you are putting on weight, perhaps consider a comprehensive body composition assessment.
If you want to opt for a simpler way to assess your body changes instead of the comprehensive assessment, purchase a measuring tape and have a friend measure the following body parts for you:
- Upper arm (between elbow and shoulder)
- Chest (across nipples)
- Waist (at the level of the belly button)
- Hips (at the widest part of your bottoms)
- Thighs (individually between your hip and knee)
- Calf (at the widest part)
Repeat the measurements every six to eight weeks. It is better to have a specialist doing this – but we understand not everyone has access to a specialist.
Letshego is a qualified biokineticist and co-founder of PopUpGym. Follow her on Instagram: @letshego.zulu Twitter: @letshegom Facebook: Letshego Zulu