Measure Your Body Composition Change Without The Scales.

We recently wrote about why we believe that the weight scales are obsolete as a measure of body composition change. In this post we will list a number of other methods that you can use to objectively assess whether your body composition is improving.


Before doing so however; I might take this opportunity to reiterate our firm belief that body composition is not the only way to assess your health and fitness levels. Overall health is so much more than what your body shape looks like or how much fat or muscle you have. Please get in touch with other means to measure your own health and fitness, such as; quality and quantity of sleep, hormone balance, mental health, happiness and stability, mood trends, muscle strength and movement patterns, just to name a few.


In no particular order, here are some ways to check if your body composition is changing:


1. Measuring Tape (cm).

I particularly love this one because it is just as easy and quick to wrap a measuring tape around your target area, be it your waist, hips, bottom or thighs and assess whether you have made a positive change, as it is to jump on the scales.


In addition to being a good way to track your body shape change, waist girth is also widely used by medical professionals as a determinant of risk for obesity-related diseases. As a male, if your waist girth is over 94cm then your risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers is increased. For females, your risk of these diseases increases if your waist girth is over 80cm. For more information check out The Department of Health.


Pros:

  • relatively non-invasive

  • cheap

  • quick and easy

Cons:

  • does not differentiate between fat and muscle or account for water retention


2. Use your clothing.

Nothing is more telling than the very clothes that you love (or loved) to wear that are hanging in your own closet. You know those old jeans that used to fit you perfectly and make you feel like a rockstar?? Instead of hiding them away in the furthest, darkest corner, pull them out and place them somewhere you see regularly. Better still; pop them on every couple of weeks and get a gauge of how close you are to pulling those bad boys on and doing up the button without a struggle. If you are fitting in all the clothes that make you feel amazing and happy and confident... then who cares what number is displayed on the weight scales?


Pros:

  • non-invasive

  • cheap, quick and easy

  • can be done in the privacy of your own home

  • makes the goal more personal and hence, often more motivating

Cons:

  • does not account for water retention or show fat : muscle mass


3. A peg and string.

A good friend of ours whom is a personal trainer, has a client who has a goal to lose weight. Instead of using the scales or even the measuring tape or any other method which offers the tracking of numbers, she simply uses a peg on a piece of string wrapped around her target area. She wraps the length of string around her waist (for example) and places the peg where the string meets. She hangs up the string and peg until next time she wants to measure.


This method takes away the emotional attachment to numbers which can create anxiety for some. If we are tracking or chasing a particular number we are constantly comparing ourself to where we think we 'should' be or where we once were or worse; comparing ourselves to someone else's number. Using the peg and string method, if the peg is moving closer to the start of the string then you're changing. Simple as that.


Pros:

  • relatively non-invasive

  • cheap, quick and easy

  • removes the emotional attachment to numbers and promotes focus only on progression instead of comparison to a previous stage/age or different person.

Cons:

  • does not account for water retention or show fat : muscle mass


4. Skinfolds.

Skinfold callipers are used to measure the thickness of your subcutaneous fat: the layer of fat immediately under your skin. Up to 35 different fold sites on the body can be recorded, eg: bicep, tricep, abdominal, gluteal, sub scapular, calf, thigh, etc, although measuring all 35 sites would take a long time hence a 4 or 7 site method is more commonly used throughout the PT industry. Whilst the calipers are very affordable and portable, the skin folding process does require training to perform accurately and measurements can vary between testers.



Skinfolding can be used to track body composition change in a couple of different ways;


1) Track Body Fat %: Take your skin folds and input the measures into a 4 or 7 site method calculator (we like Linear Software Body fat Calculator) to calculate an estimate of your body fat percentage.

or

2) Track Sum of Folds: Choose a number of sites to measure, calculate the sum of those sites and use this number as your figure to change/reduce.

Eg: Your trainer might take these measures at these 5 skin fold sites on your body:

- abdominal 31mm

- subscapular 22mm

- supra-iliac 33mm

- tricep 16mm

- thigh 25mm


The sum of these folds is 127, so this is the number you would focus on reducing. If this number is reducing; that means your subcutaneous fat is reducing :)


Pros:

  • equipment is inexpensive and portable

  • testing can be quick if the tester is experienced

  • allows separation of fat and muscle measures

  • relatively accurate with a trained tester

Cons:

  • quite invasive

  • requires the tester to be trained in the method and to have knowledge of anatomy

  • can produce low inter-tester reliablity (different testers might get different measures)

  • does not measure visceral fat

  • accuracy decreases as body fat increases therefore not an appropriate choice for overweight or obese people


5. DEXA Scans.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry scans (DEXA or DXA scans) use 2 X-ray beams to measure bone mineral density, muscle mass and fat mass. One of the most accurate ways to track body composition; DEXA sans used to be much harder to access with most scanning beds only found in universities or medical institutes. However over the last 10 years they have become much more accessible and affordable with several smaller companies purchasing scanners and selling Dexa scan appointments at a reasonable price of around $60-$70.


The scan itself is performed by a qualified technician and takes about 8-10min. Afterwards you are given a printed report listing your bone density, total fat mass, total lean mass (muscle, bone and other non-fat constituents), visceral fat mass and the breakdown of fat and muscle in each individual area of your body: right and left arm, right and left leg, trunk and head.






Pros:

  • high-level of accuracy

  • can separate fat and muscle measures

  • measures every inch of the body instead of taking only sampled sites

  • detailed reporting provided

  • also measures bone density and visceral fat

  • non-invasive (fully clothed, requires to touching)

Cons:

  • One of the more expensive methods listed here at approx $70 per scan

  • Needs to be performed by a trained technician with calibrated equipment

  • takes time (10min per scan and need to book appointment)



6. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) scales.

BIA scales estimate your body fat % and lean mass % by measuring the rate at which a painless low-level electrical current travels through your body. Body fat causes greater resistance (impedance) than fat-free mass and slows the rate at which the current travels. Based on that rate, a calculation is used to estimate lean mass (anything in your body that is not fat). The device then uses other data such as your height, your gender and weight measurement to determine your body fat %. BIA scales can readily be purchased at most good retailers or health stores for around $100.




Pros:

  • non-invasive

  • relatively inexpensive

  • quick and easy, limited tester expertise required

  • can be done in the privacy of your own home

Cons:

  • accuracy is affected by many variables such as skin thickness, nutrition changes, hydration levels and water retention, recent exercise or alcohol consumption, bowel and bladder contents.



If you would like to keep track of your body composition, talk to one of our team today about a method that you think might work for you.





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