Monday, 19 August 2019

How to calculate your Body Fat Percentage

I’ve mentioned before how tracking weight can be misleading, given that you’re weighing not only fat, but also muscle, bone, organs, fluids and more.

Another metric people use to track progress is body fat percentage. 

This is more useful since it’s, in theory, only measuring your body fat, so any changes do mean that you’ve changed the amount of body fat you have (as a percentage of your total bodyweight).

Whilst it’s a bit backward that we measure weight in kilos/pounds etc and bodyfat as a percentage, it is still a great way to track progress.

There are a number of ways to measure body fat percentage and you have to be very careful about which you use and how seriously you take it.

Bioelectrical Impedance (handheld monitors, scales that measure body fat, and similar devices that you simply hold, stand on, or attach to your body in some way) are incredibly inaccurate and can be affected by many factors – hydration levels, if you have any creams/lotions on your hands/feet, even how you are standing when testing. If you use these, don’t take the reading as being completely accurate, and at the very least, use the exact same equipment every time, and make sure the conditions are the same.

Skinfold/Caliper Testing. This is where someone (hopefully trained in the use of skinfold calipers) takes a number of measurements at certain points around your body and uses a calculation to determine your body fat percentage. This can be more accurate than the handheld devices, but depends completely on the competence and skill of the person taking the measurements. It’s also quite intrusive, having someone pinch your fat rolls and measure them! Again, be sure that your practitioner is well accustomed to taking these measurements to reduce the margin of error.

DEXA Scan is considered the gold standard and most accurate way of measuring body fat, but this is an expensive option, and will likely require some travelling to somewhere that offers it. By all means use this method if it is within your means.

The last method I’m going to talk about here is called the Navy Method, and I’ve found it to be a reasonably accurate method of measuring body fat percentage when a DEXA scan or skilled skinfold testing is not available or appropriate, and all you need to do it is a tape measure (and a helper).

To do this, you simply need to measure your navel, neck and height (for men), or your natural waist, hips, neck and height (for women).

Once you have these measurements you can enter them into a calculator that will give you a reasonably accurate estimate of your body fat percentage. A simple google search for “navy method body fat calculator” will give you plenty of options.

I find this to be a good way of measuring body fat without needless expense or intrusion.

Take all measurements 3 times to ensure better accuracy, and you can use the results to track progress and help you decide if you need to make any adjustments to your diet or training plan.

Remember though, if you aren't getting the results you want, be honest with yourself and ensure that you are sticking to your plan before you change it!

Most people, if they're being honest, probably aren't sticking to the plan, yet wonder why it isn't working. If you're (honestly) sticking to your plan at least 80% of the time and still aren't getting results, then adjust the plan; but if you're simply not sticking to it, work harder at that before you change anything.

The only caveat to this is if you're trying to follow a plan that's too strict and you can't follow it. Then you'll need to adjust it to something that is achievable for you.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Bodyweight: Should you be tracking it?

Whilst it is the most common metric to track (because it’s the easiest to measure and has been the main measurement people have always tracked historically), tracking body weight can be a double-edged sword.

Most people associate weight with fat, but in reality, fat is only a small part of what you’re weighing on the scales - muscle, fluids, bone, organs, even your dinner are also going to affect your “weight”.

What most people who want to lose weight actually want is fat loss, not weight loss (the two don’t necessarily have to come together).

The confusion around bodyweight can cause as much of a hinderance as a help.

Would I recommend tracking weight if your goal is fat loss?

It depends...

If you’re fully aware of what weight really means, and can check it, then forget it, then yes, it would be helpful to track it and keep an eye on your progress to see if what you’re doing is working or not.

But if you’re the type of person to get hung up on it, and stress about it if it’s not doing what you want (even through that my not mean what you think it means), then definitely no.

Also, daily weight changes can be huge (a couple of kilos up or down are quite normal), and you need to be aware that you simply can’t gain or lose weight from fat or muscle that quickly! Use some common sense.

Unless you’re swimming the channel or doing something of equal challenge, you’re unlikely to lose a measurable amount of weight from either fat or muscle in a day. Likewise, unless you gorge on 20,000 calories, you’re unlikely to gain much either. So, your pound or two weight fluctuation from one day to the next is almost certainly going to be down to, predominantly, hydration levels.

If you are tracking your weight, my advice would be to measure it daily, at the same time, under the same conditions (upon waking, after using the toilet will be the most consistent).

[If you don’t believe how important this simple tip is, weigh yourself first thing in the morning, as soon as you get up, then weigh yourself again that same evening and see how different the measurement is!]

Then take an average at the end of each week (add up all the weights then divide by 7). This will be a far more accurate way to track your weight that will even out the ups and downs from hydration levels etc. You can then compare your weight week to week to see if you’re making progress or not.

Women should also be aware (and I know you all are) that weight can vary dramatically over the course of the month. This is again due to hormones and fluids, NOT a sudden 5lb fat gain overnight!

You’ll have to compare each week/phase with the same week/phase next month to get a more accurate measure of progress. This may seem like too much, but your goal should be long-term, so you have the time to do this, and if you’ve chosen to use bodyweight as your main measurement, this is worth doing to get a real idea of your progress.

Week to week would not be a fair comparison for these reasons.

So, whilst it can be useful, it’s up to you whether you choose to use weight as a measure of progress. Just remember, if you LOOK better, FEEL better, and are STRONGER and FITTER - does weight really matter?

Obviously, the more metrics you can use to monitor your progress, the better idea you’ll have of whether what you’re doing is working or not. Personally (and with my clients), I track bodyweight (as described here), measurements (neck, chest, waist, hips, thighs as standard, possibly also shoulders, arms and calves), bodyfat % (as accurately as possible, usually using the naval method as well as bioelectrical impedance readings), and progress photos.

These, along with training records (have weights increased? Fitness levels increased? Recovery times improved?) give me a very clear understanding of how the program is working.

Track as many variables as you reasonably can and use these to monitor your progress, and don’t panic over a pound or two here and there unless it’s consistently going in the wrong direction!

Get in touch if you need more help :)

Monday, 17 June 2019

Outdoor Training

With the warmer weather finally here, it might be time to take your training outdoors. It’s not just for runners and cyclists, gym-goers can take training outside too.

There are many benefits to training outdoors:
- The fresh air is much nicer than the sweaty, air-conditioned gym air. 
- Sunshine (which has a whole host of health benefits and is something many people, especially in this country, don’t get enough of).
- Grounding/Earthing – getting your bare skin in contact with the earth has also been shown to have many health benefits.
- You can use different exercises to what you’re used to doing in the gym since you have more space and are away from machines. A great opportunity to mix up your training for a while.

Whilst there may not be any of the machines you’re used to using outdoors, and while you may still need to use the gym for some heavier resistance-based sessions, you can get a lot done with just your bodyweight and your surroundings.

Bodyweight exercises are great for both building strength and working on your conditioning – push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, burpees and many more are all great options that are always beneficial to work on. 

Mastering these basic bodyweight movements will always be complimentary to other weight training and general movement health.

The open space is a great chance to work on some sprints – something that too few people utilise, and that aren’t quite the same on a treadmill! (A word of caution though – build yourself up to these and always remember your limits. And warm-up very well first!)

Speed and agility work (with cones, speed ladders, hurdles etc.) is also great for athletic performance as well as general co-ordination. Practicing acceleration, deceleration, change of direction and foot speed is another great way to change up your training and reap the rewards.

Tied in with this you have lower intensity exercises such as yoga and stretching – which would be great to do outdoors in a peaceful setting.

Not forgetting the more traditional outdoor activities mentioned before like walking, running and cycling – these are always more enjoyable outside in the real world than in the gym on treadmills and stationary bikes.

Then you have outdoor classes like Bootcamps…

Here you can do many of the above-mentioned exercises and more. Some of these classes will have more equipment than just bodyweight and park benches, and you can really make the most of the combination of the space to train and all the options that brings, with the resistance work offered by the equipment.

They’re also likely to have different equipment to what you’ll find in most gyms or different ways to use it.
Tyres, kettlebells, sleds, medicine balls, battling ropes, sledgehammers and more are often used to great effect in outdoor sessions.

The main point I’m trying to get across here, is to make the most of the good weather! You’re not limited to just training inside and the fresh air and sunshine will provide as much, or maybe even more benefit than the exercise itself.

Find some green space – local parks and fields, your garden, the beach… and just move!