Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Which Body Fat Testing Method is Best?

Knowing how much you weigh can be beneficial, but knowing your body fat percentage is even more enlightening. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool developed for large populations to determine levels of obesity, but only frame size and weight were factored into the equation. As a result a bodybuilder with 7% body fat may show up on the BMI index as being obese.

Knowing your body composition is important for anyone who is trying to maintain a healthy weight. Body fat can be measured in a variety of ways. Some are more affordable than others, some are more convenient, and other methods offer greater accuracy. Here's a summary of your options.

Skin calipers-Calipers are used to measure the thickness of various fat locations on the body and then these measurements are plugged into an equation to determine your body fat percentage. It is relatively accurate but there is great possibility of human error if the technician taking the measurements is unskilled or inconsistent. Some people don't like to have their fat manually pulled out and measured with a gauge either.

Bio-electrical Impedance-These are common in gyms or on body fat scales. Your body fat percentage is estimated by how long it takes a very small electrical charge to pass through your body. The electrical impulse travels faster through muscle than it does through fat. These are quick and convenient, but usually not as accurate since the charge may just arc through the upper or lower body and as a result may not give you a complete picture of your overall fat. Hydration levels can also skew the results.

Hydrostatic Weighing-This is an older method that uses Archimedes principles of water displacement. You will probably only find these at a University since they are so large and expensive. You sit in a dunking chair and blow all the air out of your lungs as you are slowly lowered into a small pool of water. You then have to hold still as long as you can. The water displacement is measured to help determine your body fat. It is a difficult process and uncomfortable for the test subject, but very accurate.

Bod Pod machine
 The Bod Pod-The Bod Pod looks like Mork's egg spaceship. It is a small chamber that uses the same displacement principles previously discussed, but instead of water it uses air. You just hold still once inside for about a minute while it calculates your body fat. It is very accurate, comfortable, and easy to use. The disadvantage is that you may not like it if you are claustrophobic and they are not very common at gyms since the machine is quite pricey.

Dexa Scanning (Dual Energy X-Ray Absortiometry)-This tool was originally developed to analyze bone density. It is basically a bed you lie on as an X-ray slowly scans your body. It is slow but very accurate. It is also extremely expensive. Not only does it tell you what your body fat % is but it's detailed analysis breaks down exactly how much fat is located throughout the body and can break it down by torso, arms, legs, etc.

I prefer bio-electrical impedance devices since they are so quick and easy and can still give you a decent idea of your body fat, but when I want to get a more accurate measurement, I will splurge and spend the $15 bucks to have the calculations made with a bod pod.

Focusing on one's body fat percentage is more telling than just worrying about what the scale says. Remember fat is not necessarily bad, your body needs a certain amount to be healthy. Unfortunately most Americans have exceeded the healthy level and have put themselves at a greater health risk for a variety of diseases.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Breathing may seem like a simple enough task and you're probably confident with your breathing abilities, but I'd like to address this topic since it's something many people take for granted. Respiration is usually carried out for us by the autonomic nervous system , and when we are on auto-pilot, it's easy for us to forget about it.

The respiratory system facilitates the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies. If we stop breathing, we may die after several minutes due to lack of oxygen. If you've ever had the wind knocked out of you, choked on something, experienced sleep apnea, or had an asthma attack, you know how much panic and distress it causes your body when you can't breathe properly.

When lifting weights or doing strenuous activity, it is important to exhale during the most difficult part of the exercise while you are exerting the greatest force. This controlled exhalation is called the Valsalva maneuver and can keep you from passing out. Technically, Olympic and power lifters looking to set world records may not always adhere to this, but for most people, the practice of controlled breathing as opposed to holding your breath should be followed when lifting weights.

When our bodies are under stress or exercising, the oxygen demand increases and as a result we breathe harder. Sometimes we experience an oxygen debt after a quick burst of activity. Think of the times you run up a flight of stairs and say to yourself "that wasn't so bad", only to be hit by a loss of breathe a few seconds later. It's easy to think about our breathing when we are exercising, but it is also important to remember to breathe properly when you are at rest or just sitting around.

Many people develop the habit of shallow breathing. I find myself doing this and at times wonder if I could even fog up a mirror when I'm sitting still. Shallow breathing can be caused by poor posture, restrictive clothing, injury, pregnancy, illness, or a host of other reasons.

To avoid this, breathe deeply with your diaphragm and fill your lungs. It is amazing how much difference taking a couple deep breaths can make. Practicing deep breathing is kind of like re-booting your computer after it crashes. That is why when someone is injured, in shock, or hysterical, getting them to take deep breaths helps calm them down and relax.

Breathing properly can help you reduce stress, relax, and decrease anxiety. No wonder it is an important component of yoga, meditation, and bio-feedback. The next time you are stressed out, nervous, or feeling anxious, try some deep breathing for several minutes and notice how it makes you feel.