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What are the different methods of body composition tracking?

Tracking your progress for your body composition goal can be a great motivator and as a tool to tweek your method if neccasary.

Scale-There are many forms of tracking but by farthe most popular is the scale. Many of us have a love hate realtionship with the scale but it can be a great tool when used with your bodies natural fluctuations in mind.

You may wish to weigh yourself once a week at the same time befor anything to eat and after going to the loo. Or some prefer to weight everyday and note a weekly average.

( I've written a more detailed blog on this if you'd like to know more)

It's worth noting that scales claiming to measure body fat percentage is a guess at best.

Measurement tape- By far the second most accesible method is the tape measure.

Measuring the waist has some useful feedback with regards to health risks of Cardio vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The guidlines are-

Men-89-101cm and above (at risk)

Women-83-94 cm and above (at risk)

Hip to waist ratio of 0.85 and above in women is also a risk for the above with the number of 1 or higher for men -you calculate this by taking both measurements then dividing your waist circumference by your hips.

Body measurements should be taken once a week and again befor any food at the same time of day. This should include-

Chest- under the armpits

Midriff- Halfway between the chest and waist

Upper arms- the widest part of both arms

Waist- accross the belly button or at the narrowest part

Hips- The widest area of the hips

Thighs- the widest part of both legs

Using a tape measure is a great method for everyone and especially for the who do not like the scale. It's also great to see your progress especially if the scale hasn't moved or even gone up.

Callipers- These are used to measure skinfolds and at four point measurements throughout the body, triceps, One inch above the hip bone, thigh and abdomen.The main purpose of this is to estimate body fat percentage though not the most accurate. There are a huge range of callipers on the market ranging up to £200 so unless body fat percentage is of huge importance to you then the scale and tape measure are more than adequate.

Photographs- In my opinion the most powerful method of body compositin tracking and extremely motivational even if the scale hasn't budged yet you've been consistant with your diet and training. I will wager that you'll see a diffrence from photo to photo.

These should be taken at the beginning of your journey, in the morning, with the same lighting and wearing the same underwear with a picture from the front,back and side. Then every four consecutive weeks. It's advisable not to take photos too close together as you may not see a significant difference.

Bioelectrical Impedence Analysis (BIA)- This typically involves stepping on a set of scales or holding a hand held device. The equipment then sends a small, harmless electrical current through the body and then measures the resistence felt, this estimates total body water. Then from this, an estimate of total lean body mass and so fat mass can be further estimated. However this can be very innacurate and is heavily influenced not only by hydration status but by food in the digestive tract. You can sometimes find these in gyms and some pharmacies but use with a critical mind.

Hydrostic weighing- This technique involves sitting the individual in a suspended chair in a specially made water tank and submerging the client in water whilst the client exhales as much as possible. Once the measurement is taken, residual lung air and air in the intestines are taken into account and total body mass is assessed. From there lean body mass and fat mass are calculated along with bone density.

This method is pretty accurate with a small margin for error possibly around 2.7% body fat for most participants.

BOD POD- (Air Displacement Plethysmography) This is the same type of method as hydrostic weighing. However BOD POD offers a few signifiat advantages- it doesn't involve exhaling completely and holding your breath under water making it more useful fot those uncomfortable with the prior method. This method varies in cost from around £75-£125

DEXA or DXA- (Dual-Ex-Ray Absorptiometry) Considered the gold standard measurement technique. Dexa directly measures lean body mass, fat mass, bone mass and body water using an x-ray with differing frequencies so the results are objective as possible. However even this method makes some assumptions with regards to hydration, glycogen loss or gain in the muscles e.t.c...

Another point to remember that it's an espensive measurement method (along with BOD POD) ranging from £125-£175 plus time and travel. So only worth investing in if of huge importance to you.

To sum up the idea of tracking and monitoring body composition is to gauge progress over time. It's not usually necesssary for the general population to know their body fat percentage. This means that while more advanced methods can satisfy curiosity they don't provide usable data any more than cheaper methods.

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