January 1, 2013

Body weight not always the whole story


---- — The new year is here and fitness facilities are packed again.

Like clockwork, everyone begins the new year with at least one resolution.

Many of those who are found in the gym during this time of year fail to reach their fitness goals simply because they are not focusing on what is really important. If your resolution is about losing weight, I challenge you to think about it differently.

Focus on your body fat percentage. By doing this, you will be looking at what really matters when it comes to both looking and feeling good.

To get your body fat percentage, you need to ask a professional to assess it for you. You may be able to find scales that will show it electronically, but the best and most accurate way to assess this is by using calipers.

If you are lucky enough to have a facility that uses hydrostatic body fat testing (a test that literally submerges you in water to measure your body fat), this is classified as the golden standard for measuring body fat. Alternatively, when a professional takes your body fat using calipers, they will use a device that will measure the thickness of a pinch of skin at several locations.

These measurements will be plugged into a formula that is used to figure out your estimated body fat percentage.

What does this number mean? It’s actually quite simple; it’s the percentage of fat on your body.

Now don’t panic, as many do when they see their percentage figure, because your body is actually supposed to be composed of a certain amount of fat. This amount varies between populations based on age and sex. Obviously, if you are outside of the healthy range, you are going to want to address this issue as part of your yearly fitness goals.

From your body fat percentage you can actually figure out how much of your weight is fat and how much is everything else. To figure this out, take your body fat percentage figure and multiply it by your weight. This is how much of your weight is only fat. If you are 200 pounds and you have 25 percent body fat, 50 pounds of your body weight is fat (200 X 0.25 = 50).

Do not be misled to believe that this is how much weight you want to lose. Some fat is needed to keep us healthy, as it is used for many purposes, for example, to cushion our organs, give us energy, thermoregulation, and to keep our neurological and endocrine systems functioning optimally. What you want to do is progress to a healthy body fat percentage.

The ideal ranges for men and women vary among organizations. According to The American College of Sports Medicine, one of the leading organizations in the health and fitness world, the generally accepted ranges for men and women are 10 to 22 percent and 20 to 32 percent, respectively. To really find out what your ideal body fat range is, it is best to ask a professional, such as an exercise specialist.

By tracking your body fat instead of your body weight, you will be paying attention to what really matters. It is sad that many men and women stay away from strength training just because they notice it doesn’t change their weight the way they want it to. Strength training, when done correctly, can actually decrease your body fat percentage more efficiently than aerobic training on cardio machines. 

As part of your resolution this year, you owe it to yourself to do it right. Pay attention to the numbers that really matter and you will be giving yourself a much better advantage in your goal to stay healthy and fit.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.