By Jeremy McCann
I don't think that there is a way to watch Rocky prepare for his fight with Apollo Creed and not want to see you in his shoes. Theme music in the background, pushing yourself to your very limit as every muscle strains and stretches to its limit. You want to get to that top step and raise your arms in victory!!
It's Monday morning, about 4am. Last night, you put your foot down and you looked in the mirror and said goodbye to that body you saw looking back at you. First, you grabbed those handles of fat at your side and clenched your fist tightly. Next, you turned to the side, looking into the mirror you see what a mountain of fat erupting appears from your waistline. So you decided to head to the gym this morning. At an hour reserved for criminals, you are beginning your assault on the scale. You lace up your new sneakers, and off you go.
"No pain, no gain."
"No pain, no gain."
"No pain, no gain."
You keep telling yourself, that you will do whatever it takes, but you aren't too sure about, "whatever" is. But it can't be that hard, right?
Conventional wisdom would allow you to believe, as long as the sweat rolls from your face. As long as your muscles ache and as long as that you pretty much make a second career out of the time that you spend in the gym that you will reek of victory over that scale. So the treadmill and you have become quite close.
For about a month now, you have put those on the miles on the treadmill. You have followed your plan of doing at least an hour a day each morning, and it seems like it has. A taste of victory, you have lost 4 pounds. YUP....BRING ON APOLLO!
At 6 weeks, things aren't as easy. The scale isn't as nice. You step on it, it doesn't move. ROCKY wouldn't back down, so you decide its time to up your efforts and now, its time to get to the gym at 3:30 in the morning. There you are, determined to win. Day in and day out, man versus machine, who can last longer?
Ok, let me just go ahead and stop there. This story doesn't end very pretty. For years, I would see another victim head to the gym on a daily basis and begin this journey of weight loss. Maybe it was a different face, but it was the same body and the same plan.
"To lose weight, I need to do hours and hours of cardio," is what they would declare. The journey would soon begin of trying to find a way to take an extra aerobics class or maybe figure out a way to get an extra 30 minutes on another machine, only to leave them one day with the truth: THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY HOURS IN THE DAY.
More is not better when it comes to time and cardio. The typical person doesn't workout, to run marathon after marathon, so why train for that? The average American is overweight and wants to "tone" up. The average American makes a mistake that first morning that they get out of bed.
I am not talking about the determination to get up at 4am, you got to do what life allows you to. What I am saying, is that problem arises with that first step you take on that scale.
You can't base your success on the scale. You need to remember that when you jump on that sucker, that you are weighing your body. When you look in the mirror, you aren't just seeing things you can change. There is no need to be an anatomy professor to know that when you weigh yourself that you are weighing your whole body. This would include all of your fat mass, muscle, water, bone and any organ vital to your existence. With that being said, your weight can fluctuate throughout the day by many pounds based on hydration levels and time of last meal eaten. So if you time it right, you could be down a few pounds here but if you don't you could be up a few pounds there and FRUSTRATED all the time.
So, today let's talk a little about your goals.
So if you need a number to go by when it comes to measurements, get your body fat tested. When it comes to the gold standard of measurements, having your body fat tested hydrostatically is second to none. In a nutshell, this means to be weighed underwater. There are few places that perform this test, but locally I know for a small fee I know that you can have this done Loma Linda University. After weighing you on a scale, you would be submerged underwater in a bathtub sized pool of water. Fat is buoyant, so essentially what testers will be looking for, is just how much you float in water. As long as you are comfortable with dunking yourself underwater for a brief amount of time, this is a very simple test and a very accurate measurement of your percentage of muscle to fat mass.
Some universities will also have a device called a BODPOD which essentially does the same thing as underwater weighing with the exception being that you are weighed within a chamber of air. You sit inside what appears to be a gigantic chicken egg for five minutes while testers read off results of changes in pressure from within the chamber. These changes will indicate what your body density is and aid in formulating what your body fat percentage is. Just like the hydrostatic test, there is an error margin of 1 to 2%. This makes it very reliable. Again, our only real issue is where you can find one. The only one that I am aware of in this area would be from my days back at Cal Poly Pomona. So if you are willing to take a little drive, the BODPOD is another option.
There are many other ways of testing yourself, all with greater error margins. You can buy yourself a scale that relies on Bioelectrical Impedance. This basically means that the scale will measure the amount of water in your body. When stepped on, the scale will send a signal through your feet to the rest of your body. Body fat resists electricity, so the scale essentially will measure the amount of resistance that your body shows. This sounds good, but really isn't very accurate. Unlike, the other tests, there is a long protocol the tester must follow to make sure this test is reliable. Things like how hydration, last time exercised, and when how much caffeine you have injected are variables to consider.
Personally, the most practical means of having your body fat tested can be done by finding an experienced personal trainer. Skin fold testing can be a very accurate predictor of body fat percentage. Your body is assessed for fat by the tester measuring the millimeters of fat pinched at anywhere from 3 to 9 sites. The millimeters are totaled up and put in a formula that is used to predict just how much fat you have on your body. An experienced tester will be able to give you accuracy within 3 percentage points. The trainer needs experience because they need to be able to feel the difference between subcutaneous fat and muscle. This test is a very accurate with the majority of people. Although, if you fall on the extreme ends of the scale, either very fit or obese, then a hydrostatic test may prove to be the best way to go.
Now that you have an idea of why a body fat test is needed and how to do one, the question remains, what does my body fat mean?
Fat is essential. You absolutely need it for survival. Humans rely on fat as their primary source of fuel, for one thing. In addition to that, fat allows us protection, lubrication for our joints, as well as a huge component in hormones. So the point is, you need it. The following chart shows just what fat percentage means.
Description Women Men
Essential fat 10-13% 2-5%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Average 25-31% 18-24%
Usually what I tell people is that this chart is an indicator of just how much you need to exercise versus how much you should just want to exercise. When you get to what is considered average, is generally where you would start to see exercise habits negatively influencing your life.
So, get a test done today, and we will put together a plan to chase Apollo.
Jeremy McCann has a degree from Cal Poly Pomona in exercise science and is an International Sports Sciences Personal Trainer. He is also a National Academy of Sports Medicine Performance Enhancement Specialist and a Corrective Exercise Specialist. He has his own fitness company www.GETFIT951.com.