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Why Do We Need to Know
Our Body Composition?
Part 1 of 1
By: Jackie Wright

What is body composition?

In physical fitness, body composition refers to the body’s percentage of fat, bone and muscle mass. When we measure body composition, we are measuring fat mass with the remaining composition being muscle and bone.

Fat Mass: 
There is essential body fat and non-essential body fat and both can vary with age, gender and fitness level. Essential body fat is the fat our body does not produce which we must obtain from the foods we eat. Non-essential body fat is not essential to survival and may be stored in excess amounts which can be unhealthy.

Fat mass, when measuring body fat, refers to the amount of subcutaneous fat (i.e. fat stored underneath the surface of the skin).

Lean Mass:
Lean mass is basically the muscle and bone we carry within the body which also varies with age, gender and fitness level.

Why is it important to know body composition versus just your body weight?

Body weight is the weight of the total body and while important to be aware of, does not alone provide a complete physical fitness picture. Because muscle weighs more than fat, the same two clients with the same body weight can have completely different body compositions due to the amount of fat and muscle mass they each possess. Therefore, one client who weighs 145 pounds may be maintaining a healthy body fat percentage, while the other may not.

Because there are a plethora of health risks associated with unhealthy levels of body fat (i.e. heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, etc.), having a health and fitness professional measure your body composition regularly will enable you to more effectively and efficiently achieve and maintain healthy levels of lean and fat mass. 

How is body composition measured?

There are many methods of measuring body composition (i.e. body fat) such as hydrostatic weighing, BIA and DXA. However, one of the most common methods is the use of skinfold calipers which measure the thickness of the subcutaneous body fat located at several sites on the body (i.e. subscapular, suprailium, arms, etc.). This is non-invasive and painless. 

With each type of skinfold caliper there are different sites which are measured and then those calipers each have formulas which enable the health and fitness professional to translate the data into meaningful body fat percentages. Some calipers recommend up to ten sites and some as few a four. However, the most important factor is that you choose a health and fitness professional that has been properly trained to perform the measurements, and ideally, that the same professional performs these measurements each time, if possible to establish a baseline and ensure consistency over time.

The Bottom Line

The main outcome from regular body composition measurements is that you are achieving the desired results. If you are carrying excessive amounts of body fat, discuss fitness programs with your health and fitness professional which include performing regular cardiovascular and muscular strength training exercise, effectively burning calories and maintaining a healthy eating regimen.

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