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Can You Target Belly Fat (or any fat area?)

By Body Composition, Fat mass, Fitness

Everyone has their problem spots.

You might build up fat in your belly pretty easily, but your friend might get it in her arms.  Your mom might complain about her hips getting bigger. Your brother might have fat in the upper body.

Everyone wishes that they could just magically reduce fat mass in a certain area. But unfortunately, you can’t. Targeting fat, or “spot reduction,” is a myth, and there’s no shortage of clinically-validated studies that disprove it.

For example, in 2007, researchers at the University of Connecticut examined a group of 104 subjects and had them perform resistance training on their non-dominant arm (so if a subject was right-handed, they exercised their left arm).

At the conclusion of the 12-week study, MRI scans revealed no loss in fat between either arm.

So arms are out (as are legs), but what about the one a lot of people really fat: belly fat?

Well, in a recent (2011) study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, participants were divided into two groups and asked to perform abdominal exercises. The control group was allowed to train relatively unsupervised, while the experimental group was put on a controlled abdominal exercise workout plan.

The results for both groups?

“Six weeks of abdominal exercise training alone was not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat or other measures of body composition.”

Vispute et al, 2011

No matter how many crunches or planks you do, you can’t target the fat that hugs your belly.  You might develop some very strong ab muscles, but the fat will stay put.

So what can you do to get rid of stubborn fat in your problem spots?  Are we to conclude that there is no point in working out different parts of your body when you want to lose fat? How does fat loss even work?

To answer these questions, we have to start with how fat gets there in the first place.

How Fat Mass Is Created and Stored

Body fat by itself is not bad; you need it to survive.  However, excess body fat can cause health problems ranging from diabetes to hypertension to metabolic syndrome to a host of other serious problems.

Body fat mass is created when you are in a caloric surplus – taking in more calories than your body needs, or in plain speech: “overeating.” This is true for all humans, regardless of whether you’re male or female.

Here’s the thing: it’s actually a lot easier to get into a caloric surplus than you might think.  Just because you’re eating until you feel full doesn’t mean you’re eating what will keep your body weight stable.

The 2,000-calorie diet you’re likely familiar with was designed to be the best estimate of people’s daily caloric needs, but since everyone has a unique body composition, 2,000 calories may be too little – or too much, especially if you’re inactive.

How can 2,000 calories be too much? Take the example of someone who is metabolically obese but has a normal weight – someone popularly termed “skinny fat.”

Body composition analysis reveals that this person (a female) has a body fat percentage of 35%, over the normal range for women. However, a closer look at her composition reveals that she bears the hallmarks of skinny fatness: a “normal” weight caused by underdeveloped muscle and overdeveloped fat.

She also has 88 pounds of Lean Body Mass, corresponding to a BMR of 1231 calories.

Assuming she lives a mostly sedentary lifestyle with no exercise, her Total Daily Energy Expenditure would be roughly 1477.2 calories.

This would mean that if she kept to a 2,000-calorie diet, she would be in a caloric surplus of 522.8 calories a day – meaning she could expect to gain roughly a pound of fat every week if she remained consistently on this diet every day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or women; fat accumulation occurs in the same way. Where it ends up, however, can be a different story for both men and women.

  • Android Obesity

Android obesity is a subset of obesity that most frequently occurs in men.  It is characterized by weight gain in the midsection and upper chest and gives men a more rounded look. This is sometimes called “apple-shaped” obesity.

Men store more of their fat here because of their hormones, specifically, their testosterone levels.  Women can also experience android obesity after menopause due to the decrease of estrogen in their bodies relative to testosterone.

  • Gynoid Obesity

Gynoid Obesity is another subset of obesity that most commonly occurs in pre-menopausal women.  It is characterized by fat accumulation in the hips, legs, and buttocks.  Because the fat accumulation generally takes place in the lower half of the body, gynoid obesity is referred to as “pear-shaped obesity.”

While everyone gains it the same way, fat accumulates  in different places depending on gender, hormones, and other factors. Having fat show up in some places but not others creates the desire in people to want to target fat, which can lead them to look for strategies that help them do it.

Is there really no way to target fat?

Here’s What You Can and Can’t Target

Let’s take a look at targeting certain areas by exercising an area more than another.

What actually happens when you work out a muscle group?  You challenge your muscles.  Muscle fibers get torn and rebuilt, and with proper exercise and nutrition, they become more developed.

Although this can lead to localized blood flow in the exercised muscles leading to some interaction with the subcutaneous fat, the effects are very minimal and don’t contradict the studies that discount spot reduction.

In order to lose Fat Mass, you have to use more calories than you take in. This is called being in a “caloric deficit.” For example, if your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is 2200, and you consume 1800 calories, you’re in a caloric deficit of -400 calories.  If you can maintain this over time with proper nutrition, you’ll lose Fat Mass.

When you lose fat, you generally lose it in across your body at the same time.  You can’t target any particular area over another.

However, fat loss does occur in some areas more rapidly than it does in others.  Case in point: visceral fat.

Visceral fat is the fat you don’t see.  It collects in your abdominal area and surrounds your internal organs.  This type of fat is very dangerous in large quantities, and as associated with several serious health complications including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Metabolic Syndrome, high blood pressure, and more.

It’s also dangerous because it’s not typically visible.  People can have significant amounts of visceral fat but not know it because their weight/appearance doesn’t give it away. These people are sometimes called “skinny fat.”

There is some good news, however.  Although you can’t “target” it per se, visceral fat is particularly responsive to cardiovascular exercise, so if you start significantly increasing your running, biking, swimming, or whatever your cardio exercise of choice is, you can expect to “see” a reduction in visceral fat.  One study has even shown that for people whose BMIs exceed 25.0, cardiovascular exercise alone, even without a caloric deficitcan have a positive impact on visceral fat reduction.

To Target Your Fat – All of It – Get Back to Basics

If you have problem fat areas, you should let go of the idea that you can target them by doing exercises in that area. It’s been proven conclusively that you cannot do this, and the sooner you let it go, the sooner you can focus on what does work: proper diet and exercise.

So to target your problem fat areas, you need to target your entire body and follow the same basic guidelines for effective fat loss that will last.

  1. Get Your Body Composition Determined

This is an important first step, and one that a lot of people skip: get your body composition determined. This will allow you to learn your body fat percentage, which will reveal valuable information about your body, including:

  • How much Fat Mass you have
  • How much Lean Body Mass you have

With that information, you can find out even more useful information, such as:

  • Your Basal Metabolic Rate
  • Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure

These two are particularly important because they’ll help you determine how many calories your body needs in a day.  If you need help with figuring that out, here’s a guide to get you started on planning a diet using your body composition data.

  1. Using Your TDEE, Plan a Diet For Fat Loss

Your TDEE will be an extremely useful number for you. You can think of it like a “calorie budget.” You can “spend” your “budget” on different foods and beverages throughout the day, with the goal of “saving” calories at the end of the day (your caloric deficit). How you “spend” your budget is up to you, but you will still want to make healthy choices throughout the day.

There are numerous diets that you might follow. Don’t follow any that ask you to eat a certain number of calories or one that worked for someone that you know. These won’t necessarily work for you.  Use your own, personal TDEE as a guideline to determine how much you should be eating in a day.

  1. If you plan to work out to increase your TDEE, include cardio and strength training.

Cardio, particularly HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio, can be an effective way to increase your TDEE, and if your diet holds constant, will increase your caloric deficit and lead to fat loss.

However, just focusing on cardio alone isn’t a good idea. If you only run, bike, or do some kind of other type of cardio exercise without any strength training, you can start to lose Lean Body Mass (which your Skeletal Muscle Mass is a part of).

Losing Lean Body Mass and Fat Mass at the same time will make it a lot harder to improve your body composition and will keep you from getting the look you want. Fortunately, studies have shown that incorporating strength training can preserve Lean Body Mass while you’re in a caloric deficit to lose fat.  Don’t neglect the weights!

By getting back to the basics of dieting and exercising properly, you’ll chip away at your problem areas slowly but surely.  Try not to focus on short term goals and avoid any shortcut diets that advertise “weight loss secrets”, “diet hacks” or any other scam-sounding diet. If you want a guaranteed way to target your fat – all of it – get back to basics by improving your body composition.



How To End The Cycle of Starting Over

By Blog, Body Composition

How many times have you started working out? How many times have you started a new program by feeling excited, committed, and confident that this will be the time you finally get the body you’ve always wanted?

So you start, and a month goes by, then two, then three.  Everything’s going well until one day, something comes up and you have to skip a gym day.  “No big deal. It’s just one day”, you say.

Then you lose your momentum and start skipping a gym day here and there every couple of weeks. “I’ll make it up next week,” you say.

Then eventually, you start going one day a week less, until before you know it, you’ve stopped going completely. “I’m just too busy,” you say.

Why do people quit the gym? If the above story sounds like you, you’re not alone: lack of time/being busy is one of the most frequently quoted reasons for quitting the gym.

But for many of us, it’s not that we don’t have the time: it’s that we’re not seeing any immediate return on the time spent exercising and so we give up.

Time is valuable, and if we’re not getting any positive results from spending it at the gym (or anywhere for that matter), we will put our time elsewhere in activities where we do get results.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could end the cycle of start-stop, start-stop?  Whether you’re on your first fitness journey or your fifteenth, here are some important things to consider to make sure the time you spend on your fitness is well spent so you never have to start over again.

1. Commit to the Gym AND a Diet

Ever hear the expression, “6-pack abs are made in the kitchen?” It’s true: working out alone doesn’t mean much if you don’t also take control of your diet.  If your goal is weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you take in.  Yes, that means keeping track of your calories.

It gets really hard to stick with the gym when you aren’t seeing results after a couple of months.  That’s because if you’re doing everything right and being consistent, you should be seeing progress.

But before you get too frustrated, know this: counting calories works and it’s not that hard if you can get a sense of how many calories your body needs.  You can do that with the following steps.

1. At your gym or doctor’s office, get your body composition analyzed.  For counting calories, what you need to get is your Lean Body Mass (sometimes called Fat-Free Mass) and body fat percentage.

2. Use your body fat percentage to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, the number of calories your body needs to support itself, excluding the energy needed to move and do work.  You can do that with this online calculator.

3. Once you have your BMR, you need to use it estimate how many calories your body uses in a day, including activity/exercise. That’s called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You’ll need to multiply BMR with an Activity Factor that best reflects how active you are. Those activity factors are:


 4) With your TDEE in hand, now you have a much better idea about how many calories your body needs to maintain itself.  You need to adjust your caloric intake to your goals.  You must reduce your daily calories to be under this TDEE and be consistent if you want to lose fat.

To gain muscle, although everyone agrees that you need to exceed your TDEE, the amount necessary remains difficult to accurately determine. One study of bodybuilders reports you’ll need to exceed it by about 15%., whereas the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends an overall caloric increase of between 300-500 calories a day.]

2. Measure Success By Tracking Changes In Your Body

It seems logical to use a scale to track your progress.  You probably have one at home, and since you’re expecting to see weight loss changes, it makes sense to use it to track your progress.  However, using a scale can give you a false impression of your progress that can leave you feeling discouraged, or worse – make you think you’re not getting results when you actually are!

  • Your muscle gains can influence your weight change.

If you’re new to the gym and you start incorporating some strength training in your routine, you’ll likely start gaining some muscle while you lose fat.  Your muscle gains might not completely offset your fat loss gains, but they will influence your scale weight and make it seem like you aren’t making any progress when you actually are.

In this above example, this person increased their Skeletal Muscle Mass and decreased their Fat Mass.  If the muscle gains are greater than the fat losses, this can lead to an overall weight and BMI increase.  

However, this leads to an overall reduction in both body fat mass and body fat percentage.  This means that even with increased weight, overall fitness and physical appearance will improve.

  • Your diet is affecting your water retention.

If you’re on a diet, especially one that’s restrictive on calories and carbohydrates, you’re likely going to see some noticeable changes in your weight right away – but then they’ll stop.  No, you’re not hitting some kind of wall or plateau: you just experienced initial water weight loss is all.

This happens because by cutting carbohydrates out of your diet, you’re also cutting out glycogen – the energy molecule provided by carbohydrates.  Glycogen has a very interesting attribute: 3-4 grams of water bond to each molecule of glycogen.  So, when you start cutting carbs out of your diet, you’re also cutting out the excess water.

3. Set Reasonable Goals

Not seeing results after a lot of time and energy invested at the gym and in your diet is very frustrating.  However, you can let go of a lot of this frustration by setting reasonable goals.

  • Reasonable Fat Loss

First off, you can’t expect any reasonable fat loss without being in a caloric deficit – using more energy than you’re eating.  Without having an estimate of your TDEE, you’re going to be doing the fitness equivalent of grasping in the dark.

Once you have an estimate of your TDEE, you can set a reasonable caloric deficit to achieve measurable fat loss.  Although there is some variation, most experts and resources, including the Centers for Disease Control, agree that a caloric deficit of about 500 calories each day equaling to 3,500 calories a week will result in a pound of fat loss per week.

This means there’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that 1 pound of fat a week might be a little slower than you might have hoped for.

The good news is that this 1 pound of fat is a real pound gone, and as long as you don’t fall back into habits with poor diet and little activity, you can keep off that pound of fat even after you reach your goal.

  • Reasonable Muscle Gain

Any discussion about how much muscle you can gain and how fast you can gain it invariably brings up discussion of your genetic threshold.  It’s widely understood that you can’t (naturally) gain muscle at a constant rate forever and that beginner lifters gain more muscle faster than athletes who have been developing their bodies for years; however, what’s not so well understood is what the limit or rate is.

Lyle McDonald of Bodyrecomposition offers a model he means to be taken for general use which holds that in the first year of consistent and proper training, a beginner can expect to gain 2 pounds of muscle a month, or about half a pound of muscle a week.

Gaining muscle requires a whole different set of nutritional requirements and workouts from that of losing fat. Although both goals have their own challenges, building muscle may actually be the more difficult of the two.

Unlike fat loss, building muscle requires increasing your caloric intake beyond your TDEE and performing consistent strength-based exercises properly, while giving yourself the recovery time necessary to let your muscles grow and develop.

You’re also going to need to monitor your protein intake to makes sure you’re providing your body with enough nutrients to promote muscle growth.

Never Start Over Again

Ultimately, a healthy body is a reflection of a healthy lifestyle.  A healthy diet that involves staying active and doesn’t involve overeating will result in the appearance you want.

Tying it all together, the best way to break the cycle is to think about your health and fitness as a lifestyle choice instead of something based on physical appearance or a number on the scale.  Looking at it that way, time becomes irrelevant, as you will slowly and steadily work towards your goals.  In time, you’ll get there, but in the meantime, you’ll be enjoying all the physical benefits that living a healthy lifestyle can bring, including:

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better mood

As well as the more intangible ones like

  • Feeling more comfortable with your appearance
  • Having your clothes fit you better
  • Having other people notice that you’re looking more fit and healthy

Make sure your time at the gym is worth it. In fitness and health, slow and steady really does win the race!


How To Read Nutrition Labels

By Diet

This article originally appeared on the Isolator Fitness blog and is reposted here with permission. To view the original, click here.

Ideally to achieve maximum health we would eat only fresh, natural, organic foods and we would completely avoid processed or packaged options. But nothing is ideal in reality and so there are times that we must depend on the information that is provided to us through nutrition labels on packaged food items to determine which processed options are better than others. The nutritional values of fresh, natural and organic foods are also important to consider when deciding what to purchase and consume but these are not always as easily found.

Fresh, Natural, or Organic Foods

Fresh produce, beef, and seafood don’t come with nutritional labels printed out on them, but that doesn’t mean that the information isn’t out there and available for you if you decide to look. These nutritional facts will read much like the labels on your packaged food, except that in most cases you’ll find that what you’re consuming with natural foods is much healthier than what’s packed inside processed food. Some packaged food will read as “organic”, “all natural”, or “nothing artificial” but those are not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about non-packaged and fresh fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tilapia, etc.

Packaged Foods

Nutritional labels on packaged foods allow you to compare the calorie, fat, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar content in any given food. With that knowledge you are in an informed position to make the most accurate decision about which foods to stay away from due to higher levels of these ingredients.

To determine which foods are better for your specific and personal dietary choices it’s also important to peruse the ingredients list to see what additives and other ingredients are present. It is always better to choose options with ingredients that you have in your own kitchen, while avoiding the chemical additives. Often times the smaller ingredient lists and larger vitamin lists provide healthier content, but this is not always the case, and the lengths of these lists should only be considered one of many things to look at when reading a nutritional label.

Some packaged food will even say “organic”, “ natural”, or “no artificial ingredients” but many people don’t know what the difference is, so they end up buying the wrong products, for their personal dietary needs.


Packaging Term What It Means
  • Free of growth hormones and antibiotics
  • 95% of the ingredients are organic
  • Grown with non synthetic or sewage fertilizers
  • No GMO’s
All Natural
  • No FDA requirements
  • Foods are generally made of natural ingredients but may contain hydrogenated oils, added sugars, flavoring (as long as it’s a natural flavoring), and other non natural ingredients
No Artificial Ingredients
  • Least regulated
  • Food may be made of an even mixture of natural and artificial ingredients, so you’ll have to read the nutrition label carefully


Making Sense Of Nutrition Labels

Although the information is laid out for you in a seemingly organized fashion, making sense of what you’re reading when looking at a nutritional label is not always an easy task. Many people don’t consume enough iron, calcium, fiber, or vitamins A and C, despite the fact that they are always included on the nutritional labels. Here are the main characteristics you should look at on a nutritional label and what they mean.


Chart Section What It Tells You
Serving Size
  • How large a serving is usually in both standard and metric measurements
  • How many servings are present
Calorie Information
  • How many calories, and calories from fat are present in a single serving
Daily Value %
  • How much of your daily nutrient requirement is satisfied by a single serving (shown in percentage form)
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet
  • List of nutrients including: fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein
  • How many grams of each nutrient are included in a single serving
  • Usually the lower daily value percentages are the healthier options in this section (protein is the exception)
Vitamins & Minerals
  • List of vitamins & minerals that are included in a single serving (Try to consume 100% of your daily value for Vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, and fiber everyday)
  • List of key nutrients paired with how much of each you should consume
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet

The footnote section is the best place to look for clarification if you’re confused about how much of a certain nutrient you should be consuming in any given day.There are also some commonly printed phrases printed on nutrition labels and packaged food containersthat be confusing if you don’t know what they mean. These are phrases that you should become familiar with so that you better understand what it is that you’re purchasing and eating. Here are a few of the most popularly printed phrases and what they really mean:



Phrase What It Really Means
No Fat/Fat Free May contain some fat, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Lower or Reduced Fat Will contain at least 25% less fat per serving than the original food item
Low Fat Will contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving
Lite Will contain either ⅓ of the calories or ½ of the fat that would be found in the original food item
No Calories/Calorie Free May contain calories, as long as it’s less that 5 calories per serving
Low Calories Will contain no more than 50% of the calories per serving than the original food item
Sugar Free May contain some sugar, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Reduced Sugar Will contain at least 25% less sugar per serving than the original food item
No Preservatives Will not contain any preservatives (natural or chemical)
No Preservatives Added Will not contain chemically added preservatives.
Low Sodium Will contain less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving
No Salt/Salt Free May contain salt, as long as it’s less than 5 mgs of sodium per serving
High Fiber Will contain at least 5 grams of fiber (or more) per serving
Good Source of Fiber Will contain 2.5 grams to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving
More/Added Fiber Will contain at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the original food item


How to Make a Fitness New Years Resolution You’ll Actually Do

By Blog, Health

Raise your hand if you said something like:

“In 2016, I’m finally going to lose weight!”

If you did, you’re not alone.  According to Statistics Brain Institute, a company that compiles statistics on a variety of topics and industries, losing weight was (unsurprisingly) the #1 New Year’s resolution made in 2015.

However, according to the same research, only 8% of people reported achieving their resolution by the end of 2015.  Also not terribly surprising.

But forget 2015.  It’s now into the third week of 2016, and this year is the year that you can actually achieve your fitness/weight loss goal.  It’s completely possible; you just need to go about it the right way.

Yes, it will take hard work and dedication. No, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything you enjoy doing (unless what you enjoy doing is surviving on exclusively burgers and soda).  Follow the below steps and by this time next year, you’ll be celebrating the beginning of 2017 with a new, fitter you.

Step 1: Throw Your Scale out the Window

This is key. In 2016, you’re going to part with your bathroom scale. Why? Because it’s been serving you a steady stream of lies every time you’ve stepped on it in the past.


You say that you want to lose weight.  But what is weight, really? It’s really just a number, and seeing a number rise or fall on the scale doesn’t tell even close to the whole story. What you’re actually trying to say when you say you want to lose weight – whether you realize it or not – is you want to lose fat. Pounds of fat.

The truth is: your body isn’t just a vessel that weighs a certain amount; it’s made up of a lot of different things, including fat, muscle, bone mineral, and body water.  This way of dividing your body into its parts is called your body composition.  When you lose (or gain weight), the actual changes in your body that your scale registers as weight changes are actually changes in one or more parts of your body composition – changes in muscle, changes in fat, etc.

Weighing yourself on the scale when you’re trying to lose weight – or worse: weighing yourself every day – can set you up for failure by not accurately reporting your progress, causing you to become discouraged.  Here’s how.

Here’s a profile of someone who is just beginning their fitness program, and is doing moderate to heavy weight lifting as part of their plan.  Here’s the same person, about three months later.

As a result of a proper diet and consistent exercise, this person has lost 5 pounds of fat. But because this person has been building muscle as well, their weight hasn’t changed at all.

If this person’s goal was simply “weight loss,” despite their positive gains in muscle and losses in fat, this person might think that no progress was made.  After months of kicking yourself into shape and being super careful about your diet, a lack of movement on the scale can be extremely discouraging.

This is why you need to focus on improving your body composition – not weight loss.  Weight loss doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what you’re losing and gaining.

Step 2: Learn a bit about calories

“Counting calories.”

For some people, this phrase brings feelings of the purest dread.  Not only do people think it’s a lot of work, but that it also means the end of eating anything delicious.

Fortunately, keeping track of calories isn’t that hard, and depending on what your goals are, you may be able to eat more than you think.  But first, here are some basic truths on calories.

First: let’s get something straight right now – from an energy storing perspective, it doesn’t matter all that much how often/when you eat.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bold text added):

The time of day isn’t what affects how your body uses calories. It’s the overall number of calories you eat and the calories you burn over the course of 24 hours that affects your weight.

It helps to think of your caloric needs like a daily budget.  If your needs are 2,400 calories and you “spend” a 1,000 calories on breakfast, that’s fine – it’s just that you only get 1,400 calories until breakfast the next day.

Second: everyone’s caloric needs are different; so that 2,000 daily recommended calorie intake on the nutrition label? Consider that to be the most general, vaguest set of guidelines that almost certainly will set you up for failure, especially since it was picked in no small part because it was just an easy number to remember, rounded off to the nearest thousand for convenience 1.

To find your individual caloric needs, you need to estimate something called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure – the amount of calories that you burn in a 24-hour period.  Generally speaking, your TDEE has two major components:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the total number of calories your body requires to “stay on” and power bodily processes like brain activity, pumping blood, breathing, digesting, etc.
  • Activity Rate: an estimated index of how active you are over 24 hours

To get TDEE, multiply BMR with Activity Rate. For example, someone with a BMR of 1600 calories and is moderately active (exercises 3-5x a week) would have a total caloric need of around 2,480 calories, nearly 500 calories more than the traditional 2,000 calorie diet.

Use your TDEE as the baseline from how you create your diet.  “Cutting calories” doesn’t mean “starvation” – it means making a moderate reduction in your caloric intake as determined by your daily needs.

Based on what your goals are, designing a diet and knowing what’s an appropriate caloric intake does get a little more complicated, but there’s a complete guide to using BMR to creating a diet right here.

Step 3: Choose 1 Goal (from 2 options) and Plan Your Diet

source: Flickr

In 2016, you’re not going to think about “weight loss” any more.  Instead, you’re going to think about choosing from one of the two following goals: “fat loss” or “muscle gain.”  Both of these goals will have the effect of reducing your overall body fat percentage but achieve it in different ways.

But just one goal – not both at the same time? Can’t you lose fat and gain muscle at the same time? Maybe. But it will be extremely difficult to effectively do both over any extended period of time.  This is because the nutritional and caloric needs your body requires to gain muscle effectively are different from those when you want your body to lose fat.

  • Fat Loss

If you want to lose fat, you need to encourage your body to enter what’s called a catabolic state – a state when your body breaks down body tissue instead of building it.  This requires you to take in fewer calories than you bring in.

But remember: your TDEE is made of two parts, BMR and Activity Level, so taking in fewer calories doesn’t necessarily (and shouldn’t) mean you have to cut out breakfast completely or something equally drastic.  If you weren’t working out at all before, simply increasing your activity level by starting an exercise program while maintaining your caloric intake may be enough to trigger fat loss.  If this sounds like you, simply beginning an exercise program is a good way to get started.

However, most people will need a combination of caloric reduction and exercise to achieve consistent and healthy fat loss.  How many calories you need to reduce will vary based on your individual body composition and goals.

  • Muscle Gain

You can’t lose fat forever, and at some point you will need to work on developing muscle – or at the very least, work to preserve the muscle that you have already.  This will require a different diet and exercise plan than the one designed for fat loss.  Instead of getting your body into a catabolic state, you’ll want to enter into an anabolic state – a state where your body builds tissue instead of breaking it down.

To build muscle, your body needs resources.  This means proper nutrition – sufficient protein intake is critical when trying to increase muscle mass – but equally as important is eating enough calories.  There is a popular misconception that taking in excessive amounts of protein is the key to muscle gain, but in a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition publication, high performance athletes who failed to meet their caloric needs were found to have limited lean body mass gains, despite increasing their protein beyond their daily recommended needs.

So what is a good estimate of your caloric needs for this goal?  Although nutrition plays a large role in determining diet, from a caloric standpoint, research suggests that maintaining an energy surplus of about 15% is appropriate for developing musculature.  This means, all else being equal, the moderately active person with a BMR of 1,600 calories would want to shoot for around 2,852 calories a day.

Step 4: Plan for a Marathon, not a 100-yard dash

source: Flickr

In a world where virtually every piece of information in all of human history can be searched for in seconds by anyone with a smartphone, people are used to getting the results they want when they want them.  Unfortunately, you can’t expect the same from your body.

That’s why if you hang around enough fitness people for long enough, you’ll eventually hear them talk about a “fitness journey.”  That’s because that’s exactly what fitness is – a journey. It’s not a sprint, and it will take time to make meaningful changes that last.

For example, in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, participants were divided into two groups that created a 25% energy gap between what they ate and what they burned. The first group did this by only dieting (25% caloric reduction) and the second achieving it by splitting the energy deficit by both diet and exercise (12.5% caloric reduction + 12.5% increase in energy use due to increased exercise).

The results were interesting: both groups were able to reduce their body weight by about 10% and their total fat mass by 24%, indicating that for fat/weight reduction, caloric reduction by any means is critical, regardless of how it is achieved.  For a 180 pound person, a 10% reduction comes out to 3 pounds of loss per month, which is less than a pound a week.

This can be challenging for some people – to not see any measurable changes on the scale after a week of diet/diet+exercise.  Even after two weeks, you may only see your weight decrease by a pound, maybe two.  If you’re measuring your weight by just using a scale, this can be especially frustrating (another reason why you should get rid of it).

Plan for the long term, and don’t expect to see dramatic changes right away.  And because you’re planning for the long term, that also means that you don’t need to be perfect every single day.  That’s going to put on too much pressure, cause frustration, and maybe cause you to fail.  That’s why this guide’s final step is important.

Step 5: Let Cheat Days Happen (and don’t feel bad about it)

source: Flickr

That’s right.  Break your diet every once in a while. Skip the odd gym day and go out for pizza and beer. It’s OK.

Didn’t expect that, did you?

But wait! Isn’t this how you “gain it all back”?  You hear stories about people breaking their diets and then gaining 5 pounds or more over a cheat weekend, erasing a month of hard work.

This is where your scale – if you’re still using one – really can screw you up with negative thinking and discouragement.  So you gained 5 pounds over the weekend; is your scale lying?  Not exactly. Yes you gained 5 pounds, but more than likely, it’s 5 pounds of water.

Your weight will fluctuate throughout the day based on what you eat and drink.  If you’re dieting, a pretty common/near universal strategy is to reduce your carbohydrate intake (aka “cutting carbs”).

By reducing your intake of foods rich in carbohydrates, you’re reducing your overall glycogen stores. Glycogen is a molecule your body converts into energy and is a source of short-term energy; as opposed to fat, which is typically used in cases where energy from glycogen or other short-term energy sources aren’t available.

What does glycogen have to do with scales, water, and cheat days? Everything, actually.

Water molecules love glycogen.  In fact, for every gram of glycogen in your body, there will be 3-4 grams of water bonded to it.  Your loading your body with glycogen when you’re eating your carbohydrate-dense food and drinks on your cheat day, and water is bonding to it.  So when you step on the scale the day after, it’s very possible to see yourself gain several pounds in a day.

This doesn’t mean you gained it all back.  Chances are, it’s just water and once you get back on your diet and exercise program, your weight will be back to where it was in a couple days. Watch.

5 Step Plan Review

Let’s review your 5 step plans for a weight loss plan that you’ll actually do in 2016.

  1. Throw out your scale and get your body composition tested.  If your gym doesn’t do it, join one that does. The longer you stick with a scale, the longer you’ll be frustrated.
  2. Learn the basics of calories and find your TDEE.
  3. Pick 1 goal. You can change it later.
  4. Prepare for your own “fitness journey.” Slow and steady wins the race.
  5. Have a cheat day. It will help you stay sane, and it will give you something to look forward to every week or two to keep you motivated.

Good luck!



How Weight Loss Proves the ROI of Your Wellness Program

By Return on investment

When it comes to showing the effectiveness of corporate wellness programs, showing a positive ROI can be a little tricky.

On one hand, you read reports like this one in the Harvard Business Review that trumpet the effectiveness of successful corporate wellness programs at companies like Johnson & Johnson, which was reported as saving $250 million over 5 years at a rate of $2.71 in savings per dollar invested.

If you’re an employer, you read articles like this and think: “Great! Healthier employees plus measurable savings? Who wouldn’t want that?”

But on the other hand, contrarian reports like this one from the RAND Corporation tell a different story.  According to RAND, only disease management programs have positive returns in savings; for lifestyle management programs – the ones that promote exercise and healthy lifestyles – employers can expect a return of only fifty cents on the dollar.

Following RAND’s logic, it would make sense for the fiscally-minded executive or HR director to only provide benefits that treat chronic illnesses and not spend money encouraging their employees against unhealthy choices that lead to conditions like obesity, for instance.

But taking this line of thought can come at a high price for companies. Unhealthy employees and employees who are steadily becoming unhealthier tend to become less productive.  Employees who can’t work at their full potential are a source of loss.

Yet you won’t see these employees taking sick days; you’ll see them at their desks day in day out, present – but not productive.  Called “presenteeism,” unhealthy employees who come to work are costing their companies billions in lost productivity. If you’re an employer looking for positive ROI on your wellness program, this is something you cannot afford to ignore.

It’s Not Just About Sick Days

In order to understand how corporate wellness programs deliver significant benefits over the long term, it’s important to understand where costs for employers come from. The first two you probably know.

There are direct costs for sick employees, like medical and pharmaceutical costs.  Then there are sick days that employers are legally obliged to give, which represent money spent on employees who aren’t working.  That’s referred to as “absenteeism.”

These costs have been traditionally understood as costs corporate wellness programs can mitigate: healthier employees don’t take sick days, don’t lose productive hours, and don’t make as many insurance claims for illnesses.

Presenteeism, by contrast, occurs when employees should be absent but feel that they should be at work because of their obligations or for fear of disciplinary action.  But what is presenteeism?

According to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, presenteeism occurs when:

  • There is lost time between when an employee comes to work and when the employee begins work

Or when hours are lost when an employee:

  • Loses concentration
  • Must repeat a task
  • Works slower due to feelings of fatigue
  • Does nothing

All of these actions may cause the employee to be less productive, meaning the company is losing productive hours from individuals who are at work when they should be absent.

Lots of seemingly minor issues can cause an employee to be a “presentee” worker.  Simply coming into work sick when they should be absent will cause an employee to be less productive.  But then, there are other, more silent factors that can cause loss of productivity including headaches, back pain, indigestion, acid reflux, etc.

Many of these minor complaints can be traced back to one chronic problem that is only growing with each passing year: the ongoing rise of obesity in the United States.  While it might seem hard to imagine that your employees’ diets and exercise habits are having a direct effect on their productivity, a growing body of research suggests otherwise.  Let’s take a look.

Lost Productivity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are obese, which research in the Journal of the American Medical Association defines as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or greater than 30.  For reference, here are the BMI ranges and their corresponding weight classifications according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Statistically speaking, if you employ American adults in your business, some of them are likely to fall into this category.

Furthermore, the CDC estimates that the annual medical costs attributed to obesity are $147 billion, and that costs for people who are obese are $1,429 greater per individual than those who are not.

From an employer’s standpoint, employee obesity might not rank very high on the list of business concerns.  The trend towards a sedentary lifestyle is something that an individual chooses for themselves, and an employer is not a parent.

But as an employer, you expect productivity from your employees, and in recent years a growing body of research has started to indicate that overweight and obese employees are costing their employers billions in lost hours due to both absenteeism and presenteeism.

A 2009 study examining the costs of obesity in the workplace begins by noting that increased medical expenditures ranged from an additional $170 for overweight employees (BMI: 25.0 – 29.9) to greater than $1,500 for employees with grade II obesity (BMI: 35.0 to 39.9).  Some of these costs were attributable to absenteeism, and the employee group with the greatest rates of absenteeism – women with grade III obesity – missed 1 week more work than those of normal weight.

1 week of lost productive hours, assuming an employee works 40 hours a week, can range in the high hundreds to thousands of dollars per employee (depending on salary), with the loss compounding for each additional overweight employee.

That’s just absenteeism. When the costs of presenteeism are added in, the amount of productive hours and money lost due to obesity becomes hard to ignore.

Research conducted by Finkelstein et al. estimates that the total costs among full-time employees that are attributable to obesity total some $73.1 billion.  When broken down by type of cost – medical, absenteeism, and presenteeism – the results are as follows:

For women, costs related to presenteeism are estimated to be $15 billion – 38% of the total costs related to poor health.  For men the costs related to presenteeism are $15 billion as well, but for this group, presenteeism is the greatest source of financial loss, more than direct medical costs and losses due to sick leave.  The authors concluded that:

“…presenteeism is the single largest driver of the costs of poor health among full-time employees, regardless of BMI. Moreover, with the exception of overweight men [BMI: 25-29.9], medical expenditures, absenteeism, and presenteeism increase with increasing BMI.”

The “Threshold Effect”

These findings are confirmed in a second study published in the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This study looked at employees in the manufacturing industry in Kentucky and found that annual loss per worker due to obesity was $506 in presenteeism and $433 in absenteeism.

More interestingly, the paper’s authors noted something they uncovered that they termed a “threshold effect.”

Among overweight (25-29.9) and mildly obese employees (BMI 30-34.9), the authors did not observe any significant costs related to productivity loss.  However, these costs began and steadily increased once BMI ranges extended into moderately or extremely obese ranges (BMI: 35+).  And they scale rapidly with the size of the company.

In the study, of the employees in the companies under review, 12.9% were categorized as obese.  Although obesity rates vary from company to company, using this figure as a model, a company of 100 employees can expect a loss of $6,376 due to productivity losses related to presenteeism caused by complications related to obesity.  And remember, this money is excluding the direct costs and absentee costs.

The authors of this study conclude:

“…health effects on productivity are concentrated among the most obese workers with BMIs of 35.0 or  greater, suggesting that employers should consider workplace interventions targeting obesity.  Even modest weight loss could result in hundreds of dollars of improved productivity costs per worker per year.”

Shifting Perspectives on Corporate Wellness

Given the massive financial impact presenteeism can have on bottom lines and the link between obesity and presenteeism, corporate wellness programs can and must be seen in a new light when thinking about ROI.

Although the conclusions drawn by the RAND study about the ROI of corporate wellness programs aren’t necessarily incorrect, they are a bit narrow-minded in that they only take into account measurable, direct returns on dollars invested without considering the costs in productivity loss related to both absenteeism and presenteeism.

One significant oversight in the RAND study is the classification of the factors that lead to developing obesity, such as poor eating habits and lack of exercise as being under the umbrella of “lifestyle management programs,” – the programs that yielded only 50 cents per dollar invested. These were the programs RAND advised against investing in.

But as research has shown, the link between obesity and presenteeism represents a huge potential drain in resources.  A well-run corporate wellness program can yield a huge ROI if it can increase productivity in its employees, and according to the CDC, maintaining a healthy workforce lowers both direct and indirect costs, including the ones related to absenteeism and presenteeism.

These indirect costs aren’t to be dismissed, and fortunately, they are preventable. In Health and Productivity as a Business Strategy, Loeppke et al. (2009) demonstrated that while there is an additional $2.30 in productivity losses for every dollar spent on employees’ medical and drug costs, there are at least $2-4 absorbed in health costs related to productivity losses caused by absentee/presenteeism for every dollar invested in their health.

Bottom Line

If you want to get the most out of your employees and avoid losing money, you need to keep them healthy and productive.  In order to keep them productive, you need to offer and encourage your employees to use resources to take care of their bodies and improve their health.

But even beyond your bottom line: offering these types of resources demonstrate that you care about your employees as people and not just as people who work for you.  Most people like being productive, and everyone likes being healthy.

Isn’t it time to rethink how you manage your wellness program?


How To Increase Sales at Your Nutrition Store with Body Composition

By Diet

Here’s a little story about growing a business in the good old days:

Once upon a time, if a customer wanted to buy a product, they went to a store near them that carried the product and bought it.  The customer was happy: they got what they needed; the store was happy: they made a sale. The happy customer returned again, the store made more sales, the business grew, and everyone was happy.

A warm and fuzzy fiction, isn’t it?  Sadly, in the ultra-competitive, marketplace of the 21st century, that’s all this story amounts to.

That’s because in the 21st century, online shopping, driven by the explosive growth of smartphone and app technology, has made shopping from home incredibly easy. Online shopping, or e-commerce, affects every type of industry and retailer across the board. That includes the nutrition industry.

At first glance, the nutrition/health store industry seems stable: according to market research conducted by IBIS World, the annual growth rate for physical, brick-and-mortar health stores in the US grew by 3.4% from 2010-2015.

However, in the same period, online sales for the same products grew too – and not just a little.  According to IBIS World, online vitamin and supplement sales grew by 12.3%more than triple the growth of physical stores. With bigtime vendors such as Amazon,, and weighing in on the market, it’s hard to be surprised. That marginal growth isn’t going to last forever, especially in a world where Amazon is promising aerial drone deliveries direct to your doorstop in 30 minutes or less.

Why get in the car when you can get exactly what you want from your couch, anytime you want, delivered via air in less time than it takes to drive to your store, shop, and drive back?

Simple: because at your store, you can offer something that no faceless website or mechanical drone can ever hope to provide.

Superior customer service from a real person who is an expert on nutrition, offering personalized counseling, advice, and service that your customers will never be able to get online.

Even with the internet, your customers still crave that face-to-face interaction and expertise, if you can provide it. A study by NICE Enterprise Group recently demonstrated that in terms of customer satisfaction, people strongly favored either speaking to a real person at their location (44%) or on the phone (60%) over many digital channels, including website (39%), social media (1%), smartphone apps (6%), and email (9%).

Still, even if you are the most well-respected expert on nutrition in your local community, you can’t provide superior customer service without something driving traffic through your door.

You still need a reason to get people off their couches to come talk to you.  What can be that traffic driver?

Offer body composition analysis tests at your nutrition store.

The Key to Customer Service

What is body composition analysis?  What does that have anything to do with customer service?

Body composition analysis is a method of determining what makes up your weight: muscle, fat, bone, and water.  And whether your customers realize it or not, they’re already coming to your store to optimize their body composition. Most of them want to change their body composition by gaining muscle or losing fat (and probably both). Now, by looking at their body composition results, you can guide them to exactly the right product on your shelf to help them reach their goals quicker.

What this amounts to is this: you’re providing each customer personalized 1:1 attention and offering them solutions so that they can meet their individualized goals.

That’s superior customer service.

How can you test for body composition?  Although there are many ways to test body composition, there is only one practical method for in-store testing that’s accurate, reliable, and gives you enough information to make the right recommendations. That’s body composition testing using bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) technology.

For nutrition stores, it’s the ideal choice. These devices are small and can be easily set up in a retail store.  They also perform tests automatically, typically under a minute or less.  Best of all, they don’t require any pinching or poking of your customer, like what happens when you use skinfold calipers.  No one is going to come to your store to get pinched and poked.

What information do you get from a typical BIA body composition test?

Nearly all BIA devices will determine body fat percentage.  Using this number and multiplying it with a customer’s body weight will give you their Fat Mass.  You can subtract that number from their body weight, and what remains is their Lean Body Mass (which includes, but isn’t the same as, muscle. More on that here)

If you’re an InBody customer, you will have access to additional information such Skeletal Muscle Mass (what most people refer to as just “muscle”) with a graph showing if the amount is under, over, or within the normal range for that person’s body.

You and your customer probably don’t need a body composition test to determine if they are overweight.  Your customers probably know this already, and this can be identified on the graph if the bar for Weight extends into the range under the “up” arrow.

What your customers may not know, however, is if they are underweight.  This can also be identified on the graph by checking if the bar ends in the range under the “down” arrow.

You can also provide extra value to your clients by showing them where their Lean Body Mass is located and how developed they are from both an upper/lower body and right/left body perspective.

InBody clients can also reveal their a customer’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which describes how many calories your customers need to keep their bodies operating at their full potential.

With BMR, you can quickly determine how many calories your customer needs to gain/lose weight based on their activity level.  With that information, you can start crafting customized diet plans based on your customer’s unique body composition and recommend the exact products. If you’re interested in that, you can read this complete guide to using BMR to creating diet plans.

Putting It Into Practice

Here are a couple situations where you can provide excellent customer service, build lasting relationships with your customers, and help your business grow.

  • The First-Time Customer

Scenario: A first-time customer comes into your store.  They come into your nutrition store with the initial thought of buying whey protein because they “want to build muscle and get toned.”

Action: After hearing what your new customer’s goals are, you tell them that you’ve got a pretty good idea of what products might work for them, but in order to be sure, you offer them a free body composition test, just as a thank you for walking in.  You can mention to them that you usually charge a fee for this service, but for first-timers, you give it to them on the house thanking them for considering your store.

You test them, and you see their results look like this:

From this graph, you notice that this customer is underdeveloped in Weight, Skeletal Muscle, and Body Fat. You can make the recommendation that because this person’s Fat Mass is already low, they just need to focus on gaining weight and muscle.  You can recommend that in addition to whey protein, that they also get a weight-gaining product to increase their calorie intake to ensure they have the nutrients to perform at the gym.

Results: A first-time customer walked into your store thinking that they were only coming in for whey protein, and walks out with a body composition test, whey protein, and weight gainer.  Not only that, they walked out feeling like they made the right choice because you took the time to get to know them and offered them exactly what they needed to hit their goals.

They walk away happy because they feel like they just unexpectedly got great customer service, and you’re happy because you just potentially doubled your sale from what you would have sold before, AND you ensured that that customer will be a repeat customer.

  • The Weekly Weight Challenge

Scenario: In order to build traffic to your store, you create and advertise a fat loss challenge with weekly weigh-ins to track progress. The challenge can go for as long as you like, and the winner gets a gift card to your store.

Action: You advertise to your customers that you’re going to be holding a fat loss challenge: whoever can lose the most pounds of fat in 8 weeks wins a big gift prize to your store.  You charge a small entry fee for each participant that will cover a free body composition analysis – one a week, at each weigh-in – during the competition.

Every time one of your customers comes in for a weekly weigh-in, you can comment on their progress and offer recommendations that might help them win the contest.

Let’s say one of your customers come in on the second week of the competition, and their body composition results look like this:

Imagine this person lost half a pound of fat over 2 weeks. You tell them you think they can do better if they make a couple changes in their diet.  You recommend that they introduce a fat-burning supplement to help them stay focused and increase their metabolism.  6 weeks later, that person you helped wins the contest.

Results: By holding a fat loss contest and charging a small fee to participate, you’re guaranteeing traffic coming into your shop every week.  They’ll want that free body composition test, and they’ll want to know if they’re on the track path to win.

Every time someone from your contest comes in, you’re creating another opportunity to offer exceptional customer service by analyzing their results.  When you analyze their results and make recommendations, you’re creating new opportunities to potentially sell more products.

But selling products will just be an extra bonus. What you’re gaining is something even more valuable – a reputation of expertise and customer service.  Your customers have friends, and they talk to them.  By offering fun, exciting, and educational that they can only get from your store, you’re creating more traffic for yourself, increasing your revenue and growing your business.

Get Your Name Out There By You Getting Out There

If you really want to drive traffic and growth for your nutrition store, get out from behind the counter and go out to where your customers are using  your products – their gym.  If you’ve got a body composition analyzer, you can use it as a bridge to get you connected with business owners in your local area.  Here’s how.

From one of your customers, find out if you can get introduced to the person who runs their gym.  When you meet with a local gym owner, you can propose a mutual cross-promotion arrangement where both of you can improve the image of your respective businesses. It might go something like this.

You bring your body composition analyzer to a gym on a set day.  The gym owner can advertise your arrival to their members prior to your coming on that set day.  What you’re there to do is test as many people as possible for a fee.  Create a profit-sharing plan with the gym owner at whatever arrangement works best for the both of you.

Another arrangement could be that you bring samples of your products and promotional material for your shop that you can hand out when you give the body composition tests.  Don’t sell your products at the gym unless that’s been agreed to by the gym owner.

Why This Benefits The Gym Owner: Your partner gym owner gets to use a body composition tool and provide it to his members at absolutely no charge.  In fact, all he has to do is say yes, and he makes money.

On top of all that, now it’s the gym owner that’s providing excellent customer service because of a service you provide.  Your partner gets to build rapport with his customers, ensuring that he retains his members continue paying their memberships, building his reputation in the community.  All of that costs him nothing, and what remains is more money for him and a new, profitable partnership with you.

Why This Benefits The Gym Members: The gym members get to have their body composition analyzed and interpreted.  If you decide to give away free samples, then they’re getting free stuff too.

Why This Benefits You: You get to expose your services to a whole new group of potential customers, and you get to do it in the place where they are most receptive to hearing about health supplements – their gym.  You get your name out in the community, and you can get people interested in coming to your store to buy your products.  You’ll be driving traffic to your store.

You also get to benefit from what can be a valuable and profitable partnership with a local gym owner.  Because your businesses complement each other, there are many creative ways you can cross-promote your two businesses to the benefit of both.

One advantage of this strategy is that it is scalable.  You can build more partnerships with more gym owners.  For example, if you work to build relationships with 4 gym owners and do body composition testing once a month at each, now you’ve got a place to test people and promote your business outside of your store once a week.

Exceed Expectations Always

As a nutrition store owner, you provide vitamins, supplements, and wellness products to the community.

The baseline expectation of your customers will be that you have what they want in stock, whenever they come into your store.

But if the only service you provide is just being a place where people can buy products, slowly but surely, you are going to lose traffic and profit to the internet.  Once one of your customers experiences how easy it is to order online, they’ll start ordering online all the time. Why wouldn’t they?

Wouldn’t you?

If you want to keep your customers and grow your business beyond what you thought was possible, you need to provide something that the internet will never be able to do: the personal touch of human interaction. You need to exceed the expectations your customers have of you.  You need to offer superior customer service, and with a little effort, you can do it. Here’s how:

  • Be the expert

As a nutrition store owner, you know your products inside and out.  Every product is in your store for a reason, and if someone tells you what their goals are, you know exactly which one to recommend.

But today’s customers are smart. They know how to research online, and they will probably come into your store thinking they know what they want already.

Be the expert. Use their individual body composition results to guide your recommendations.  Not only are you creating opportunities for yourself to upsell and move more products, but you’re also providing personalized service with someone’s actual body composition results.  No website can do that.

  • Engage with your customers

Time is valuable. Your customers are busy people with busy lives, and like anyone else, have to decide when and how to use their time.

Make your customers want to spend a small amount of their valuable time at your store.  To do that, you have to give them a reason to, and not just to buy more products when they run out.

Host events at your store like fat loss challenges.  Get them interested in coming back.  Offer them a prize to keep them engaged.  The more you get people interested in coming through your store, the more opportunities you have to prove your value and sell.

  • Reach out to your community

Whether you realize it or not, you are part of a greater network of like minded businesses  that can compliment each other. You just need to tap into it.

Get involved with businesses in your local community, and use your body composition analyzer as the vehicle that opens the door to the relationship.  You have a valuable resource – share it.  Every person you test becomes a potential customer of yours.

By being out in the community, you will begin to build a reputation for yourself as the go-to person for supplements and health information.  You will begin to be much more than simply a storefront and a place where people pick up their protein powder once a month.

You can become the person that people come to for the information and products that impact their lives.  You can offer advice, plans, and products that make people healthier and happier.  That’s superior customer service.

And that, no matter how technology improves over time, is something people will always want.


Increasing Gym Member Retention and Revenue with Body Composition

By Body Composition

All the doom-and-gloom reports about global obesity may be having one positive outcome: more Americans are signing up for gyms every single year.  According to IHRSA, the number of memberships at health clubs of all types has increased by 31% to 54.1 million memberships from 2005 to 2014.

To account for this rise in demand, the number of registered health clubs has risen by 28.4% in the same period, contributing to what has become a $24.2 billion-dollar industry.

This should tell you two things:

  1. The industry is healthy and growing, with more people demanding quality gyms and health clubs today than ever before.
  2. The fitness space is becoming ever more crowded and competitive, meaning that attracting new members and membership retention has never been more critical for fitness centers than it is today.

In this crowded space, what can you do to remain competitive?

Sure, you can – and probably should –  hire personal trainers to help your members reach their goals.  You can also develop new programming and classes to diversify your clientele and reach out to new types of members.  Both of these are tried-and-true methods that have been proven to work in gyms all over the world.

But what’s something else you can offer that can increase member engagement and retention, while at the same time improve your training programs, improve your customer service, and make training more personal?  

Body composition analysis.

With body composition analysis, you will be able to tell your members exactly what all their hard work in your gym, working with your trainers, has resulted in: the pounds of muscle gained and/or fat lost– whatever their individual goals are.

Here are ways you can retain your members and increase revenue by implementing body composition analysis in every stage of the member cycle: attracting them, keeping them engaged, and retaining them over the long term.

#1 Improve Training/Coaching Quality

Nearly every gym, large and small, has personal trainers on staff if they can afford them.  It’s pretty much expected to have trainers if you plan to run a successful gym in a competitive marketplace. Small wonder that personal training is now a $10 billion-dollar industry.

Getting the right trainers with experience is one important hurdle, but giving them the resources they need to do their job is just as important.  That’s where body composition analysis can improve the quality of your trainers and coaches.

With a member’s body composition results in hand, you can give your trainers the data they need to design the workouts to meet a member’s goals, and then give them the proof to back it up later on.  This is especially important when two very different members come to you with a similar goal.  Do you treat them the same because they have the same goal?

For example, consider the ever-popular goal that goes something like: “I don’t really want to get big but just get toned.”

Any personal trainer worth their salt should be able to hear this and understand it as “I need some degree of muscle development coupled with some degree of fat loss.”  But how much of each does the new signup need?  Consider the body composition profiles of these two people and imagine both of them coming into the gym and saying they “want to just get toned.”

“C Shape”: Ends of Bars form a C

“I Shape”: Ends of Bars are aligned in an I

The first person’s body composition (C shape) is a pretty common example of someone who has not been exercising much – underdeveloped Skeletal Muscle Mass combined with excessive Fat Mass.

For this person to become “toned,” it would be wise to set them on a path that leads towards both muscle development and fat reduction.  Depending on this person’s goals, a trainer might advise them to focus on muscle development first through resistance/strength training, or the trainer could target Fat Mass reduction through some combination of cardiovascular/resistance exercise and dieting.

Unlike the first person, the second person (I shape) has reasonably developed Skeletal Muscle Mass, and although their Fat Mass bar extends beyond 100 – indicating that this person has more fat than the average person for their height – it isn’t excessive.

Based on this person’s body composition, the training plan you or your trainer creates for your member won’t be the same as the first person’s.  Because the Skeletal Muscle Mass is reasonably developed and the goal is to be toned, this could be achieved by focusing primarily on reducing Fat Mass while maintaining Skeletal Muscle Mass as a secondary goal.

By prescribing and designing workouts that match the current body composition of your member, they will be able to achieve their desired results faster.

Having members achieve their goals at your gym faster than they could elsewhere benefits you immensely in the following ways:

  • It creates huge trust between you and your member, ensuring that this member stays with you
  • It validates your expertise as a fitness instructor, which will cause your reputation to grow
  • It increases the chances that your members recommend you to their friends, bringing in new members and new revenue.

#2 Improve Your Initial Consultation with a New Member

Image Credit:

Everyone who enters through your doors for the first time does so because they want to make changes in their body.  If they didn’t, they would still be on the couch, deservedly relaxing from a busy day full of responsibilities and stresses.  So, the mere fact that they’re in your facility, ready to use what energy they have left on fitness, speaks volumes about their intent.  Their motivation at that moment in time is at one of the highest points it will ever be at any point, except for when they start meeting their goals.  It’s time to capitalize.

As motivated as people might be about their fitness in the beginning, their ability to articulate what their goals are can vary drastically.  You might get everything from the vague “I want to lose weight” to “I need to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks because I’m  the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding” and everything in between.  How can you get them on the right path?

By analyzing their body composition using a reliable, scientifically validated body composition analyzer such as those developed by InBody, you and your new member can view the results together, while you guide them to a plan that will help them reach their goals, whatever those might be.

In doing this, you’ll be laying the foundations for a strong personal relationship between yourself and your new member by giving them individualized attention on their particular goals.  That personal relationship you start right at the outset builds the foundation of trust and loyalty, which is the rock member retention is built on.

#3 Advertise Free Trials to Bring in New Members, Then Show Their Progress on Paper

Free trials are a great way to get more people into your gym and/or get them trying out your personal training program.  It’s no risk to the trial member, and it gives you a chance to prove the value of your services.  You can set the length of your free trial for any range of time that works for you, but as an example, let’s assume that you set a 30-day trial period.

On the first day the trial member comes to work out, analyze their body composition and throw in a complimentary breakdown of their results to help them understand their current state.  For many people, this may be the first time they have ever had a body composition analysis test performed before.  This alone can make a huge, positive impression on a trial member, as was the experience of North Point Fitness’ General Manager, Joe Rummell:

“What I didn’t know was whether [showing clients their results] was going to be a negative thing or not. But it wasn’t. It ended up being an extremely positive experience ultimately for the client.

They would literally sit there and then say nothing because it’s hardly ever a good number when they first start…and then they would say something like ‘Alright, I guess I need to do something about this now.’”

Once you make that positive impression, you can let the client use your facility for 30 days, or however long you set your trial for.

On day 30, meet with – or have one of your trainers meet with – your trial member once more.  Give them a second body composition analysis, and show them what they were able to accomplish at your gym in one month.

The beauty of this strategy is that it doesn’t necessarily matter if they made improvements or not in those 30 days!  That’s because:

  • For the first time, your trial member has seen changes in their body composition over time as a result of their efforts.  They know if what they are doing is working or if they need help from a trainer
  • You showed that you have a personal stake in their success.

By showing a personal interest in their success and giving them the information they need to track their results, chances are very high they sign up as full members.

Seeing results can be extremely empowering for a gym goer – even if the results aren’t what they hoped would be.  Even if they don’t work with one of your trainers, they can still check their efforts every month with a body composition analysis at your facility.  That’s member retention.

Add in the personal touch by helping them understand their results, and now you’re creating outstanding customer service, which 86% of consumers say they will pay up to 25% more for, which builds your reputation, bring in new members, and increase your revenue.

#4 Create Fat Loss/Muscle Gain Challenges Instead of Weight Loss Challenges

Challenges and contests are a great strategy for keeping current members engaged and focused on achieving their goals.  If you have members that are already working on losing weight and you offer them an opportunity to win a prize for doing the thing they are already doing, that’s a great way for your gym to motivate them even more!  However, go the extra mile and do one better than the weight loss challenge the other guy next door is doing.

Body composition analysis allows you to go a step further from tracking simple weight loss by showing what is actually being lost: fat, muscle, or water.  The problems with measuring scale weight are numerous.  Your members want to see changes that actually matter to them – so instead of doing weight loss challenges, create challenges around losing fat or gaining muscle.  You can set any time limit you like and issue prizes to the winner(s).

The best competitions are fair ones, and the best judges are impartial.  That’s why advanced body composition analyzers are the ideal tool to run and score these competitions instead of other body composition tools, such as skinfold calipers.

Although it is possible to perform caliper tests accurately if you follow every precautionary step, perfect technique is key.  Because these tools are handled by people, human error will unfortunately influence caliper tests, especially if a different person performs the test from the one who performed the first test.  This is one of the reasons calipers often fail to give accurate body fat results.

Running contests like these that are fair, with results judged by an impartial machine outside of human error, will make your contests that much more engaging and fun for your members.  This will encourage participation for future contests, which you can run as often as you’d like.

Contests like these keep your members engaged, which encourages them to continue coming.  Not only that, it encourages friendly competition between your members, which makes them even more engaged.

What’s more: making your members increasingly engaged with your facility has definite benefits – a recent market study by Capgemini Consulting indicated that “fully engaged” customers with strong attachment to a company or organization actually deliver a 23% premium over an average customer.

#5 Create New Programming and Guide People to the Best Programs Based on their Fitness

If you want to increase revenue, you need to increase your member base.  A great way to tap into groups of new members is to offer a variety of classes and programs for your members to get involved with.

If you only have a weight room and a couple treadmills, you’ll only attract a certain type of member.  But if you add in something that only requires an instructor – like yoga – you open yourself up to bringing in a whole new subset of potential members.  A class that requires new equipment, like spinning classes, may involve more of an initial investment but can attract a large following due to its accessibility.

Here’s the kicker: not all types of programming are perfect for everyone because everyone has different goals. For example:

  • Spinning classes: great for fat loss and sustaining muscle (primarily leg muscle), but not good for upper body development or strength building

This type of class might be ideal for someone with an I-shaped body composition.

Someone with this type of body composition could be a candidate for a class that focused on fat reduction if their goal is “to become toned.”  Because this person already has developed Skeletal Muscle Mass, guiding this person to a plan that targets fat reduction may be ideal for them.

  • Barbell strength classes: great for building overall muscle strength and tone, but will not always result in rapid fat loss and can be offputting for certain people.

This type of class can benefit someone with a C-shaped body composition.

Because this person has more Fat Mass than Skeletal Muscle Mass, one option for guiding this person to a fitter body is to focus on resistance/strength training.  Resistance training, if combined with proper nutrition, can result in both muscle gain and fat reduction.

Anyone can offer classes, but by using a member’s body composition results to place them in the right class, you’re ensuring that they reach their goals faster while at the same time taking a personal interest in their fitness.  This allows you to build rapport with your members, and once they see the results you promised them, they will become advocates for your gym.

Some people will join a class and find that it was exactly what they wanted.  Others will want to change classes from time to time as their needs and interests change.  The more options you provide at your gym, the greater chance you retain your members over the long term and reduce the risk that they quit out of boredom.

At every stage of their journey, you can offer body composition testing to assess the effect a particular class has had on their goals, and if necessary, guide them to a new option that might be better for them.

#6: Sell Body Composition Analysis + Consultation Packages

With a results sheet that has as much information as the InBody results sheet, it can be difficult for one of your members to fully understand what their results say about their fitness.  This is an excellent opportunity to sell your expertise in a consultation package and build another revenue stream for your gym.

DO NOT just sell the body composition analysis test without the consultation afterwards.  You want to prove the value of your services and show off what you can offer one of your members.  Putting a price on something inherently increases its value in the eyes of the consumer. If you can deliver a solid product – your consultation with the body composition results – after purchase, you will build customer loyalty, which for you translates into member retention.

There are so many ways you can build the value and rapport with your member during that consultation: you can go over their fitness plan over the past month and discuss what worked and what didn’t; you can strategize a new fitness plan if goals are being met and/or are changing; you can guide your member to another service you offer (such as programming/classes).

But most importantly, in that consultation, your member will be able to see their body composition change over time.  This will ensure that they keep coming back for tests month after month.  That means every month, you’ll have the opportunity to touch base with your members and keep developing that ever-important personal relationship by providing superior customer service. Not only that, you’ll have the opportunity to sell and provide other services you may have during that consultation, which can increase your other revenue streams.

#7: Create A Community That Understands and Values Body Composition

Community-building is one of the most effective strategies any gym can follow to increase member retention.  By creating an atmosphere where your members can meet each other and develop friendships, you’re giving them a strong reason to go back to your gym: to meet their friends.

You can be as creative as you want to be with getting your members together to meet and socialize.  You can offer a free yoga class in a local park on a weekend and serve healthy snacks at the end of the class.  You could sponsor a barbecue at your gym on a holiday that features healthy, high-protein foods that people can learn to prepare for themselves to meet their macros.  The possibilities are almost endless.

If you’re encouraging people to understand their fitness with body composition, you open yourself up to a whole new range of community-building ideas that can support member retention and build your reputation in your local area.  For example:

  • Create a space for people to post their results in public.  When people start seeing the results they’ve worked so hard for, some of them will want to show off.  Let them. Create a space somewhere in your facility where people can post their result sheets.  You can even turn it into a friendly competition between your members by creating a leaderboard and showcase one person a month who made the most impressive changes.
  • Host a free class on body composition analysis to help people understand why it’s important to increase lean mass and reduce fat mass.  Offer a free body composition analysis at the end of the class for people to take home. You can offer snacks at the end to encourage people to stay, meet each other, and swap training stories.

#8: Be On the Cutting Edge of Health and Fitness

There’s nothing less attractive to a member than a facility that has old equipment from 20 years ago with old posters that look like they’re holdovers from the 1980s.  This atmosphere makes your gym seem less valuable, especially when they can go down the street and sign up with a gym that keeps current equipment and the latest tools on hand.

Body composition analysis is one of the coming things in health and fitness in the 21st century.  The notion that Body Mass Index (BMI) is an accurate gauge to measure an individual’s health is giving way to the realization that body composition is a much more reliable indicator of weight and health. Groups like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have been saying this for years.

More and more, however, the general public is beginning to take notice.  Take for example a feature on this topic in the New York Times during their 2015 “Summer of Science”.  This feature was so popular that the newspaper was compelled to write a second article a month later titled “How Often Is B.M.I. Misleading?” because they “were struck by the massive response to [their] post on how it’s possible for individuals to have the same BMI but very different bodies.”

Bottom line: your members are hearing about body composition analysis and if you’re able to provide that service to them, now you’re:

  • offering superior customer service
  • increasing the effectiveness of your trainers,
  • opening up new opportunities to build personal relationships, trust, and loyalty to retain your members
  • building your reputation in your community to attract new members

These are just some ways that you can use body composition analysis to retain members and increase your revenue.  It all comes down to the ability to connect with your members and keep them loyal because you care about their success and offer the best services and solutions for them to meet their goals.  What other applications can you come up with?

A Guide to Buying Your First BIA Device


People are finally taking notice: body composition is useful for measuring health; BMI is not.  Even the New York Times is publishing stories about the pitfalls and inaccurate uses of BMI.  The jury is in: if you want to be on the cutting edge of health and fitness, you need to be involved with body composition analysis. To do that, you need a device that measures body composition, and some of the most popular body composition tools are devices that use bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).

BIA devices are becoming one of the most popular and convenient ways to measure body fat percentage and body composition because of their speed, convenience, and accuracy. There is no shortage of them to buy, and costs range greatly.  Some are under $50, while others range in the tens of thousands.

Why?  What’s the difference between them?

Fundamentally, all BIA devices operate using the same method: a small, safe, electric current is sent through a person’s body.  Along the way, it encounters resistance due to the variation in water content in different parts of your body – like in fat and muscle – and that resistance is measured.  This information is then analyzed and translated into useful outputs, such as body fat percentage and lean body mass.

So if every device uses the same method, why the range in price? What are some things to consider when looking for a BIA device, especially those that influence the cost? Here, we’ll break down the most important things to look into when buying a BIA device to measure body composition.

Check the frequencies

All BIA devices use at least one electric current set at a specific frequency to measure body composition.  In the past, this frequency was traditionally set at 50 kHz.  Some devices today continue to use this single frequency.

However, beginning the early 1990s, research began to accumulate suggesting that single frequency devices set at 50 kHz did not accurately predict changes in total body water, and that the use of multiple frequencies – multiple currents set at a different frequencies – was a superior method in terms of accuracy.  So, the first thing you will want to check when looking at BIA devices whether it is a single or multifrequency device because generally speaking, devices that use multiple frequencies are found to be more accurate.

Why are multifrequency devices typically more accurate?  The answer lies with how BIA devices measure that resistance – more accurately termed “impedance” – when the current travels through the body.

As the current travels, the water in your body will naturally resist the flow of the current as it travels.  This is called resistance.  When the current encounters a cell, the cell wall will cause a “delay” as the current builds up enough energy to pass through the cell wall.  This brief “time delay” is referred to as reactance.  Impedance is a combination of these two values.

How does this apply to frequencies? Lower frequencies don’t have enough energy to pass through cell walls easily, so they often follow an easier path by traveling around cells. This means lower frequencies are better suited for measuring extracellular water.  Conversely, higher frequencies are better suited to penetrating cell walls and can measure both intracellular and extracellular water. The end result is that those frequencies can measure all of your body water and provide you with an accurate result for your lean body mass.

Ideally, you will want a device that uses at least two frequencies – one on the lower end and the other on the higher end. The more frequencies you have, the better the device is able to gather the information required to accurately measure your total body water, and from there, your body composition.

See what outputs it provides

BIA devices range widely in capabilities and the outputs they are able to produce.  Some devices only measure your body fat percentage, while others can give much more information.  Typically, the better quality the BIA device, the more comprehensive outputs you will receive.

Every BIA device on the market will at least give body fat percentage.  Using body fat percentage as an indicator of your overall health and weight is a very useful metric and a much better tool than simply monitoring your scale weight.

However, just as relying solely on scale weight isn’t advisable, neither is relying solely on body fat percentage.  This is because body fat percentages can fluctuate for many reasons, not all of these changes are related to weight gain or loss.

Here are a few other BIA outputs to look for and some reasons why you would want to track these in addition to body fat:

  • Skeletal Muscle Mass: Skeletal Muscle Mass is the muscle that you can grow and develop through exercise and proper nutrition.  It also has a significant influence on change in Lean Body Mass.  However, Lean Body Mass can also be influenced by other factors such as body water. If you are tracking Skeletal Muscle Mass, you’ll be able to cross reference your muscle gains against your Lean Body Mass to ensure that those gains are due to muscle, not water.
  • Body Water Analysis: Since BIA devices all measure total body water via impedance, if your device can give you this information, you’ll know how much total body water you have.  If your device can further break this down into intracellular and extracellular water components, you’ll be able to understand your body water levels are properly balanced.  With that information, you’ll know if you have any unusual swelling due to inflammation, injury, etc.
  • Phase Angle: Phase Angle is a measurement of the relationship between reactance, resistance, and impedance.  It’s able to give you an idea of the integrity of your cell walls, which gives an indication of their ability to retain water.  This has an impact on your overall health.  By tracking Phase Angle, you’ll be able to get an idea about the health of your individual cells and how much water is inside them.

Find out what information it needs (important)

All BIA devices are going to require your weight at the very minimum.  For this reason, many BIA devices take the form of bathroom scales.  These devices measure your weight and calculate your body composition results using your weight at the time of testing.

However, not all BIA devices are scales.  BIA technology is being used in handheld devices for convenience, as well as devices that use adhesive electrodes and require a person to lie down while testing.  These types of devices will require a user to enter in their weight manually.  However, unless you weigh yourself right before testing, this information would have to be estimated based on your memory, which could cause inaccurate results.

Another fairly common user input requirement is age or gender.  However, these requirements aren’t to personalize your results; they’re to tell the device which equations to use to calculate your results.  In the BIA industry, these equations are known as empirically derived prediction variables – also sometimes referred to as “empirical estimations.”

For example, the average person tends to gain body fat mass as they age.  This trend has been observed over time, and equations have been developed to account for this fat gain.  By entering in your age, the BIA device will compare the raw data it gets from you and adjust it based on the data it has for your age.

BIA devices often use empirical estimations to improve the accuracy of their results.  They work on the basis of adjusting the raw results for an individual of your age and gender.  Age and gender are common to nearly all BIA devices.

Height is also a common requirement for many BIA devices. It’s an unbiased physical attribute, just like weight.  Unlike age and gender, however, height is necessary not because adjustments need to be made to results, but instead to give the BIA device a frame to understand the impedance results.

Impedance increases as height increases because the current has to physically travel further and will encounter more resistance.  However, high impedance is also associated with a greater proportion of fat mass to lean body mass.  With accurate height measurements, the BIA device will understand how to interpret the impedance values correctly, which is why nearly all BIA devices require height measurements.

Understand what’s measured and what’s not

The design of many BIA devices are such that impedance is measured for a certain section of the body, and the results of that section are used to estimate the remaining sections of the body.  Before choosing a BIA device, you should know what exactly your device is measuring and what it is estimating.

Home scales that use BIA technology to determine body composition operate by sending currents up one leg and down the other.  Impedance is only actually measured for the legs.  In order to calculate the upper body, the device will make assumptions about the composition of your body based on the composition of your legs (and if using age and gender data, adjusting for those as well).

Handheld BIA devices only measure impedance in the arms and upper body.  Similar to how the legs are measured, these types of BIA devices will estimate the lower half of the body with the results from the upper body.

Other devices that use the “Whole Body” impedance use a method that is somewhat misleading.  Unlike scales and handheld devices, the current does travel through the entire body in the sense that it travels from through both the upper and lower body.  However, “Whole Body” impedance devices do not actually directly measure the entire body.  Typically, “Whole Body” impedance devices get most of their measurement data from the arm and leg that the electrodes are placed on.  Just like handhelds and scales, these devices must estimate results for the rest of the body.

Finally, there are devices that use Direct Segmental Multifrequency-BIA technology (DSM-BIA).  These devices programmed in such a way that they analyze your body in five distinct sections – the two arms, the two legs, and the torso.

Each of these sections is analyzed independently, and from these, a measurement for the entire body is produced.  This is similar to how DEXA machines operate, and when compared against DEXA results, DSM-BIA technology was found to be accurate.  In comparison to other BIA methods, DSM-BIA offers results that are based on direct measurements, without using estimations to compensate for the areas that were not directly measured.


There are a lot of things to consider when looking for a BIA device.  When you’re assessing which device to go with, it will help you to remember the following:

  • Accuracy generally will increase with multi-frequency devices.  You’ll want at least two frequencies for reliable measurements.
  • You can do more with more results. Changes in body fat percentages can be tricky to explain if the only outputs you have are Fat and Fat Free Mass.
  • Check what information the device needs from you in order to test.  If it requires your age and/or gender, it may be giving you estimations based on the results of the general population.
  • Understand what the device is actually measuring and what it is estimating.  If accuracy is important to you, you’ll want as much of the body measured as possible.


How to Start Changing Your Body Composition, Today

By Body Composition

If you’re reading this, then somewhere in your mind you’ve already made the decision to change your life for the better. That’s great!  Making the decision to improve your life in a healthy and positive way is half the battle.

Many people start off with a simple weight loss goal like: “I want to lose 10 pounds.”  That’s a great goal, but unfortunately, it’s a little too vague.  10 pounds…of what? Fat?  If yes, how will you know when you’ve hit that goal?  By standing on a scale?  Even if you see your weight decrease by 10 pounds, how can you be sure that 10 pounds is all fat?  The truth is: you can’t.

Instead of focusing on trying to change your weight, focus on changing your body composition.  This is a different way of thinking about getting fit or losing weight, but it’s a much better way.  It will free you from worrying about your weight on the scale, make your clothes fit better, and have you looking fitter faster than you thought possible.

To change your body composition, you won’t have one goal (like “lose weight” or “gain muscle”). You will have two:

  • Reduce Fat Mass
  • Increase Lean Body Mass

If you’re a bit unclear on terms like “Fat Mass” and “Lean Body Mass,” check out this guide to body composition to help you get up to speed.

By working towards these goals, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. You’ll be on the path to changing your body for the future, which means you’ll keep the weight off and the muscle on.

To start changing your body composition today, follow these 5 steps. You’ll be glad you did.

1. Get Your Body Fat Percentage Measured

woman testing on inbody 770This is the most important step.  You must get your body composition tested, and you must commit to judging your progress by your body composition results – not what your weight is on the scale.  This means focusing on your body fat percentage instead of your weight.  By determining your progress with useful metrics like this and lean body mass, you will be equipped with the knowledge you need to get the results you want faster and smarter.

One of the quickest and easiest methods to determine body composition and find numbers like body fat percentage is to use a device that uses BIA technology.  For many years, these devices weren’t accurate enough to give reliable body fat percentage results, but that has changed in recent years.

Depending on how you determine body fat, you may get a complete readout of your body with muscle mass, fat mass, body water, etc., or you may just get a body fat percentage.  Try to get as much information as possible using the best tests available so you can plan out your goals properly.

2. Choose a Goal to Work on First

Now that you’re working with two goals instead of one, it’s best to target them one at a time.  Although building Lean Body Mass can go hand in hand with reducing Fat Mass to a certain degree, to reach your goals faster, it’s usually best to target one goal at a time.  This is because your body responds differently to programs that target fat and to those that are designed to build lean muscle.

Here’s how to decide which goal to begin with:

  • Fat Loss First

This goal is best for people whose body compositions have two characteristics: high body fat percentage and high overall weight.  For men, this means body fat percentages in the upper 20s, 30s, and above; for women, body fat percentages in mid 30s and above.  Here’s what this can look like (male test subject):

  • Develop Lean Body Mass First

You may want to start by increasing your Lean Body Mass if you are skinny fat. You may be skinny fat if you aren’t overweight but have low amounts of Lean Body Mass and high amounts of Fat Mass.  Here’s an example of what that can look like (female test subject):

Notice how the overall weight, 132.3, does not fall in the overweight range (up arrow), but that the Skeletal Muscle Mass falls under it (down arrow) while the Body Fat Mass is over. Because someone with a body composition like this has less than the recommended levels of Skeletal Muscle Mass, it’s a good idea to start with increasing Lean Body Mass before targeting Fat Mass.

Fortunately, if you start resistance training to build muscle, this will likely bring down your Fat Mass as well.  Increasing your Lean Body Mass will increase the calorie need your body will have in order to maintain itself, and this increased caloric need can lead to your body getting energy by burning some of that extra fat.  The calories you burn in resistance training will also speed up fat loss.

Having enough Lean Body Mass is important for many reasons, including increased strength and increased function of your immune system.  Skeletal Muscle Mass composes the majority of your Lean Body Mass, so increased LBM will also improve your musculature and make you look stronger and more toned.

 3. Choose a Health Plan to Reach Your Goal

Once you’ve decided which goal to work on first, you will need to choose a plan to help you meet that goal.  Although everyone’s individual needs will be different, you can use the following to help build a general plan that you can modify later once you understand how your own body responds to diet and exercise.

  • Targeting Fat Loss

The basic principle behind fat loss is deceptively simple: according to the Center for Disease Control, it’s all about burning more calories in a day than you take in.  This is referred to as maintaining a “caloric deficit.”

You can achieve a caloric deficit in two ways: calorie restriction and exercise.  By taking in less calories than you typically do, your body will respond by finding the calories it needs from your fat mass since it no longer is getting those calories from food and drink.  Many products today are marketed as “fat-free” in order to help people trying to lose weight to make healthy choices. But as it turns out, overall calorie reduction can be more effective than just cutting fat out of your diet, particularly since fat plays a significant role in cell health and metabolism.

You can further increase your caloric deficit through exercise.  Both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise will cause your body to use more calories than you did before beginning training.  Both types of training will play different roles in meeting your goal.

Although some people might discount the importance of resistance training or weightlifting in a fat burning program, to completely ignore this type of exercise is misguided.  Resistance training is very important because it can help you maintain your existing Lean Body Mass and ensure that it doesn’t decrease along with your fat.  Increased Lean Body Mass is linked to higher overall calorie needs, and the more calories you require, the more you weight you stand to lose.

It is true, however, that cardio is important for creating a caloric deficit.  How many calories you stand to burn depend on the type of exercise, duration, and intensity and you may need to find an intersection of the three that works best for you.

  • Building Lean Body Mass

It’s helpful to understand what Lean Body Mass is so you can understand how you can go about developing it.

Lean Body Mass is your total weight minus your fat.  This includes all the weight due to your muscles, organs, and total body water.  You can’t develop your organs, but you can develop your muscles.  The best way to develop your muscles – and thereby your Lean Body Mass – is to adopt a resistance training program.

As you develop stronger muscles, the size and amount of your muscle cells will increase.  Your muscles will require more water – more intracellular water, to be specific – which will allow them to function properly.  As your muscles grow and take in more water, your Lean Body Mass will increase.

 4. Retest to Track Your Progress Towards Your Goal

After a month or two, it will be time to get your body composition tested again.  Resist the temptation to measure yourself for at least a month; it is going to take some time for your body to respond to the diet and exercise changes that you’ve made.

Since you will be measuring your body composition, you should be less interested in your overall weight and more about your body fat percentage and Lean Body Mass.  These will become the most important numbers you will use to determine the success of your program by.

After a month, you should begin to see changes in your body fat percentage regardless of if you decided to focus on fat or lean mass.  If your weight drops due to fat loss while you maintain your Lean Body Mass, your body fat percentage will drop.

Conversely, if your weight stays the same or even increases due to Lean Body Mass, this means that you’ve gained Skeletal Muscle Mass and potentially lost some fat mass too.

If you see a rise in your BMI, that is not a bad thing.  BMI is just a mathematical ratio of your height to weight, and remember, you if your thinking in terms of body composition, simple weight measurements aren’t important anymore.  What’s important is seeing drops in body fat percentage and increases in Lean Body Mass.

If you are hitting your goals after a month, great! If not, you may need to adjust the diet and exercise plans you have set for yourself.  If you aren’t seeing any drops in fat mass after a month, you may need to consider increasing your caloric deficit.  If you aren’t gaining lean mass at the rate you would like, you may need to adjust your calorie intake, your protein intake, or modify resistance training program you’ve adopted.  Then, after another month or two, retest.

5. Be Patient And Reach Your Goal!

Changing your body composition is going to take time, and it is going to take some serious effort.  However, the rewards will be great because the changes you make will last.

While you are putting in the hard work, something to avoid is weighing yourself every day.  Because you’re tracking your body composition/body fat percentage, weighing yourself on a normal scale is going to be less and less useful for you – particularly if you started changing your body composition by building Lean Body Mass.  In that situation, because you’re trying to gain weight due to muscle, you may not register any weight gain at all as the weight due to muscle gain will replace the weight due to the fat you’re losing.

You may find that you even gain overall weight, but as long as that weight is due to muscle, you’ll actually appear thinner.  This is because muscle is much denser than fat.

As you continue to see results, you may find that your goals change over time.  You may find that you have lost a significant amount of fat and would like to rebuild yourself with more muscle.  Conversely, you may become satisfied with the amount of Lean Body Mass you have and start focusing on losing fat to build a lean physique.

Whatever your goals are, the key is to make smart decisions.  By committing to assessing yourself by testing your body composition, you will have the tools and the information to make those smart decisions.  If you are gaining Lean Body Mass, you’ll know.  If you’re losing fat, you’ll know.  Body composition assessments take the guesswork out of getting healthy.  So go out, be smarter, and start building a better you today.

BIA: Once Flawed, Not Anymore

By Fat mass, Health

In the world of body composition analysis, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is almost a dirty word.

Although well-known and popularly used in consumer home/fitness equipment, BIA technology has been disregarded for years when it comes to medical or professional purposes.  And for good reason: many early BIA devices had serious design flaws.  Even today, many people immediately dismiss BIA technology as technology that can only give ballpark estimations, even in the best of circumstances.

However, BIA has come a very long way over the past few decades.  So far, in fact, that some bioelectrical impedance devices are now producing results that nearly mirror results generated by DEXA, an industry-regarded gold standard.

Really? Yes, really.

Imagine if you could determine body composition with a device that used technology which had all the convenience of traditional BIA, but combined it with the precision and reproducibility of a gold standard procedure.  Imagine if that device was small enough to be placed anywhere: a doctor’s office, a gym, even a bedroom.  Imagine if that device could track your results forever and illustrate your progress over time.

Today, devices like these exist.

If you haven’t interacted with BIA technology recently, or the last time you encountered it was in a Fitness Science textbook in a college class years ago, consider this your crash course update on modern, 21st century, BIA technology.

Why BIA Gets a Bad Name

Many of the valid concerns people have about using BIA technology stem from outdated, older technology.  If you’re concerned about the accuracy of BIA devices, you probably have very legitimate reasons.  These devices fall into three general groups:

  1. BIA Scales
  2. Handheld BIA Devices
  3. “Whole Body” Impedance Devices

Let’s look at each one to see what the concerns are and where they come from.

  • BIA Scales

When people think about BIA devices that measure body fat, many of them think about something that looks similar to this:



This is a traditional digital scale that incorporates BIA technology to determine body fat percentage.  To use it, you must enter your age, height, and gender.  Some devices require body type, too. Then, you stand on the scale while it measures your weight.  Once the scale has all the required data, it computes your body fat percentage using BIA technology.

However, the accuracy of such a device has some serious flaws.

First of all, what many people may not realize is BIA scales such as these only send a current up one leg and down the other.  This means that impedance (the metric that all BIA devices use to compute results) is only directly measured in the legs.

The upper body and arms?  Estimated based on the results for the legs.  This means that roughly 40% of your Lean Body Mass is used to determine a body fat percentage that is supposed to account for 100% of your body.

If you feel skeptical about trusting your results from a BIA scale, you’re absolutely correct to do so.

  • Handheld BIA Devices

Handheld BIA devices – such as the ones carried by many gyms – are no better, and due to the relatively smaller size of the arms compared to the legs may actually be even more unreliable.  Those devices operate similarly as BIA scales, except instead of measuring the legs, handheld BIA devices send the current from one arm to the other and then estimate everything from your chest down.

This means that these devices are guessing what your overall body composition is based on the composition of your arms.  This can lead to inaccurate results.  If your arms are the most muscular part of your body but you carry the majority of your fat in your midsection, a handheld BIA device will not be able to account for that.

Because handheld BIA devices don’t just report muscle and fat for the arms and give results for the entire body, these results are not trustworthy. Handheld BIA devices only directly measure the arms. Everything else is just estimation and guesswork.

  • “Whole Body” Impedance Devices

What about conventional BIA devices, the ones that require you to lie down and have a technician attach adhesive electrodes to the whole right side of your body?  Surely those must be accurate.

Just like scales and handhelds, these devices don’t measure the entire body, even though they might appear to do so.  However, instead of completely missing the upper or lower half of the body like BIA scales and handhelds do, these devices operate differently – but are just as flawed.

In the case of conventional BIA devices, four electrodes are placed on the right half of the body.   The current is sent from the arm, through the body, and out through the leg.  This is somewhat misleadingly referred to as the “Whole Body Impedance” method.

Why misleading? Take a look below:

Although “whole body” might suggest that these devices actually measure the whole body, in reality these machines only directly measure approximately half (usually the right side) and then estimate the remainder.

The core problem with these devices is that they treat the entire body as a single “cylinder.”  This means that when the machine is collecting information, it treats your arms in the same way it treats your trunk/torso; never mind that the trunk’s composition is significantly different than an arm (it contains the internal organs, for instance, and contains a greater amount of Lean Body Mass).

This is a problem when measuring fat and muscle.  Although similarities among genders exist, everybody and every body is different.  Men tend to collect the majority of their fat around their abdomen (android obesity), whereas women tend to collect in the arms and legs in addition to their midsections (gynoid obesity).

What would happen if a particular person didn’t conform to these assumptions? False readings and inaccurate results.

The Future: DSM-BIA

For many people, the devices described above are the only BIA devices they are familiar with.  That’s why, including for those described above, people have very good reasons for dismissing BIA technology. 

However, the industry has recognized the flaws in these BIA devices for some time and, in the last few decades, has responded.

Direct Segmental Multi-Frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (DSM-BIA) is a new, modern approach to BIA technology that, for the first time, directly measures the entire body.

Unlike any of the previous methods or devices above, devices that employ DSM-BIA do not leave any section of the body unaccounted for.  In order to do this accurately, the body is divided into 5 segments and the impedance for each segment is measured independently.

Once the impedance values for each segment are known, the device interprets the raw data and translates it into useful values such as:

  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Total Body Water
  • Lean Body Mass

Because all 5 segments are measured independently of each other, this allows for more advanced analyses.  The below example shows the amount of Lean Body Mass in pounds in each segment of the body:

Using a device that employs DSM-BIA technology allows a doctor, researcher, or fitness professional to paint a more complete picture of a client’s body composition.  It allows each segment of the body to be measured independently, just as DEXA does, but does it much quicker and more conveniently than DEXA –a major advantage of using a BIA device.

Why Trust This Tech?

DSM-BIA represents a major improvement over all previous BIA devices.  But in order to understand this technology and be confident in the results, you’ll need a brief overview on the basics of how BIA devices work.

All BIA devices operate by sending a small electrical current through fluid, which in the human body, is body water.  The current enters and exits via electrodes that come into contact with the skin.  As the current travels throughout your body water, it encounters muscle cells, fat cells, skin cells, etc.  Each of these has a certain ability to oppose the current slightly as it travels on its path towards the exit point.

Once the current finally reaches its endpoint, it will have lost some of its voltage on its journey through body water.  From here, impedance is determined.  BIA devices, including DSM-BIA devices, take impedance values and translate them into useful information that people can readily understand, like Body Fat Percentage and Lean Body Mass.

If all BIA devices use the same basic principle, then what makes DSM-BIA different?

Consider the example of the “Whole Body Impedance” devices.  While on the one hand they appear to be measuring the entire body and delivering trustworthy results, on the other, they treat the body as though it were a single tube of water, irrespective of body shape.  This means that the opposing effect that the current experiences as it travels through the body gets lumped together as a single impedance value.

This is a problem because due to the width of the arms and legs vs. the width of the upper body, impedance values actually vary quite significantly.  Impedance values for the arms and legs can be 10+ times greater than those for the trunk, as shown below (TR = trunk):


As you can see, the values for the trunk are much, much lower than those of the arms and legs.  A “Whole Body” impedance device would have taken all five of these values and lumped them into a single “whole body” result.  This is where Whole Body impedance gets its name and where it gets its inaccuracy.

As for BIA scales and handheld BIA devices?  A BIA scale will produce results that would look like this:



The handheld BIA device will only be able to measure the arms:



You should notice something: neither of them will measure the all-important trunk.  Only devices that use DSM-BIA paint a complete picture, and only DSM-BIA devices will deliver results that stack up against the gold standards.  All other devices can only offer estimations at best.

An Easier, Better, More Accurate Way

DSM-BIA technology represents the future of body composition analysis and BIA technology.  Older BIA devices have major design flaws that limited their reliability and the reproducibility of their results; DSM-BIA technology has responded to those flaws.

By improving BIA technology, DSM-BIA devices blend the precision expected from gold standard devices with the convenience and ease-of-use provided by traditional BIA devices.  It is possible to have the best of both worlds, after all.