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Whilst nature has given you a particular body type, when you add lean muscle and reduce fat, you are changing the composition of your body. These changes can be difficult to track because your training is creating more muscle, so your body composition can change significantly without you realising it. The mirror, the scale and the tape measure are always useful, but sometimes they don’t tell you enough. Whilst studying yourself in the mirror is useful to gauge your progress, the best way to keep track of these changes is by body composition testing. This gives you an indication of the percentage of muscle your body has compared to the amount of fat. The test will help you track your progress as you gain muscle and lose fat.

Types of Body Composition Testing

  • Skin Fold Testing. Callipers are used to pinch folds of skin at various points of your body, indicating how much fat is under the skin. These measurements are used to calculate body composition.

  • Water Immersion Testing. Water immersion testing involves the subject being weighed out of the water, then in the water, with measurements such as the residual capacity of the lungs being taken. These numbers are applied to a formula to determine the ratio of fat to lean body mass (muscle, bone and internal organs).

  • Electrical Impedance Testing. A low voltage current is passed through the body. Since fat, muscle and water create different amounts of resistance to the electrical current, the amount of resistance encountered allows for calculations of body composition.

Benefits of Measuring Body Composition

While measuring body composition is useful for ascertaining the results of a diet or what changes training is creating, the direction of change from one test to another is more significant than the specific results from one test. The test numbers run through formulas that make assumptions about the body that don’t apply very well to the development of serious bodybuilders. Some extreme claims for body fat testing have been made in the past. Levels of 3% would be more probable in a corpse than a living human. Bear in mind that some big professional bodybuilders may look better at levels of 12 percent, whist smaller guys may look better around 9 percent. Intramuscular fat, (the fat in the muscle itself) is not the only fat in the body. Body composition testing can be useful, but also use other methods such as the mirror and photographs to gauge your progress.

Measuring Your Bodybuilding Progress

As you can see, there are many ways to evaluate your progress over time. Don’t just focus on a particular result from a body composition test. Look at variances between sequential tests to observe if your training and diet is having the desired response. While body composition testing in its various forms is useful, use the mirror or photographs to track your progress. Bear in mind that some variances between tests may result due to variances in testing techniques between testers. Even if you don’t have access to the above methods, the way your clothes fit on a daily basis can provide a simple method to gauge your progress. Even listen to comments from friend & family who haven't seen you for a period. Do not depend on the scales, as they can be misleading. A kilo of muscle takes up less space than a kilo of fat for example. Thus increased weight may be attributed to muscle gain, rather than fat gain. In a bodybuilding competition, the bottom line is that judges go by visual appearance and presentation and not statistics, so remember this when you are tracking your progress over time.

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