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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: LocalFitness.com.au

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?

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.

Why You Need to Know Your Body Fat Percentage

By | Blog, Body Composition, Health
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 1, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on April 20, 2016
by InBody USA

 

Do you know what your body fat percentage is, right now?

What range is considered ideal for your gender?

Or why you should even care?

Your body fat percentage is a value that tells you how much of your body weight is made up of fat.  In terms of your overall health, your body fat percentage can be one of the most useful numbers available to you, more than how much you weigh and even more than your Body Mass Index (BMI).

You might argue that you can just rely on visual appearance, everyone knows what an overweight or obese person looks like. When you get to that point, you know you need to start making a change in your lifestyle. Unfortunately, once you get to the overweight/obese stage your risk for developing health complications will have increased and weight loss becomes difficult.

If you are interested in developing or maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle, measuring and understanding your body fat percentage is incredibly important.  

Here are three reasons why understanding your body fat percentage can positively impact your life.

#1 Get The Context Of Your Weight

Knowing how much you weigh tells you very little because two people can have the same weight but have completely different body compositions and health risks. Your body fat percentage (PBF) puts your weight into context, telling you far more about yourself than how heavy you are.

Here are the body compositions of three types of people, all around the same weight (~154 pounds) and height (5’10”). To make each of these easier to talk about later, we’ll give them each a fictitious name.

Bill has a body weight of 154.0 pounds and a PBF of 28.3%. Notice the large differences between the bar for Body Fat Mass (BFM) and SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass). Because of this very large difference, Bill likely falls into the category of what is popularly calledskinny fat.”

Ted has a nearly identical weight to Bill – less than half a pound in difference – but has a PBF of 15.6%, almost 13% less than Bill! This is because, unlike Bill, Ted has average amounts of muscle and fat for a 5’10” person.

Within about a pound of both Bill and Ted is Brian, with a body weight of 154.8 and a PBF of 10.1%.  The bars for his SMM and Body Fat Mass are the complete inverse of Bill, who had a skinny fat composition.

Now it’s true that even without these charts, it would be quite obvious to tell skinny fat Bill from athletic Brian just by looking at them.

However, the more extreme examples of Bill and Brian are helpful to illustrate how three individuals with roughly the same scale weight and BMI can have wildly different body compositions— something that scale cannot reveal.

Of the three individuals, Bill stands to be the most at risk for health problems because of his high PBF and low muscle mass, but especially so because his weight and BMI are considered normal. Bill may not be aware that he has increased risk for developing health complication, because visually he looks fine.

Without the context body fat percentage provides, it’s very difficult to understand what your weight means when you stand on a scale and whether or not you should consider making changes to improve your body composition.

#2 Decide How To Start Improving

man stretching

Understanding your body fat percentage helps you decide which of the two goals that reflect healthy body composition changes – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should be working on.

It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.

  • For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
  • For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy

These ranges may vary depending on who your source is. The American College of Sports Medicine has ranges that may differ from the Mayo Clinic (more on that later in the next section)

Knowing where your body fat percentage falls in these ranges can be very helpful for you to decide how to improve your overall composition.

For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.

Now, while strength training can be healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on bulking up and developing huge muscles may not be the best method for improving the body composition of someone who is overweight. That’s because the diet that encourages muscle mass growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).

This person would benefit from a more conventional weight loss strategy. While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type, results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.

For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.

Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on strength training to build muscle, not losing fat.

The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle.  While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat mass they carry.

#3: Reduce The Risk of Heart Disease

healthy heart pulse

Understanding your body fat percentage has uses outside of fitness, too. Keeping your body fat percentage at a healthy level can help reduce your likelihood of getting serious health risks, specifically, heart disease.

Heart disease is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This occurs when small pieces of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) damage your arteries, causing them to harden, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.

What does body fat have to do with your heart? Quite a lot, actually.

According to new research published by the Mayo Clinic, having a healthy body fat percentage has a significant effect on your cholesterol levels – increasing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) which helps to remove the damaging LDL and lower overall total cholesterol. This means less artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream, which means less stress on your heart.

To be clear: this research isn’t linking this to overall weight or even total fat mass. These positive effects are linked with the amount of body fat you have compared to your current weight. The body fat percentage ranges needed to have this positive effect have an upper limit of 20% for men and 30% for women.

While the research doesn’t suggest that this is any type of complete preventative for heart disease – many lifestyle factors, as well as genetics, play into whether you will develop it or not – it does suggest that you have some degree of control over reducing your risk factor by maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and consuming a diet that promotes healthy cholesterol levels.

Know Your Percentage to Take Control of Your Health

Perhaps one of the best things about your body fat percentage is that it compares you to yourself.

If you just track weight, this invariably leads to comparing yourself to someone else. Even though there could be significant differences in height, muscle mass, genetics, or other factors, all people hear when they talk about or think about their weight is the number.

That’s what’s so great about your body fat percentage. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; the only thing that matters is what that weight is made up of. You could be overweight (and even have a BMI that tells you that) but if you’re a woman with a healthy body fat percentage of 25%, why care?

To take control of your health and fitness and gain the positive benefits of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the first step is to get your body composition measured.  Find a facility near you that offers body composition testing, get your body fat percentage, and start tracking it to start living better!

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