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Different Body Fat Modalities to Measure Your Lean Muscle Mass

Updated on April 22, 2017

body fat testing modalities

Lean muscle is the key to burning fat and keeping ourselves in a state of good health and preventing many health conditions that are a concern to us today such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and, of course, many types of cancers. Lean muscle does not keep us in better health or fight disease, but it keeps us from injury and will help keep us more active.

Measuring lean muscle can be very easy or difficult, depending on the method that the exerciser is trying to focus on. As of today, there are many methods and it does take great practice and education by the health and fitness professional to know how to properly administer the body fat testing methods and how to interpret the data to the client or patient. These are some of the simple to more complex body fat testing methods:

Body Mass Index or (BMI) has been the main measurement in hospitals and clinics to measure one’s lean body mass by taking the patient’s age, height and weight. This method is flawed because it is based on weight and, as you should know, lean muscle weighs more than fat. So a medical doctor can have a 210 lb. male that is 45 years old and 6 feet tall with actually a body fat of 10%-12%, and the doctor tells him that he needs to lose weight because he weighs too much, not realizing or putting into context that he really is more lean and in better shape than what the BMI scale is stating, meaning that his body fat is much lower and lean muscle mass is much higher. This measurement is inaccurate and hopefully will be eliminated from use in hospitals and clinics soon.

Skinfold Testing or Caliper Testing is the process of using a skinfold caliper tester that is used throughout the body by using a caliper that has a pinching mechanism that will take skinfolds at various sites of the body such as the Triceps, Biceps, Sub-Scapular, Quadriceps and Abdomen for men and women, and for men sometimes the pectoral muscle is taken as well. There are usually 3-4 sites that are used on the body with up to three caliper pinches at each site and then these are averaged between the 3-4 sites. Finally, the administer will view the charts that have been supplied for the health and fitness professional for analysis.

Skinfold testing is one of the easiest methods used today in many health clubs, and it is the most cost effective and can be very accurate, but it needs to be done by a well-trained health and fitness professional who knows exactly where to pinch the calipers on the body. Exercise scientists measure between joints, and once they find the midline, they establish a point and will put a mark on the area with a marker. For example, when measuring the triceps, they measure from the olecranon to the humeral head of the humerus, and the skin fold will take place in the middle of this location. Skinfold or caliper testing can be very accurate but needs much practice as many home-trained personal trainers do not have the hands-on experience for this testing method and the college educated exercise scientists is the best person to go with.

Bio-electrical Impedance is a process of taking the client or patient and laying them down on a flat surface and placing two electrodes on the right foot and hand. A questionnaire will be asked to the client beforehand or during the process by asking what their weight, age, and height is and what their physical activity level is. The client should be well hydrated with water and should not have consumed any alcohol within 12-24 hours prior to testing. The reason for this is there will be an electric current that runs throughout the body from one electrode to the next, and if the body is dehydrated, the results will not be accurate. This is because lean muscle holds more water than body fat, and we want our lean muscles to hold as much water as possible; therefore, the electric current, which we will not be able to feel, will travel faster through our lean tissue and give us a more accurate measurement which is measured through Ohms and will give the reading on a true bio-electrical impedance test. However, keep in mind that while the held hand-held or standing body fat analysis devices are an okay way to see your body fat percentage, they are not exactly accurate, and the lab bio-electrical impedance systems are much more accurate than your everyday body fat testing modalities.

Hydrostatic Weighing is one of the most accurate processes known for body fat testing but one will never see this method in a health club or gym due its expense. This method involves a laboratory or an exercise physiology lab that has the proper tank with a bench for the individual to be suspended in water. The individual being tested will, of course, be weighed beforehand with their simple clothes on that are suitable for the hydrostatic weighing process such as a bathing suit. The individual will then sit in the tank and blow out as much air out of their lungs as possible and be submersed under water for only a few seconds to be weighed and lifted back up after the experiment is complete. However, the subject may be asked to complete one or two more trials to see differences in the weight between hydrostatic weigh-ins.

The reason that hydrostatic weighing is the most accurate is that muscle weighs more than fat, and a person that is in the water with very lean muscle mass will sink much easier than a person with adipose tissue, or fat. Hydrostatic weighing has been a very accurate way in measuring body fat through laboratories, but it is very hard to find in most health clubs today.

The BodPod is a new technology that is also rarely seen in a health club, but it is being seen in clinics and hospitals. The BodPod takes the client or patient and places them in an egg-like contraption where a laser will scan through the whole body and measure the body’s fat from head to toe. This can scan the body as close as an autopsy to determine the amount of adipose tissue of any living creature, especially human beings.

These are the most predominant methods of body fat testing. The one that will be most beneficial to you and others in the long run is the skinfold or caliper testing, but if you can afford or have access to hydrostatic weighing, bio-electrical impendence or the BodPod, this will be more expensive and you will need to find health facilities or universities that are willing to administer this body composition modality for you but it is considered the most accurate. Remember to have a qualified health and fitness professional administering the skinfold testing and make sure they are accurate with their final results.


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