We all know with most things these days being data driven, the more info you have on a client, the more you can help them - and the more your business will grow!
So what’s the easiest and most practical way to retrieve body composition data?
This article and video will explain and demonstrate how best to execute the three most practical methods of body composition measurements. We’ll discuss techniques for each method to improve quality control and which method is best for the trainer or client. This article will prepare you for the third article in this series that will address the pros and cons of each method and what you should expect to find.
If you would like, you can review Intro to Body Comp (Part 1): Why It's Crucial to Your Success as a Fit Pro, which explores why body composition assessment is critical to a personal trainer's and client's success.
- Review why gathering baseline measurements on day 1 sets the foundation to build your business.
- Learn how to perform the three most practical methods of capturing body composition: Skinfold, Umbilicus Circumference and Bio-Electrical Impedance (BEI).
- Learn how to properly prep your clients for the most accurate body composition reading.
Everyone Wants Fat Loss?
Yes. Personal training clients may need to relieve pain and/or fix movement patterns, but the vast majority wants to simply look and feel better.
That includes fat loss.
Seeing the joy on a client’s face when they realize the 10 pounds they lost on the scale was actually 14 pounds of fat while gaining 4 pounds of muscle is why we are trainers!
Guess who never stops training with you? Those clients!
When you provide a clear perspective of reality, it puts everyone on an even playing field making it easy to help clients stick with the facts to get the results they want. You remove the “drama” when you help clients face reality.
Get Their Baseline Measurement on Day 1
Getting a baseline body comp measurement on day 1, before the client starts taking action in your program, is critical.
|"Things that are measured tend to change… But things that are measured and reported tend to change drastically."
Use the body comp data to:
- Motivate and sell training
- Inspire the client to take immediate action before they even leave your appointment
- Track his or her progress so you can retain them for life
Don’t depend on your clients to see and feel the results. Some won’t because they have too much drama or self-doubt. You want HARD evidence of progress that is irrefutable.
Showing them objective (drama-free) facts of progress makes it real for the client and helps bring it home for them. Plus, they will want to see return on the hard-earned money invested they’ve invested in your services.
The Money Is in the Data
Just Ask Google, Facebook and Amazon. Businesses are built on data!
You don’t have to look very far to see how our world is changing with the advancements in technology and the ability to collect and track data. Billion dollar companies at their core all manage data. If you want to excel as a personal trainer, you’ll want to do the same thing.
The data body compositions provide include: Lean mass, fat mass, metabolic rate and so much more. In fact, it is one of the best ways to shed a light on reality for every potential client. When you do, clients are more incented to take meaningful action.
And that leads to results.
Take Your Pick or Do All Three
These practical inexpensive methods are simple and easy. .. and, quite frankly, priceless.
The following 3 body composition assessments will help you sell personal training, motivate clients to take action and help you to retain clients.
Method 1: Skinfold
- Harpenden Calipers: $350 - 400
- Lange Calipers: $200 - 300
- Slimline Calipers: $14 - 27
Use any preferred equation which should be available from your certifying organization. Typically they are 3 to 7 site equations. For this article and video we’ll be using a standard site ACSM equation (referenced below) or download this excel spreadsheet.
With this method you are measuring the subcutaneous fat. There are equations for every race and shape of people (if you want to get granular with it), but for practical purposes we’ll stick with the ACSM Standard (Roitman, 2001).
If you’re interested, here’s a link to purchase the Applied Body Comp Assessment Book: Applied Body Composition Assessment
- Take the measurement from the right side of the body
- Place calipers 1 centimeter (cm) below and at a right angle to the fold
- Read measurement after 2 seconds (to allow caliper to squish out a little water – but no longer)
- Read/record measurement in millimeters (mm)
- Take each measurement twice for accuracy (Keep measuring until you get a consistent reading)
- Provide a judgment-free environment to take the measurements and help the client feel comfortable during the process
Female Measurement Sites: Triceps, Ilium, and Thigh
Male Measurement Sites: Chest, Abdomen, and Thigh
A skilled trainer can get incredibly accurate results (similar to DEXA). Practice on your friends and family first to dial in your skill. Consider yourself a surgeon and your calipers are your scalpel.
Skinfold measurements can be performed on all clients, although the extremely obese can be challenging. This measurement process is ideal for trainers who see the value in data and seek the data to get personalized/specific training results with their clients.
Skinfold measurements are reliable when performed properly – which will take practice. They do require skill to ensure accurate readings and there is a bit of an art to it. So get your practice!
When an individual packs on a lot of fat in a short amount of time, it can be tough to get a good reading. The skin can often be really tight and on some measurements, like the thigh on women or the abdomen on men, you’ll need a little practice to get a good reading under those circumstances. It is not that difficult to navigate with a little practice.
Provides a lot of data to look at and compare, particularly when you add in circumference measurements at the same time. Your clients will thank you when they reach their goals.
If you are new or apprehensive, it is worth your investment of time and experience to become comfortable with Skinfold measurement. It is the most practical way to get accurate, consistent and predictable result.
Body Composition Tracker
||Table 1: ACSM Regression Equation for Male Skinfold Measurements
||Body Density = 1.10938 – 0.0008267(X) + 0.0000016(X)2 – 0.0002574(Y)
||Sum of skinfolds: Chest, Abdomen, Thigh
||Table 2: ACSM Regression Equation for Female Skinfold Measurements
||Body Density = 1.099492 – 0.0009929(X) + 0.0000023 (X)2 – 0.0001392(Y)
||Sum of skinfolds: Triceps, Illium, Thigh
- % Body Fat = (457 / Body Density from Table 1 or Table 2) – 414.2
Method 2: Umbilicus Circumference
Measuring tape, preferably with a tensor control: $12 - 25
For the most accurate reading of umbilicus circumference, take the measurement before eating in the morning. It is not critical, but it is preferred. Attempt to perform after 6 hours of fasting to help ridding of gastro-intestinal content and to not measure the bulk of a recently consumed meal. This is why before breakfast is best.
- Measure the circumference of a client’s torso at the umbilicus (belly button) in centimeters (cm).
- Make sure the measuring tape does not drop in the back. Ensure it is straight across.
- Take measurements in centimeters, convert and reference charts or use a system to calculate for you.
Minimal equipment required. No calipers, electrodes or expensive equipment is needed.
If guidelines and procedures are followed, umbilicus circumference measurements can be within 6-8% accurate.
Umbilicus circumference measurements are ideal for personal trainers who are not comfortable with calipers yet, but understand they need to perform measurements with clients if they want to be successful. Also ideal for online coaches (as the client can take their own measurements and the trainer can interpret the results during a consultation), and for those who train multiple people at the same time.
Circumference measurements are more accurate for clients who eat clean and do not have belly distention due to allergic reactions to wheat, gluten, water retention and inflammation. Clients should avoid being dehydrated when measurements are performed.
Super quick and easy to collect data and reference. This is an excellent method to track progress over time and great for boot camps and group training programs. No technical skill needed.
Overestimates could be a result of gut inflammation from the foods your clients are eating prior to the measurement. Advise your client, if possible, to cut out sodium a few days prior for the most accurate result.
- 1 ounce of salt (Sodium Chloride / table salt) holds 96 times it weigh within the body. Therefore, decreasing salt intake can drastically decrease bloating and water retention.
- The average American has 3-4 oz. of salt in their body, which equates to 16 – 24 pounds of excess water and bloat, which is basically 2 to 3 gallons.
To Simplify the Math
Ron Brown’s The Body Fat Guide: The Easy Way to Analyze Your Body Composition and Energy Balance provides simple and quick reference charts or you can create a spreadsheet for easy reference.
Method 3: Bio-electrical Impedance
Omron Body fat monitor: $32 – $79
- Format the device by entering the Mode (Normal or Athlete) then Height, Weight and Gender
- Have client stand shoulder-width apart while holding handles of the device out in front of them
- When you re-measure after they have made some progress, be sure to re-measure using the same mode. Otherwise, it will give a different result.
- Take measurements first thing in the morning, before breaking the night time fast.
- Food in stomach will register as fat. 6 hours of fasting is recommended.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and high sodium levels one or two days before the measurement.
- Hydrate well the day before, and do not drink too much water that morning prior to measurement.
- Do not wear pantyhose or jewelry.
- Avoid extreme exercise 12 hours before the measurement.
- Do not take measurements during or after exercise.
If guidelines are followed, the bio-electrical impedance measurement is accurate within 2 - 12%, depending upon circumstances. If the individual is bloated and is holding fluid due to inflammation and unhealthy eating, it can result in an inaccurate reading.
Again, it is about tracking progress and using the data and information to help hold the client accountable to getting results.
Ideal for all personal trainers and clients.
Bio-electrical impedance can be reasonably reliable if you follow the rules. To the untrained eye, it would appear to be drastically inaccurate in some cases. But when the rules are followed a different story emerges. More in the next article about that. Some data, tracking and accountability is better than none for your business. The accuracy may not be very reliable, but the device at least will be reliably unreliable for its accuracy. As long as you use the same method you can track and show progress!
Simple and easy to use, non-invasive. No technical skill needed.
If you are not able to perform the measurement on a client in the morning, make sure they do not eat or drink 2 hours prior to test. The longer the gap in fasting the more accuracy.
Setting Clients up for Success
Your clients should expect you’ll be measuring their body comp. They want to need to be held accountable and collecting their body comp data is a great way to do that. Most likely they will not ask to get it done, but once they see the reality of their situation, it begins to change the way they think which results in them taking action.
Plus, we all know the scale does not tell the whole story!
The Fancy Word for These Types of Tests
The three measurement methods detailed above are all Anthropometric. This basically means “the study of human body measurements” especially on a comparative basis. The key here is measuring the body with the intent to compare results on an individual. This brings the “personal” into Personal Training and is proven to be highly effective in driving results and retaining clients longer.
Pros and Cons of These Three Methods
In the final article and video, we will discuss the pros and cons of each method and what you can expect to see when you compare results.
Watch the an in-depth descripton of these three methods here:
Other Methods Not Covered (and the Price Tag That Goes with Them)
You’ll need a lot of money or the rare opportunity to gain access to these methods of attaining body comp data:
- Hydrostatic Weighing (water displacement): $70,000
- DEXA Dual Xray machine: $75,000 (Gold Standard) plus additional costs for software and computer equipment to interpret data
- InBody: Bio-Electrical Impedance 4 site machine: $4,500
- BodPod: Air Displacement: $42,000 - $50,000
The price tag alone on these methods is reason enough to invest a few dollars and buy a pair of calipers/measuring tape/BEI handheld device and make it part of your initial consult and follow up with all of your clients.
International Standards for Anthropometric Assessment. (2001). published by The International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK)
Roitman, J. (2001). ACSM’s Resource Manual. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Heyward, V., Stolarczyk, L. (1996). Applied Body Composition Assessment. Human Kinetics
Brown, R. (1999). The Body Fat Guide. Health Style Publications Canada