Monday, January 05, 2009

Gym Whoppers

My blog today focuses on big fat fitness lies - so settle in and watch what I'm going to pick on today.

Firstly a tool of measurement that is commonly used to chart a transformationist's progress - the body fat calipers. Body fat measurement is in vogue, it seems. Mention scales or weight and you'll clear the room full of frightened people worried about what a number will mean to them, but mention measuring percent bodyfat as a more accurate guide and you'll pique everyone's interest. "Finally, a way of charting my progress that doesn't use the scale!" they'll rejoice and "look, my measurements dropped even though my weight is up, it must mean I've gained muscle and lost fat!", followed by the even bigger whopper "I've gained 2kg muscle in a month (from a female perspective )" or, "I've gained 5kg muscle in a month" (from the male point of view). I must mention I am talking about trainees that don't use their local internet pharmacy but are "natural" athletes - more on that later.

I want to first highlight that body fat measurements taken with calipers from a highly experienced and skilled individual, with well calibrated equipement can be quite accurate for certain populations. I know several people who use skinfolds during their comp preps who do have highly experienced coaches so this doesn't really apply to them. However the point of difference is that they are athletes and athletes usually maintain a lower body fat % than the general population.

As a rule of thumb body fat measurements, using calipers become more accurate as your leanness increases - you'll get the best readings close to a competition for example. If your body fat % is wandering up in the 20% or more range, accuracy decreases as % fat increases - try taking poor Oprah's tricep skinfold as an example. So when I hear "average" women (bodyfat 25% or more) complaining that weights have "bulked" them up and that they just want to reduce their bodyfat, and looked toned, it's hard for me not to laugh.

Other things that throw caliper readings out is - time of day measured - typically bodyfat readings are more accurate at night, hydration, supplementation status (for example some creatines can cause water retention), water retention or hormonal status - body fat is calculated using skinfold sites, weight, height - if you've gained 2kg of water, you'll return a false body fat reading as well by virtue of simple mathematics. The other thing to look out for is making sure the same person does the measurements - pinch your body- first thing you'll notice is that when you apply more pressure your skin compresses - apply brute force and you too could have lower skin fold readings (which mean diddly squat when you're up on stage in front of 500 people in a skimpy bikini).

With all of these confounding variables I don't usually do skinfolds unless specifically requested. The main thing (as with scale weight) is that you're 'trending' downwards.

Now onto the fantastical claims of muscle accumulation that abound on the Internet. Dave Greenwalt says it beautifully in his book, "The Leanness Lifestyle": "claims of higher muscle accumulation abound in popular muscle building comic books and Internet discussion forums. To say that I question their veracity would be an understatement. If you're not sure, then ask any person who claims you can add more muscle that what I suggest (for women 0.25-0.75lb - 0.1kg to 0.3kg per month)to provide a published, peer-reviewed study supporting their claim. Just make sure you don't hold your breath waiting".

These same people who claim superior muscle growth can also be those who tell women that by adding muscle that they "won't bulk up" - if the claim was true, I'd be pole position for the IFBB Olympia (yeah, I've been training awhile). By the magic 2kg calc I would have gained 360kg of muscle by now.

Time for me to sign off for tonight...I need to go find something I've lost...


Java said...

Is it just me, I follow what you are saying but now I'm even more confused.

LizN said...

Hi Miss J,
What are you confused by?

In a nutshell,
Bodyfat readings when done by skinfold calipers can be inaccurate due to factors such as measurement technique, start bodyfat, hydration levels etc. Not a good tool as a stand alone measurement.

Inaccuracies in measurement skew "results" ie how much muscle you can TRULY gain in a certain amount of time. I feel this has led to all sorts of misconceptions about expectations of muscle growth.