Changing the Conversation:
Body Composition, NOT Weight Loss
Personal Training Director, Jay McWilliams
What is body composition, and why is it one of the 6-focal points of 50/50’s balance approach to health and wellness?
Over the years, I and many of my training clients and members of our gym have discussed dreading stepping onto the bathroom scale. Most of us can relate as it is very frustrating to exercise and eat a healthy diet only to see the number on the scale stay the same. However, just because your bodyweight on the scale isn’t changing doesn’t mean that your hard work isn’t paying off. If you are exercising, most likely your body composition may be improving.
So, what is body composition? Body composition refers to everything in your body, generally split up into: fat mass and fat-free mass. Fat mass refers to all the fat tissue in your body. Fat-free mass is everything else, including muscle, organs, bone and fluid. If both change at once, you might not see any changes in bodyweight on the scale. For example, one of my training clients started exercising to lose weight, he may have gained two pounds of muscle in the first month. At the same time, he may have lost two pounds of fat, due to burning more calories through exercise, and changing his diet. In those first few weeks, he began to get discouraged because his bathroom scale showed that he was not losing weight. I had to change his way of thinking by educating him about the importance of body composition over bodyweight on the scale. I reminded him that his fat-free mass may have increased by the same amount as his fat mass decreased, making his “scale body weight” unchanged. With some doubt, he asked me: “How do you know?”
One technique 50/50 utilizes is tracking the circumference of different body parts (Shoulders, chest, waist, belly, hips, buttocks, thigh, and biceps). We make these measurements using a flexible tape measure. Along with body circumference measurements, we also use fat caliper readings. We measure the skinfold of seven sites on the body that gives us an average body fat percentage, and then calculates the total fat mass and fat-free mass in pounds. Taking progress pictures of your body every few weeks or months can be another way to assess how your body is changing. While none of these tools give us exact information, these do give us some general idea of the changes taking place.
So, why is body composition one of the 6-focal points of 50/50’s balance approach to health and wellness? If you have too much fat, especially at your waist, you’re at higher risk for health problems such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. That increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease. If you’re overweight or obese, or simply have an excess of fat mass, you can reduce your risk for disease and increase longevity by starting a 50/50 Training Program.
The personal trainers here at 50/50 understand that stepping on the scale will only tell you how much you weigh. You can get a more accurate picture by considering your body composition (percentage of fat mass vs. percentage of fat-free mass). Your body composition is affected by your nutritional habits, exercise, sleep and other factors. For this reason, improving it can sometimes feel complicated and unrealistic. That is why 50/50 offers a body composition service, where we can measure your body circumference, conduct a fat caliper reading, and take pictures if you so wish. For ONLY $15! This service is included free for those participating in our Training Programs.
Okay, so hopefully all of you are fully convinced of the benefits of strength training. Now let’s get in to the nitty gritty details of the different types of strength training: muscular strength, muscular power, muscular hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. Think of these categories from the stand-point of your end goal. What is your training intent? Are you looking to increase overall strength? Improve your explosive movements for your tennis game? Look more defined in your bikini? Or, improve your time for your next ultramarathon? These are all example of goals that would be best served by one particular style. Now how do you implement these styles of training to achieve these goals? Let’s break in down….
Muscular strength is best trained by using a heavier weight (80-100% of 1 RM for advanced strength trainers) for 2-6 sets of 1-8 reps. Notice the repetitions per set are low, and the recovery is long, up to 3 minutes between sets. Training like this is the fastest way to improve your base level of strength, but may not give you the body of your dreams in a short amount of time. Training for muscular hypertrophy will result in more defined individual muscle groups, taken to its extreme training for muscular hypertrophy along with an incredibly strict diet will result in a body-builder appearance. However, for most of us training for muscular hypertrophy will result in a more toned appearance, something that many desire. 99.9% of us do not have the genetics to achieve the Arnold Schwarzenegger look! This involves training individual muscle groups with a higher weight (70-100% of 1 rep max) for about 3 sets of 8-12 reps with shorter rests.
Training for muscular power involves using a light load ((0-60% of 1RM) but involves explosive movements, such as box jumps. Improving muscular power is desirable for many different types of athletes, especially when speed and jumping are involved. This type of training is effective, but needs to be utilized carefully to avoid injury. Training for muscular endurance will result in increased levels of overall fitness and endurance, but is not as effective at increasing your base level of strength. Muscular endurance is achieved by using lighter weights for higher repetitions, up to 25 per set, with minimal rest. Now how do you decide which is best for you? This is where working with a personal trainer, who can assess your areas of strength and weakness will really help. For those taking classes, most of the classes (i.e. Tabata, Spin and Strength, and Fit Camp) fall on the muscular endurance side of the spectrum. Targeted Strength and Conditioning incorporates more muscular strength and hypertrophy. Now remember, any strength training is good, but to achieve a desired result you need to make sure you are training in the most efficient way. When you train with an intent in mind, your results will improve dramatically.
Guess what, it’s Strength Month! My favorite. In coming weeks, I will discuss principles of strength training in greater detail, but today I just want to touch on some of the many benefits of strength training. You know exercise is important to your long-term health and well-being, and you probably know your routine should include some weight or strength training… but do you know why? Weight training strengthens muscles so they can support you through all of your activities, throughout your lifespan. If you don’t build and maintain your muscles, there’s a host of negative effects such as loss of muscle mass and bone density, and increased risk of falls. But, let’s keep things positive today. Here are some of the more fun and interesting benefits of strength training: decreased cancer risk, increased IQ (really!), decreased risk of anxiety and depression, better sleep, and a more positive attitude throughout the work day. How much strength training do you need to do to get these benefits? As few as 2-3 full body sessions per week will cause you to reap these rewards. This still leaves you plenty of time for your favorite spin class, or to try our new Yoga class on Sundays. You do not have to strength train every day to see these positive effects.
Here at 50/50, we want to ensure you that it is one or our six focal points of health and wellness. Staying strong is important for everyone, and increases the chances of enjoying a long, healthy and vigorous life. There are many ways to incorporate strength training into your routine. For more traditional strength building, Fit Camp, Targeted Strength and Conditioning, and Personal Training are great options. For muscular endurance, TABATA and Spin and Strength are fun classes to get your heart pumping and work your muscles. For those of you newer to strength training, I highly recommend personal training. Not only will you get the one on one attention needed to ensure correct form, but you will also receive a full-body assessment and a plan of corrective exercise to address imbalances that may otherwise hold back your progress.
However, you chose to incorporate it, I challenge all of you (yes, especially you spin aficionados) to incorporate 2-3 days of strength per week for the next month. Your body and mind will thank you!
Well Cardio month sure went by in a heartbeat, and now it is time for nutrition month here at 50/50. If you look to the internet, the media, or even ask your friends and loved ones you will get wildly different opinions on what constitutes a “healthy diet”. The subject of nutrition is one of the most controversial and most emotional dinner table conversations, rivaling both politics and religion. Many of us are always looking for the “best diet”. I have news for all of you, there is no one “best diet”. There are many different eating strategies that will meet your nutritional needs and help you reach your goals, be it increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat, or maintaining your healthy weight. In fact, recent research has found that one of the reasons many “diet plans” are effective is that they result in people being more mindful of their food choices. In some cases, the mindful eating effect may be more important than the particular requirements of the diet.
This week I want you all to focus on how your food choices make you feel. There is no right or wrong. Try to avoid thinking about “eating clean” or “good food versus bad food”, simply observe your choices and your body’s feedback. For example, I have recently cut way back on sugar and have noticed that my energy level and mood are more stable. My Starbucks mocha habit was having a negative effect on my day and my wallet, and to be honest I haven’t been missing them since cutting them out. Simple observations like these can really make a big difference in our daily habits. If remove some of the judgement from our food decisions, we are more open to really noticing how our bodies respond to various foods and tailoring our diet so we feel our best. Some of us feel our best eating eggs and bacon for breakfast and others feel best with a plant-based diet, neither is inherently right or wrong and both can be done successfully. If you feel really inspired, maybe even keep a food journal this week, no, not calorie counting, just an account of what you ate and how you feel. This simple step will result in more mindful eating and most likely better nutrition.
Just as with strength training, cardio training requires proper progression, variation, specificity, and overload for beneficial adaptations to occur. When looking at how to design an effective cardio training program, consider the following variables:
Remember that heart rate increases in a linear fashion as workload increases during cardio training. The maximal level that can be attained is dependent on fitness level, age, climate, gender, medications, etc. Below is a good method for finding the Maximum Heart Rate, the Karvonen Method:
220 – age = Maximum Heart Rate
Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate = Heart Rate Reserve
(Heart Rate Reserve x Training %) + Resting Heart Rate
A few thoughts to keep in mind as you develop a weekly workout plan based on your fitness goals.
Cardiovascular exercise is vital to our health and increasing our overall performance. With regular cardio training, one can expect numerous metabolic changes and positive health benefits. Cardio training can be helpful for achieving optimal body composition because of the high caloric expenditures. It does help to lower the overall percentage of body fat, but has little effect on increasing muscle mass. In some cases, intense cardio training could elicit a greater cortisol response than traditional strength training. Higher levels of cortisol is associated with protein loss from muscle, which could lead to a reduction in muscle mass and strength. If you’re training for increase strength, consider keeping your cardio sessions relatively brief and less frequent.
Grant Ritter, Running Coach
Invest in good running gear
A properly fitted pair of running shoes will keep your feet comfortable while helping to prevent injuries. Avoid cotton running gear, as it tends to absorb sweat and cause uncomfortable things like chafing. Technical running clothes will go a long way toward helping you stay comfortable and fashionable on your runs! Your local running store is a great place to get fitted for everything that you need to get out there and run.
Set a goal
Think about what you want running to accomplish. This could be a race, a certain distance, weight loss or anything else. Write your goal down and put it next to your bed and couch. This way that goal will be there as a reminder when you are tempted to watch one more show on Netflix or hit the snooze on the alarm instead of going out for your run.
Build up slowly and listen to your body
Slowly add miles and running days to build your aerobic base and to give your body time to adapt to the stress of running. This is one of the best ways to prevent injury. Following we well-designed training plan is a good way to ensure you don’t go too far too fast.
Warm up before you head out
Do some dynamic stretches like high knees or leg swings before heading out on your run. This will help the body loosen up and will help elevate the heart rate so you can hit the ground running. Save the static stretches for after the run.
Rest and Recover
Resting is the most important part of your running program. This is when your body adapts and becomes stronger. Make sure to take rest days between your runs as you build up. Rest doesn’t always mean sitting on the couch though. Be sure to hit the foam roller or take on some cross training such as strength training or a Spinning class. These things will help you recover and become a stronger runner.
You Can Do It, Too!
50/50 Featured Member, Joe Jagiello
In 2015, my life was going great save one thing: I was approaching my 48th birthday in February 2016, I could no longer claim I was in my mid-forties, and I was in the worst shape of my life. At 5’10”, I was just shy of 240 pounds and almost 40% body fat. I had asthma, my back and knees hurt, I was on cholesterol medications, snored and was generally unhappy with my appearance. Over the years, I had allowed the pressures of balancing work, the house, kids, and other responsibilities to contribute a couple pounds a year till I reached that state.
I played a few sports in high school, enjoyed club cycling in my 30’s, and had been an on and off (mostly off) runner for years. I considered myself an active person, but the evidence proved otherwise. So, I did as always, made a New Year’s resolution that this time I was going to get back in shape.
I started the year strong. Running on the treadmill five days a week, then four, oh, then a business trip broke the rhythm, then three, wait, start again five, oops missed, rats: business trip. Six weeks later I was facing my birthday. I weighed in at a historical high. Depressed and discouraged, I contemplated my situation and realized…
Wait, I was born in 1969; I am only turning 47 this year! I can still claim mid-forties for one more year!
I was being given a bonus year. I vowed there would be no way I would find myself in the same situation a year later when I actually turned 48.
This year, I entered my late forties almost sixty pounds lighter. My body fat percentage has been cut almost in half. I no longer need medication for cholesterol or asthma. I look good, feel great, sleep great and am in the best shape of my life. At 48, I have a resting heart rate in the 50’s and a VO2max in the high 40’s, both considered very good.
The best part is that my family, job, home and all those things important to me, but that I used as an excuse to not exercise and eat right, are all better for me being healthy. In fact, they were all enlisted in helping me create this change in my life.
The number one factor in my success has been my amazing wife, Angela. She recognized what this meant to us and vowed to embark on this mission alongside me. Even though I was shooting to drop seventy pounds and she was only shooting for eight, I knew she was with me every step of the way.
These are twelve things we learned that helped us achieve success.
You can find the time
For us, our first challenge was to determine how to consistently exercise with two kids, with jobs that required travel, and the daily distractions of life. If we didn’t exercise first thing, the day had a way of keeping us from it. We started going to bed an hour earlier. Angie took the tough shift and woke up at 4:45 A.M. to hit the treadmill. She got me at 5:45 and I ran next. That left just enough time to shower and get the kids off to school. By 8 A.M., we had accomplished our goals for the day. While it meant an early start, it was achievable and sustainable.
Don’t be discouraged by how hard it can be at first
In 2015, I could barely run two very slow miles in a row. I couldn’t do a sit up and very few push-ups. It gets easier. Come prepared to work and know the experience changes from difficult to enjoyable.
Don’t give up if you have a bad day, especially in the first months. Whether it was a bad food choice or a missed workout, we would examine what derailed us and redoubled our efforts to make tomorrow better. If it happened again, we tried again.
Discuss the week with your partner and agree on when each of you will work out. We posted a schedule on the refrigerator so we were always sure what our commitments were. Lay your clothes out the night before. Set up your water bottles. Knock down any impediment before you go to bed. Take the same approach to grocery shopping; go into the week with a healthy meal plan to set yourself up to win.
It takes diet and exercise to get there
Who knew? I evaluated what I was eating and changed my diet. I have worked in the Organic and Natural product industry for over 25 years and thought I ate well. I uncovered amazing hidden calories in my diet (what? 220 calories in a tortilla!) and I also started learning more about sports nutrition. I substituted Vega One shakes for breakfast and lunch, and while it took some discipline, I immediately saw weight loss and increased motivation to continue. (Note: Vega is a brand owned by my employer)
I stopped stocking foods that I knew would derail me. If it wasn’t in the house, I wouldn’t eat it. It is far easier to have discipline around a shopping list than when snacks are in the pantry.
I also stopped thinking “I worked out today, so I can eat this” and started considering exercise as the way I keep my metabolism accelerated as I restrict calories. As I saw results, I became more reasonable with my food choices and more motivated to reinforce the hard work of my day. Fitness and strength became the rewards, not ice cream.
Use a fitness tracker (if that’s your thing)
I wish I had more information on where I started from. While I know some numbers, I should have taken advantage of 50/50’s complementary fitness assessment.
If you are motivated by statistics, use it to your advantage. I track my exercise, weight, steps, BMI, % fat, etc. and have my history going back two years. I love to look at the graphs and revisit past workouts. I weigh in almost every day with the knowledge that I am looking for long term trends, and not getting discouraged by short term setbacks.
Enlist the help friends and co-workers
I shared my goals and was amazed at the support and encouragement I received. I became accountable to the people I spoke with daily and they checked in on my progress. I began running with co-workers during business trips, competed with Fitbit Challenges and even held plank-off sessions against each other. We now make sure that fitness is prioritized in our agendas when we meet, making time in the morning or between meetings.
Include your kids
Your journey to fitness is a positive influence for your kids. I have run with my four year old in a jog stroller, done wind sprints with him in the driveway, and jumping jacks in the airport. My teenager has come to core classes, spin classes and Spin & Strength. Even if they are too young or too cynical to make it part of their daily life now, it is a message they will carry through their lives.
Bring variety to your workouts
While I consider running my primary form of exercise, I also spin at 50/50 and try to take Spin & Strength a couple days a week. I sampled a number of different classes and instructors and switch around with the ones I find most enjoyable.
As an added bonus, mixing it up not only keep its fun, it helps to keep you injury free. In my year plus since I started, I have not only avoided injury completely, the cross training has strengthened areas of my body I never addressed before. With that, my chronic back and knee pain are all but gone.
I also enjoy hunting, fishing, cycling hiking and other outdoor activities… and I am better at all of them now.
Set Audacious Goals (and smaller ones along the way)
Even though I had never run a race before, in June I decided I would run my first half marathon. I signed up for the Happy Valley Half Marathon. While I knew it was a big goal, I made sure there were smaller, more achievable goals along the way, such as my first 5K and reducing my pace from 14 minute miles to 9 minute miles. I exceeded my goal of running it in under two hours, finishing in 1:57!
Surround yourself with positive people
The staff at 50/50 makes this easy, they are ready and available to connect. Take advantage of that. Outside of my wife and the 50/50 team, my co-workers, my boss, and my friends offered a ton of encouragement and their energy was infectious. In the same way, know that your success is an inspiration to others. Share your message.
Steal inspiration from unlikely sources
The first time I ran ten miles, I found myself repeating Tom Brady’s, “We haven’t come this far to come this far.” During my eleven mile run, it was Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” There is encouragement everywhere if you look for it. No days off.
Treat yourself along the way
As I started slimming down I dragged my heels on replacing my wardrobe. Don’t do that. You are starting to look and feel better, allow yourself to reflect that. Buy new clothes as you need them and donate/sell them as you don’t.
Changing my perspective from “I need to exercise and eat well” to “I live to exercise and eat well” has created positive change across all aspects of my life. I have still not achieved all my goals, but I am in the best shape of my life and continue to improve. I am at 50/50 every week, I signed up for the Whately Mother’s Day Half and the Buffalo Half in May and will run the Happy Valley again this year. If you see me in the gym, say “hi.” 50/50 is a community and we can all achieve our goals with the positive support and encouragement of our 50/50 family.
Wish Joe luck in the Western Mass Mother’s Day Half, on May 14th!
As I get deeper and deeper into the realm of assessments, I am increasingly becoming aware of the ways in which muscle imbalances affect our overall fitness and health. Many of you are working hard in the gym: spinning, TRX, Targeted, Tabata, Cardio Kick, etc! But, do you take the time to think about how you are moving (or in some cases not moving) when you are not inside the walls of 50/50? Our posture and movement patterns carry through our day to day life, and for most of us, there are 23 hours a day that we are not at the gym.
One of my mentors, Dr. Brent Brookbush, has a lot to say (and write) about postural dysfunction. Much of his research is based on creating exercises and techniques that improve posture, and thus movement and performance, to reduce injury and pain (both chronic and acute). We spend a lot of time thinking about improving our cardiovascular capacity, strength, and maybe even balance and flexibility, but most of us spend little time and energy on improving our daily posture and movement patterns.
This week I encourage all of you to actively think about your posture and movement when you are not at the gym. Are you slumped over the computer? Do you spend too many hours sitting? If I were to look at your foot-steps in the sand would they be straight or would one side toe-out or in? The first step to correcting these postural dysfunctions is awareness. Many of you will be able to correct some of these patterns once you are mindful of them. If the dysfunction is deeply ingrained in our muscle memory, maybe it is a good time to think about personal training Beyond providing you with a butt-kicking workout, our personal trainers specialize in providing corrective exercises to address muscle imbalances, postural dysfunction, and issues with movement patterns. Also, we now offer Functional Movement Screening (FMS), an objective screening tool that measures seven movements that are key to daily life, and determines if those movements are optimal, acceptable, or dysfunctional. Ask us about this cool new service.
I know you’ve heard me say it in spin class, but this week I want your motto all day to be: “Proud chest, shoulders back, breathe!”