Danny M. O'Dell, MA. CSCS*D Strength coach
Danny M. O'Dell, MA. CSCS*D Strength coach


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Fat-necessary or not?




Fat-necessary or not?

A key component in assessing an individual’s health and physical fitness is knowing the body composition makeup. Obesity (excessive body fat relative to body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more) and becoming overweight (Adults with BMI between 25-29.9 kg/m2 or with children being in and over the 95th percentile for their age and sex) is at epidemic proportions in the United States and the trend is gathering momentum.

Right now we are at the top of the fat list compared to the majority of the nations in the world-an unfortunate but sad fact.

Being obese brings serious health consequences and reduces life expectancy by increasing the risk of developing serious diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, aka the silent killer, type 2 diabetes, obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis and even certain kinds of cancer.

Just as too much fat in the body can cause problems, so can too little. Our body needs fat to operate in a normal physiological fashion. For example the essential lipids such as the phospholipids are vital to cell membrane formation. The non essential lipids such as triglycerides which are found in the adipose (fat) tissue protect the body by providing a layer of thermal insulation. Fat tissue assists in storing metabolic fuel in the form of free fatty acids.

These same lipids are also involved in the storage and transport of the fat soluble A, D, E, and K vitamins and in helping to maintain the functionality of the nervous system. The menstrual cycle in females and the reproductive systems in both male and female rely on these cells, as does the growth and maturation processes of the pubescence child.

Thus too little body fat as seen in those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, or someone with an exercise addiction or even certain diseases such as cystic fibrosis can lead to serious physiological health related consequences.

The best option is to be in the normal range for body fat, not over or under the recommendations if you desire to have good health.

Testing the body fat levels

The previous article briefly discussed the near crisis issue of being overweight and the staggering rise of obesity in our nation. Here we are going to look behind the scenes at the testing methods that determine fat or fit.

A classification of the level of body fat relies on the standard relative body fat percentages commonly used across the world. These classifications are in turn then broken up into age, sex, and activity body fat percentages at recommended levels. Across the scale women carry more body fat than males and younger people of both sexes carry less fat than older adults. This is due to the role women have in the reproduction of our species.

What are the body composition measures used for?

Body composition measures are useful in estimating a healthy body weight and figuring out a recommended nutritional plan. Both of these components are essential in designing an exercise program that will be beneficial to the trainee. Athletes who participate in weight bracket sports such as bodybuilding and wrestling need to know their ideal weight in order to be competitive. Pediatricians and other health care professionals make note of these measurements while monitoring the growth of children and to identify those who are at risk of being under or over weight.

The population of our country is getting older and the changes in body composition are important indicators of whether the person is remaining healthy or not. In each case the assessment of body fat helps to determine the nutritional and exercise prescription intervention strategies that play a prominent role in charting a course of action to improve health and fitness levels.

Background on the measurement procedures

The body is made up of water, protein, minerals and fat substances. Most body fat identification procedures rely upon the two component model which divides the body into two sections: fat free and the fat tissue. The fat free is made up of all the chemicals and the tissues including water, muscle and the bones. The rest is fat. The testing methods separate the water, protein and minerals from the fat and then give a percentage of lean body mass to fat mass. In the next article I will be briefly discussing the various testing methods. Until then, stay active and healthy in your life.

Lab tests of body composition levels

There are numerous methods of testing the amount of body fat. Each one of the accepted procedures relies on an extensive series of formulas to validate the conclusions of the test results. One of the gold standards of measuring body fat, hydrostatic, is commonly referred to as under water testing.

Hydrostatic weighing is a standard by which all others are measured against due to the validity and reliability of its results. This method works by estimating the total body volume that is displaced in the water compared to the body’s volume. It is based upon Archimedes’ principle that weight loss under water is directly proportional to the volume of water that is displaced by the volume of the body.

Air displacement plethysmography measures body volume and density using air displacement instead of water to estimate volume. This is a quick test and doesn’t demand extensive technical expertise to administer. This method does require a whole body plethysmograph such as the Bod Pod system. In essence this is a totally contained unit the individual sits in while the test is being conducted. If you are claustrophobic this may not be the best choice for you.

The Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry is steadily gaining acceptance in the field as another reliable method of conducting body composition research. This machine, as did the air displacement plethysmography mentioned in the previous paragraph, requires minimal client and technician skills to conduct.

The dual x-ray absorptiometry devices are NOT standardized throughout the industry so the results will vary between manufacturers. If you have a test done make sure it is with the same type of machine and this holds true if you are having an osteopenia or osteoporosis screening baseline test.

Field tests of body composition

The skin fold method if conducted by a knowledgeable and experienced person is quite accurate. It is a good measure of subcutaneous fat and the results are similar to the results from a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. Just as the other methods rely on a large population specific data base so do the skinfold charts. Men are different from women and children are different from adults. Make certain the charts your examiner is using are appropriate for your activity, age, and gender.

Bioelectrical impedance method (IA).
This testing process is a non invasive, quick and relatively economical way of determining body fat levels. A low amount of electrical current is passed through the body and the opposition to this flow (impedance) is then measured by the machine. An indirect measurement is obtained. However there are some problems associated with the BIA method.

The assumption made at the beginning is the body is shaped like a perfect cylinder-which we all know is false. Other possible built in errors are the initial set up of the instrumentation, client factors such as eating or drinking within four hours of the test and technician skill.

Prediction equations currently in use with the BIA for determining fat free mass (FFM) are suspect, especially if different machines are used. In some cases these can cause a difference of FFM readings of up to 2.1 kilograms or over four and a half pounds.

Anthropometric methods

These tests rely on body measurements of circumference or the skeletal diameter of specific body parts. These readings are then compared to large volumes of data to determine the size and proportion of the subjects’ body.

Indices such as those that help determine body mass index, waist to hip ratios, waist circumference and sagittal abdominal diameter are each used to help identify those who are at risk for disease.

The premise behind the use of circumference measures lie in the fact that fat mass, muscle mass and skeletal size are all affected by and related to fat mass and lean body mass. Anthropometric methods are more closely predictive of body fat in obese people than are those conducted with skin calipers. An additional advantage of the circumference method is the measurements can be taken more accurately than with the skin fold instruments.

The body mass index is useful as a classification tool for identifying those individuals who are over weight, obese or under weight, at risk of suffering from an obese related disease, or to help monitor body composition changes in a clinical population. The major downfall of this testing method is that it does not take into consideration muscle mass. Other issues in the use of the BMI are age, body builds, ethnicity and frame size-none of which are taken into account so the readings can often be highly misleading.

The commonly used waist to hip ratio (WHR) is used as an indirect measure of lower to upper body fat distribution. Caution needs to be used when measuring women who are menstruating as the waist to hip ratio is affected by the menopausal status. Prepubertal children and those who are increasingly fat per the normal charts will not show a correct reading and this test should not be used for these reasons. Bear in mind that hip circumference is by subcutaneous fat whereas waist circumference is affected by both subcutaneous and visceral fat deposits.

Measuring the waist to hip is not as simple as one would think it to be as there are no universally accepted standards for exactly where to measure the waist. Essentially for all measurements the waist to hip ratio is found by dividing the waist circumference by the hip circumference in centimeters. Health risk is very high for those young men exceeding a waist to hip ration of 0.94 and for the young women who measure out greater than 0.82. If you are between the ages of 60 and 69 the critical numbers are 1.03 and 0.90 for men and women respectively. In recent times the emphasis has shifted from the WHR to the waist circumference measurements.

Waist circumference measurements are gaining in popularity due to their ability to predict regional adiposity especially in the abdominal area. Coupling the BMI with a waist measurement increases the ability of predicting health risks than with just one measurement alone. The national cholesterol education program suggests a cut off of greater than 102 cm for men and greater than 88 cm for women in determining obesity. Other researchers set the limits at 100 cm for men and 95 cm for women when determining those with a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Look over the chart to see where you fall in the risk category.

Sagittal abdominal diameter is an excellent indirect measure of visceral fat. Once again though, this test, like many before it has its limitations. In this case the test is better suited to those who are lean to moderately overweight rather than the obese. This test carries even greater predictability for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in both men and women. But the procedures of measurement have not been standardized. Since this is the situation, if you have one of these tests performed then make certain the follow up tests are measured at the same location with the same or equal equipment, i.e. the tape measure.

Near-infrared interactance method

Indirectly assessing tissue composition (fat and water) utilizing optical density measurements that determine the amount of absorbed and reflected light at specific body sites is the domain of the Futrex, Inc. manufacturing corporation. The downfall of this method thus far is the lack of validation for the results. There are large prediction errors in the estimation of body fat levels. Most have been underestimations of the fat carried by the client being tested.


Body composition is a major component of health and physical fitness because total fat and the distribution of the fat are leading indicators of disease risks. Classifications of fat levels determine the classification category an individual will fit into. If you decide or are asked to be tested for your percentage of fat make certain the comparison charts fit your age, gender, and activity levels otherwise the results will be skewed and not always in your favor.

Elaborate lab tests are useful in gathering precise measurements but the waist to hip ratio, waist circumference and sagittal abdominal diameter are accepted industry wide as being accurate and sufficient for most peoples needs.

A few fat control ideas and exercise schedules. And no there won’t be a lot of long boring non productive cardio sessions. Those are a waste of time in the long run for fat burning purposes.

Fat control through exercise and calorie intake limitations

Once you find your level of body fat then it’s time to move on and do something about it. But first it may help to figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) as this is the rate at which the body gives off heat or the energy it is using at complete rest. The formula to figure out how many calories you need for moderate activity is this:

Body weight (in pounds) times 15 plus (moderate activity expressed in minutes per day time times 3.5 equals your Basal Metabolic Rate.

Bodyweight x 15 + moderate activity x 3.5 = BMR

Once you know the calories that are needed to sustain your daily activities then it’s a simple matter to figure out where they should come from. This is the easy part isn’t it? The hard part is to actually follow through on the calorie restriction or increase. I have a few suggestions that may help.

The number one thing that will help burn the fat off is exercise. Maximize the metabolic shifts in your system by becoming more active every single day. Circuit training with weights and cardio will enhance your fat loss training if you stick to it. Consistency counts more than many people realize.

Your body didn’t get in the shape it’s in from only one day’s lapse in eating or activity level and it won’t get in better shape in one day either. One of the quickest ways to begin losing excess fat is to alternate upper and lower body weight exercises and abdominal movements in between. Use relatively heavy weights with each set lasting approximately one minute.

Rest between sets until your heart rate is back to between 60-80% of your maximum, which is age dependent. A quick way to determine this range is by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying the result by 60-80% to find the rate at which you’ll begin to exercise again. Naturally if you are out of shape an 80% heart rate will be too great and you should start your next set again at a lower heart rate.

Check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

The schedule: A sequence of 4-8 exercises for 2-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions each performed three to four times a week in a circuit interval interspersed with three to five minutes of cardio has proven successful in fat loss training. For the upper body the most efficient movements will be the military presses, chin ups or pull downs, bench presses and barbell rows. The lower body will respond best to full range squats, dead lifts and calf raises.

On the off days of strength training add in fast paced cardio for 15-30 minutes and you will be seeing results in a week’s time. These are not long slow jogs; they are fast runs.

Attention to nutrition will definitely help speed up the weight loss. Follow the USDA food pyramid each day for the proper guidelines. Definitely don’t starve yourself as this just makes your body that much more efficient in saving and managing the calories that you take into it. Drink water and eat 5-6 well balanced meals a day. Sleep well and on a consistent schedule each day.

High Heart Rate Strength Training (HHRST)

Attempting to build strength without the ability of your heart to keep up the pace is an exercise in futility. This type of training is the foundation of general physical preparation for all who strive to be the best at their sport. You may be asking yourself what is this high heart rate strength training all about. The short answer is combination cardio at 70-80% THR and strength training at 70-80% 1RM.

In order to do this demanding type of exercise regimen you must already be in excellent condition as it is not appropriate for the uninitiated to do.

Excellent shape by my definition is the following:

1. Have been exercising consistently over the past year.
2. Have an established and known regular resting heart beat number, for example 56, 68 just to toss out a few possible numbers. Yours may be higher or lower depending on your present physical condition.
3. Currently performing no less than 30-45 minutes of cardio every other day at the 70-80% Target Heart Rate (THR) for your age and sex as determined by the formula of your choice. Which ever one you choose stick with it through out the next six weeks so you have a steady reference point to draw upon. See appendix A for the various heart rate calculations.
4. Measure your height and weight and then write it down in a logbook.
5. Determine your hip to waist ratio and write it down.
6. Measure your stomach girth and then write it down.
7. Be knowledgeable in the perceived exertion rate scale of 1-10. Where one is perceived as being the lightest easiest and ten is the hardest most difficult and nearly impossible to do.
8. You must have established specific repetition maximums in the following eight exercises:
a. Military press
b. Chin ups (maximum number performed at one time with no rests between each one) OR Pull downs
c. Bench press
d. Barbell row-three reps
e. Squat
f. Sit ups (maximum number performed at one time with no rests between each one)
g. Back extensions (maximum number performed in one minute at one time with no rests between each one) OR maximum performed with a weight held to the chest in one minute without rest between repetitions

At the outset let me unequivocally state that I am NOT in favor of the ‘puke index’ of training. If your trainees are puking then you are having them do too much and it is time to back off, preferably before the regurgitation begins.

Pay very close attention to the trainee as it is easy for them to become faint unless they are in excellent condition. Even some of these individuals will become light headed with the fast pace of the session. Watch their faces for any indication of paleness or approaching queasiness. If this happens, lay them down so their feet are above their heart, apply a cold compress to their foreheads and get a high glycemic liquid into their system. Not so much that they end up vomiting.

Once your trainee has fulfilled these criteria to your satisfaction then the program begins with an introduction into the training regimen. This is a starter routine that will be performed for the first two weeks to make certain the athlete is up to the stress and the activity pace.

Consult with your doctor before performing any new exercise routine or program.

Introduction to the six week High Heart Rate Strength Training program. This is a very aggressive training program. Caution should be used if you are not already in excellent physical condition!

Warmup before exercising, in this case the rope provides an excellent general warm up. Once the general warm up is completed and before beginning a specific exercise perform several mimicking movements of the exercise before adding external weight. Follow the advice provided by the notes in the introductory program.

Week one and two

Do the following exercises two to three times per session for two weeks, two times a week. Keep track of your heart rate throughout the session. After each rope skipping episode begin the next set of exercises when your pulse reaches the 70% THR. Don’t let it drop below 70% THR

1. Skip rope for one minute.
2. 360’s (bridges) one at each position for 15 seconds with perfect form for one minute.
3. Skip rope for one minute at a steady pace.

Note: Warm up your shoulders and arms with the shoulder series of moves as described here before moving on to the pushups:

4. Do each one of the following 15-20 times. Start with bodyweight only and work up from there. Some advanced elite athletes use up to twenty kilograms for these exercises.
Wide clockwise circles with outstretched arms.
Wide counter clockwise circles with outstretched arms.
Arms straight to the sides with palms facing the body moving out front and back over head without bending them.
Arms bent at 90° and then extended rapidly to the front and back to the 90° starting position.
5. One minute of push ups.

Note: Warm up your lower body with a set of 15-25 good mornings and one set of 15-25 bodyweight only squats before beginning with the weighted squats that follow.

6. One minute of squats at 40% 1RM.
7. Skip rope for one minute.
8. One minute full range of motion sit ups with hands on the chest.

Note: Warm up the chest and upper arms with an additional series of shoulder warm ups but this time do only ten each of the series before beginning the bench press and barbell rows.

9. Bench press one minute at 40% 1RM.
10. Barbell row one minute at 40% 3RM.
11. Skip rope for one minute.
12. Back extensions for one minute.
13. Skip rope for two minutes.

Cool down

The cool down provides your body the opportunity to return to a near normal state. The static stretches make use of the muscles warmth and lower viscosity of the tissues. There are six rules of stretching as recommended by the stretching authority Brad Walker of Australia. You can check out his website at http://www.thestretchinghandbook.com

The stretching rules are:
1. Warm up prior to stretching.
2. Stretch before and after exercise.
3. Stretch all of the major muscle groups and their opposing muscle groups.
4. Stretch gently and slowly, in other words don’t be bouncing to gain that extra little bit. It just may be too much and you could end up injured.
5. Stretch only to the point of tension, these are not meant to be painful.
6. Breathe slowly and easily.

The cool down
Do static stretches of your choice for the following areas until your heart rate is once again nearly normal, i.e. your regular pulse rate while up and about in your daily routine. There are a myriad of stretches that are equally effective at the end of your HHRST session, just pick out the ones you enjoy doing during this relaxing point of the exercise session.

Upper back
Legs quads and hamstrings
Lower back





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