It is common for individuals undergoing weight management or muscle building programs to use a scale to check the weight on a daily basis. It gives an idea of the weight gained or lost, or whether it is maintained constant. However, most people don't realize that the entire picture is not portrayed by the scale, as its information is merely about raw body weight. There is no indication about gains in muscle mass or body fat. Therefore, the possibility is that you may go ahead with your training with a theoretical weight increase, whereas practically your mirror will show a noticeable chubbiness in your figure.
As the objective of any weight training program is to increase lean muscle mass rather than body fat, it is important to understand the difference. Hence, getting a reading and calculating the body fat will serve the purpose, and help you find the exact cause for weight gain - whether it is due to increased body fat or lean muscle mass. If it is due to a gain of lean muscle mass, then you are in the proper direction, and your objective can be attained easily.
Body fat can be assessed through a number of techniques, such as underwater weighing, skin-fold calipers, DEXA scan (Dual Energy X-Ray Anthropometry scan) and a hand-held instrument that passes electrical pulses through the body differentiating the lean mass and the fat mass. The DEXA and underwater weighing (or hydrostatic weighing) are more dependable for precise assessment, but they are not readily available, as their use is limited to certain hospitals and universities. Underwater weighing may not be effective for those having high bone density. A girth test using a skin caliper instrument or a tape measure will also do the job. Other methods of fat assessment include infrared techniques and Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis.
A skin caliper consists of an electronic hand-held device, which actually assesses subcutaneous fat, and hence you cannot have an idea of the fat content in the viscera. The reading is not one hundred percent exact but if it is handled by the same person all the time, then the overall reading will give you a picture of the fat gain or loss. So, if the skin folds are maintained the same, with a progressive increase in the body weight, then you can safely say that the gain is from lean muscle mass.
The BMI or Body Mass Index can also be used to determine the body fat by using a calculative method. The method involves dividing the weight (pounds) by the height (inches squared), and then multiplying the result by a conversion factor (703). A BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered a normal range according to the BMI scale. Below the range is considered underweight while above the range indicates overweight or obesity.
The body fat should be calculated prior to starting on a muscle building or weight training program, and then, it should be continued on a periodical basis, every three to five weeks. Unless you are overeating, the readings won't show dramatic changes, and hence the time interval is sufficient to monitor fat gain.
Body fat, otherwise called adipose tissue also consists of essential fat cells required for normal functions, but when it exceeds the required limit, it causes obesity. Normal fat percentage for women is expected to be about 21 to 35 percent, while it should be from 8 to 24 percent for men, and the percentage may vary with age. Body fat stores energy that can be used when carbohydrates are exhausted, and it further serves as an insulating layer, offering protection.
It is obvious that within the permitted limits, body fat is beneficial and also essential for our body to function normally. However overeating and lack of adequate physical activities or exercise cause fat gains that are undesirable, leading to obesity, which in turn leads to related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea and more. Hence, it is necessary to calculate the body fat content continuously, to design and modify workout programs for muscle building and weight reduction, besides maintaining proper health.
Steven Tyrie is an exercise science and general health and fitness expert who specializes in helping beginners reach their muscle building goals. To learn more FREE muscle building tips, sign up to the FREE BuildUpYourMuscles weekly newsletter or to download the complete 'Beginners Guide to Muscle Building' ebook just visit www.buildupyourmuscles.com.