Getting smart about body fat monitoring
Whether you are on a weight loss journey or embarking on a strength training programme, knowing and understanding your weight is an important part of measuring progress. Traditional scales will only give you a very basic number, which is literally just the total of your body mass.
Body composition scales, on the other hand, undertake an in-depth analysis of your profile and will provide you with more information that you can use to measure your progress.
What are body composition scales?
Body composition scales look similar to digital scales in their size and display, except they have sensors to mark where your feet should be placed. When you stand on a pair, they begin conducting a bioelectric impedance analysis by sending a weak electric current up through your feet. Don’t worry, you can’t feel anything and will definitely not be shocked!
The feedback from this current tells the scales about your body composition.
Weighing yourself isn’t enough
The scales then display information about your body’s profile on-screen or, for those that are connected to an app, on your phone. The main measurements to pay attention to are:
- Body fat
- Muscle mass
- Bone mass
- Fat percentage
- Body water percentage
- Some scales go further and provide things like BMI calculations and estimated daily calorie requirements.
How BMI scales help with weight loss
The formula to lose weight is ‘eat less, move more’, meaning reduce your calorie intake and increase your calorie expenditure. This is 100% the right way to structure your fitness plan. However, when we say lose weight, what we actually mean is to reduce fat.
Setting a weight loss goal of losing a specific number of kilograms is a very rough way of measuring progress. If a person loses 20kg, they will undoubtedly reduce their overall body size, but there is a big difference in how that 20kg can be composed.
If your goal is to become slimmer, leaner and more toned, then you need to pay attention to the composition of the weight you are losing.
Overdoing calorie restriction or only doing cardio sessions will see body fat and muscle loss. This will lead to a loss of strength and a reduction in metabolic rate (because muscle uses more energy for maintenance than fat), which will hinder future fat loss as the body tries to save energy.
Moreover, while the overall size of the body will shrink, without muscle tone underneath even a slim body retains a soft and pudgy appearance.
The sensible way to train is to include cardio and strength training so that your muscle mass is growing alongside your fat loss. Tracking your body composition helps you to understand what is happening inside of your body week-to-week.
Related Gym Guides
- Best Body Composition Scales You Can Buy in 2021
- How Much Should I Run On A Treadmill To Lose Weight?
- Cross Trainer Vs. Exercise Bike – Which One Is Right For You?
- The Best Way To Create A Calorie Deficit Training At Home
Using body composition scales in strength training
Tracking strength training progress has an edge over tracking weight loss in that the measure of success is not the number on a scale, it is performance in the gym. You know when you have hit your goals because you get that new PB. While the endpoint is very clear, measuring progress along the way is a bit tricker.
We always advise people to keep a gym diary that details what they did in each session, how it felt, and to add notes about recovery and other body signals, as this helps them to understand their body’s response to training and spot patterns.
Why do you need to track body composition?
Body composition scales are another form of data that can be added to your gym diary. Having an objective measure of what is going on inside of your body alongside your own notes will reveal links between and causes of good/bad performance.
For example, body water measurements should flag any dehydration, which can negatively affect performance. We are not always aware of dehydration and might believe that because we drank our normal amount of water that we are hydrated.
However, something might have happened to the body that meant it lost more than usual, such as sweating more overnight. Learning to understand what body composition means for gym performance will help you to achieve more in session.
How accurate are body composition scales?
Commercially available body measuring scales for men and women are extremely accurate. While home-based bio-impedance methods can’t compete with the larger, expensive scales used in places like hospitals, you can expect a high degree of accuracy from a decent brand of BMI scale. The data is more than reliable enough to help lose weight and get a very close approximation of your body’s composition.
Body analysis can be a huge motivator
Another reason to use body composition scales at home is because they offer a higher degree of accountability. Dieters that cheat on their diet or skip gym sessions can think that they have ‘gotten away with it if they weigh in on a basic scale and have managed to maintain or even lose weight that week.
On a body composition scale, this can be revealed to be down to a reduction in body water or even lost muscle mass.
They also reward those who stick to their plan but cannot see any progress on a basic scale. Sometimes people lose body fat but are holding onto water weight or have gained muscle mass. Knowing the finer details of body weight ensures that motivation is not destroyed by frustration with, seemingly, not losing weight.
References & Further Reading
- Pub Med: Study of subcutaneous fat
- Christie Aschwanden – Most effective cardio workouts, according to science
- NCBI – The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance
- Matthew A. Nystoriak* and Aruni Bhatnagar – Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise
- Aaron Kandola – What are the best exercises for weight loss?