Body Fat Testing; How Personal Trainers Dupe You

Have you ever been pinched by those annoying little clippers that personal trainer’s use? Chances are high that you have, if you joined a gym lately. That instrument is called a Caliper and when used by a professional, they have a 3 – 5 percent error. Professional, that’s any personal trainer correct? WRONG BUCKOO! Let me explicate.A “professional” or a technician only qualify for this title if they have correctly performed over 100 “tests” on subjects. To be considered an accurate test, the technician needs to assess the client at the seven measuring sites two times each, within 1-2mm per site*; the majority of gyms test three-four sites (*according to the ACSM American College of Sports Medicine).

Isn’t it a nice way to get acquainted with someone on your first visit- hello my name is Chris; let me grab your belly fat!! YAHH RIGHT!!! Let me toot my own horn for a second- it’s fun to do, you should try it.  I have been tested via the gold standard in the industry a few different times and that method is called, “Hydrostatic Testing” aka the dunk tank.  My most recent testing was 8.6% body fat, but on the calipers I read closer to 14.8% and the BIA 12.5% – how can that be!  Basically, if you want to know your true body fat, you need to enter the dunk tank because the other 2 are going to be slightly higher and less accurate. The water tank has a .5% to 1% error that seems a lot more accurate! This doesn’t mean they’re not effective. On a side note, it is said that if you can see your inguinal ligament, you are under 10% (“sexy” lines that are shaped like a V as in figure #1.)

What is body fat? When we receive our percent body fat, we are getting a measurement of lean body mass (LBM) compared to our fat mass.  Fat is not as electro-conductive as muscle and it’s not as heavy.  This is why it floats during the water testing (Archimedes’ Law of Buoyancy – BAM physics reference).  Caliper testing measures your subcutaneous fat, which is on the surface.  (Figure #2 is a picture of the Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA); this method uses the electro-conductivity method as previously stated.)

In the end, the idea of testing body fat percentage is far superior to that of body weight; the scale can lie!  If I could have a say, I would never ever ever recommend anyone weighing themselves! A better suggestion would be to go off of energy levels, how your clothes fit and compliments via family members and friends!  They all will be a better judge.  We need to get out of the routine of weighing ourselves daily!  At most, 1-2 times per month, AT MOST! Also, remember my water article? As I so perfectly stated, the human body consists of 60% water and muscle tissue is almost 70%!   Just be careful next time you have someone start pinching you, claiming they are an expert and are going to give you your exact body fat percentage.  My recommendation is to begin with the BIA because it is less intrusive and just as accurate.  If you do decide to go through with the calipers, follow these guidelines:

Ask the following questions to see if your personal trainer really knows what they are talking about.  Just like the country song, Check Yes or NO!!

Question 1: 
What are the 9 sites to test body fat composition via calipers? YES or NO                           
1. Chest  2. Midaxillary (arm pit)  3. Tricep  4. Umbilicus (abs)  5. Subscapular (back)  6. Suprailiac (front part of pelvis)  7. Thigh  8. Bicep  9.  Calf

Question 2:  
Which of the 9 sites should not be used?  (Biceps and Calf)  YES or NO                                   

Question 3:  
Of the 7 testable sites, which 3 are diagonal folds? YES or NO
There are 3 sites that are taken with a side hold instead of vertical fold which is up / down
1. Suprailiac  2. Subscapular  3. Chest

Question 4:  
What is the benefit of using this over other methods such as the BIA? YES or NO
There are no advantages.  The handheld devices such as BIA are just as accurate: 3-5% error

Question 5:  
If you could have 3 wishes what would they be? YES or NO
If your trainer can’t be imaginative and have some fun, then you might want to reconsider the training package you are about to sign up for. Do you want to be stuck with a dud?

Did they pass YES or NO? If your trainer cannot answer 4 out of 5 correctly, then you should consider choosing another trainer (I’d rather have a smart trainer with a dull personality, than an inept trainer with a personality!) Why would someone call themselves a professional if they cannot administer this basic tool? It would be like asking your doctor why she is prescribing a certain medication for high blood pressure and her response is, “Well, I am not sure, but it works.” That answer wouldn’t work for me and definitely shouldn’t for you!  Make sure to question the living hell out of ALL trainers, because a lot them (NOT ALL, i.e. NPTI AND NASM-PT PRO) go online, take a test and are incompetent when it comes to training.

All in all, these methods are a ploy to get you into training; unless the individual can accurately utilize each device. If close to 70% of America is overweight, then chances are someone who comes into a trainer’s office is going to be overweight.  All they need to do is pull-out the calipers to make the individual feel bad; now you really need a trainer!  If you want a quality trainer who actually understands the human body and can explain to you what body fat percentage is as well as BMR, BMI and Blood Pressure, then come on down to Show Up Fitness- we are the real experts! Most importantly, we will teach you something and you will have fun! As always, keep smiling; work out hard, do goofy stuff like singing at the top of your lungs and SHHHHAKE AND BAAAKKKKEEEEE (that’s me singing!!!!!) Don’t get the whole shake and bake reference?  Then watch Talladega Nights with Will Ferrel!!!!