Body composition and tracking results

We take a closer look at how your body composition and testing can be used to measure and track your results. Katelyn Swallow writes.


What is it?

In fitness terms, body composition is basically a description of the proportion of body fat to fat-free mass, including your bones and muscles. For most women, the aim is to lower body fat percentages and increase muscle mass (aka. to lean).

Test 1: DEXA scan

Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans are a means of testing body composition, including body fat percentage, muscle mass and bone density. Lie on the body-sized x-ray machine for about three minutes and receive a complex array of body composition information in return.

“DEXA scans are regarded as the gold standard of body composition tests. With a margin of error of around one per cent, you can’t go wrong. Callipers, on the other hand, give a completely different reading depending on who tested you,” says trainer and owner of Fully Loaded Fitness, Ethan Hyde.

“By using a method that is controlled and consistent you will get the best results.”

DEXA scans provide a host of detailed information, including that related to body symmetry and even hydration. For example, it can tell you how much muscle mass and body fat is in each limb so that training can be centred on fixing any imbalances caused by poor form or other.

“This helps you program leg exercises to bring up the lagging area and give the dominant leg a slight break from the usual intensity,” says Hyde.

Test 2: Measurements and callipers

If $80 to $100 for a DEXA is slightly out of your pay bracket, stick to old school measurements – considering muscle takes up less space than fat, improvements in body composition will result in smaller measurements.

“For body composition, I use body measures across the entire body: chest, waist (belly button), hips, thigh and upper arm,” says head trainer and owner of Personally Trained Andrew McKee.

Skin callipers (which basically measure skin folds) are also a great option for measuring body fat percentage, but are usually more accurate when completed by a trainer or similar. The four key areas to test include: the back just below the shoulder blade (callipers must be on a 45 degree angle); just above your hip bone; the front of the upper part of your arm or the bicep; and the rear of the upper arm or the tricep area.

“Depending upon the age and sex of the person being measured, callipers will determine their percentage of body fat by the sum of the measurements in all four areas,” explains McKee.