The goal of this guide is to help you navigate the clutter of information available and provide you with a clear path to change your physique with body composition exercises.
Let’s get to the details. We will cover:
- What Body Composition Actually Is
- Examples of Body Composition vs Weight
- How To Track Body Composition
- Best Exercises for Body Composition
- Structuring a Training Plan for Improved Body Composition
Feel free to jump to the part that interested you the most or just keep reading through.
What Body Composition Actually Is
Before we get into the details of the body composition exercises, let us take a quick look at ourselves. What are we made of really?
Because sometimes in the fitness world it seems we are basically fat and muscle. But that is not the truth.
We have bones, organs, tendons, water, blood… You get the point. Males are also different from females in terms of body composition, right? And even 2 women with similar stature can have totally different body shapes.
Regardless of this we still believe we can put people in body fat percentage buckets. That sets unrealistic expectations and can promote unhealthy standards.
So, yeah, the best way to track body composition is to focus on your body’s fat percentage – but your own, not somebody else’s. That will tell you how much of your “body” is composed of fat.
We should also focus on increasing our muscle mass if we want to make significant changes to how we look. But this one is harder to measure because there are several types of muscles:
However, when looking to change our body composition we are referring to only one: skeletal. But there is no easy way to calculate our percentage of skeletal muscle without fancy expensive equipment.
But the main point is the following: to improve your body composition you will need to focus on reducing fat and increasing muscle.
Now, the point where I always lose some people – the weight problem.
Examples of Body Composition vs Weight
One of my biggest battles as a Personal Trainer is the difference between weight loss and fat loss. And sometimes even I say weight loss just to get some common ground and help people change their mindset.
But make no mistake – what we want is to focus on fat loss. And so far, so good. I believe most people agree with me on this.
The problem is when I say that you can do that and maintain your weight. SAY WHAT??
Almost no woman I worked with accepted lightly that they could achieve their goals without changing their weight. But that is so, so true. This is what can happen:
Would you care about how much you weighed if your body looked like that? I would not. That is the main reason why body composition exercises are so important – not only diet.
How To Track Body Composition
And here is where things start to get interesting. If weight is not the way, then how do I know I am going in the right direction? Because nobody wants to be in the dark. And we are too used to jump into the scale and get the number in a second.
Maybe you have already guessed but having an exact number for this is not that easy. You have some options though:
Basically, you pinch your body in specific locations to measure the size of your subcutaneous fat. Literally, measure.
It is an inexpensive method and accurate enough for its price.
However, I personally do not like it because it requires people to do a behavior that I know can trigger negative body image thoughts.
Here we are not talking about just taking measurements but applying an equation to a set of measurements to estimate the overall body fat percentage.
It is again a cheap method, but not the most accurate. Especially because we all have different bodies, and these calculations assume some standardization.
You can use a scale to measure this using an electrical current that goes through your body. Most of these scales are not very accurate and the results will vary a lot depending on the water you have each day on your body. Not the best way.
If you search you can find tons of equipment and methods to get to the more precise number possible. Things like the body pod, water displacement, or DEXA scans. Those are not only hard to find but also significantly expensive. And, in my opinion, unnecessary for most people.
The Best Way To Track Body Composition
Progress photos. What? Really?
This is like the least expensive option with no additional equipment required (assuming you have a phone that takes pics, which I imagine you do anyway).
And it will without a doubt show you, in a very visual way, how you look, and if you are getting better as weeks go by. Just put the pictures side by side and you have your answer there.
You can also weigh yourself and take some measurements, sure. But photos have other great benefits:
- They help us confront ourselves with our current situation, which can be a great motivator
- This way we can stop stressing about numbers or having our mood dependent on the scale (which can change just by drinking more water anyway)
- We have a visual motivator when we get the first improvement photo (and bonus because this is actually your body, not some celebrity or model with a totally different bone structure)
Best Exercises for Body Composition
Now the not-so-secret part. How to exercise in a way that improves our body composition. Can we reduce that fat and increase muscle mass at the same time?
The answer is yes. And the best way to do it is by having a small calorie deficit and making sure you eat enough protein. Basically, you do need to learn how to eat in a way that makes you lose inches, but not weight (so you are actually losing fat and maintaining or increasing the muscle). You can check those links for more details on the diet component.
As for the training, your focus should be on compound exercises – the ones that use a lot of muscles at the same time. Those are the best for improving body composition.
I’ve put together a list of the ones I believe are the most important exercises for body composition, either for beginners or experienced athletes. Because nobody is too good to overlook the basics. Check it out:
Structuring a Training Plan for Improved Body Composition
If your goal is to improve your body composition, then you need to focus not only on muscle gain but also on fat loss. And while diet will be the key factor to fat loss, resistance training is the part that will help you get more lean mass.
But there are ways to make sure your training plan gives you a slight boost on your fat loss efforts. There is where HIRT training comes in.
In case you are not familiar with the term, HIRT stands for High-Intensity Resistance Training. It is like a long-lost cousin of HIIT without the jumps and the crazy music… okay, okay you can have the crazy music if you want.
Just kidding. HIRT is a type of resistance training where you focus on maintaining high intensity while not compromising form, meaning you will do exercises in a similar fashion to traditional strength training but with less rest time.
The major benefit for weight loss: it helps you burn more calories than traditional strength training even after the training session is over.
And remember, the most important thing is, without a doubt, being able to maintain the right habits, no matter what your fitness goal is. And if you ever need help with that just reach out, I will be glad to give you a hand.
Stay strong! And get to the top.
If you want to know more about my approach, try my FREE training guide that focuses on the use of HIRT.