Best Ways to Measure Body Composition

A quick Google search will reveal dozens of methods to measure body composition ranging from the quick and (relatively) painless to the incredibly detailed. These measurement techniques can help individuals set baseline values for body composition and goals for later on down the line. However, with the variation in methods comes a fluctuation in accuracy. Wherein one method might nail down your percent body fat to within a few decimals, others leave a wider range of error. To help you navigate the numerous techniques, read on for the top five methods for measuring body composition along with the pros and cons of each.

Check out the full article on Daily Burn!

Have questions, comments, thoughts, or arguments? Post them to the original article on DailyBurn.

2013

As we near the end of 2013, I’ve been looking back at the past year. Some truly amazing things have happened in the last 365 days. When looking back, it seems like time flew by, but, at parts, I felt like time couldn’t pass quickly enough. Here’s a short run-down of the highlights:

Looking Forward

Here’s what I’m hoping to write when I look back on 2014:

  1. Strengthened my relationship with Charlotte. With the wedding, I’m sure we’ll have our moments of disagreement, but I’m also beyond excited to start a new chapter of our lives together.
  2. Eliminated all of my student loan debt
  3. Read four books a month (alluded to this here)
  4. Learned to code and built a new theme for this blog
  5. Picked up a new offline craft to pursue seriously. (Currently, I’m thinking photography.)

On Spending Money

I recently read an article from The Atlantic 1 discussing the overwhelming financial plight faced by many young adults. The article broke out numerous graphs illustrating that those in the 25-34 age bracket are more likely to earn less than 150% of the poverty line. That’s certainly not the statistic you want to hear as you near the end of college and prepare for coming out into the “real” world.

The article struck a bit of a cord with me. At the start of this year, I was in the worst financial state of my young adult life. If you combine school loan debt and various credit cards, I was in one heck of a hole. So, one of my main goals in 2013 was to learn more about the finance industry in general and start to shape up my own personal finances.

As we round out 2013, I’m happy to say that I would consider this my biggest success of the year (and a lot of great things happened to me this year). I’ll cover everything else in an end-of-the-year reflection post, but for now, I wanted to share some lessons that I learned this year in the financial arena.

1. Create Opportunities

One of the biggest reasons I was able to slowly climb out of the hole that I had dug for myself was I had created many opportunities to earn additional funds outside of my main source of income. Honestly, the importance of these opportunities can’t be overstated. When I look back at my total income over the year, I would imagine that 30% came from something other than my daily 9-5 job.

2. Eliminate Alternatives

If I stay in one place long enough, I can clear a refrigerator in a matter of a few meals. In fact, our grocery bill was always relatively high for just two people. To help us save money and cut down on expenses, Charlotte and I agreed to only spend $50 each at the grocery store each week. There were two primary ways to do this:

  1. I could total the price of all of our current items in my head while shopping (the route we chose)
  2. I could leave my wallet in the car and only bring in a $50

While we chose the first method, we stayed true to our goal and pulled things off the conveyer belt if it tipped higher than $100 total. For those with less self-control, I recommend the second method. I applied this “eliminating alternatives” philosophy in other areas as well. For example, I decided to leave my credit card at home so I couldn’t rack up a higher bill. For things like coffee (to which I’m addicted), I would load my Starbucks card up at the beginning of the month with a predetermined amount and then leave my wallet in my car when I went to get coffee. Once the card was up, my java addiction slowed to a halt outside of the house.

3. Sell…Everything

You think I’m joking. Go through your closet and sell all of the stuff you haven’t touched in 30 days or more. Following this same principle, I sold all of these items:

  • An original iPad
  • A Kindle
  • An older MacBook
  • A MacBook Pro Retina
  • A GPS/HR monitor watch
  • An iPod

Combined with a fewer smaller items, this gave me about $1,000 dollars extra in income. Plus, I don’t miss any of those items at all.

4. Concentrate

The Mint app is the first thing I look at every morning and sometimes the last thing I look at before heading to bed. I have every bank account and credit card on it so I can see everything in one glance. The app isn’t what is important here. The important thing to realize is that you can’t turn a blind eye. For the longest time, I would avoid looking at my bank account because I was afraid of what I would see. In the end, that wasn’t doing me any favors.

5. Spend Money

Life wouldn’t be any fun if you lived as a hermit holed up in your house eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in order to get by. To some degree, enjoying life requires spending money. Rather than just eliminating my spending habits altogether, I just decided to refocus where I was spending money. Here are the three areas I decided to focus on:

  1. Great Experiences

    Previously, I viewed money as a route to buy material items. Instead, I now look at money as an enabler to do the things I want to do in life rather than just collect a bunch of things. Case in point: although we’re currently trying to save money, Charlotte and I decided to buy tickets to Greece for our honeymoon. I figure I would rather hold off on buying a new mountain bike for the chance to visit Europe for the first time and experience something completely unique (We also were able to score a sweet housing deal that made the offer impossible to pass up).

  2. Key People

    Great relationships are key to happiness. For that reasons, I think hanging out and enjoying the company of those you love shouldn’t be ignored even when trying to hole away some extra cash. I through the term “key” in front because some people aren’t worth your time or money. Direct your resources to improving relationships that energize you, not ones that zap your energy and leaving you feeling frustrated and annoyed.

  3. Phenomenal Food

    While I wouldn’t consider myself a foodie by any means, I do love a great meal. To me, it’s worth spending the extra $20 to eat at a better restaurant or order a better wine than just to skimp by at a cheaper place.

By no means am I any sort of financial Jedi. However, as I would consider it my biggest personal improvement over the past year, I wanted to share some thoughts and ideas regarding the subject. When I first read the opening article by The Atlantic, my first reaction was that being a young, American adult doesn’t have to be a financial nightmare. At the end of the day, you’re in charge of where you spend your money. This is a main lesson I’ve learned this past year, and one I’m sure I will continue to learn over the next few decades.

1. H/T to Chase Livingston as I pulled the link from his Twitter

Photo credit: The Atlantic

Evolution of Blogging

Let’s face it — in the past 12 years or so, the idea of blogging has been bastardized by one and all. We continue to confuse blogging as using “WordPress” or using phrases like “told me” or “I asked.” It is news releases repackaged and republished, and it is a vast sea of editorial sameness. What started as a way to break away from the tyranny of the established order — formats and rules — has been brought to its knees. Blogging is much more than that. #via

I thought Om had some great thoughts on the subject of blogging. It’s been interesting to watch blogging grow although I’ve only been part of the “blogosphere” for a short time. We’ve morphed from a time when writing and blogging were restricted to the few to now, where literally anyone and everyone has a blog or website of some sort. Anyone that doesn’t have a blog likely still posts small insights into their life on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Are these outlets necessarily bad? I don’t think so. Obviously, to each their own. I’ve shared my thoughts on the idea of condensing your sharing outlets before when I decided to drop Facebook and primarily share things either here or on Twitter.

Since I’ve been posting and maintaining my own piece of land on the internet, my own vision of and purpose for blogging have changed quite dramatically. In the past, my entire focus was on driving traffic, attracting readers, building an email list, and (eventually) selling them something. I looked at blogging as primarily a means of generating revenue.

Fast-forward to today, my primary purpose is just to share things that I find interesting. Those “things” range from technology to fitness to lifestyle design, and honestly, I’m not concerned with locking down a central theme. Obviously, some readers likely don’t appreciate the fact that my topics can jump all over the place, but I’m okay with that. As Om describes, a blog is “a central location where you fit together all the Lego pieces.” I couldn’t agree more, and I enjoy putting the lego pieces together for everyone to see.

If anything, I hope more people adopt the art of blogging and begin to share more on their own personal blogs. There’s something empowering about posting to your own little corner of the internet. 

If you’re interested in getting started, might I suggest WordPress?

Systems vs. Goals

Currently, I’m reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, which is a great book by Scott Adams (the creator of the comic strip Dilbert). Adams describes the failures and successes of his life in hilarious fashion (as one would expect from a cartoonist). One of the most interesting thoughts that he covers in the book is regarding the idea of having systems versus having goals:

For our purposes, let’s say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals. When goal-oriented people succeed in big ways, it makes news, and it makes an interesting story. That gives you a distorted view of how often goal-driven people succeed.

Coming from a background in personal training, I have a bit of experience helping individuals set goals, and I always find the Christmas holidays to be a frustrating time of year. Everyone is gearing up for their big New Year’s resolution where they finally lose the weight they’ve been meaning to lose for the past few years. As someone that has helped numerous individuals navigate the weight loss adventure (and boy, it’s an adventure alright), it’s tough knowing that the overwhelming majority of New Year’s resolutions are going to fall flat just a few weeks into the new year. One thing I always try to ask both of myself and of others when setting a goal (whether fitness related or not) is “how?”. Losing a ton of weight sounds great, but how exactly are you going to accomplish that feat? Similarly, goals like eating healthier, saving money, reading more, or learning Spanish are equally as neat to dream about. But, often, we get too focused on the grandeur of our inevitable success that we forget to lay out a concrete plan. For weight loss clients, I tried to steer them clear of just focusing on how much weight they want to lose. Instead, we implemented systems that would feed into our ultimate goal. For example, with the ultimate goal of losing weight, the system might look like this:

  • Come to the gym four days a week
  • Eat breakfast every day
  • Substitute all beverages with water

In my mind, the main difference between a goal and a system is this: a system is reproducible. With clearly defined steps, you can achieve a similar outcome (or close enough) as someone else.

Suddenly, the goal of losing weight is broken down into easily trackable habits. This makes it easy on the client as it helps to clearly define what needs to be done. But, it makes the feat repeatable. Often times when individuals achieve a particular goal, they have little to attribute their success to other than “luck” or “it just worked out”. By defining the steps and mapping out a system, it’s easy to point to the road map and say “this is how we get there”.

I’m looking to set some goals in 2014. Here are two examples, and how I’ve laid out a system for each to help me be successful:

Read 36+ books (broken down into three a month)

  • Read for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Buy/borrow/locate the three books I plan on reading on the 1st of every month
  • Keep a running list to help me stay accountable (will be published here)

Have a suggestion? Shoot it my way on Twitter.

Learn HTML/CSS and redesign my own site

  • Do a Codecademy lesson each day of the work week. Each session will be broken down like this:
    • Review notes from previous session
    • Do current lesson
    • Break something on my site using what I’ve learned
  • Use a test site to help build a new child theme for Genesis (loosely based off this, this, and this)

Systems aren’t foolproof, but they certainly help. As the new year approaches and we all look to improve ourselves over the next 365 days, it’s important to ask the “how” for each item on our list (and the “why” but that’s another topic). Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish and then set-up a system to help you get there.

Read more:

The Resolution Guide for Everything Else (Non-Fitness Related)
My tips on correcting the other 99% of your life that isn’t fitness related since there are far too many blog posts about health resolutions on January 1st.

Goals vs. Systems
Scott wrote a blog post on the Dilbert blog covering a few more of his thoughts on the topic.

Why I’m Not Buying Quantified Self (Yet)

Quantified self, the desire to boil our every move down into measurable numbers, is becoming increasingly popular. Gadgets are tracking our steps, heart rate, water consumption, sleep pattens, and hundreds of other metrics in our daily lives.

About a month or so ago, I was really excited to give some sort of tracking device a test run. Then, a few weeks back, I realized I really didn’t care to get a JawBone UP or any other fitness tracker for that matter simply because I had no idea what I would do with the data. From my point of view, not many people do.

Usefullness

One of the main reasons that I’m resisting hopping on the quantifiable self train is that I’m not convinced the data is all that usable (yet). We’re in a race to put everything we know into trackable numbers that can appear on colorful graphs and spreadsheets.

One project that I’m excited for is Exist, a program designed to help you compile all of this data into one dashboard. Hopefully, it will help with the current usability problem.

If you were to track all of the available health metrics you would drive yourself insane. Plus, you would need a professional coach to help you digest it all (or a really smart program) and identify patterns that actually mean something.

To avoid insanity, you have to focus your effort on the most important aspects of changing your health and fitness. In my mind, steps taken during the day is pretty far down the list.

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

When I was younger, I was obsessed with data, specifically as it related to my health and fitness. Every morning when I woke up, I would reach down beside my bed and pull out a blood pressure cuff. I’d strap it on my arm and lay still in bed until it spit out my heart rate. I’d write that down in a notebook alongside my running mileage for the week. I did that for a few months after hearing that Lance Armstrong’s resting heart rate was well below 40 beats per minute.

Jonah Berger touched on many of these topics here. “But just because a metric is easy to capture doesn’t mean it’s the right metric to use.

One day, it finally dawned on me that I was a teenager, not a professional athlete. I figured there were a lot of things more important in life (like trying to get a date or something) than recording my heart rate every morning.

With all of the numbers, we forget what healthy is meant to be. It’s not supposed to be a forced scenario where you drag your butt to the gym early in the morning to slog away a few miles on the treadmill before moving through a weight circuit. “Healthy” also doesn’t mean walking laps in your parking lot until you hit your goal number of steps for the day. The term “healthy” is going to mean many different things to many different individuals. For some, it may mean moving more. For others, it may mean moving less. With all of the trackers and logs, we boil the concept of “fitness” down to numbers, which just isn’t possible.

I’ve had to talk numerous clients off of the ledge because they only lost a half a pound one week rather than the two to three they were hoping for. Yet, despite a small weight loss, they came to the gym five times that week and met their goal of eating five vegetables each day. Their importance placed on the number on the scale outweighed all of the other successes they had that week, although, in the long-term, those successful habits would lead to greater success down the road.

Knowledge Isn’t Always Power

Chances are, you know a smoker. You’ve probably thought about asking them to quit. Perhaps you actually took the step and brought it up in conversation. If you’re like me, you started in with scary facts that you’ve heard through Truth commercials.

Somewhere along the way, you probably realized that your cigarette-smoking compatriot had probably heard the same messages. They know the same facts. The knowledge argument works in very few cases when trying to change behavior. As Chip and Dan Heath explain in Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, facts motivate the rational part of our brain (referred to as the Rider). Unfortunately, it’s the emotional part of our brain (referred to as the elephant) that controls many of our big decisions. Data (like steps and activity levels) motivates the Rider. You don’t need a Jawbone UP to tell you to move more. If your sole purpose in getting a fitness tracker is to inspire you to move more in the new year, I would advise against it. Instead, spend some time figuring out why you want to be healthier in the first place and set some meaningful objectives that matter to you rather than hitting some activity number.

Dick Talens had a great piece on Pando Daily covering many of the same ideas I mentioned above.

All of this isn’t to say that these gadgets and devices are worthless. I’ve invested far more than I would like to admit in the past on trackers and monitors. The key is obviously not to get too caught up in the numbers. Quantified self isn’t a magic bullet for the health and fitness industry. Knowing how many steps you take during the day isn’t going to transform your health and fitness. The gadgets are tools, much like the right cooking equipment to prepare a decent meal.

Photo Credit: DigitalTrends.com

Train Your Heart

My article from Daily Burn was syndicated on The Daily Beast.

I’ve used heart rate training for quite awhile with a variety of clients. It’s very effective if you know what numbers you’re looking for and what you’re trying to do with them. Alongside heart rate training, I shared five other ways to kick your cardio training program into gear. Here’s the opener to get you excited:

The words “big, strong heart” likely bring to mind examples of suffering through emotional breakups, offering kindness to strangers, and giving out the perfect cards on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the heart has more value than just providing a fictional center for all things love-related.

Recovering Fitness Junkie

I used to work out 5x per week, balance my ratios of protein, carbs, and fats, and considered myself a connoisseur of nutritional supplements.

Now I exercise a couple times per week and care more about sharing good food with the people I love. I also try to get a good night’s sleep, drink water, meditate, and leave my phone at home most days.

This is an absolute gem from Nate Green. I’ve been reading Nate’s work for quite awhile, and I’m always impressed at how he presents a different viewpoint and many times favors left when everyone else is going right. As I spent a large amount of time in the past few years contributing to a variety of fitness magazines and focusing on the fitness industry, I relate with many of the things he discusses in this article. I’m also working with the coaching group (Scrawny to Brawny) that Nate manages and helps to lead.

As the article opens with, maybe we should all be recovering fitness junkies.

The Writer-Reader Connection

Over the past two weeks, Mr. Grunberg has spent several hours a day writing his novella, while a battery of sensors and cameras tracked his brain waves, heart rate, galvanic skin response (an electrical measure of emotional arousal) and facial expressions. Next fall, when the book is published, some 50 ordinary people in the Netherlands will read it under similarly controlled circumstances, sensors and all.

I thought this was a fascinating article in the NY Times covering a study currently being conducted by Dutch researchers on the author Arnon Grunberg. The electrode cap captures the electrical stimulation in Arnon’s brain as he writes the book. Then, researches are going to toss the hat on readers when they actually sit down to read the book. The goal is to highlight a link between the way “art is created and consumed”.

I think this experiment is interesting for two main reasons:

  1. The idea of quantified self is becoming more and more popular and prevalent in our society. We’re tracking everything from the major to the minutia including steps walked, glasses of water consumed, miles run, words written, etc. I’m interested to see what can be done with that data as right now, I don’t think we’re utilizing it very well.
  2. With the rise of the internet and specifically blogging, it’s never been easier to create content. Nearly everyone that blogs has an interest in sharing their thoughts and feelings with the world. Some are better than others at portraying their feelings and getting across their argument. It’s easy to sit at your desk, type out some words, and hit publish. It’s harder to quantify the impact you’re having on others through your writing. The metrics in place now (social stats, page views, comments) aren’t really a fantastic indicator of the perceived value of what you’ve written. Were your readers engaged? Did they share the same thoughts and feelings? If they don’t write a comment, you’ll never know.I think the experiment with Arnon showcases some exciting new data that can be used to impact the effectiveness of writers and bloggers everywhere (even if we don’t all have access to a sweet looking hat).

I’m not extremely interested in the quantified self movement just yet because I feel like the applications aren’t very useful as we have them set-up. However, this is an exciting experiment that showcases our ability to track how other individuals think and feel. To me, that’s a much more exciting piece of information than how many steps you take in a day.