When we designed the 52 Weeks to Peak Physique challenge, we decided it was important to establish some parameters and ways to measure our progress from the very start so that we would be able to track our progress and ensure that we didn't get too carried away. In addition to weight and measurements, we decided we should also try to measure body fat percentages, but what we have come to discover has had me questioning - is body fat an accurate and reliable measurement?
There are a lot of ways to measure body fat percentage, but many of them, such as DXA X-ray scans, or hydrostatic weighing where you submerge into a tank of water, while fairly accurate, just aren't practical for regular use. We have tried a few different methods to measure our body fat, including two different BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis) devices (a handheld device and a bathroom scale), as well as a calculation that uses your weight and BMI
to calculate your body fat percentage. The result? Numbers that are all over the map!
When I stepped on the scale, my result was 19.4% but when I ran my calculation, my result was over 25%. That is 6 percentage points of variance! I didn't have access to the handheld device, but JC did, and between all three methods, his numbers spanned over 10 percentage points depending on which method he used. I should also note, that the different methods fluctuated in different directions for both of us, so they weren't even increasing or decreasing at a consistent rate. The problem is that these devices aren't really measuring your whole body, and they can't always tell the difference between muscle and fat. For example, when you stand on the scale, a small electrical current will run up one leg and down the other in order to measure your body fat. The problem here is that you are only measuring your legs (similar issue with the handheld device), not your whole body. Add to this, if you're muscular and athletic, it can skew your reading based on the mass. These devices can also be skewed by hydration and glycogen levels, and variance in the placement of your hands or feet on the device. The written calculation doesn't do a great job either as it only takes into account your height and weight, which doesn't accurately represent your muscle to fat ratio.
We've considered calipers, and other methods as well, but based on the results we've had so far, I'm not sure that any method will provide a more accurate measurement. Ultimately, we decided that the actual number doesn't matter as much, but as long as we use the same device every week, we should still be able to measure our progress, which is really what we need it for. My point here is to say, don't let the body fat number on the scale scare you! The main goal is to continue making progress toward your goals, and remember to take these numbers with a grain of salt, because they might not be as accurate as we think.
As we begin the 52 Weeks to Peak Physique challenge, I wanted to share with all of you what my experience with fitness has been up to this point, and why I'm embarking on this journey. People who know me (and my boyfriend, who is also doing this challenge) have questioned why we are doing this since we are already healthy and active. And it's true, we are. We genuinely enjoy the gym and other active outdoor hobbies, and we like to eat healthy food because it makes us feel better. But while I've always prioritized health, it hasn't always looked the same for me - and I didn't always love the gym. In fact, until last year when I met JC, I didn't go to the gym much at all.
As a 5'1" 110lb woman, I always had the mindset that the gym was not for me. I thought of the gym as the place that huge body-builder dudes went to throw massive weight around. It wasn't a place that I thought I belonged, or truly that I wanted to be part of. I was intimidated by both the equipment and the clientele, and so I pursued fitness in other ways - you know "girl" fitness, which consisted mostly of yoga, sometimes pilates, the occasional job on the elliptical. Things that I felt were manageable for my body type and abilities. And even THAT was an improvement for me! Through high school and college, I would work out sporadically, at best. I'd go a few months without working out, then start to think I should really start doing that again, then do one workout, which proved so difficult and left me so excruciatingly sore the next day, that I didn't work out again for several months. In all truthfulness, it wasn't a huge issue because I had very active jobs which kept me moving, I made fairly healthy meals, and I was young and resilient ;) but I knew that wasn't sustainable. Add to the mix former partners who flat out refused to exercise, and it was starting to become a sedentary life.
It wasn't until I got divorced that I really started a consistent fitness routine. I joined a yoga studio - the first I'd ever joined a gym of any kind - and I started going a few times a week. And it felt great! This was a whole new world for me. And then I started dating JC, the firefighter with a really strong passion for fitness, and extremely limited time. It became obvious very quickly that if I wanted this guy in my life, our relationship was going to have to develop in the gym, and so I decided to jump in and let him teach me. It was still intimidating, but much easier having him there to show me what to do, and explain the different machines and exercises we were doing. I gradually started learning more, and getting stronger, and to my surprise, I started to love the gym!
Once I started lifting weights, I started seeing my body change in ways that it never had with yoga and cardio alone. And this brought up a wide range of emotions. First, I started to realize (and this is an ongoing process, even now) that I'm much stronger than I thought. I had once believed that I couldn't lift weights at all, but now with JC's encouragement, I was lifting weights that I never imagined possible! Being a small woman, a lot of people (myself included) have held the belief that I am fragile and weak. I've often been told I'm too delicate or too tiny to do these things, and I just accepted it as truth. In school I never had much aptitude for team sports (still don't) but I took that to mean that I couldn't be athletic in any way. For the first time in my life, I proved myself wrong, and it felt great!
But there were other conflicting emotions too. I was fairly tiny to begin with, and even though my muscles were starting to develop more, I was also getting tinier in other ways too. The numbers on the scale didn't change much, but my body did - a lot! I've always had trouble finding clothes that fit well due to my petite size, but now, EVERYTHING hung on me like a burlap sack. I constantly felt like I looked like a kid playing dress-up in her mom's clothing. Not a very sexy look. On top of that, my already small size 32A chest also started shrinking. This is something I've struggled with a LOT throughout my life (more on this to come in a later post) and losing weight in this area proved to be really hard for me. It seemed that the more I worked out, the worse I felt about my body. I started to feel unattractive, abnormal, and generally very bad about my self-image. All my life I've been told I was so tiny I looked like a kid, and it always felt bad, but now, it felt like a stab in the gut. But I knew I didn't want to stop working out either because I genuinely valued the new life I had created. I started to work on finding little ways to solve these problems, but I just needed to find the right long-term solution.
So when JC mentioned that he wanted to try to get into the best shape possible, and truly feel excellent about our bodies, I realized that this could be the perfect opportunity to transform my body in a more conscious way, and also transform my mindset at the same time. I loved how the gym caused me to question the beliefs I had held about gym culture and my own strength and abilities, so I want to continue to prove myself wrong and show myself that I AM strong and capable of physical strength - and that I have the power to challenge many of the beliefs I've held about myself as well. I want to show myself and others that a fit body is a sexy body, even if it's smaller, and continue to develop my muscles to a place where I'm satisfied, while also working on changing my mindset about my physical looks and prove to myself that I can be whomever I want to be along the way. Along with that, I want to prioritize TRUE health. As I've worked out more, I haven't really changed my diet much to keep up with my new routines, and I want to make sure I'm giving my body what it needs. For me, this is not about "how hot can I look by next year" as much as it is about developing a truly healthy, sustainable system for long term health and wellness. It's as much for developing my mental fortitude and challenging my beliefs about myself as it is to challenge myself physically. And to me, that's a battle worth stepping into the ring for!
Last night my boyfriend and I had a talk about fitness goals. Now, if you know us you already know that we are the type of people who take health and fitness seriously. We hit the gym at least 4 times a week for about an hour and half per night, we eat healthy, and we enjoy an active lifestyle in our home state of Colorado. For us, health is not the last and often forgotten item on a to-do list, but rather something we both strive for, and I'd even dare to say, our number one hobby. But even though we are both healthy and in good shape, we've been talking about how to explore this even more.
In the fitness world, the obvious next step would be a competition. Be it body building, bikini, or power lifting, competitions are a big part of that industry, but we both agree this isn't the right path for us. While these competitions are a test of what the body can do, I feel that they disregard the health component, and at the end of the day, health needs to be at the core of your fitness plan. All that being said, we want to push ourselves, to uplevel with ourselves as our own competition, to see what we can do. That's why we are creating a challenge for ourselves which I'm calling 52 Weeks to Peak Physique.
Over the next 52 weeks, we will work to obtain our ideal physique, taking into account physical exercise, as well as nutrition plans that will help us achieve our goals. In order to be successful and maintain the health component, we have decided to put parameters in place, and approach this using careful research, science-based strategies, and drawing lines in the sand before we start to ensure we don't get carried away. My goals and approach to health also include taking care of my mental and emotional health, so I'm adding some additional measures to make sure I'm checking in with myself and keeping that a priority as well.
Before I go any further, I want to address the elephant in the room - you're probably wondering if this is a vanity challenge for aesthetic purposes. And I'll admit that PARTIALLY....it is. I'd be lying if I told you that part of this isn't about trying to look our best, BUT we also understand that health needs to be at the heart, which is why we are taking measures to ensure that we remain healthy throughout this process. This is also the main reason we don't want to participate in any competitions. But while we do want to try to look our best, it's more about seeing what our bodies can do! We are looking to reach our peak, and then scale back a bit to something that's truly sustainable, but never will we put our health at risk. (PS if you want to read more of my thoughts on the aesthetic component of this challenge, I'll be writing more in depth about this later in the week!)
So, how will this be structured, and what measures are we putting in place? Great question!
For the next 52 weeks, we are going to create and follow nutrition and workout plans to help us reach our fitness goals. I'll be posting my plans on this blog to show you exactly what I'm eating, and how I'm working out each week, as well as weekly progress reports, and thoughts along the way. We are doing this together, but I'm only publishing my results in order to maintain my boyfriend's privacy. Additionally, we are making the following rules to keep us in check: (click Read More to see the rest of the post)