Forget About Body Fat Percentage (Maybe)

In the fitness world there is an obsession with knowing one’s body fat percentage or BF %. Of course, knowing your numbers in any aspect of life is certainly better than blindly walking through the world with your head buried in the sand. However, I’m going to comment on what I believe is an unnecessary fixation on the BF% number. First, most of what follows will be a commentary on athletes. If you do not train in the gym towards a goal, then yes, you should probably take a keen interest in what your body fat percentage is. Moreover, if you are sedentary and do not exercise, or you do but still have a large amount of body fat around your midsection, it’s likely that you have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat around your organs, which is very dangerous. If you need a kick in the pants to get up off the couch and get moving, go test your BF % and work to decrease it. Good. I’m glad that’s out of the way. Now we can move on.

Also, there is value in knowing what your lean body mass is. If you are eating one gram of protein and carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight, you’re likely taking in too many calories. A better formula would be to eat based on what your lean body mass is (total weight minus body fat). So, if I weight 180 pounds, but my lean body mass is 165 pounds, I should be taking in nutrients based on 165 pounds. This is especially true if fat loss is your goal.

Okay, so you’ve gotten through the first part of this and you’re thinking, “Sean, I do train hard and I’m an athlete. Don’t I need to know my BF %?” My answer to that is no. Let me explain. As a trainer and health club owner, I see too many people become distracted by obtaining a lower BF % and I believe this is the wrong goal. For most cross fit athletes, MMA fighters and other professional sports, the amount of body fat one has is nearly irrelevant. What matters more is performance and the ability to produce on command. For this goal, you need to have a little body fat for the body to tap into for energy. If, on the other hand, an athlete becomes obsessed with some abstraction like BF%, his or her ability to perform will be hindered by an unneeded distraction about knowing a piece of information that will not help them.

It should also be noted that body types range widely from person to person. Some folks might walk around at 10% body fat and looked cut and jacked out of their mind simply because they hold fat in different places. I know guys with 15% body fat with incredible abs. The same goes for women. So, if your goal is purely aesthetic, and you train hard and are healthy, the mirror is a much better guide than a BF measurement. Again, some people are genetically predisposed to store more fat in their legs and glutes. Some people store it in their midsection. Where your body’s fat stores are has as much impact on how you look as your BF % does. Bottom line here, bodybuilders and physique competitors should let the mirror be their guide.

Another very important thing to remember about body fat testing is the inconsistency in which results occur. The method of testing–calipers, bioelectrical impedance, hydrostatic tanks–they all produce different results. Most bioelectrical impedance machines (the ones where you grab the metal parts and hold your arms out) are very unreliable and produce varying results hour to hour. This is especially true if you are well hydrated or have an increased intake in sodium. My wife and I competed in a bodybuilding and physique show and our coach, IFBB Pro Jon DeLaRosa (www.JonDelarosa.com), kept our sodium intake high throughout the entire contest prep. About three weeks into the prep, one of my employees at the gym wanted to test Holly’s body fat and the result from the machine was so ridiculous that it made me laugh. It didn’t make her laugh though. Despite having become significantly leaner, the machine had her at nearly 30 % body fat, reading as overweight/obese. I reassured her not to worry and explained how the reading was off. But, Holly was nearly de-railed by a piece of false information. She should have trusted the mirror and herself. Calipers and hydro tanks are more accurate, however, it’s worth repeating that your BF % may not have any relevance to you, depending on what your goals as an athlete are.

In closing, if you are an athlete, don’t focus on BF %. It’s a complete distraction to you and will hinder your ability to achieve your goals. If you are NOT an athlete and you know that you have a significant amount of fat to lose, or your gut is solid from too much visceral fat, then you should know your BF% number and work to decrease it via training hard and fueling your body with the proper nutrients based on your lean body mass, not your overall bodyweight. Again, the real takeaway here is that there is no cookie cutter approach or metric that can be applied to the whole population for anything in life. That includes ideal BF %, BMI, sodium intake, or anything else. Know thyself. Don’t be defined or distracted by a number!

In health,

Sean

Finding a Great Partner

The Importance of a Good Partner

            Humans are social creatures. We exist and persist for, and because of, each other. We frequent health clubs, bars, restaurants and movie theaters so that we may feed off of the energy of others. Being around others reminds us that we are alive. It’s the elixir of vitality—human connection. But while great benefits occur from being around others, the inevitable problems that arise from such encounters lead us to believe that on some things, “we must go it alone.” Let me suggest that instead of going it alone, you seek out a partner to take with you on your journey. I believe there is incredible power and fulfillment in having another person by your side for most undertakings. A special relationship with another person is incredibly beneficial when it comes to physical training. Let me explain…

As a health club owner, I’ve clocked thousands of workouts by myself. Some have been incredible, but most paled in comparison to when I was training with a partner. Two people dedicated to one common goal, expanding each others physical potential and establishing routines that revitalize the body, can accomplish much more than one person on their own. In my opinion, having a partner to push you, be honest with you, motivate you and help you overcome the pain of resistance in the gym (and in life) is so important to fulfilling your potential. I’ve had some incredible training partners in my life. My father was my first. We still train together when possible. My best friend Chris is another. Our mutual love for the iron began after a painful breakup. My ex’s best friend happened to be his girlfriend at the time. I walked out of the room after being dumped, Chris saw my face, and I said with an angry look, “Tomorrow we are doing squats together.” This was 11th grade. I squatted 315 pounds for reps out of sheer anger and adrenaline. A friendship was forged for life. We both own fitness companies today.

Currently, my training partner is my wife Holly. We have been together over 12 years, but it’s only been the last two years that we started working out with each other instead of doing our own routines. Like many women, she was intimidated by lifting heavy weights and preferred to “sweat it out” doing cardio. However, after our second child was born, Holly dedicated herself to not only getting her pre-baby body back, but surpassing it. I can tell you confidently, that after grueling workout sessions, heavy weight (315 pound deadlifts) and simple diet modifications, she has accomplished her goal. She’s been absolutely incredible through this process, pushing herself to new levels, but also pushing me to get stronger and more flexible. I have ankylosing spondylitis, leaving partial fusion throughout my whole spine. Despite that, with my partner’s help I have been able to move more freely and with less pain that anytime in the last 10 years. I attribute this to having a partner that has my best interest at heart. I suspect she attributes her successes to the same. She’s the best partner I’ve had in life and in the gym.

I believe strongly in the mastermind principle—where two or more like-minded people get together regularly and plan out future actions in the spirit of perfect harmony. It’s truly amazing what mankind has achieved through cooperation. More than that, I believe that true fulfillment comes through having a great partner in various aspects of life. A great partner can really help you to become better, give you compassion and understanding when needed and help you to overcome obstacles in the weight room and in life. My advice here is to look at the various areas of your life and see where a partner can really help you to grow and become more. Find someone you can be in harmony with and go deep. Gold and diamonds are found at great depths. The same is true with a partner. Their value comes from going deep with them. Commit to them and make sure they are committed to you and your goals. Find yourself a partner for life.

In health,

Sean

Be Disgusted

Disgust is a negative emotion, but it can be a very positive, powerful force if used properly. The moment when “enough is enough” is evident throughout human history. Disgust has been a turning point for change since the beginning of modern man. Humans had enough of lifting heavy objects, resulting in the use of the wheel. We were disgusted with being at the mercy of the elements, resulting in shelter and the use of fire. A revolution came about by colonists being disgusted by taxes. The world would not be what it is today without people saying, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.” Disgust, like all emotions, can be useful if harnessed for positive action.

I’ve been disgusted with myself various times throughout my life. My regular use of ibuprofen to combat my pain was certainly one. I was taking so much I couldn’t function without it. Another moment of disgust was when I realized I wasn’t making nearly what I had the potential to make in income. I’ve been disgusted in how I have acted towards others. I have been disgusted in how I gave up on something or someone I cared about. Come to think of it, by writing this, I’m becoming disgusted by how I’ve often failed to live up to my potential. I’m disgusted that I may never fulfill what I’m capable of…

Moving on, I’ll ask, what are you disgusted by? When is enough going to be enough? Is it a dependency on something or someone? Is it your body?   Are you tired of being sick? Are you disgusted with being tired all the time? Are you disgusted with yourself for always being sad? Are you disgusted by how weak or frail you are? Are you disgusted in how you’ve treated others or failed in some endeavor? What are you going to do about it? When is enough, enough? Don’t be afraid of disgust. Don’t block the feeling. Harness it to learn and promote positive change.