Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fitpoint - 3/29/2011

My wife and I joined Lifetime Fitness last month and have been going pretty regularly about 2-3 times per week. It's a beautiful gym, incredibly well-stocked and staffed. It's still shiny and new and they keep it very clean.  They have free weights, weight machines, yoga, pilates, treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, stair steppers, a rock wall, basketball courts, racquetball courts, squash courts, an indoor turf field, three separate swimming pools, saunas, locker rooms, a cafe, a spa, and a freaking water slide. Seriously. Everything. There are classes in just about everything, and the vast majority of them are free with your monthly membership.

One of the benefits of membership that immediately caught my eye is something called a FitPoint Assessment. here's what it is and what it means. They test your body to see where you are on a variety of fitness issues. You see your test scores and you get to talk with a trainer to figure out how your goals can best be reached given your current status. It's not another one size fits all kind of plan, and it's not based on arbitrary numbers like the BMI. It's based on your actual fitness and your actual goals. It really appeals to me, as you can probably guess. I love data. I love objective tests and being able to measure myself against certain standards. What I love even more is having a way to test myself, establish a plan for improvement, and then continue testing to track my progress. Did I mention that you can take this test as often as you want? That's right, totally free. It seems silly to take it more than once a month, so that's my plan. Every four weeks, I'll go in and check my progress.

I just took my first one last night, and I'm going to post my results here as a bit of an accountability measure for myself. I'm going to be updating this blog more often with my meals, my workouts, lessons learned, etc.

Here are my results from last night, followed by an explanation of the tests involved.

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 245 lbs
BMI (which is crap): 30.6
VO2 Max: 45.00 (estimate)
Bicep Strength: 118 lbs curl
Sit and Reach: 5.0"
Body Composition: 22.4%
Overall Fitness: 56/100

Height is self explanatory, as is weight. BMI is a bogus number cooked up by some Belgian jerk a hundred years ago for some completely unrelated purpose which has since been co-opted into the mainstream fitness psyche for some unfathomable reason. Have you heard about the obesity epidemic in America? The reason we have one is that we use BMI to decide who is obese.

This guy is obese, according to BMI. That's dumb. I also happen to think he looks a bit like a freak, but he's not obese by any definition ever devised for the word. The same holds true for a lot of fit men and women. Really, it only describes the most average, unfit person very well, and wildly over-represents the number of obese people in the country. Do we have a lot of legitimately overweight people? Heck yes we do. Is it 50% of the population or even 30%? Not even close. So we don't pay attention to BMI except to talk about how stupid it is at every possible turn.

VO2 Max is interesting. Here's a rundown of what it is: VO2 Max Essentially, it's a measurement of cardiovascular efficiency, or cardiovascular fitness. It's how quickly your body can get oxygen where it needs to go. It's as good a measure of cardio fitness as any, and it's very important to know where you stand on it. You can be lean and ripply and still suck at cardio. You can have a big belly and be awesome at it. The way Lifetime tests it during the FitPoint Assessment is by estimating it on a treadmill. You enter you age, weight and sex into the treadmill and walk 5 minutes at an incline of 5% at whatever pace you're comfortable walking at. When you're about 4 minutes in, you take your heart rate. The treadmill uses the info you put in to calculate your VO2 max. Mine came out as 45.00 which is maybe on the high end of average. Not ideal, though. I'd love to see something in the 60-70 range for myself, and i think I can get there with a lot of work.

Bicep strength is pretty obvious, but the testing method is interesting. They have a bar hooked up to a load cell and you just crank on it for all you're worth. You're not actually lifting a weight, you're just exerting force on this thing and it tells you how much force you exerted. Mine said I put 118 pounds of force on it, which put me into the excellent category. It was easily my best category. There are a lot of other muscles and lifts that could be tested, but that's what they use and I figure it will be as good a gauge as any to see whether I'm increasing my overall strength.

Sit and reach is something you may recognize from your middle school days. It's a box with a slider on top. You sit with your feet against the box and your legs straight and you lean forward with your arms out and push the slider as far as you can. This tests your flexibility. Again, there are many different kinds of flexibility, but this is as good a gauge as any. I got 5.0" on it, which ranked me as poor. It was better than I expected, though. I thought I'd be lucky to reach the box at all. I'm really hoping to improve my flexibility over the next few months, as that has always been a very weak point for me.

Body composition is the real number we should be using to decide whether someone is obese. It's the measure of the amount of fat in your body versus lean tissue. Lean tissue includes organs, muscle, bone, and basically anything that isn't fat. There are a lot of ways to test it, but the most accurate ones are hydrostatic weighing, x-ray scanning and the three-site caliper test. The first two are prohibitively complicated and expensive and the caliper test is very very close to their accuracy level. It's best performed by someone trained and experienced to make sure they're getting consistent pinches and such. My pinches were something like 19 on my chest, 18 on my thigh and 40 on my stomach. Obviously, I know where I store my fat. The trainer said it's a common thing to see in ex-athletes. I don't think of myself as one, but I suppose that's as good a description of me as any. Once all the numbers are added up, they're calculated against your age and sex to give you a percentage of body fat. Mine was 22.4%. That's definitely higher than ideal. Fit men should be in the 12-18% range, and the lower the better. You do have a certain amount of bodyfat that you need to run your organs and that's why people can never really get below 2-3% even for serious bodybuilding competitors. Some things to avoid with regards to body fat testing are the electrical impedance machines and scales that claim to calculate body fat. You grip them in your hands or stand on them with your bare feet and they are supposed to be able to tell you your body fat percentage. From everything I've heard and read, they don't work very well. It depends heavily on hydration and a number of other factors that you can't really calculate out.

Overall fitness is a derived number specific to Lifetime and I can't say for sure how they get to it. Basically, 0 is the worst, 100 is the best, and you fall somewhere in the middle. I fell at 56, which is the high end of average or the low end of good. That's something I really want to increase.

So there you have it. a complete rundown of my FitPoint assessment. Now, because this blog post hasn't gone on long enough, I'm going to give you my goals.

In 12 weeks:

I will have lost 20 pounds of fat without losing any lean body mass.
I will have improved my flexibility by at least 3 inches.
I will have improved my VO2 max by at least 15.

I'm guessing that I will also improve my strength, but I'm not as concerned about that right now. I also don't have any idea how much stronger I can conceivably get over a period of 12 weeks. Maybe add 5 pounds to my curl? Maybe 20? Heck if I know. Anyway, by reaching these goals, I will get my body composition down to about 15% which is a huge step in the right direction. I will have increased my cardiovascular fitness and my flexibility which should help me avoid injury and keep running for longer. It also won't hurt to look in the mirror and see 20 pounds less fat than I do right now. I've got a big frame, but I think taking off 20 pounds will be a pretty dramatic change even spread out.

One of the great things about starting a 12-week plan right now is that it ends very nearly on June 26th which is the date of the Tough Mudder. I'm doing it, so are a bunch of my friends, and I kinda want to be awesome at it. It's an 8-mile course, with an elevation change of 4,250 feet. It's also held at altitude, starting at 8,100 feet and peaking at 11,440 feet. There are tons of obstacles involved, too, including climbing over walls, swimming through freezing water, carrying logs up and down hills, crawling through snow, and running through a bunch of electrified wires. Sounds kind of amazing, doesn't it? It's probably going to be one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life, and I want to be ready for it.

That's it for now, please stay tuned for more posts. I'll be going into nutrition as I learn more, talking about different lifts, different stretches and exercises and giving updates on my progress. Thanks for reading!