Jan 6th, 2007
By Max Lewin
We have had quite a few questions lately about how to measure lean mass. There is an excellent Wiki entry on the subject. The Bod Pod is the most accurate way to determine lean mass
Here is an interesting website with pictures of what men look like at various lean mass levels. Note that he makes the point that at higer lean mass percentages he was sometimes weaker. Note especially that at a “buff” looking 188 and 90% lean mass he could only deadlift 200 pounds! That is really pathetic! It makes the point that lean-ness and performance are not alway correlated. There is also a picture of him at 178 and 92% lean mass with a claimed 415 pound deadlift. Now that’s awesome. By the way he also says he achieved this on a vegan “style” diet. This website inspired me to take pictures of myself as well.
Here is a picture of me, pre-serious crossfit on 12.12.05 at 210 lbs 145 lean mass, 65 lbs fat, 69% lean mass.
Here is a picture of me on 12.12.06 at 181 lbs 146.5 lean mass, 34.5 lbs fat, 81% lean mass.
You can see that on average, I only lost about a half a pound a week, but thinking long-term, you can see that it is a good, and sustainable improvement. I also maintained all of my lean mass, even putting on a pound or two. My performance in almost every parameter has gone up at the same time. It is also worthwhile to note that this process is not linear (the holidays put four pounds back on), nor is is it speedy, but that is OK, just as long as you are moving in the right direction. I would like to eventually get to 175 with around 155 lbs lean mass, about 20 lbs fat and lean mass of 87-89%.
Another good website for information on lean mass (and fitness in general) is stumptuous.com I quote:
“To build on #2, people have naturally varying levels of body fat. Human biodiversity is normal and desirable. Assuming that naturally skinny people are inherently healthier and fitter is a mistake. While there is a healthy range of body fat levels, above or below which is associated with negative health consequences, it is a range, not a single number. Some women may look and feel cruddy at 15%, while others may be happy and healthy. Same with 30%. Body fat is not the only variable of fitness or health, and there are many women with much higher body fat levels than me who can outlift me, outrun me, and generally kick my ass. Each person ideally has a level of body fat which is appropriate to their genetics, gender, age, training goals, and general state of health. Fitness and fatness are not incompatible.
Below are bodyfat recommendations from the Wiki.
Some body fat percentage levels are more culturally valued than others, and some are related to better health or improved athletic performance.
According to Health Check Systems, The American Council on Exercise has categorized ranges of body fat percentages as follows:
It is unclear whether any of these body fat percentages are better for your health than any other, but there are definitely enhancements in athletic performance as you near the ideal body fat percentage range for your particular sport. The leanest athletes, bodybuilders, typically compete at levels of about 5-8% for men, and 10-15% for women. Getting to this level usually requires specific and carefully monitored variations in sodium and fluid intakes. It can be dangerous to maintain a body fat percentage at the low end of this range for more than a few days or a few hours.”
Please note the above states ideal bodyfat for your sport. for overall fitness we recommend being not leaner than the top of the athlete scale for both men and women. this is because being “shredded” or “ripped” while, perhaps, culturally desirable is likely to lead to decreased strength. in general men should not try to get under 11% bodyfat and women should not try to get under 18% bodyfat. clearly we are not recommending being overweight either. In fact the author could stand to lose a bit of inert metabolic material. There are some rare times it might be appropriate to try and get somewhat under the above percentages, however, we believe that it is not possible to do so in a manner consistent with improved performance unless you are willing to eat in a near-perfect manner, a-la Greg A. or Nicole C., that is to say strict zone-paleo.
Ultimately, for overall fitness and performance, you want to be the right weight for your strength. Let performance be your guide: if your athletic performance across multiple parameters increases, you are moving in the right direction. If your deadlift goes up and your run times get slower you may be putting on too much weight. If your run times get faster and you get weaker you may need to pack on a few pounds.
Pay no attention to “height and weight charts”. They are meaningless for athletes. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his power would have been considered severely obese by this measure. Instead go by photographs, measurements and above all PERFORMANCE!
Post thoughts on cultural ideals vs. actual benefits of various body compositions (from Ultra-marathoner to Sumo).