Monday, 29 April 2013

Half Marathon Training - Week 2 Complete!

 Am still lying in my sweaty running gear, licking the last of my post-exericse Pad See Ew off my lips, and feeling good about finishing my 3rd week of training (including the pre-training week)!

Tips I've learnt from this week:

1. Fiber.
Don't know how to put this delicately, but fiber is great, and very important for healthy bowel movement. However, when you start increasing your jogging distances... well, the natural action of jogging also helps bowel movement. Therefore, when you are running more, it can be advantageous to start eating a little bit less fiber. How do you know if you have too much in your diet? You'll know when you go running :D

2. IT bands.
There is a very good reason I did my last post on illiotibial band syndrome. I haven't gotten to the painful stage, but I can definitely felt them tightening. Therefore, I spent a few minutes before my long run today rolling them out, and am trying to do some strengthening exercises while I'm brushing my teeth so that I do it regularly.

3. Breathing and focus.
So there are two ways to get through a long training session: the first is to try and distract yourself with something else. I, for example, have been watching TV while jogging. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this. Sunday afternoon is full of really bad TV! I ended up watching an hour long ad for the Total Home Gym, which is really, really repetitive, but at least made me feel good that I was working out. So, it's not great when there is nothing to distract you, but it is also pretty bad for your form.
The other option I started trying out today after I got sick of the Total Home Gym ad, was to actually stay focused on my breathing and try to get myself in a meditative state. I've done a little bit of meditation before, and I know that it is supposed to be really good for your mind to give it down time to focus on absolutely nothing. (It's highly recommended for those who suffer from depression or obsessive compulsive thoughts to take up a repetitive sport such as swimming, rowing, cycling or jogging, in case you are wondering, just for this reason along with the added benefits of exercise).
So about 2/3 of the way through my long jog today, I flicked off the TV channel, though did leave it on FM radio for background music, and tried to maintain correct technique while breathing deeply and slowly. Surprisingly, I managed to drop 10 bpm off my heart rate doing this, and felt a while lot better by the end. Am definitely going to keep working on this and developing my ability to do it for longer and longer times.

The training for this week:

I have to admit, I moved all my training sessions around, but did complete them all.

Wednesday (not Tuesday) I did my 40 minute easy jog at 9km/h, though because of the need to go to the bathroom, and then just losing it, I did take two breaks. However, I jogged for a total of 40minutes that session.

Thursday I did my 30 minutes easy, and actually went for a jog along the river, which went for almost 40 minutes, but it was feeling good. However, speed varied quite a bit looking at my RunKeeper afterwards. Might want to work on that.

Friday I took as one of my days off.

Saturday (not Wednesday)I did what was listed as a 50 minute pace piece made up of 15 minutes warm up, 2 minutes race pace and 1 minute easy x 4, and then 14 minutes cool down. So I did all that, and then realised - that doesn't add up to 50 minutes! Even taking into account it might be 'repeat 4 more times', that's still not 50. I went through a few more of the sessions later on on the app, and it appears to do this a number of times. There is the pace session where you do 30 minutes warm up, 10 minutes goal pace and 2 minutes easy x 4, and then 15 minutes cool down, for a total of 1hour and 10 mins. hmm? Really? So, got to keep an eye on that.

Sunday today was a nice long slow jog for an hour. Wore my heart rate monitor for the first time, and started off around 145 which is pretty good, then midway climbed up to around 160 bpm. However, after I started focusing, it was dropping down to 150bpm, which is a great spot for me to stick at. I did wonder if I possibly should have been going a bit faster, but by the end I was still getting a stitch, so maybe it was just right.

Weight wise: My original aim was to lose 0.5 kgs a week. Last week I had gone up just a little bit to 76.9 (I also moved to weighing in pre-run which I think is a good idea). So, not a great start.
But this week pre-run I came in at 75.8! Yah! Not totally on goal, but catching up from last week. Just need to make sure it wasn't because I've dehydrated myself or anything like that. But often weight loss does take a few weeks to show on scales, and I've now increased my mileage quite a bit on what I was doing before training.

My biggest relief is that I'm past the 3 week mark, counting the pre-training week, which I am. I have an awful habit of coming down sick 2 weeks into a new program, and I have to admit that the beginning of this week I was feeling pretty seedy (which is why I moved my first jog to Wednesday, not Tuesday). But I'm now feeling good again.

Next week I'm going to start looking into energising methods such as gels for my longer run, now that I've broached the 1 hour. I'll let you know my research.

(This was meant to be posted on Sunday, but as I accidentally locked myself out of my apartment, you are getting it Monday night. For that full story, check out my post on 100 First Drafts.)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

IT Bands - The Plague of Runners

I never considered myself much of a runner, mostly because as you can see from my turtle like paces while training for a half marathon, I'm not. However, whenever the urge takes me to increase my milage, I always start to develop the same set of problems. The most common to all runners of these is difficulty with my IT bands.

What Are IT Bands?

Well, it stands for illiotibial band. Pretty much it's like a leather belt of fibers that runs from the outside of your hip to the outside of your knee. And it's pretty important particularly in stabilizing your knee, which is not a joint you want to be moving in the wrong direction.

Through over use/incorrect use it becomes tight, rubs against the bump at the bottom of your upper leg bone (aka  the lateral femoral epicondyle, 'b' in the diagram) and becomes inflamed. 

borrowed from

What Does ITB Syndrome Feel Like?

Wondering if you have it now? Well, the most common symptom is pain on the outside of your knee, though the pain can extend all the way up the band. It can be while running, or increase even after you've stopped the activity (that's inflammation for you). This can also be followed by swelling if you ignore it.  Still not sure if this is the cause of your pain? Well, it is usually worsened by going up or down stairs, where the IT band is relied upon more. Feel free to test that one out.

What Can Cause ITB Syndrome?

So, overall it is inflammation from overuse and friction. However, 'overuse' doesn't just mean too much running, it means exercise where either the other stabilizers are not doing their share, so the ITB is doing too much, or where the particular motion requires more stabilization than the normal.

Other Stabilizers Not Doing Their Share:
Your ITB is meant to work in conjunction with lots of different muscles around your leg such as your glutes (yup, your butt, it's big for a reason!) and the guys around your hip (inside, outside, upside down... you get the idea) as well as core muscles further up. If these other muscles are weak or not firing properly, your poor ITB picks up the slack, he's just that kinda guy.

Need For Increased Stabilization:
There are a range of body abnormalities that can increase the strain on your ITBs, such as high or low arches, uneven leg lengths, or a tendency to turn the foot in or out too much. These you need to identify, and try to correct as much as possible. A good sports doctor is what you want here.
However, there are also a range of external factors. The most common for runners is always running on the same side of the road. As the road tilts just slightly to drain away, it means you are constantly running unevenly.
Similarly, various types of exercises can increase the strain. For example, exercises that require a squatting motion - climbing up and down stairs or rowing - puts your knee in a position where it is less stable, and if your other stabilizers aren't helping, will overwork your IT band more than normal.

Treatment and Prevention:

First of all, deal with the symptoms. If you have gotten to the inflammation stage: RICE - Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. You can then start stretching the ITBs out by using a foam roller and doing particular stretches such as this one:

Stretching has always been recommended for ITB syndrome, but a lot of people find it only helps slightly. That's because it's helping with the symptoms, but you haven't addressed the underlying problems. So, don't forget the next two steps for a lifetime of (this particularly type of) pain-free running.

Second, try to minimise external factors. Swap the sides of the road you run on. See if you can get correction for arch problems, etc.

Third, strengthen up the other stablisers to they do their part. Try these exercises on a regular basis to keep everything pulling their own weight.

Using the combination of all three there is no reason not to look forward to running, jumping and hiking pain free.

Now it's just a matter of fitting it into my training schedule! These can be done before or after your work out. I like to do them without the band while brushing my teeth, as it makes sure I at least do something.

Anyone got any other good exercises for treating ITB syndrome?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Half Marathon Training - Week 1

If you have just tuned in, I've started training for my first half marathon. I'm using the Half Marathon Coach training app, which gave me a 'pre-training week' before hitting me with my first week of actual training.

Which was probably lucky.

While the mileage is not close to half marathon distance (am very glad I started 15 weeks before the event, rather than 10 or 12), there is a big difference between jogging for 20 mins and jogging for 40 mins. 

The program steps up rather a lot with its expected times. For me the hardest part was definitely the mental aspect: you mean I have to just stay here for another 20 minutes? But I've already done 20 minutes! Fine. 20 mins.... 19.5 mins... I really don't like this song very much... 19 mins... Why is there nothing good on the TV?... 18mins... Yah!... 17.95 mins... Seriously? etc. etc.

It also turns out that I am one of the 10% of people that have a slight reaction to the flu shot. Had it Tuesday at work, and by Tuesday night was feeling pretty seedy. It was only the knowledge that it wasn't actually the flu and wasn't going to harm me that pushed me out the door for my first training session of the week. But I basically started Tuesday's training already with breathing difficulty and a stitch, so it sort of just went downhill from there.

Tuesday - 20 mins easy. I managed to stay at 9km/hour, but had to do 15 mins, then walk for 5 minutes while I tried to work the stitch out, but then did jog for my final 5 minutes at the end. So, yah for actually doing it all!

Wednesday - 40 mins pace (20 mins easy, 1 minute 11k/h 1 minute 8k/h x 5, 10 minutes easy). Still wasn't feeling great, but got all the way through my first 20 and most of my intervals without breaking. Just on my last 8k/h jog I turned it into a walk, then got back on track for the last 10minutes. So, all in all I'm calling that a win.

Thursday - Rest. (Thank you God.)

Friday - 30 minutes easy. Did this at 9k/h. It wasn't too bad, just training my mind to keep going. I wasn't in pain, just that general discomfort that makes your body go 'okay, we stop now.' But I didn't, so another win.

Saturday - Rest.

Sunday - 50mins long run. I only did this at 8k/h, so it was possibly a bit easy but I did it, which is the most important thing. Breathing was good all the way through, and I tried to keep a focus on my form.

So, week 1 successfully done. Week 2 ups the times again so I've got a 40min easy to begin with, 50 minute pace, 30 minute easy and then an hour long. Nothing to be too scared of :D

Oh, and my weight? Well, it turns out that eating out several nights in a week,and having a huge family birthday feast the day before weigh in does not help you lose weight.

I was 76.9 pre run. Last time I weighed myself after my Sunday long run, and was 76.3, and today post run I was 76.6. So not a major gain, but not the -0.5kg I was 'trying' for. (Trying being a relative term, interchangeable here with 'hoping' or 'dreaming'.)  I also then made sure I drank another 300ml to make up for the dehydration I obviously incurred.

Will try to be better this week.

Though am feeling slimmer and just generally tighter, which is always nice :D

Any got any good mental tricks to keep sane while jogging for really long amounts of time? Anyone?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Our Prayers to Those Affected By The Boston Marathon Bombs.

It is hard to think that last week I was starting my half marathon training while others were excited and tapering for the Boston Marathon. Now, I continue my training and they have been attacked and their lives forever shaken.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be at the peak of your fitness, crossing the finish line, and then wake up in a hospital with an amputated leg.

Or to be close to the finish, having pushed through the wall and used up all your reserves to get you there, only to watch your cheering family ripped apart by shrapnel from an explosion.

There is not much I can say, just that our thoughts and prayers are with you.

As one jogger nods to the other as they pass on the track early in the morning, so I nod to you.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Half Marathon Training – Pre Training Week.

Legs of a young man running

One week of my half marathon training done. Yah!

I thought I would update you with various aspects of the training and how I go along the way. I'm aiming to update you every Sunday evening or Monday morning/afternoon/evening (depending how busy I am :D).

So, I’m using Half Marathon Coach, which takes a bit to get used to (like I didn’t realise you could actually swap around the training days, which is very useful!) but seems to be really good.

As I had 15 weeks until my half marathon, it gave me a 14 week program with one week ‘pre-training’ as a more gentle introduction to the program.

My pre-training week consisted of:

Tuesday – Rest. (It was a struggle, but I did it :D).

Wednesday – 15 minute easy (1 minute run with 1 minute walk). I was feeling pretty gun-ho after my day of rest, so did 30 minutes at an easy pace, with a few minutes walking in the middle to break it up. Felt pretty awesome afterwards, I have to admit.

Thursday – 1 hour cross training. Did 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer and then 30 minutes on the bike. Wasn’t really going hard, but built up a sweat and stuck out the whole time, so that was something. (was watching Top Gear’s trip across Africa, at one point was laughing so hard I almost fell of the machine. Yeah, I got a few stares. But it was really funny!)

Friday – easy 20minutes. I actually swapped Saturday and this, so I rested today.

Saturday – Rest. Did Friday’s easy 20 minutes. After warming up, did 20minutes straight at an easy pace. Working out what is ‘easy’ what is ‘pace’ and what is ‘long and easy’ is probably the most difficult thing. It’s going to take a bit of trial and error to see what works best.

Sunday – 30 minutes long. Did it at a slightly slower than ‘easy’ pace. It was good to start working up to the longer runs, because while my body is perfectly able to do them, I just don’t have the appropriate mindset just yet to say – get on there and just keep going for an hour. So the 20 then the 30 was a good intro.

So, will need to work on adjusting my pacing for the different types of runs so I can get the most out of them.

I'm also trying to bring my weight down a bit over the training period, so I don't have to lug as much around the course.

I want to drop 0.5kgs per week, which is a reasonably amount (I could probably lose more if I tried, but I'd be happy with losing 7kgs, which would get me just under 70kgs).

I weighed myself after my 'long' run on Sunday (normally I think I'll try to weight myself before the long run so I don't take into account dehydration as the run increases in length).

Pre-week 1 weight: 76.3kgs.

Pre-week 1 Speeds:
'Easy' pace - 9km/h.
'Long' pace - 8km/h.

(I know this is almost walking for some people, but they are a steady plod for me.)

Hoping in a month to have my easy at 10km and my long at 9km.

As you can see, am not a super guru at running. So if I can do it, I'm sure you can work your way towards your goal as well!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Training For Your First Half Marathon

Yup, that's Kate. Lucky we're friends, or I'd have to kill her.
Having decided to finally get serious about training up for a half marathon in now 14 weeks, I turned to friend and kick ass state marathon runner Kate Scarlett for advice on how to do it. In the following interview, Kate answers my naive questions about what it takes to prepare for a half marathon.

Are there any reasons someone should not consider doing a half marathon?

Half-marathon's are great fun when you've put in the training to enable you to handle the distance. When you haven't, they can be horrible. If you haven't done the ground work, it's better to start with a race of a shorter distance and build up to the half-marathon distance gradually.

Of course if you're suffering from an injury, a half-marathon might not be a good idea. In that case, you should have a chat to your sports doc or physio to see what they would suggest. It might be that you can still run it, but need to adjust your goal time. Or it might be a better idea to have a total rest and pick one later in the year.

There are a lot of training programs out there, what are the key features you should look for in a half marathon training program?

It's got to be manageable for your level of running. If you have only been jogging once a week, a program which sees you do three interval sessions, a steady state run, a long run and extra miles on the other days will be too much.

The basic sessions I would expect to do would be intervals at least once a week, some easy runs of about 10-12 kms (build up to this if need be) a couple of times a week, and a long run. Most runners do this on a Sunday, but it doesn't really matter. It just needs to be a time when you can get out and run somewhere between 12 and 18kms at a comfortable pace.

If you've been running a bit, by all means pick a more intensive program.

What is the best way to work out a goal time for a half marathon?

In answering this, I'm assuming that you're doing a fun run, not a race. Or at least, your goal is about personal achievement rather than winning.

There are alot of different formulas and tools out there. I like the McMillan running calculator. You enter a known time e.g. your 10km race time, and it predicts what you would likely run a half marathon in.

I'd suggest that for your first half, don't tie yourself to a time. Just aim to finish it while running within yourself.

After the first one, you've got an idea of what you can do. The next race is time to start picking goal times. So if you ran 1:45, try to get the next one under 1:40. (yeah, if I get near 1:45, I think I'll just be happy with that!)

If you do have a goal time, figuring out your pacing is important. Work out how long you should run a km in to reach your time. Expect that you will slow down. Some people are lucky to be able to run negative splits (the second half quicker than the first), but most people go out too quickly and end up much slower than they started. If you want to run a 90 minute half, you'll need to do your kms in about 4:15. You'll feel fantastic at the start, but try to keep each km to time so that you conserve energy to get you through.

If you can already do a 10km race, how long do you need to train up to doing a half marathon?

As long as you're running consistently and make sure you get in some long runs, with one of at least 17-18kms, you should be able to build up to the half marathon over about 12 weeks.

Does losing excess weight help much when running the longer distances? (Is it worth trying to slim down while training?)

 Yes it does. If you're running competitively, it certainly makes a difference. But you also need to keep your energy levels up. You will probably find that starting a half-marathon program will result in some weight loss anyway. Just eat healthily, train consistently and don't sweat about the weight.
If you want to take your training up a level, talk to a running coach. They can help you with things like ideal race weight. It's easy to lose perspective (especially for women) so having someone you can turn to for advice really helps.

What are some common things newbies stuff up when getting ready for their first half marathon?

 Nutrition - the day before and of the race. Almost everyone has sufficient fat stores to get them through that distance. You don't need a giant meal the day before or the morning of the race. Eat a sensible sized portion of something that is primarily carb based, and not complex. I prefer pasta with a tomato based sauce and some green veggies.

Race day isn't the time to try new things. I have a friend who heard that protein was good for muscle growth, so on the morning of a race decided to eat 6 boiled eggs and drink half a litre of milk. He didn't have a very pleasant run...

Take some energy drinks, gels, lollies etc, but try eating these on your practice long runs.

Any other advice you would like to give?

Find a training group. A lot of big city marathon/half marathons offer organised training sessions. It's much easier to run with other people.

Or join your local running club. Most will offer coaching as well as providing you with the opportunity to do a number of races throughout the season, letting you build up to the half-marathon distance with some race experience under your belt.

Thanks Kate, that's great advice!

Taking her suggestions, I've downloaded a 1/2 marathon training app done by MapMyRun people: Half Marathon Coach.

Great things about it:
1. It's completely free (it appears that it used to be $5.99, as some reviews still say that, but it's now free!)
2. The training program includes long, easy and 'pace' runs (where you do 1 minute fast at pace speed and 1 minute easy. Not quite the intervals Kate recommends, but can be used like that).
3. Is designed by Olympians, so they claim.
4. Is very easy to personalise. You can choose to train to get fit or for an event. You then put in when your event is, how often you want to train and which day will be your long run. It then works out the rest!

Today is actually the first 'rest' day of the program, which is a bit strange, you start a program you sort of expect to start doing it that day. But I'm working with it.
I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyone else got any good training programs or tips? 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Time For A Half Marathon Goal.

You have probably heard that it's important to set goals. Something to work towards, a sense of achievement, etc. etc.

Well sadly, it's all true.

Exercising without goals becomes a bit monotonous after a while, which makes it easier to slip away. Also, you never feel you are getting any better. And finally, you can end up not pushing yourself enough, because there is no particular reason to do so.

I feel I've fallen into a bit of a slump recently with my exercise. I've been going to the gym four times a week because I've got a gym pact where I have to, but I've frequently only been going for the minimum amount of time and surprisingly not really seeing any improvement.

So, today while I was at the gym watching the Iron Men competitions (while jogging at close to half their speed, and they had done a swim and a bike ride first!) I decided it was time to set a goal and train towards something.

For quite a number of years now, I've been saying I wanted to run a half marathon. 10 years ago my goal was to be able to run 3.5kms without wanting to die, then having met that it was to do 10km. However, since doing 10km in 2008, I've been saying I would train for a half marathon. As of yet, haven't done it. Not even the distance just out training.

I would see an event coming up (I get email updates from Start to Finish of upcoming events, which I highly recommend for Australians) and think 'okay, I'll do that.' But then never get around to actually training for it.
 Last week I received an email for Run Melbourne, which noted that I had just over 15 weeks to train for the event, AND they offered free training. Now that might be enough to get me going.

So, Run Melbourne is on the 21st July and I'm going to try for the half marathon.
I've never actually run that distance before, so my goal this time is just to jog the whole thing without stopping. Not caring about time or speed, it's just about getting to the end.

Now, Run Melbourne isn't actually my favourite race, as it is usually overcrowded and not always that well organised. For example, I was talking to a friend who did it last year, and part way through the race she was forced to stop and wait as they let traffic through. Stuffed her time completely. And as she said, if you have to stop the participants for traffic, you've chosen the wrong route.

However, since I'm not going for time and they are offering free training, I really think it might be a winner. (And I might need the stops to catch my breath!)

The details of the training as outlined in the email, for those of you interested:

The Age Run Melbourne - Enter now and join our FREE training sessions!
With just over 15 weeks to go until the big day, what better time to enter The Age Run Melbourne, raise funds for your favourite charity, and start working towards your goal - we'll even help you get there!

Join The Age Run Melbourne training sessions from Tuesday, April 30 and we'll help you achieve your personal milestone on July 21! The training sessions are free to all those who have entered The Age Run Melbourne. A $5 fee will apply to all participants who have not yet registered. The proceeds will be given to our Charity of the Week.

Tuesdays - 6pm, Federation Square, Melbourne. These sessions cater for all ages and abilities, with several pace groups aimed to help you build up to the 5km, 10km and half-marathon distances, as well as speed work groups each week.

Wednesdays - 6pm, Running Fit, 170 Queen St, Melbourne. Designed to help beginners complete their first 5km or 10km event.

Saturdays - 9am, Running Fit. A longer run for those looking to better their 10km time or training for the half-marathon.

Now, they are probably going to be packed, but some group training maybe just what you need to get you over the edge! So if you are interested in doing it, I'd love to meet up with you while there. We can both make sure the other turns up!

Or, if you aren't in Australia but have an event coming up,and you want to put your name on the line by declaring your attention, say hello in the comments and we'll keep track on your progress and cheer you on!

In the next post, I'm going to interview a friend who is a state marathon runner, to get her great advice on choosing a good training program and tips for the race.

But until then, I just wanted to encourage you to pick a goal and work towards it. And if you can get free stuff along the way, all the better!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Friday Fitness Fun - Walk, Don't Run! Figgy Goodness and The Perfect Body.

I'm starting a new series to keep you motivated and informed. Every Friday I'm going to do a quick round up of interesting fitness news and ideas from around the web, with tips for you to try out on the weekend. 

Hope you enjoy!

Today's Research:
Time Magazine reports on recent research which shows that disease prevention-wise - running and walking have the same benefits. 

"A new study published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found that walkers lowered their risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as runners."

So don't feel discouraged if Couch to 5K leaves you weak at the knees, even just walking for the 30mins 3 times a week will have benefits. 

Suggestion: if you've never done it, buy yourself a cheap pedometer (little clip-on thingy that measures how many steps you take, can probably download app that does it, if you are prepared to carry your phone everywhere) and take the 10,000 steps challenge. During your day try to take 10,000 steps. If you are coming up short, add in a walk to increase your movement.

Weekend Cooking:
Feeling a bit sugared out after Easter?
Women's Health presents 3 great recipes from Michael Moore's new book, Blood Sugar.

Here's just one to get your taste buds buzzing:

My Simple Figs On Toast With Ricotta

My Simple Figs On Toast With Ricotta

4 slices of seeded bread
100g (3½oz) low-fat ricotta
2 ripe black figs (or fresh raspberries or strawberries)
1 teaspoon agave syrup

Toast the bread then mash the ricotta onto it using the back of a fork. Slice the figs and also mash them onto the ricotta.

Drizzle with a little agave syrup and enjoy with coffee or tea.

Serves 4.

Per serve: Kilojoules (kJ) 664 Protein (g) 9 Fat –total (g) 4 Fat – saturated (g) 1.2 Carbohydrate 18 Sodium 187
Photo: Blood Sugar.

Sounds like a great Saturday Brunch. Just add some Jasmine Green Tea and friends!
I also tried a similar recipe with nectarines which was great, if you can't get figs. 

Want Something New?
Men's offers up a four week program to 'the perfect body'. Who doesn't want a perfect body?

"Training like All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams will provide you with the physical
attributes required to excel in any sport. Here’s rugby coach Jan Keller’s workout."

The article has good instructions and pictures to demonstrate the moves. The workout covers all the major muscle groups and mixes up tried and tested moves with some that are a little different. This is a good general workout for those wanting a challenge.

So, that's this weeks Friday Fitness Fun!
Any suggestions on things you would like to hear about?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Measure It: What are BMI and BFP?

Autumn and Spring, the transitional seasons, are a great time to take stock of your health and fitness. If you have been working out all summer or winter, it can be a good time to see how much you have improved. Or, if you are about to buckle down to a new program you can check out where you should focus. To help you with this, this is the first in a series - ‘Measure It’ - looking at some of the different health and fitness factors you should keep an eye on.
Today I’m going to look at BMI and BFP, two measures of your body fat to see if you are overweight and at increased risk of heart disease.


BMI stands for your Body Mass Index.

It is based on your weight to height ratio. It is one of the most common measures used because it is very easy, though does have some problems.
To calculate it, all you need is to know your height and have access to a set of scales. The basic equation is your weight divided by the square of your height, done in kgs and meters.
BMI = Mass (kg) / (Height (m)2)
So, I’ll be brave and show you mine.
I’m currently around 76kgs and I’m 171cms tall.
Therefore, my BMI = 76/1.712 = 25.99.

If you can’t do the maths yourself, you can also just plug in the numbers to an online calculator such as the one at NSW Government Health.
But what does that mean exactly? Well, that’s where the BMI chart comes in.

CategoryBMI range – kg/m2
Very severely underweight less than 15
Severely underweight from 15.0 to 16.0
Underweight from 16.0 to 18.5
Normal (healthy weight) from 18.5 to 25
Overweight from 25 to 30
Obese Class I (Moderately obese) from 30 to 35
Obese Class II (Severely obese) from 35 to 40
Obese Class III (Very severely obese) over 40
(Table care of Wikipedia).

So, according to the chart, I’m just bordering on overweight, so probably should get it down just a bit more, and can lose quite a bit and still be healthy. In fact, according to BMI I can actually get down to 54kgs and still be ‘healthy weight’.
And this is where the problem comes in. I’m reasonably tall, and have pretty good muscle development compared to most females. A few years ago I got myself down to 61kgs, and my family were worried about me. There is actually very little chance I could healthily get myself down to 54kgs. So is the BMI chart wrong?
The BMI formula does not hold up very well if you are very tall and/or have quite a bit of muscle. As muscle is heavier than fat, and volume is cubed not squared, increases in height and muscle skew the results. So you still need to be sensible.
Having said, if you are over 30, you might want to stop making excuses and get at least between 25-30.


A more reliable formula, but harder to measure accurately, is your BFP:

Body Fat Percentage.

It looks at the percentage of your body weight that is fat (though keep in mind, this includes essential body fat, not just the excess stuff you want to get rid of). For unfair reasons (ability to grow healthy children) women need a higher percentage of fat, so essential fat is about 3-5% for men and 10-16% for women. However, that doesn’t mean that’s normal.
Generally body fat percentages are as follows:

Essential fat

So, if you can work out what your body fat percentage is now, you can work out how much you can and or should lose.

There are some high-tech ways to measure this, but it is unlikely you will be able to get your hands on these (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry anyone?). The next best thing is to get a personal trainer to do it at a gym using one of the skinfold methods, though these are not perfect.
There are scales out there that measure your body fat for you, but these are not great, reliability wise. However, if you stick to the same set of scales, it should at least tell you if you are going up or down.
But if you want to do it yourself, here are some sort of accurate ways.

1.I love this one from – ‘take a look’. Compare yourself to the images of what people with the different body fat percentages look like, and see which one you think you are. (check out for their pictures… I’m not sure if I want to disturb you all with half naked men and women :D) Only problem with this is that most of us are deluding ourselves in one way or another!

2.Body Fat Calipers: using these you can do your skin fold test. The calipers are not expensive to buy, and you can use an online calculator like: to work out the results. This is probably one of the most effective self-administered measures of body fat.

3.Others suggest using the hip to waist ratio. This is a good indication of fat composition and can tell you if you are at risk of having fat in places which have a higher association with health problems. However, it won’t tell you your fat percentage overall.

Just to compare to BMI, when I was rowing (my muscliest) I had a body fat percentage of around 22% (yeah, I was a lightweight) and weighed 69kgs. According to that, I had around 15kgs of fat, including my essential fat. So, if I dropped down to 54kgs, and managed to keep my muscle bulk, I would have been well into my essential fat stores (if it could be done.) So, body fat percentage better than BMI. However now that I’ve lost a lot of my muscle tone, I could probably get down lighter than I could then.

So there you have it.

My recommendation, work out your BMI just to see (and because it is easy) then see if you can book in to get a personal trainer to give you a proper skinfold test every 3- 6 months to see how you are going. If you are interested, buy your own calipers and give yourself the skin fold test.
Whichever way you do it, I do recommend getting an externally validated estimate of your fat levels, because you may be surprised. Don’t try to excuse it away, do something about it!