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FIT TIP: How Do We Change Our Body Composition?

Kimber Chase describes a plan to change body composition.  Continued from yesterday's FIT TIP.

How to we change our body composition?  First we need to be realistic as to how much fuel we are expending vs. consuming.  There are simple changes we can make. Without getting knee deep in diets, exercises, and nutrition, here is a basic plan of action based on our needs as agility competitors. We can always use these guidelines to know what we need to change to lose fat, and perhaps why we haven't.

Find yourself on the following activity scale:

Level 0

You do only what it takes to get through your day.  Or you have been injured and not exercising.
No aerobic exercise.
No strength training. 

Level 1

You see value in activity.  You run a dog (note this is not considered aerobic exercise in this article).  You look for creative ways to get through your day but don't formally work out.
No aerobic exercise.
No strength training. 

Level 2

You have a moderate and fairly consistent exercise schedule.  You run a dog or multiple dogs (note this applies to level 3, 4, 5 also).
Exercise doing aerobics three days per week with little monitoring of intensity (minimum 90 minutes).
No strength training.

Level 3

You make sure to exercise at least five days per week, usually the same workout. 
Aerobic exercise 4 times per week.
Strength Training at least two times per week minimum of six different exercises with weights. 
Level 4

You work out almost everyday, cross-training with multiple activities.
5 times per week at least of aerobic exercise for 250 minutes total.
Strength training at least 3 times per week, minimum of eight different exercises. 

Level 5

Exercise is a way of life for you.  
6 times per week aerobic exercise for a minimum of 360 minutes total.
Strength training at least 3 times per week, minimum of 10 different exercises. 
To change our body composition, there are four important variables: 

Intensity - the level of physical difficulty used to perform exercise. This is an element most commonly lacking with people at level 5 who have a great exercise program, and dont see results.

Duration - the number of minutes spent per training session.  The relationship of intensity and duration are relevant.  We sometimes have to decrease duration to increase intensity.

Frequency - The number of individual workout sessions per week. At a bare minimum building aerobic fitness takes at least three 20 minute sessions per week. 

Modality - The type of exercise.  Aerobic could be walking fast, running/jogging, biking, and swimming or an aerobic type exercise class like kickboxing, step, boot camp, or interval conditioning. How we adjust these variables will directly affect our ability to run in agility and loose body fat.  Those with health problems and injuries should attempt to find a modality that is safe and appropriate.  We can only increase by one of the above levels at a time.  As a general rule, if the exercise becomes too easy, its time to change a variable.

How do we know what aerobic is? The simple formula for maximum heart rate (MHR) is roughly 220 minus your age.  So a 40-year-old would have a MHR of 180 beats per minute (BPM).  To get more fit she would stay somewhere within 60-70% of that maximum heart rate.   To add intensity she would step it up to 85% if even for short intervals to gain better aerobic fitness.  This would mimic our agility runs. The very best way to monitor heart rate is by wearing a heart rate monitor.  We also can go by how difficult the exercising feels. Keep changing these four variables and you will continue to see improvements in your body composition until you reach your goal.

As far as nutrition, a simple plan lies in using a three phase plan made popular by Bob Greene, Oprah's trainer.   Each phase is four weeks or more.

PHASE 1:  Focus on moving more and making simple changes to eating patterns.  Start increasing your activity and restructuring meals and snacks to rev up metabolism.  By eating regularly you also regulate appetite.  The more you move the more easy it will be to lose weight, shed pounds, and rev up your metabolism.  Determine where you are on the activity scale.  If you already exercise, move up one level.  If at level 0, which may be a few of you injured folks, move up two levels. 

Try to eat three meals and two small snacks per day but no more in total volume than you eat now.  It's best to eliminate alcohol and drink lots of water. Avoid eating two hours before bedtime.  Weigh yourself, measure your waist at the very least, and have your body composition checked.  After four weeks just weigh yourself again.  No worries if your weight hasn't changed.  Now you'll move to the next phase.

PHASE 2: This should last a minimum of four weeks.  Try to make healthier options by replacing a few foods from your diet with healthier options which are less fattening, and hunger decreasing, like foods rich in fiber.  Avoid soft drinks since they are empty calories and foods which contain Trans fat like margarine, vegetable shortening, processed frozen and packaged foods, chips, candy, and so on.  There are many options without these unhealthy fats. Just begin eating more whole grain carbs.  They are more nutritious and are loaded with fiber which keeps you fuller longer.  Watch packaging because it can be misleading. 

Also avoid high fat meat and dairy products. Lowfat milk and cheese taste just as good as its high fat and calorie laden full fat versions.  Try to keep meat to lean cuts.  In this phase weigh yourself about once a week, same time of day.  Fine tune changes week to week.  Go up one level on the activity scale.  Try to stand at times when you would normally sit.  At the end of four weeks, if you arent at your goal weight, continue here and keep changing the exercise variables we spoke about earlier.  Stick to it.  We can hit plateaus and not appear to have progress but still be burning body fat and increasing lean muscle density inside. Sometime during this phase check body measurements and body composition.

PHASE 3: This is basically your plan for your life.  Keep up all the changes you made in the first two phases but once in awhile throw in the foods that you really miss.  They are calories, so go back to the activity level and the simple rule fuel in/fuel out.  Make a goal of having vegetables the foods you eat most.  Find ones you like.  Find whole grain versions of snack foods.  Snack on fruit.  

Continue to have your body composition checked every six weeks to three months once you have met your goals. This will continue to keep you focused on your goals.  Keep up the great work everyone. 
Kimber Chase, CFT, AFT has been certified fitness and aquatic trainer for 15 years.  She lives in South Florida and has been competing in agility for 9 years with two border collies. She can be reached at or through her website at


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