Expelling all the air from your lungs and balancing on your fingers and toes is harder than you think; it’s even harder when you are fully submerged in a tank of water. Still, hydrostatic testing is one of the more accurate ways to get a body fat reading.
The hydrostatic testing method has been around for over 50 years and is based on Archimedes principle which states “that when a body is submerged in water, there is a buoyant counter force equal to the weight of the water which is displaced”. Since bone and muscle are denser than water, a person with a larger percentage of lean body mass will weigh more in the water and ultimately have a lower body fat percentage versus someone with less lean muscle mass. By obtaining your land weight and water weight (based on buoyancy), specialized programs can calculate your body fat as a percentage of your total weight.
January 8th, 2014
I climb out of the tank and we chat about the results.
At a little over 5’9″, I weigh in on the scale at 167.5 lbs, and according to the calculations, I have a lean body mass of 143.11 lbs. That means I am carrying approximately 24 lbs of fat in, on and around my body, which in percentage terms is just south of 15% (14.56% to be exact).
At 44 years old, anything around the 15% mark is considered good, “athletic” even, and I certainly couldn’t complain about my physique at that time. I looked healthy, relatively muscular and in some areas of my body, I would even be considered “lean”. My back in particular carried very little fat and showed a reasonable level of musculature.
However, despite a relatively healthy set of numbers, you still couldn’t see my abs. I was wearing a size 34″ pants, albeit with a belt, and just felt a little uncomfortable on times when seated or bending at the waist. Also, truth be told, I’d worked out most of my adult life, and I wanted more to show for all the hard work.
Looking back, I suspect that a lot of people would have been happy with my physical condition, opting to perhaps tighten-up the diet a smidge and trim a pound or two. Not me.
To say I am driven would be a fairly dramatic understatement; I a hugely goal-oriented person, and I am always pushing, always wanting more. I don’t do the whole “status quo” very well and I certainly don’t do “average”, “ordinary” or any kind of “normal”.
That meant looking way past “leaner”, beyond merely lean, and right in the face of shredded. I wanted to see my abs. All of them. I wanted to be able to peel my shirt off and marvel at my shrink-wrapped abdomen. And I am not shying away from it, this was one-hundred percent pure, unadulterated vanity. A clear statement for all to see; something that screamed this guy knows what he’s doing and has worked damned hard for his results.
May 9th, 2014
I once again climb into the hydrostatic testing trailer, slip into my swim shorts and jump on the scale. This time, I weigh-in at just 153 lbs, 14 lbs (that’s one “stone” for my English compatriots) lighter than before.
Aeron is smiling.
“Man, you’ve leaned out hard! Let’s do this!
I jump in the tank, squeeze every drop of air from my lungs and submerge, pinning myself to the cradle by pushing through my fingers and toes. I reach for the surface and take a few breaths.
“Perfect. We need two more readings like that.”
Just a couple of minutes later, I am up and out of the water, drying myself down with a towel. Aeron seems animated.
“Man! Your back is shredded! It’s like an anatomy chart back there! I am seeing muscles I don’t think I’ve ever seen before!”
It’s fun to see someone like Aeron excited at the testing. I mean, he does this all day every day and sees a lot of bodies come through at both ends of the testing spectrum. Things are looking up!
“So what do you think you measured? Want to have a guess?”
Aeron’s smile is freaking me out.
I know I am lean; most people’s abs come in around the 11-12% mark, and I can definitely see mine. In fact, in good lighting, I can see all of them. So leaner than that; just a little…
“Ten percent; maybe just a tad over.”
Aeron can barely contain himself.
“Way off! Eight and a quarter! 8.23% buddy. You are shredded!”
I am stunned. Pleased, of course; but stunned. 8.23% is what you read about in magazines. 8.23% is where your average cover model sits around cover shoots. 5-7% represents critical body fat and is a level where bodybuilders compete. Eight point two three percent.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve managed to hold on to the vast majority of my lean body mass, losing just 2.71 lbs of muscle during the three month period. That meant that I had lost 11.79 lbs of fat; nearly twelve pounds. Frankly, I would never have imagined it possible!
So what was my recipe for success? How did I achieve something that I haven’t achieved in the thirty years prior? Two words; discipline and Bornstein.
Did I mention I was goal-oriented?
Once I set my mind on something, nothing stops me, and I mean nothing. In the ninety days between weigh-ins, I pushed as hard as I possibly could; hard in the gym, hard in the kitchen. Every choice was balanced carefully and the impact on goals and progress assessed and evaluated. However, discipline without direction can be for naught; thats where Adam Bornstein comes in.
Adam is BornFitness, one of the industry’s leading health and fitness experts and the literary force behind innumerate articles for Muscle & Fitness, Men’s health and Livestrong.com. Just a month into my “transformation”, Adam tweeted about starting a community focused solely on getting shredded. Why not, I thought. A little guidance and motivation can carry you a long way, right?
Never could I have imagined the lessons I’d learn, the friends I’d make and the results I’d achieve participating in the GettingShredded program. For just $20 a month, I had near real-time access to the knowledge, wisdom and experience of Adam, plus the support of an entire community of like-minded individuals, united in the shared experience of pushing towards achieving their fitness goals.
And it was truly an enlightening experience on many levels. Not only did I achieve my goal of getting shredded, I learned more about myself, both good and bad, participating in the program than I ever imagined possible:
- I learned how to elevate my self-discipline to new levels, making tough choices day in and day out to achieve my goals.
- I gained deeper insight into diet and nutrition, macro calculation, food composition, exercise selection, load calculation, metabolic conditioning and the importance of rest, re-feeds and much, much more.
- I also learned humility, how to embrace perceived failure, the value of friendship, community and the joy of helping others to reach their goals.
And yet, despite my success, I also learned a lot about myself and the darker side of pushing this hard — the physical and emotional effects of aggressively cutting calories, pushing hard in the gym and shedding more than 6% body fat in 60 days. But this, I am going to save for a separate post. While I want to share every aspect of my journey, I don’t want to sully what is an overwhelmingly positive experience exploring the “dark side”.
Adam, my thanks.
Without access to your knowledge, guidance and support, I would never have been able to achieve this goal. I also apologize for not heeding your advice for moderation more readily! I promise to do better as we continue our journey together with personal coaching. Sincerely, thank you.
To the GettingShredded community, you have my deepest respect and gratitude. Respect for your tireless effort and hard-won results; gratitude for all your support and the privilege of sharing in your deeply personal experiences. #FitnessLives
Closing thoughts: If you follow the right program, give maximal effort and have plenty of support, achieving “cover model” levels of body fat is absolutely achievable. I am my own living proof that it’s possible. However, it’s not a journey to be undertaken lightly, and if sustainability is your goal, you need to take ALL the advice you are given and moderate your approach.