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How to Change Your Body Composition in Less Time

Learn how to lose fat and build muscle to shape a lean body


Updated August 15, 2014

fit woman exercising

Change your body composition in less time

John Fedele/ Blend Images/Getty Images

Do you want to lose weight or do you want to lose fat? Most people who diet and exercise want to get rid of flab. But they want to build lean, tight muscles. If your goal is to shape a tighter, slimmer body then you don't just want to lose weight, you want to change your body composition.

What is Body Composition?

Body composition is your body's ratio of fat to lean mass, including muscle, bones and organs. Body composition is evaluated using body fat percent. A fit woman's percent body fat is generally between 21-24%. A fit man's body fat generally falls between 14-17%.

There are many ways to measure body fat percent. Many health clubs and doctor's offices can perform simple tests to get the number. There are also body fat scales that measure the percent. Before you start an exercise program, it's a good idea to know your number so that you can measure your progress along the way.
To change your body's shape, you'll want to decrease your body fat percent.  Surprisingly, this could mean an increase in your weight. This is because muscle weighs more than fat. As you lose fat and gain muscle, the net result may be a small increase on the scale.

How to Exercise to Lose Fat

All forms of exercise burn calories. You can even burn calories without exercise. But what is the best way to burn fat? Aerobic exercise will do the trick. Aerobic activity, sometimes called cardio, is exercise that gets your heart pumping. During an aerobic workout you'll breathe heavier and begin to sweat.

It is not necessary, however, to exercise to the point of breathlessness every day. In fact, you'll burn the highest percentage of calories from fat at a moderate intensity.  There are different ways to measure exercise intensity, but if you use perceived exertion moderate intensity would rank as a 7 on a scale of 1-10.
As your fitness level improves, however, you want to include harder workouts in your exercise schedule. Higher intensity workouts burn more calories, but a smaller ratio of fat. To maximize fat loss, combine high intensity, moderate intensity and low intensity workouts into a complete and balanced fitness program.

Build Muscle With Strength Training

For many people, the real change to their body comes when they begin strength training. While strength training might make your heart pump faster, it is not considered an aerobic activity. The purpose of strength training is to build and shape the muscles.

A common misconception among women is that strength training will cause them to bulk up. This is rarely the case. Women don't make enough of the hormone testosterone to build the muscles that a man might build doing the same workout.

You also don't need to worry about having special equipment. There is no need to spend a lot of money or join a gym. Simple body weight exercises are effective. For example, combine push-ups with variations of the lunge and abdominal plank exercises, and you will build strength in all of the major muscle groups of your body.

Change Your Body Composition in Less Time

The best way to lose fat and shape your body in a short period of time is to combine aerobic activity with strength training. You can do this in a single workout with circuit training or alternate workouts from day to day.

  • Circuit training. Combine your favorite cardio activity with strength training and alternate each activity within a single workout. For example, if you like to walk you might get on a treadmill and climb a hill for 7 minutes then follow up with 3 minutes of push-ups, lunges, and abdominal curls. Repeat that pattern three to six times for a complete circuit workout.
  • Alternate days. You can also burn fat and build muscle by alternating workouts on different days. For example, you might choose to take an aerobics class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and complete your strength-training workout on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Try not to schedule strength-training days on consecutive days as your muscles need time to recover.
Don't forget that the most important element of your workout program is consistency. And of course, a good diet is essential.  Make sure you monitor your energy balance to get the deficit you need for fat loss to occur.

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