Your weight is actually made up of several components, namely:
Losing any of these things will cause weight loss. It’s like the old joke; how do you lose ten pounds instantly? Chop off your head!
In reality, the only source of weight you actually want to lose is fat. Losing anything else will be detrimental to your health and could leave you looking and feeling terrible. For example, if you lose muscle, you’ll end up weighing less, but your body fat percentage could still be high. The resulting shape – known as skinny fat – means you’ll look slim but will be soft and weak.
We call the relationship between fat mass and fat-free mass your body composition, and it’s normally expressed as a body fat percentage (BF%). For example, if your BF% is 17%, that means your body weight is made up of 17% and 83% muscle, bone, skin, organs, water, etc.
In this article, we reveal the best body composition exercises for losing fat while retaining or even building muscle mass.
Body Composition Exercises
What Effects Body Composition?
Your body fat percentage is affected by several things. These include:
Women tend to have a higher BF% than men, meaning they have more fat and less muscle. Women have more fat because estrogen is the dominant hormone. Estrogen causes fat storage.
As we age, muscle mass tends to decrease, and fat mass increases. This leads to an increased BF%, even if your weight remains unchanged. A natural decrease in physical activity is also a contributing factor.
Eating more food than you need will cause your BF% to increase. Unused calories are converted to and stored as body fat. Calories from any source can cause fat gain, even if they are from healthy foods, such as vegetables or fruit.
Inactivity will cause muscles to atrophy and shrink, increasing the percentage of your weight made up from muscle mass. Exercise, and especially strength training, is crucial for improving body composition. Working out also burns calories and fat.
8 Body Composition Exercises to Try
There are several exercises you can use to improve your body composition. They either build muscle, decrease body fat, or do both. Make sure you warm up before trying any of these exercises and, be warned; they’re pretty tough!
Thrusters combine front squats with an overhead press to work virtually every muscle in your body. This means they tick both body composition exercise requirements – muscle preservation/building and calorie burning.
How to do it:
- Rest and hold a barbell across the front of your shoulders. Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward.
- Bend your knees and squat down, so your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
- Stand back up and simultaneously push the weight up and overhead.
- Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
- Use a weight that allows you to do 15-20 reps.
You don’t need to have access to lots of fancy gym equipment to improve your body composition. In fact, if you’ve got a couple of meters of space, you have everything you need to burn fat and build a little muscle. Burpees are tough, but that’s why they work!
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together and arms by your sides.
- Squat down and place your hands on the floor beside your feet.
- Jump your feet out and back into the push-up position.
- Do one push-up.
- Jump your feet back up to your hands and then leap into the air.
- Land on slightly bent knees and repeat.
- Make burpees less demanding by omitting the pish-up or the final jump into the air.
3. Interval Sprints
Interval sprints burn a whole lot of calories while preserving existing muscle mass. They’re a lot more effective than steady-paced cardio for improving body composition.
How to do it:
- Warm-up for 3-5 minutes at a leisurely pace.
- When you are ready, go as fast as possible for 20-45 seconds, depending on your fitness.
- Go slow for 60-90 seconds and then go again.
- Repeat 6-10 times and then slow down for a final 3-5 minutes to cool down.
4. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are another fat-burning, muscle-building body recomposition exercise. They’re also really useful for toning and strengthening your posterior chain, which is the collective term for the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.
How to do it:
- Hold your kettlebell in front of your hips with your arms straight. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs.
- Push your hips backward, bend your knees, and lower the weight between your knees. Do not round your lower back.
- Drive your hips forward and swing the weight up to shoulder level, keeping your arms straight.
- Swing the kettlebell back down and repeat.
5. Sledgehammer Swings
This unusual body composition exercise is ideal for anyone who likes to train outside. It’s also a great stress reliever and works virtually every muscle in your body.
How to do it:
- Put an old SUV tire on the floor. Grab a sledgehammer and hold it on both hands. Wear gloves to avoid blisters.
- Hit the tire wall with your hammer as hard as you can. Put your entire body behind each swing; don’t just use your arms. The hammer will bounce back up, so you can maintain a brisk rhythm.
- Try to alternate sides to develop both sides of your body evenly.
- Do 15-20 strikes, rest a moment, and then repeat.
6. Floor to Ceiling Barbell Complex
A complex is a series of exercises done back to back. Complexes are an excellent way to turn strength training exercises into serious fat burners. That’s what makes this barbell complex so helpful in improving body composition.
How to do it:
- Place a barbell on the floor and stand with your toes beneath it, feet about shoulder-width apart. Squat down and hold the bar with an overhand grip. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your arms straight and without rounding your back, stand up and deadlift the bar off the floor.
- Next, bend your knees slightly and lean forward, lowering the bar to about knee height. Stand up quickly and use this momentum to help you pull the bar up the front of your body to your shoulders. Flip the bar over and hold it there.
- Bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and stand up.
- Finally, press the weight up and overhead to arm’s length.
- Lower the bar all the way back to the floor and repeat the entire sequence.
7. Box Jumps
Jumping is a good way to improve lower body tone, strength, and power and burn a lot of calories. However, landing after a jump can be hard on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips, especially if you are overweight.
Box jumps take the sting out of what would otherwise be a very useful body composition exercise.
How to do it:
- Stand in front of a strong and stable knee-high box or bench. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Push your hips back, bend your knees, and swing your arms behind you.
- Swing your arms forward and jump up and onto the box.
- Land on slightly bent knees.
- Step (and never jump) back down, reset and repeat.
8. Step-Through Lunges
Step-through lunges combine forward and backward lunges to make a super-effective lower body composition exercise. With lots of weight shifts and balance changes, you’ll have to work extra hard to maintain your stability, burning more calories and activating more muscle fibers in the process.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
- Take a large step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee down to an inch above the floor.
- Push off your front leg and step back and into a rear lunge. Again, lower your rear knee down to an inch above the floor.
- Next, push off your rear leg and bring your feet back together.
- Do your next rep leading with the opposite leg. Continue alternating legs for the duration of your set.
Got a question about body composition? We’ve got the answers!
Which diet and exercise plan are best for better body composition?
The best diet and exercise plan is usually the one you can stick to. Not for a week or a month but for as long as it takes to reach your body composition goal. Choose a diet you enjoy and that isn’t too hard to follow. Very strict diets are not recommended because they’re often so restrictive that they’re impossible to follow for long.
Regarding exercise, aim to work out 3-4 times a week, and try to be active on the days you don’t hit the gym. The more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn and the more fat you’ll lose.
Does exercise improve body composition?
It definitely does, but some types of exercise are better than others. For example, lots of cardio can help you lose weight, but some of that weight will probably be muscle, which means your BF% will increase even if you shed some unwanted pounds.
That’s why high-intensity exercises like those listed above are best for body composition. They burn calories AND preserve or build muscle, which is how you lower your BF%.
What is the healthiest body composition?
To be considered healthy, your BF% should fall into a specific range. These ranges differ for men and women. The accepted BF% ranges are:
- Excellent: 14 to 16.5%
- Good: 16.6 to 19.4%
- Fair: 19.5 to 22.7 %
- Poor: Between 22.8 to 27.1%
- Dangerously low: Under 14%
- Dangerously high: Over 27.2%
- Excellent: 8 to 10.5%
- Good: 10.6 to 14.8%
- Fair: 14.9 to 18.6 %
- Poor: Between 18.7 and 23.1%
- Dangerously low: Under 8%
- Dangerously high: Over 23.2%
Do supplements help with body composition?
While supplements may help you lose fat and build muscle, their effect is very small.
You could use pre-workouts to boost your energy, creatine, and protein to build more muscle, and thermogenics to burn more fat.
However, most of your results will come from diet and exercise, so they should be your focus.
Your weight might seem like a very important thing to measure and monitor, but it’s not as critical as you might think. In fact, you can be heavy and healthy, providing most of that weight muscle and not fat. 180lbs with a body fat percentage of 14% is very different from 180lbs with a BF% of 35%!
That’s why body composition is so important; it’s not a measure of your weight but a measure of what that weight is made up of. While your body needs some fat to survive and thrive, too much is bad for your health and will have a significant effect on how you look and feel.
Optimizing your body composition means burning fat while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. That way, your body fat percentage will fall, even if your weight remains mostly unchanged.
That’s why it’s a bad idea to become obsessed with your weight; what your weight is made up of is MUCH more important. You can lose a pound or two just by going to the bathroom or through sweating, which shows just how variable your weight is and why it’s not as important as many people have been taught to believe.
Use the exercises and information in this article to optimize your body composition.