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The Perfect FIT: From couch potatoes to world-class athletes, Fitness Institute of Texas helps them achieve their fitness goals

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Let’s be candid—you’re overweight.

You get winded from stepping up onto a curb, and you couldn’t do a sit-up if someone was dangling a buffalo wing above your mouth. You started the Almond Joy and deep-dish pizza diet three years ago and have been sticking to it religiously, but every man and his brother persists in telling you an unhealthy lifestyle is shaving precious years off your life. Frankly, you’re tired of hearing that song.

This assessment is part of a postural screening that lets the evaluator know how well your body is aligned
This assessment is part of a postural screening
that lets the evaluator know how well your body is aligned.

The woman standing next to you looks like she’d blow away if a good-sized norther hit, and her waist is smaller than your thigh. She runs four miles a day and takes the stairs to her ninth-floor office. An inveterate goal-setter, she wants to ramp up her regimen and complete a marathon in the next year.

Which one of you would profit from a visit to the Fitness Institute of Texas (FIT)?

The answer is both.

FIT, which is part of the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at The University of Texas at Austin, offers accurate, detailed body composition analysis and fitness testing conducted by top researchers. The assessments are available not only to The University of Texas at Austin community but also to the public, and they benefit out-of-shape beginners as well as serious endurance athletes who want detailed feedback to benchmark their progress.

The fitness institute is in a large space organized into seven different fitness stations. Various health and fitness measures, such as flexibility or lower body strength, are tested at each station, and the activities that clients complete are determined by the fitness assessment package they select. There is a fee for each assessment, and before receiving any of the fitness evaluations clients must fill out a thorough health and fitness screening questionnaire.

After assessment, they receive a detailed one-on-one evaluation with a fitness professional and leave with a printout that shows assessment results. The client is able to give the evaluation results to her personal trainer or even to a medical professional who is monitoring the client’s health concerns.

FIT offers four assessments from which to choose, including Aerobic FIT, Muscle FIT, Calorie FIT and Body Comp FIT.

The Aerobic FIT assessment package shows you how efficiently your heart, lungs and blood vessels are delivering oxygen to working muscles. The more oxygen you use during peak aerobic exercise, the more aerobically fit you are. This evaluation is useful for beginning exercisers as well as “serious amateur” athletes who are involved or interested in road cycling, distance running or triathlons.

“Distance runners and endurance cyclists who choose this assessment,” says Phil Stanforth, FIT director, “get a slightly different analysis that includes key physiological performance variables that are specific to endurance competitions. With distance runners and endurance cyclists, we look at maximal oxygen uptake and lactate threshold because these are two very effective indicators of how well they will perform.

DEXA machine scans your body in around 10 minutes, and the scan results provide an extremely accurate reading of fat mass, bone mass and lean mass
The DEXA machine scans your body in around 10 minutes, and the scan results provide an extremely accurate reading of fat mass, bone mass and lean mass.

“We also test the runners to determine their ‘running economy,’ or the amount of energy they use to run at a certain pace, and we offer predictions of 5K, 10K and marathon completion times. If athletes come to the fitness institute at regular intervals and get assessed, it’s easy to compare their test results, determine an appropriate training intensity and monitor progress.”

The Muscle FIT assessment consists of a muscle performance analysis, which is an evaluation of the muscular system, and a movement analysis, which is an evaluation of muscle imbalance, weakness, instability and tightness. A leg press and bench press measure muscular strength, isometric tests measure abdominal and back endurance and spinal and hamstring flexibility are determined. The movement analysis includes a squat, lunge, hurdle step and upper body twist.

According to FIT experts a muscular fitness analysis is important for athletes who participate in sports where speed and power are essential. It also helps individuals who are concerned about preventing broken bones, warding off osteoporosis and enjoying healthy aging.

For people who are tired of paying for two airplane seats to accommodate their heft the Calorie FIT assessment is a handy tool to have in the weight loss arsenal. After fasting for 12 hours, a client is assessed first thing in the morning to determine the number of calories expended while inactive. Calories used during normal daily activities and calories expended while exercising are calculated as well. The assessment provides an accurate daily caloric expenditure reading and determines the amount of calories that a client can ingest and must burn in order to lose weight.

“For most, resting caloric expenditure makes up about 60-75 percent of total caloric expenditure,” says Stanforth. “It’s possible to figure the resting caloric expenditure using an individual’s weight and age, but that only gives you an estimate. At the fitness institute, we use a machine called BodyGem to get a precise reading of resting caloric expenditure, and that ends up making all of our other tabulations much more accurate.”

DEXA scans give you a body composition assessment for the entire body as well as for the arms, trunk and legs. This 'compartment analysis' is excellent for tracking changes in muscle mass, for example
DEXA scans give you a body composition assessment for the entire body as well as for the arms, trunk and legs. This “compartment analysis” is excellent for tracking changes in muscle mass, for example.

The fourth option in the selection of fitness assessments is the Body Comp FIT. This assessment is the most popular and highlights the institute’s commitment to precise, thorough evaluations with the most advanced equipment.

With a Body Comp FIT assessment the client gets a detailed reading that shows what percentage of his entire body is fat mass and divides the body into three compartments, showing fat mass, bone mass and lean mass. These breakdowns can be tabulated not only for the entire body but also for the arms, trunk and legs, specifically.

“We use dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), and it’s the most technologically advanced way to determine body composition,” says Stanforth. “The DEXA machine, which costs over $100,000, looks like a hospital x-ray table with a bar arching over the top. The client simply lies down on the table and in around 10 minutes the entire body is scanned.

“This is the quickest way to get a detailed body composition assessment and is the only method that gives you fat mass, bone mass and lean mass readings for the whole body as well as for particular areas of the body. If a weight lifter comes in and wants to know what kind of progress she’s making in building muscle mass in her legs, for example, we can help her. We can show her how the entire body looks, as far as lean, muscle and fat mass, and then show her the reading for her legs. DEXA assessments are very popular with serious athletes.”

In addition to luring serious amateur athletes the DEXA has attracted the attention of the university’s sports teams, and FIT is completing DEXA body composition testing for many of the women’s athletic teams.

The FIT staff’s expertise in body composition analysis and the institute’s superior technology also make it a unique and expedient resource for researchers around campus.

“Although many people think of FIT exclusively in terms of the fitness assessments we offer,” says Leeann Rountree, FIT assistant director, “there’s a lot more going on ‘behind the scenes,’ so to speak. Our mission also includes research and educational programs in physical fitness, nutrition and psychological and social issues.

Leeann Rountree
Leeann Rountree

“Some of our undergraduate kinesiology students give fitness assessments to UT undergraduates who are clients and get terrific hands-on experience in health and fitness evaluations. Students from the nursing school, for example, tour our facilities to learn about the tools and practices that are available for fitness assessments, and the DEXA has been used by researchers in numerous colleges and schools on campus.”

Dr. Jeanne Freeland-Graves in the College of Natural Sciences is using the DEXA machine to help validate a new body composition assessment device, and FIT has been used in several recent kinesiology and health education studies. Dr. Roger Farrar, a kinesiology professor, and Matt Tierney, a kinesiology graduate student, are using the Fitness Institute to study firefighters’ body composition and fitness levels and to validate treadmill and stairmill test protocols that will be used to assess firefighters.

Dell, Inc. has joined forces with FIT as part of its Well at Dell employee health and wellness program. Participating Dell employees get an initial DEXA body composition analysis then participate in Dell’s fitness boot camp. After boot camp is over, participants return to FIT and get another DEXA analysis to see how body composition has changed.

“I’ve always felt, or sensed, that I might be carrying a high percentage of body fat even though some would tend to argue if they looked at me,” says Julie Lundquist, a Dell employee who has participated in Dell’s boot camp and received a DEXA assessment at FIT. “I wasn’t totally astonished by the DEXA results, but the percentage of fat mass was a little surprising, given my workout dedication.

“DEXA confirmed my suspicions, and I quickly acknowledged the health risks and the importance of focusing on better nutrition and continuing to exercise. My goal is to be tested in three months and receive better results this second time. Another benefit of having an assessment is finding out your total bone density, and I’m happy to say my results were great! I would recommend a DEXA analysis to anyone—not only for the obvious health reasons but also for peace of mind. One can always wonder, but when you get actual results based on your body profile, it’s a different story.”

Our goal is to be able to use the most current, most effective technology and practices to help people get, and stay, fit and to help researchers learn how all of us can enjoy optimal health. We feel those are aims worth supporting. Dr. John Ivy, Chair, Department of Kinesiology and Health EducationThis summer FIT expanded its scope and opened its doors to Central Texas science and math teachers, giving them tours and materials they can use in classroom lessons. Skillpoint Alliance, an Austin-based non-profit that brings businesses, the community and educators together to build a qualified future workforce, arranged for the teachers to visit FIT. The visitors got a grand tour and sample fitness assessments from kinesiologists and, after the visit, the teachers turned in lesson plans based on what they had learned.

“Research on the effects of exercise on blood flow in cigarette smokers as well as studies on the effects of carbohydrate and protein supplements on physical performance are just a couple of projects that have benefited from FIT,” says Department of Kinesiology and Health Education chair John Ivy, who conceptualized FIT and facilitated its creation. “We’ve expanded far beyond campus and are used by alumni as well as businesses, schools and health facilities.

“The experts who manage and use FIT have worked hard to create a premium resource with very little funds, and they have done an excellent job. There are so many ways that FIT could be enhanced and better serve scientists and the public, but additional funds are necessary. Our goal is to be able to use the most current, most effective technology and practices to help people get, and stay, fit and to help researchers learn how all of us can enjoy optimal health. We feel those are aims worth supporting.”

In the event that altruism, the advancement of science and improved personal health aren’t motivators for you, British newspapers recently announced that England is seriously considering implementing a “fat tax.” This means that donut devotees and Velveeta votaries may end up laying out extra cash to maintain or grow their girth. If that fat tax leaps the Atlantic and sweeps the U.S., a visit to FIT could end up saving you more than your life.

By Kay Randall

Banner photo and inside feature photos: Christina Murrey

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  Updated 18 December 2007
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