A woman counts her calories and pumps up her exercise regimen, but when she steps onto the scale, she discovers she's lost only one pound. In reality, she likely gained lean muscle mass and is working her way to a slimmer build. But if the only way she can measure her progress is with a traditional scale, she may become easily frustrated and give up on her fitness and nutrition goals.

Now imagine the woman is a member of your club. Do you want her to continue her membership or leave after two months? To keep your clients motivated and help them to succeed, you may want to invest in test and measurement equipment. By using skin fold calipers, handheld metabolic testers and other testing devices, your personal trainers or nutritionists can determine members' body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate (RMR), perhaps increasing member satisfaction about their progress.

According to a survey on our Web site, 13 percent of 88 respondents at fitness facilities offer metabolic testing, 34 percent provide body fat testing and more than half offer both metabolic and body fat testing. A separate online survey showed that 58 percent of the respondents offer testing services to meet the needs of their clients while 41 percent conduct testing to both service their customers and turn a profit.

Fitness facilities are investing in test and measurement devices to provide a service for their clients, add another dimension to their personal training programs and drive revenue for their clubs. Here is how a small Colorado functional training studio, three health-club chains and a university are using this equipment to help their clients get results.

Metabolic Measurements

The latest test and measurement technology can help clients look beyond a number on a traditional weight scale, says Brian Barkley, owner of Functional Conditioning, a 700-square-foot functional training studio in Westminster, CO.

As fitness director of a large Denver health club, Barkley measured his clients' RMRs with a handheld testing device. He still uses a handheld device even though four years ago he started his own facility. In the past seven months, he's done more than 1,000 measurements. Rather than crunching numbers using the Harris-Benedict equation, he can now provide his clients with an accurate RMR, he says. This information helps him to design a personalized exercise program that his clients can do at home with a fitness ball and resistance bands. While the test only takes five to 10 minutes, he spends about half an hour with his clients to explain the results.

“Most of my clients haven't done any exercise in their lives, and I don't want to intimidate them,” he says. “Doctors send patients to me that may have just been diagnosed with diabetes. They're scared and want to get in shape but don't know where to start.”

During the first visit with his clients, Barkley measures their resting heart rate, blood pressure, RMR and body fat percentage. He then determines the person's caloric needs and teaches him or her how to track calories using a software program. As a trainer, he's more concerned with calories than fat grams, protein, sugar and carbs. He has found more success if he allows people to choose what they eat rather than forcing them to go on a highly restrictive diet. By doing regular metabolic testing, his clients are able to gain control of their weight loss, he says.

“They realize very quickly that if they eat poorly by indulging in fast food and supersizing things, they will eat up their calories very quickly,” he says. “I tell people that they can eat whatever they want, but they need to stay within this caloric number. If they want to have a Big Mac and fries, they'll have to exercise quite a bit. If they're over their caloric number all the time, they'll be overweight.”

He advises his clients to visit his facility once a month for body fat testing and once every six to eight weeks for metabolism testing. He sees 150 clients every month.

“A huge part of my business is metabolism testing,” he says. “I don't think I'd have a business without it.”

Testing on a Large Scale

Large health-club chains also are catching on to this trend. 24 Hour Fitness offers metabolic testing in more than 300 clubs in 16 states. Andy Clark, fitness manager for a 24 Hour club in downtown Seattle, says his facility has measured clients' metabolism since October 2004.

“There was a lot of excitement around the program as they rolled it out and moved forward,” he says. “We had several training sessions, and the fitness managers did one-on-one training with the personal trainers.”

Since then, business has remained steady at about 30 metabolic tests per week. The club charges $49 for a stand-alone metabolic test or includes the cost of the test in its personal training program.

During the first session, a personal trainer takes circumference measurements and conducts both a body composition analysis and metabolic testing to get as much preliminary information as possible to accurately track his or her client's progress.

“Testing is extremely important, and when you combine the metabolic and body fat testing, that's a lot of positive feedback,” Clark says. “It's been a great tool for us to educate clients on the specifics, such as how many calories they burn. If they truly want to see changes, they know they need to take in a certain number of calories to ultimately get results.”

He says members have been receptive to the test and measurement technology because it takes the guesswork out of weight loss. Once the test is performed and they see a number in front of them, most of the clients have the same question — is my RMR good or bad? Because RMR is unique to each individual, he explains that the number is indifferent.

“You can have two individuals who are 200 pounds, and one can have a high number and another can have a low number,” he says. “It's relative in terms of activity and body composition. It's just a tool used to let them know how many calories they need to reach their goals.”

Clubs such as the Sports Club/LA are also offering metabolism testing as a way to design personalized nutrition and exercise programs.

“Knowledge is power when you're trying to manage your weight or improve athletic performance,” says Patricia Blaho, nutritionist at the Sports Club/LA in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

The Sports Club LA, an upscale health club chain with locations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston and San Francisco, charges $100 for a stand-alone metabolic test and also offers it as part of its new member package. During the five-minute test, clients breathe into a hygienic mask or mouthpiece, which is attached to a handheld electronic device that measures oxygen consumption.

Blaho averages six to eight metabolic tests per week and says the metabolic testing has become a real selling point for her club.

“I think that it's a service that people are really interested in,” she says. “When you really explain what it's all about, their ears perk up and they want to know more about it. People like data and the fact that the test is based on science.”

As a dietician, she says the metabolic tests provide her with accurate raw data, which can help her to design a nutrition program for her clients. She advises her clients to get retested regularly so she can adjust their training and eating strategies. She is working with two athletes training for the New York City marathon, and she says the metabolic testing has helped her to meet their nutritional needs. Blaho has learned that many athletes don't consume enough calories.

“They're surprised how much they need to be eating,” she says. “One of my clients didn't think he needed as many calories as he did, and when he added more calories, he found that his performance, stamina and endurance improved.”

Health clubs are not only offering metabolic testing but are also selling special armbands that allow their members to view their actual food intake and energy output. 365 Fitness, which licenses co-ed fitness facilities, has rolled out a program that allows members to measure their exact calorie burn. After members purchase an armband from one of the 365 Fitness clubs, they can log their food intake and plan their menus using special computer software. They can also call a hotline to get nutrition information and ask questions about their calorie consumption, such as “I'm doing this kind of workout. Why am I not getting results?” Rich Minzer, co-founder of 365 Fitness, says the program makes it easier for health club owners to provide testing services for their clients.

“If you train a technician and then your technician leaves your club, you may feel like, what do I do now?” he says. “Owners are so busy running their clubs, and time is very important to them. This is less work for an owner of a facility but provides a profit center and a results-oriented service for the members.”

Getting Students in Shape

Even university recreation centers are offering state-of-the-art test and measurement services. The University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO, recently purchased a system to measure and track body fat and lean body mass. The equipment uses air displacement technology, which is based on the same whole-body measurement principle as hydrostatic weighing. The test takes about five minutes and is non-invasive.

The university's personal training studio, which is located in a renovated former racquetball court, houses the device and a computer that records the results. When students sign up for a personal training session, the trainer asks them to do a stretch-and-reach test, measures their blood pressure and analyzes their body composition. The university rec center, which is undergoing an extensive renovation project, installed the device in April, trained its staff how to use it this summer and plans to offer the service to students in the fall.

Whether your fitness facility offers metabolic, V02 or body composition testing, you can provide your clients with a way to measure their progress and meet their goals. Rather than simply relying on equations and formulas, you can invest in equipment that will accurately measure your clients' RMR and body fat percentage, and help your club to turn a profit and meet your customers' needs in a competitive marketplace.

Seven Ways to Measure Your Clients' Body Fat and Metabolism
Type of Testing Description
BMI measurement A measurement that compares a person's height and weight.
Underwater weighing Compares a person's weight on land to his or her weight in a pool. The more you float, the more fat you have in your body.
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry Doctors use low-dose X-rays to measure bone and soft tissue mass.
Bioelectrical impedance As you step on the metal plates of a scale, an electrical signal is sent through your body.
Resting metabolic rate Calculates the number of calories that your body burns by measuring oxygen consumption.
Skin fold test Calipers pinch skin folds to determine your body fat percentage.
VO2 max Measures the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity.

Testing and Measuring Equipment

Check out some of the following companies' Web sites for more information.