Ask Our Expert

Bryan Haycock answers all your diet and training questions

June 29, 2012
Photography by: Timothy Tadder - Corbis Image
Ask Our Expert

Q: What is a healthy body-fat percentage?

A: I think the question of healthy body-fat percentage is relative, because the answer you get depends somewhat on whom you ask. If you ask a doctor, you will get a figure that allows for quite a bit more fat than if you ask a personal trainer—and if you ask your insurance company, you may get a different answer still. There is an accepted body-fat range for women, however. According to the American Council on Exercise, body-fat levels between 14–24% can be considered healthy for women.

Category                     % body fat

Most athletes              14–20%

Optimal fitness           21–24%

Average                       25–31%

Obesity                           > 32%

Most M&F Hers readers would probably not be content in the 25–31% range, which is considered average. If you want to look like a fitness competitor, you will have to drop down below 12%, which is below the healthy range. This does not pose a problem for most competitors because this lean condition is not held for long periods of time. If it were, most women would experience hormonal disruptions that could adversely affect bone mass and fertility. If I were you, I would ensure that I fall within the healthy range (14–24%) and then make any further body-fat adjustments based on your preferences about your appearance.

Q: Should I stretch before workouts? If so, what stretches are best and how long should I hold them?

A: That is a very good question. No, I’m not talking about which stretches or how long to hold them, I’m talking about whether to stretch at all. Most people are told to stretch before exercise in order to prevent injuries. According to research, however, holding stretches before activity has not been shown to reduce injuries. What’s worse, static stretching has also been shown to significantly (though temporarily) reduce muscle strength. On the other hand, dynamic stretching differs from static stretching in that it doesn’t negatively affect strength or performance and has actually been shown to improve power as well as jumping and running performance. You do not hold a dynamic stretch; you just move the limb or perform a movement that takes a joint through its full range of motion briskly and repeatedly.

        In addition to the superiority of dynamic stretching, research has demonstrated that warming up may also be effective at preventing injury. Warming up helps to increase the blood flow to muscle tissue, increase temperature of the tissue, and even increase range of motion.

    Though the question of whether or not to use static stretching remains controversial, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends starting with an active warmup, followed by static stretching, with each stretch being held for 15–30 seconds and repeated two to four times.

Q: I have been working out for years, trying various training techniques and programs. I never ever get the results I want. Help!

A: You can at least take solace in knowing you are not the only person who goes through this. There is usually one solution: hiring a personal trainer. Having a competent personal trainer (PT) you trust can make a big difference in your progress. Generally, a PT should serve as both educator and motivator, though finding someone who offers both can be difficult.

Start with the most basic requirements of a good PT and look for someone who is certified. There are many different organizations that offer certification. Two of the best are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).