Whew! Spreadsheets, number-crunching, and thoughtful analysis have filled my life for the past two weeks as the data presented some fantastic insights about Project JACKED! Summarizing the outcomes achieved by the 19 participants in our intervention group provides a vivid illustration of how Project JACKED worked in real life.
When we embarked on the mission of The Project, our primary focus was to rewrite the colloquial definition of “jacked”, and have it not just mean getting muscular, but getting healthy, lean, fit, and energized for life – JACKED! That’s what we were shooting for and that’s what happened. While weight loss is a popular cultural focus, and indeed it was a goal for many of our participants, we emphasized that improving body composition was more important than weight alone and that this was a by-product of simply getting healthier. We objectively recorded bodyweight, body mass index (BMI), bodyfat percentage, lean body mass, and several circumference measures and ratios. We also chronicled subjective ratings of energy, health, fitness, and body satisfaction. All of this data was collected at initiation and completion of the program. The following report will describe each of these parameters. I’ll provide the major data points and some interpretation of the findings.
Demographics: As you may recall, the intervention group was comprised of 19 subjects, with a minimum age of 33, a maximum of 71, and an average of 55. There were 6 females and 13 males. They came into the program with similar yet slightly unique goals. Some wanted to focus on weight loss. Others wanted to gain or restore some lean body mass. A few were seeking a way out of some fairly serious health situations. Improved fitness, performance, and quality of life was a goal shared by all.
Weight Loss: The group lost a total of 157.4 pounds, with the average loss per participant at 8.3 pounds. The greatest weight loss by one participant was 27.5 pounds, and the greatest weight gain was 4.0 pounds (although this occurred in a subject who decreased bodyfat percentage by 3.5% while gaining 6.5 pounds of lean body mass). By working together as a supportive group, JACKED participants demonstrated how weight loss can be relatively easy and comfortable. They also used education to foster behavior change that increases the odds of their progress being sustainable.
Body Mass Index: A collective BMI reduction of 24.1 was recorded for the group. Average reduction was 1.3. The average BMI for the group at conclusion was 23.8, placing the group in the “normal” category. This correlates with the weight lost by our participants and statistically enhances their health and longevity outlook.
Bodyfat Percentage: Average bodyfat reduction was 4.5% with a maximum decrease in one subject at -11.7%. We focused on this measure as our gold standard, as it is arguably more objective than either weight or BMI. Average bodyfat percentage for females at conclusion was 29.4% and for the males it was 16.8%. These are outstanding results and represent incredible body composition improvement in only 4 months. This status equates with goal accomplishment for several participants and excellent progress in that direction for most others. Only one individual had a gain in bodyfat, at 0.2%, and this was attributed to low program adherence and high stress levels. Inconsistency with diet and exercise plans, coupled with potentially elevated cortisol levels in the presence of the stress, resulted in stubborn belly fat that may require a rededication in effort to be addressed.
Lean Body Mass: The group collectively increased their LBM by 26.4 pounds. The average increase was 1.4 pounds, with the maximum increase being 8.3 pounds and the greatest loss of LBM was 4.1 pounds. This finding was of particular interest. LBM represents non-fat weight, and primarily focuses on muscle mass. While JACKED wasn’t a full-on bodybuilding program, one of our goals was to maintain or even increase muscle mass while decreasing bodyfat. This is what I call “metabolic multi-tasking” and although often a challenge, we proved it can be done. Here is where things get a little more specific. You can clearly separate the data on LBM change into three subgroups: those whose bodyweight changed 5 pounds or less (had the greatest increase in LBM of 4-7 pounds), those whose bodyweight changed between 5-15 pounds (had a moderate increase in LBM of 1-3 pounds), and those whose bodyweight changed by greater than 15 pounds (had a slight decrease in LBM of 1-4 pounds). This gets back to the concept of metabolic multi-tasking and now it should be termed “moderate metabolic multi-tasking.” In other words, the body demands compromise, and if one’s goal is to build muscle, the body tends to be a little more stingy with fat-burning in most cases. And when weight loss (mostly fat) is the primary goal, sometimes a small amount of muscle tissue is incinerated in the process. This provides great food for thought for our team members as well as anyone who is designing a program toward a body composition goal. The middle ground can get us fairly good results, but if we really want to gain or lose, that objective could potentially require a slightly more intensified approach.
Shoulder Circumference: Shoulder circumference, measured at mid-deltoid level and encompassing the upper chest, decreased by an average of 0.7” in the group. One of the thoughts we had discussed in some early meetings was whether this measure would increase or decrease. While a few participants noted slight gains in this area (more males than females), over half the group saw a reduction in shoulder girth and this is ostensibly because as their bodies became leaner, adipose tissue was pared down from the upper chest and shoulders. It is plausible that as bodyfat gets into desired ranges, this number may hit a “bottom” and then begin to build upward if the individual continues with resistance training.
Waist Circumference: This measurement, taken at the umbilical level, decreased by an average of 2.2” across the group. This was another excellent indicator of progress, as belly fat reduction was a goal for most participants and it is also that for most Americans. Waist shrinkage was slightly greater in the males than in the females, as this area, known as the greater omentum, is the preferential adipose depository site for men.
Hip Circumference: At the trochanteric level, this reading reduced by an average of 1.2” in the group. Converse to the findings with waist circumference mentioned above, this reduction was most pronounced in the female portion of our population sample. This is another gender-specific example of body type, although we recognized the great capacity for variability.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio: This ratio is used by the World Health Organization as a predictor of cardiovascular disease and mortality risk, with standards suggesting that a level below .90 for males and below .85 for females as desirable. Our group showed a reduction of 0.07 in the measure, and the average post-JACKED reading for females was 0.84 and it was 0.87 for males. As you can see, there is redundancy in many of these outcome measures, but they all represent a positive trend.
Shoulder-to-Waist Ratio: Based on the Fibonacci Sequence, an ancient design principle that emphasizes aesthetics and symmetry, this measure has been popularized in fitness and bodybuilding circles as an indicator of ideal body proportions, particularly in the upper body and more so in males than females. Using the target (golden) ratio of 1.618 (shoulders) to 1 (waist), we can visualize broad, muscular shoulders, and a narrow, lean waist. Our group saw an average increase of 0.06, with females finishing at 1.25 and males at 1.47. There is no definitive data that reaching the golden ratio confers health benefits over being within a few tenths of it, but gaining muscle and losing fat were our objectives and the subjects moved to a higher (better) score in this ratio.
Rating of Overall Daily Energy Levels: The composite group started at an average of 7.1, finished at 7.8, and averaged an increase in reported energy levels of 0.73. This and all other rating measures were recorded on a scale of 0-10, to the nearest tenth. As we emphasized nutrition, sleep, recovery, stress balancing, and various lifestyle factors such as mindfulness, the rating of energy made a significant improvement.
Rating of Perceived Health: At the start of the program the subjects rated their health at 7.7 and by conclusion that figure increased to 8.3. The average increase in health rating across the group was 0.56. This was a real-world study, and the subjects were not confined to a hospital ward or any other encampment. Because of this, we had several subjects who had a little thing called LIFE happen to them. Deaths in the family, job changes, and relationship issues…all undeniably real life events that we sometimes face, affected the health ratings. My objective in recording all this was not to eliminate such data, but to recognize the inevitable things that can occur and to test the program’s efficacy despite the presence of these challenges. That the group showed an overall improvement in both real and perceived health is an indicator that these interventions can have powerful effects even when not taken to optimal levels. Every little bit counts.
Rating of Fitness: Participants rated their fitness at 6.3 to begin the program and finished up at 7.5 with an average increase of 1.2. While it would have been possible to conduct various exercise performance tests on the subjects, I elected to stick with self-rating. Most people can be fairly harsh self-critics, so this increase is fairly telling. Again, this data includes a few participants who struggled to be consistent with programming, yet the overall outcome is still quite positive.
Rating of Satisfaction with Body: This figure began at 6.4 and concluded at 8.0 with an average increase of 1.6. In JACKED, everybody is a winner. Having a positive physical self-esteem is such an important part of health and happiness. Being comfortable with one’s own body, and accepting the person in the mirror as a work-in-progress, is one of the things we emphasized. That the group collectively expressed high satisfaction with their bodies is important. As the body gets JACKED, so too does the mind.
So there you have it. In my honest and humble (although admittedly biased) opinion, I’d say that Project JACKED kicked “A!” The system worked. By creating a set of general principles that functioned like an umbrella over the entire group, and then establishing a series of guidelines that allowed each subject to customize the interventions for a personal best fit, we were able to achieve excellent outcomes. Unlike some of the Projects I’ve undertaken, this has not been a fatiguing journey in any sense. It’s been totally inspiring and energizing, and a fabulous learning experience. And that really is because of the amazing people who participated in this beta-testing, pilot study, extravaganza of wellness. You are incredible and I salute you all! Thanks so much for letting me poke, prod, pinch, and cajole you to our destination. Whether my role with you was as a fitness coach, nutrition coach, health coach, life coach, physical therapist, friend, mentor, or understudy, I was and will continually be enhanced by our relationship. In the upcoming and final report of The Project, I’ll share some of the great personal stories of the participants, and the lessons that I gleaned and that hopefully every reader can enjoy. Stay JACKED!