BOD POD

There’s nothing like stripping down to your skivvies so a stranger—with the help of a high-tech machine—can tell you how much fat you have. Welcome to the BOD POD room at Malone University, where a less-than-five-minute test in an egg-shaped chamber will calculate your body composition.

Measures fat vs. everything else

There’s nothing like stripping down to your skivvies so a stranger—with the help of a high-tech machine—can tell you how much fat you have.

Welcome to the BOD POD room at Malone University, where a less-than-five-minute test in an egg-shaped chamber will calculate your body composition.

The pod uses air displacement to determine the volume you take up in the chamber. Then, the corresponding computer program estimates your fat mass versus your fat-free mass, which includes your muscles, bones, water and organs.

The measurement matters because unhealthy fat levels are linked to reproductive problems, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

bodpod2“We know the less fat you have on the body, generally speaking, the healthier you are,” said Stephen Wirick, assistant professor of exercise science at Malone University, who ran my test.

As bizarre as the experience was, it taught me more about my health than a weight-versus-height measurement ever has.

When I go to the doctor, the nurse has me step on the scale—usually with my shoes on—and then we have a talk about my body mass index using a chart that shows how much I should weigh based on how tall I am. But what it doesn’t account for is how much of my body mass is fat versus muscle.

For the general population, BMI isn’t a bad measurement, and it’s effective for tracking population trends. But for people who are athletic, it’s not a fair assessment, Wirick said. Muscle weighs more than fat, so people with a high percentage of muscle might show up as overweight or obese based on a BMI scale, when they’re actually in great shape.

To use the BOD POD, I had to pack my running clothes; only single-layer spandex bathing suits or compression shorts and sports bras are allowed. You’re not supposed to eat, drink or exercise within two hours of your test.

After tucking my hair into a swim cap, I got on a calibrated scale so the computer could register my weight. Then I took a seat on the bench inside the machine, and Wirick closed me into the pod.

It’s akin to being inside a spaceship in someone’s office. My only job was to sit still and breathe normally during the two or three 50-second tests.

Wirick warned me I would hear popping and clicking and whooshing sounds and that my ears might feel pressure, as they do when you’re on an airplane that’s ascending. He was right, but I wasn’t uncomfortable.

And only a few minutes later, he handed me an analysis sheet that told me my weight, my fat mass, my fat-free mass and where that put me on the body fat rating scale.

With about 18 pounds of fat, I’ve got just enough to be healthy.

We all need some fat to protect our organs and regulate our hormones, and women need more fat than men. Men can have as little as 5 percent body fat, while the lowest a woman is supposed to drop to is 15 percent body fat. Anything less than that is considered risky.

That can be a challenge for women especially, Wirick said, because they see they have a fat percentage in the mid-20 percent range and worry—but, according to the BOD POD sheet I brought back to the office with me, anything between the 15 percent and 30 percent mark is acceptable.

The test has a margin of error of between 2 and 3 percent in either direction, but the BOD POD is one of the most accurate composition tests on the market.

There are a few in the region, including one at the University of Mount Union and one at the University of Akron, and of course, the one at Malone University.

BOD POD tests at Malone University are available to the public for a fee and can be scheduled by calling Wirick at 330-471-8295 or emailing him at swirick@malone.edu. The chamber can fit people up to 7 feet tall and up to 500 pounds.