How to Improve Body Composition

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we will review ways to improve body composition. We will discuss the two major ways to change body composition which are strength training and cardiovascular training. We will also touch upon diet and safety practices.

Body Composition

Every February who doesn't dream of getting into shape and changing the composition of their body? We look in our mirrors and try to envision how our bodies could look if we changed our diet and exercise habits. We dream of having more muscle and less fat and looking in shape for all those fun, summer days of cookouts, the pool, the beach, and theme parks.

Alas, there's a catch. Building muscle usually takes ADDING calories and eating more protein, while losing fat usually takes REDUCING calories and exercising more. This contradiction makes it tough for both women and men to achieve their goals. Besides muscle and fat, there is a third factor, bone density. Many senior citizens lose bone density as they age, so one goal of diet and exercise is to preserve this precious bone density.

A person's body composition is the percentage of fat in proportion to the percentage of muscle, bones, water, and other elements in their body. Let's take a look at how to improve your overall body composition.

Remember, when doing exercises to improve body composition, it is very important to follow safety practices at all times or serious injury or even death could result.

Strength Training versus Cardiovascular Training

When it comes to changing one's body composition, it really comes down to two main choices: strength training and cardiovascular training. There are dozens of variations of each with plenty of exercises that can be done indoors or outdoors.

Strength Training

There are many ways to strength train and some of the most common are bodybuilding, weightlifting, and circuit training (weightlifting machines.) Women are often leery of lifting weights because they fear becoming 'musclebound'. Most women, though, will not gain large amounts of muscle but instead, will become tone. Weightlifters tend to lift heavy to improve on their personal best scores while bodybuilders, although also strong, tend to focus more on body aesthetics and posing. The circuit machines are probably best for the average person because there is less range of motion than with free weights and less chance to use bad form and cause injury.

When lifting heavy weights such as the bench press, have a second person work as a spotter to help you. When using free weights, make sure to move slowly and smoothly and use good form.

Strength training improves body composition by increasing muscle mass and often, but not always, reducing fat in the process. Strength training burns additional calories, but also, perhaps more importantly, it creates lean body weight. And since muscle is active metabolically, the athlete will burn energy.

Weight Training

'Creative Commons Male using free weights in gym under guidance of instructor' by Hibiscus Sports Complex is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cardiovascular Training

Like strength training, cardiovascular training can be used to change body composition. This is done by burning calories and decreasing fat stores. As the athlete exercises, the body initially uses carbohydrates for energy, but, after several minutes, the body may switch over to burning body fat, as well.


Who doesn't remember cycling everywhere as a kid? It was so much fun it didn't even feel like work or exercise. Cycling or riding an exercise bike can burn fat, and cyclists are known for their amazing leg muscle definition. The athlete can add in some fast sprint intervals to burn additional fat.


Runners can employ a multi-part strategy to change their body composition. They can increase their weekly mileage or the intensity of their workouts. They can lower their caloric intake or replace dense, high-calorie foods with less dense, low-calorie foods. Last, they can employ a combination of all of these strategies. Don't run during excessive heat and watch for vehicular traffic.


Swimming is a great low-impact way to improve body composition. Low impact means that there is minimal stress placed on the joints such as the knees and the ankles. Some studies have even suggested that swimming underwater and holding one's breath actually adds good 'brown fat' to the body and changes body composition. There was a well-known study of pearl divers that delved into this theory.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account