Friday, 14 October 2011

Pinch an inch?

I was browsing the British Gas Swimfit website today and was really frustrated to find this image, which is used to illustrate both the "shape up and tone" section of the site, and this box which takes stroke, intensity and duration and gives you the calorie expenditure estimated to be involved, plus a comparison with other activities such as walking or running.

I have so many problems with this. Firstly, the person pinching their flesh is very lean, but it is still not clear whether this is representing the identification of a problem or the demonstration of the "good" body. Either way, the "can you pinch an inch?" mode of body assessment is highly discredited, not least because healthy bodies are supposed to have flesh on them. Furthermore, the association of the image with calorie counts draws a straight line from calorie intake to targeted fat loss - a move that conveniently skips over the well-recognised complexity and unpredictability of energy balance and the impossibility of targeted body fat loss as a product of intake reduction.

And secondly, while I'm having a bit of a about how to suck the life out of swimming. I can't think of anything more impoverished than the measurement of swimming's benefits through the miserly counting of calories. Interestingly, while the other non-competitive sections of the Swimfit programme (Health and Fitness) offer evidence of tangible health benefits from swimming (e.g. reduced stress and depression, greater physical comfort while exercising for those with mobility difficulties or joint problems, improved range of motion), the Shape up and Tone section only offers estimated calorie usage with changes to body size and composition assumed. Where is the evidence of actual health-related improvements to support this aspect of the scheme? In this model, the increase in energy output is always presumed to be desirable because it is presumed to lead to weight loss (which is also deemed to be always desirable) - it's actual relation to health and well-being is unclear, and the "pinch an inch" picture sends a confusing and offensive message that health can be measured directly off body composition.

You only have to look at the average Channel swimmer to know that the relationships between health, fitness and body fat is far more complicated than that.


  1. Remember the saying Karen, Open water swimmers are the only elite athletes who look better with their clothes on. I agree with you, it's the same reason I did a post on different athletic body types (

  2. Wrong bloody log in. That was me btw, donal. By the way, does anyhting beat hot chocolate after a sea swim?