According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular health exams and tests are important because they “can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better. By getting the right health services, screenings, and treatments, you are taking steps that help your chances for living a longer, healthier life.”[i] The CDC’s list of common exams and screenings include Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection, Cholesterol, Colorectal Cancer Screening, High Blood Pressure, Oral Health, Prostate Cancer Screening, Skin Cancer Exam and tests for HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis.
Missing from the list are evaluations of fitness and muscular health. When was the last time your doctor evaluated your posture, gait, flexibility, balance, strength, stamina and other aspects of fitness during a yearly checkup? In this context, the most common general fitness measures are weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). It’s understandable, given the prevalence of obesity in the United States[ii] and its contribution to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. There is, however, an implied assumption of physical health in this singular frame of reference, which experience tells us is fundamentally incomplete. In practice, patients can pass or do reasonably well in all the common checkup factors, even weight, and still suffer from limited flexibility, low stamina and poor body balance; to call them healthy is to disconnect health from fitness and their ability to physically function.
Part of the challenge dealing with fitness and physical health has been a lack of base metrics for quantifying and benchmarking muscle fitness. The military and organizations like the Federal Law Enforcement Center have fitness standards, but those are contextually defined in terms of job requirements[iii]. Personal trainers evaluating fitness outside demanding jobs and sports participation generally rely on their training, judgment and experience to assess and improve their clients’ fitness levels. Unfortunately, they have not been able to objectively quantify muscle fitness quality across major muscle groups – until now.
Skulpt is a small, handheld scanning device designed to measure the quality and fat percentage of major muscle groups. It is based on the science of Composition Myography, which had its roots in Electrical Impedance Myography, a technique used to evaluate patients suffering from neurological conditions such as amyotrophic laterals sclerosis, ALS. The device transmits a high-frequency, low current signal through direct skin contact that loses energy as it travels across body tissue. Muscle and fat tissues affect the signal differently, and that difference is sensed by the device. The readings are processed and interpreted by dedicated software, which displays the results as percentage of fat and muscle quality surrounding a skeletal representation of the body. There is a detailed discussion of the science on the device’s website.
Skulpt is the first consumer grade, commercial device to allow users and trainers to quantitatively benchmark and track muscle quality and body fat distribution. It is to muscle fitness what a good scale is to weight measurement and BMI calculations, except its results provide details down to individual muscles and muscle groups. As a result, users and their team of health and fitness professionals can benchmark muscle quality, craft programs targeted at specific deficiencies, measure results and fine tune those programs over time.
The device is also useful in identifying and evaluating imbalances caused by injuries, surgeries and chronic conditions. For example, the scans below are of an active male who underwent a right knee meniscus surgery five months prior. He worked with a personal trainer before and after the surgery to recover mobility and muscle strength. The scans allowed the trainer to determine the relative quality of the muscle groups surrounding the affected knee, and develop a targeted strengthening plan. Scans were later used to verify the effectiveness of the plan and adjust their workouts as recovery continued. It’s notable that the scanning and assessment of muscle quality was done outside a medical facility and without the involvement of medical personnel. The device and cell phone app guided the trainer and validated the proper position of the scanner during the scanning process. The system performed the analysis and interpretation of the data within seconds, and relayed the results in a format readily understood by the patient and trainer.
The next post will focus on complementary technologies that dynamically capture the intensity and balance of muscle activity during exercise, and measure the impacts of running, walking and similar activities on the body. These systems are revolutionizing the quality and efficacy of exercise programs, while helping trainers adjust body mechanics and other factors known to promote and aggravate injuries.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES
[iii] Physical Performance Requirements, Federal Law Enforcement Center, retrieved April 18, 2017, https://www.fletc.gov/physical-performance-requirements