When it comes to expertise on all things DXA, Dr. Donald Dengel is your go-to guy. A researcher and Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Dengel has more than 25 years of experience studying body composition and working with DXA technology. Not only does he have a deep understanding of DXA’s unique benefits compared to other body composition measurement systems, he has also implemented these learnings to build an innovative partnership with the University of Minnesota’s sports programs. Through this collaboration, his team has been able to both further academic research and boost athletic performance.
As part of his research at UM, Dr. Dengel has developed Dexalytics.com, a robust source of additional insights and learnings from DXA. The site is the one-stop source for coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and more to inform athletic decisions based on DXA metrics. Now, in part one of our two-part blog series with Dr. Dengel, he shares exclusive details with us about how insights from DXA power the University of Minnesota’s athletic programs at every stage and why Horizon DXA System is the gold standard in body composition measurement.
Unparalleled Accuracy for Athletic Measurement
In one word, if you’re asking “Why DXA?”, the answer according to Dr. Dengel is simple: accuracy. DXA systems are high in both accuracy and precision, resulting in a more comprehensive measure of body composition compared to other methods1 like calipers, hydrostatic weighing, or BOD POD. If you’re measuring an athlete to fine-tune a training program or evaluate post-injury recovery, it’s clear why you’d want to have the most accurate metrics possible on which to base these decisions.
In addition to its unparalleled accuracy, a key benefit of DXA systems is the ability to provide unique insights across multiple areas of the body, as opposed to the single, total-body measurement number other methods provide. Horizon DXA System by Hologic® provides 220 detailed measurements of the body,2 which allows for a more comprehensive snapshot of an athlete’s current physical state (check out a sample report!).
As Dr. Dengel described, these detailed measurements can be applied to athletes to help discover and evaluate asymmetries throughout the left and right sides of the body. “If we’re looking at a pitcher, or a javelin shotputter, or even a football player who constantly comes from the left side, these athletes will over-develop one side of their body and create an asymmetry. DXA allows you to take that asymmetry, or see if there is one, and then start to address it.”
Whether these inequalities are addressed through modified conditioning programs, personalized training plans, or custom nutrition analyses, DXA allows athletes to understand how their bodies are responding to a sport, and then build upon any weaknesses accordingly to help them perform at their best.
Unique Insights Across the Season
This type of comparative evaluation can also be applied to players throughout longer periods of time by conducting scans at the beginning and end of a season. Dr. Dengel walked us through a situation with the university’s football team, which scanned players three times a year during the beginning, mid-point, and end of the season. The coaches were realizing the team wasn’t doing as well during the post-season as expected, and after evaluating the three different scans, realized the players were losing significant muscle during the season. This was likely because they were busy with classes and practices, and weren’t able to keep up the rigorous training they did in the summer.
According to Dr. Dengel, when he sat down with the coaches and showed them this data, their reaction was, “Wow, that really helps us see that maybe we need to look at our training program from a year standpoint so that we don’t have this major loss of muscle mass throughout the season and we can at least preserve what was built during the summer.” The use of accurate DXA muscle mass data helped the team to avoid the cycle of static composition from just repeatedly building, losing, and re-building muscle, and instead develop a training schedule that made more sense for their composition goals.
Bone Health Measurement, Made Simple
In addition to preventing ligament tears and joint injuries, DXA can also be used to evaluate and prevent bone health issues in athletes. DXA devices are commonly used to screen for osteoporosis in clinical settings, but their applications to bone health can also be useful for coaches who work with women in sports such as running.
Dr. Dengel detailed a situation where, “If my team is, say, cross-country runners, and I’m dealing with a lot of women, then I’m really interested in their bone health and what that looks like. You’re not gonna get that from anywhere but a DXA. So if I’m the female cross country coach and I have 13 women that I’m tracking, I want to make sure that they’re competing at the best possible weight but I also want to make sure that their bone health is where it should be and we’re not compromising their bone health. Because that’s just gonna lead to more stress fractures and other bone issues.” Bone health is a critical aspect of overall player wellness, and DXA’s expertise in this area demonstrates an additional application to injury and fracture prevention for athletes.
What Makes Horizon DXA System Stand Out from the Competition?
It’s fair to say Dr. Dengel knows his stuff when it comes to the DXA competitive landscape, which is why we were eager to hear directly from him as to what makes Horizon DXA System the gold standard choice. He immediately referenced the speed of the system, which allows for a higher throughput of players in a set timeframe—a crucial factor when looking to scan an entire team efficiently. A whole body composition scan takes as little as two minutes in Horizon DXA A system, and 5 mins in a Horizon W and Wi,3 making it faster to get a team of players through the scan and back onto the training field.
And if you’re wondering about who to turn to with any questions regarding Horizon DXA System’s technology, Dr. Dengel said it best himself: “If we’re talking about support, I’m much more comfortable with the support system in place for Hologic than I am with the other scanners. There’s a more dedicated source of information.” We can’t argue with that! In addition to one-to-one support from Hologic, DXA University is our hub of education, background, and resources available to you 24/7 for additional product information.
What’s on the horizon for DXA?
When it comes to taking full advantage of DXA technology’s possibilities, Dr. Dengel believes we’re just starting to scratch the surface. “I don’t think DXA’s done by far. I think there’s much more room for it to grow.” By constantly asking how we can continue to make the technology better, how to apply it to new realms outside of clinical applications, or how to make DXA information accessible to athletic populations, Dr. Dengel believes we can continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with the technology.
Looking to learn more? Explore Dexalytics.com to stay up-to-date with Dr. Dengel’s insights on how DXA is creating new frontiers in the sports world. And look out for part two of our conversation with Dr. Dengel coming soon. We’ll go in-depth to learn how DXA is used during recruitment at the NFL Combine and to prevent player injuries. When it comes to DXA, the conversation is never done!
- Raymond et al. Total and Segmental Body Composition Examination in Collegiate Football Players Using Multifrequencey BIA and DXA. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Mar
- DHM-08252 lists 220 measurements that you can get from a whole body scan
- Technical Specifications MAN-03283 Rev 007
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