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The Best Methods To Measure Your Body Fat Percentage

Measuring Your Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Measurements

The initial measurement of your Body Mass Index should have been given to you by your physician. The Body Mass Index will only tell you how close you are to a normal weight with respect to the average weight of people for your age or gender group. However, it will not giv you any idea about your body fat percentage. So you will need to have your body fat percentage determined using one of the methods available today.

Why should you know your body fat percentage?

A small percentage of fat is necessary for our body to function properly. Body fat percentage is often seen as one of the most significant criteria of a person’s fitness level. The necessary amount of fat is referred to as “essential fat” and the minimum percentage of fat necessary for survival is about 3-5% in men and 8-12% in women.

There are several reason why you should know your body fat percentage by getting a total body composition test. By adding “essential fat” and fat-free mass in your body, you can find how much extra fat your body has so you can see how much weight you can safely lose without risking your health.

By using the body composition test results, you can also see the progress you have made towards your diet and health goals. Body fat measurements can be a great motivational aid to watch your progress in terms of weight loss, nutrition, exercise, and health.

Body Fat Percentage Charts

Body fat percentage charts help you see where you stand in terms of nutritional status and whether you need to lose, gain or maintain weight.

Body Fat Percentage Chart For For Women

Body Fat % Nutritional Status
less than 13% Essential fat
14-20% Athletic
21-24% Fit
25-31% Acceptable
31% plus Obese

Body Fat Percentage Chart For For Men

Body Fat % Nutritional Status
less than 2-5% Essential fat
6-13% Athletic
14-17% Fit
18-25% Acceptable
25% plus Obese

A healthy level of body fat depends on your age and gender as well as your goals. If you are not concerned about keeping your body fat low for aesthetic reasons, then you can keep your body fat percentage anywhere between below “obese” and above “essential fat levels.” For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and have 40 pounds of fat, your body fat percentage would be 20% (40 / 200), which lies within the “Acceptable” range.

Measuring Your Body Composition

There are several techniques to measure body composition with varying degrees of accuracy and sophistication. They allow for the measurement of fat and fat-free mass so you know where you stand compared to people in your age and gender group. Below you will find a description of most commonly used methods that are available today.

In the meantime, you should also get familiar with some of the basic concepts about body composition so you can make better sense of the the measurements.

  • Fat mass: Weight times body fat percentage
  • Lean body mass: Body weight minus fat mass
  • Body volume: Amount of space your body takes up
  • Body mass: Body weight (fat-free mass plus fat mass)
  • Body density: Body mass divided by volume
  • Body composition: Ratio of body fat to lean body tissue

Body Fat Caliper

Measuring body fat using a skin fold caliper, also called body fat caliper, is a common method for determining body fat percentage. The skin fold caliper is considered a fairly reliable instrument to measure the thickness of a fold of your skin with its underlying layer of fat. By taking measurements at key locations on your body such as chest fold, abdominal fold, thigh fold (men) and triceps fold, waist fold, thigh fold (women) and entering the measurements into equations, you can get an estimate of your body’s fat percentage.

Body fat calipers are very affordable and can be purchased online. They are also relatively simple to use and bodily measurements can be taken quickly. You can learn to perform the caliper test yourself to determine whether you are gaining muscle while losing fat. You will need to learn how to use the caliper properly so that your measurements are accurate and consistent. However, it is recommended that you use a professional to perform this test for best results. This can be done at your physician’s office, a gym, or even a university.

Results from the body fat caliper test can vary depending on the skill level of the person performing the procedure and the measurement technique used. Measurement errors can vary between 3.5-5% body fat. Furthermore, calipers can only measure subcutaneous fat, which lies under the skin as opposed to visceral fat that surrounds the internal organs.

Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA)

Another commonly used method for measuring body fat percentage is bioelectric impedance analysis. BIA devices, also called bio-impedance scales, estimate body composition by sending a small electrical current through the body and recording the body’s response to the electrical current. Using the data obtained from your body, the BIA devices estimates your body composition.

The method is based on the principle that different body tissues such as muscle, fat or bone all contain varying amounts of water and, as a result, their electrical conductivity differs. For example, body fat causes higher resistance (impedance) than muscle and slows the rate at which the electricity moves through fat due to its lower water content.

There are different types of BIA devices where each each device has two points of contact: hand-to-hand BIA, foot-to foot BIA and hand-to-foot BIA. These devices can be safely used by most people. However, if you have an electronic medical implant in your body such as a heart pacemaker, you should not use it. Also, it is advised that such devices are not to be used by pregnant women.

BIA devices offer a quick and easy way to measure body fat percentage and can be obtained online for home use. If you want to use a body fat scale that uses bioelectric impedance, keep in mind that these devices are sensitive to water gain in your body and skin temperature. To take a good reading, don’t eat or drink for about four hours before taking the test. Always carefully read the instructions that come with the device before using it.

Accuracy of the BIA devices may vary depending on the quality of the device used with an error rate of 3.8–5% body fat. Also, the accuracy of the estimates can be affected by food and fluid intake. Higher quality devices that are mostly available at medical or research centers can provide more accurate measurements.

Hydrostatic Weighing

Hydrostatic weighing, also referred to as “underwater weighing,” is an effective method for measuring a person’s body composition. It is based on Archimedes’ principle of displacement, which states that the buoyant force exerted by a fluid on a submerged object equals to the weight of the fluid that is displaced by the object.

Using this principle, it is possible to determine a person’s body fat percentage because the density of fat-free mass and fat mass are constant. The density of fat-free mass such as muscles and bones is higher than water, and the density of fat mass is lower than water, which means that fat-free mass sinks while fat floats in the water. Therefore, a person with more body fat will weigh less under water compared to a person with more muscle. Then the weight of fat-free mass and fat weight are calculated to determine the percentage of a person’s body fat.

To perform underwater weighing, you are first weighed and then dunked into the water on a special scale three times to determine your average body fat percentage. During the test, you have to get all the air out of your lungs to help prevent errors and remain steady while your underwater weight is measured.

If conducted properly, underwater weighing provides highly accurate and consistent measurements, and the margin of error can be as low as 2% body fat. Universities, medical centers and some fitness facilities offer this type of testing, but some people may find the test somewhat awkward and uncomfortable.

BOD POD – Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP)

The BOD POD is an air displacement plethysmograph that relies on the whole body densitometry to measure body composition. In contrast to underwater weighing, the BOD POD uses air instead of water to estimate body composition based on the relationship between volume and pressure of air.

The BOD POD is an egg-shaped single unit plethysmograph composed of two chambers: the test chamber and the reference chamber. The test chamber holds the subject during testing and the reference chamber contains instruments for measuring changes in pressure between the two chambers.

The system determines body volume of the subject by measuring changes in air pressure in each chamber brought about by an oscillating diaphragm mounted on the wall between the test chamber and reference chamber. When pressure is increased in the test chamber, it decreases by the same amount in the reference chamber.

Body volume of the subject is then determined by calculating the difference between the volume of the empty chamber and the volume of the subject chamber with the subject inside. Finally, using body volume and body weight measurements, the subject’s body density and subsequently, his/her body composition can be determined.

The accuracy of the BOD POD has been found to be very high with an error rate of 2–4% body fat. In comparison to other body composition measurement methods, the BOD POD’s air displacement method has eliminated the risk of DXA radiation and the difficulties inherent in underwater weighing. The full test takes about 5 minutes to complete. ADP is mostly available at universities, medical centers or some fitness facilities.


A plethysmograph is an instrument which is used to estimate changes in volume in an organ or whole body.


Densitometry is defined as the process of estimating body composition from body density.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA)

Another commonly used method to determine body composition is dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. DXA (formerly DEXA) is used to measure bone mineral content as well as body fat and muscle mass. Some devices can also estimate visceral fat from the abdominal region of the body. The scanner can not only measure overall body composition but is also capable of providing estimates of fat mass, lean mass and bone mass for single body parts or body segments

DXA scans determine body composition by sending low-energy x-ray radiation consisting of two different beams through the body. Bodily tissues have varying degrees of energy absorption capacity. One of the beams is a lower intensity beam, while the other is a higher intensity beam. The energy of the lower intensity beam is only absorbed by soft tissue such as muscle and fat while the energy of the higher intensity beam is absorbed both by bones and soft tissue. Using the differences in energy absorption, it is possible to obtain estimates of fat mass, muscle mass and bone mineral density.

To perform the scan, you have to lie down on the X-ray machine for about 6-12 minutes. Then, the scanner starts moving back and forth over your body to measure your bone density and body composition. During the scan, you are asked to remain still and keep from breathing for a few seconds to prevent blurring of the x-ray images.

DXA scans are considered safe for most people. However, pregnant women should check with their doctor before undertaking the test, as there is a certain degree of radiation exposure during the test which may pose a health risk.

DXA provides highly accurate and consistent results than many other methods at measuring body composition with an error margin of 2.5–3.5% body fat. DXA scans are quite expensive and only available in medical or research centers


Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry is a method of measuring bone mineral density (BMD).

Final Words

It may not be easy to decide which method of estimating your body fat percentage is right for you. There are several factors you need to consider before deciding on a method such as:

  • Purpose of estimating body fat percentage
  • Importance of accuracy
  • Frequency of testing
  • Home use or not
  • Cost of testing

Some methods that are designed for home use such as skin fold calipers or portable BIA devices are more practical and allow you to take measurements as often as you like. Other methods with a higher degree of accuracy and sophistication such as hydrostatic weighing, ADP or DXA require you to visit a medical center or fitness facility for testing and cost more.

You should also note that no method can measure your body composition with 100% accuracy, as each one has its own deficiencies. However, whichever method you decide to use for measuring your body fat percentage, it’s better to use the same method each time in order to obtain consistent results and track your progress accurately.

“The Ultimate Guide To Healthy Dieting”

  1. What Type Of Diet Should You Choose For Your Body Type To Lose Weight?
  2. Factors To Consider For A Healthy and Balanced Diet
  3. How To Develop Good Habits When You Are On A Diet
  4. The Best Methods To Measure Your Body Fat Percentage
  5. Keeping Track Of Your Diet and Fitness Progress
  6. Strategies To Help You Stay On Your Diet Plan
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