It can be tough to figure out what the best method is for measuring your body fat properly. Although several methods exist, learning which one is best for you takes work.
Furthermore, it may be even harder to decide how to go about losing some of that body fat, and getting the toned appearance that you desire.
Which tools will measure my fat properly? Which exercises are the best for slimming down?
This article intends to answer those questions, by providing you with a variety of different ways to measure your body fat percentage, as well as some tips on how to start burning some of that unwanted fat off as well.
First, however, let’s go over what exactly body fat percentage is, and how some people confuse it with your BMI, or body mass index.
What is Body Fat Percentage?
To put it simply, your body fat is, according to Nerd Fitness, “the amount of fat in your body, compared to everything else”, which includes your organs, bones, tendons, muscles and stored water.
A common misbelief is that body fat percentage is the same thing as your BMI. This is incorrect.
Your body fat percentage is a more accurate representation of your body composition through fat measurement, while your BMI (body mass index) only uses your height and weight.
That is not to say that your BMI is a useless figure. However, a key flaw is that it does not distinguish fat from muscle, unlike your body fat percentage.
WebMD says that your BMI is a much broader and general assessment of your physical composition, and that a person (even an elite athlete like Lebron James) could be considered overweight according to their BMI measurement, but not be overfat.
In other words, individuals with a lot of muscle mass can have a high BMI and be considered overweight, even though their muscle mass is contributing to the higher weight instead of fat. That is why knowing how to accurately measure your body fat percentage is so important.
Even though both your body fat percentage and your BMI can be incredibly useful indicators of your overall health, your body fat percentage is much more specific to your actual fat content, and can give you a clearer picture on what your fitness goals should be.
What Body Fat Percentage should I be?
Your ideal body fat measurement depends on your gender, as well as what type of body you are trying to achieve. No matter what, though, there is a specific amount of “essential fat” you must have on your body in order to prevent organ failure. This range is typically 10-12% for women, and around 2-4% for men, according to Nerd Fitness.
Having a set body fat percentage goal in mind is extremely helpful, whether you are a bodybuilder looking to get ripped for a competition, or you just want to feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror. Luckily, there are plenty of helpful charts that provide you with ideal fat percentages, based on what body type you have (or wish to obtain).
For example, if you are a male who wants to have the body fat percentage of an athlete, then your body fat percentage for men should fall in between 6-13%, according to Healthline.
On the other hand, a female who wants to have the body composition of an athlete should have a body fat percentage for women around 14-20%.
Healthline says,”In general, men have a lower body fat to lean tissue ratio than women, which explains the differences in the ranges. Reproduction plays a role in the higher body fat percentages for women”.
Your age is also an important factor in what your ideal body fat percentage should be.
Men between the ages of 20-29 should have a body fat percentage that falls in between 7-14%, and women should have a percentage between 16-24%.
On the other hand, men between the ages of 30-39 should have a body fat percentage that falls in between 12-21%, while women should have a percentage between 17-25%.
Healthline claims, “If you have too little body fat, your body may not have enough energy to carry on with the day’s tasks. If you have too much body fat, you may increase your risk of developing hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease”.
In other words, it is crucial that you do not let your body fat percentage get too high. At the same time, it is important to not go overboard with trying to lose weight too quickly.
Trying to lose weight too fast can hurt yourself and set yourself back.
Letting your body fat percentage get too low can cause a myriad of health problems, including constipation, fatigue, mood swings, poor concentration, low blood pressure, hair loss, muscle cramps, bradycardia (too slow heart rate), and hypogonadism (poorly functioning ovaries) in women, according to Women’s Health.
Ways You Can Measure Your Body Fat
There are a variety of ways for you to measure how much body fat you have.
Some options are very cheap or easy to do at home, but the accuracy of their measurements can vary greatly. Other methods, such as the MRI scan or DEXA scanning, are much more accurate but can cost a decent amount of money and time.
Below are some methods for measuring your body fat at home or with a health expert.
Our body fat measurement guide explains two ways of measuring your body fat percentage: tape measurements and caliper measurements. The neck measurements are calculated by using the US Navy Body Fat Formula for measuring body fat using circumference measurements of different parts of your body.
The formula then utilizes the ratios of the different body measurements to give an estimated body fat level. Here is a guide on how to measure each body part!
- Neck: Wrap the tape measure around your neck, just above your Adam's apple.
- Waist: While standing, wrap the tape measure around your waist, just above your belly button. Do not suck in your gut.
- Shoulders: Wrap the tape measure around your body at the widest point of your shoulders.
- Chest: Wrap the tape measure around your torso just under your armpits and scapula, just above your nipple line.
- Bicep (Relaxed + Flexed): Wrap the tape measure around your bicep with your arm relaxed and at your side. Then measure the same area around the widest point of your flexed bicep.
- Forearm: Wrap the tape measure around the thickest part of the forearm, just below the elbow.
- Hips: While standing, wrap the tape measure around the largest part of your glutes.
- Thigh: Wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your quad, just below your glutes.
- Calf: While seated, wrap the tape measure around the widest point of the calf.
You can also use calipers to get a rough estimate of your body fat percentage. The areas of the body where you must use the calipers differ for men and women.
A common formula using these measurements is the Jackson Pollock 3 Point Formula, which measures subcutaneous fat to give an estimated body fat level.
Here is how to properly use the calipers to get the best results:
- For each measurement, place your thumb and index fingers on your skin about 2.5 inches apart from each other.
- The calipers are 2.5 inches apart when fully extended, so use them to approximate the distance.
- Pinch your fingers together, pulling up on the fat against the muscle underneath.
- Measure the skin fold using the calipers.
- The measurement should be halfway up the fold of skin and about a quarter of an inch from your fingers
Athlean-X also highly recommends using calipers to measure your body fat, as he says that it is a very cheap and easy method for anyone to do at home. He demonstrates how to properly use the calipers and where to place them on your body to get your measurements. If you are unsure whether you are using the calipers correctly, watch his video tutorial and follow his instructions in order to get a better comprehension on what to do.
For the caliper measurement test, you only need to measure 3 different parts of your body. The three areas you have to measure are different for men and women, so make sure you know where you must use the calipers in order to get the most accurate results. Here are the 3 parts of the body on both men and women that must be measured for the test:
3 Point Male Caliper Measurement Instructions
- Pectoral: Pinch the skin diagonally halfway between your armpit and nipple.
- Abdominal: Pinch the skin vertically an inch to the left of your naval.
- Thigh: Pinch the skin vertically halfway between your hip crease and the top of your knee cap.
3 Point Female Caliper Measurement Instructions
- Tricep: Pinch the skin vertically halfway between the top of your shoulder and your elbow.
- Suprailiac: Pinch the skin diagonally an inch above your hip bone and an inch to the left of your naval.
- Thigh: Pinch the skin vertically halfway between your hip crease and the top of your knee cap.
DEXA scanning is a process where a full dual X-ray of your body composition is taken, and is considered to be one of the most accurate methods, according to Nerd Fitness.
This can be done at a health facility, and involves lying on an X-Ray table for about 10 minutes. However, it is typically expensive, as it can cost anywhere from $50-150 per session depending on where you are located.
Hydrostatic weighing, also commonly referred to as underwater weighing, involves comparing an individual’s land weight to their underwater weight. NASM provides a clear explanation of how the process of hydrostatic weighing works:
This method is usually done in an exercise physiology laboratory that has the assessment equipment, including a water filled tank. The process itself requires the client to wear a thin swimsuit, submerge themselves into the tank of water (usually a warm 95 degrees Fahrenheit) while sitting in a chair suspended from a scale. Clients will then expel all of the air from their lungs, and then a weight is recorded and computed against land values.NASM
Although the measurements that hydrostatic weighing gives are usually very accurate, the method itself can be uncomfortable and challenging for most individuals, including even fit athletes. Therefore, this measurement technique is only recommended for those who are fully comfortable with water, and if the other methods do not provide the best results.
Air displacement plethysmography
This technique is done in a professional setting, according to Healthline, and is extremely accurate. It involves undressing, then entering a computerized, egg-shaped chamber called a BOD POD that totally encloses your body.
Your body density is determined through your weight and volume, which the machine then uses to calculate your body fat percentage.
Keep in mind that not all insurance companies cover this procedure, and that air displacement plethysmography takes up much more time than other measurement methods, such as tape measuring or caliper measuring, which can both be done at home.
Body fat scales and monitors
According to Healthline, “body fat scales use technology called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). When you step on the scale, an electrical current passes through one leg, up to the pelvis, and down the other. Fat conducts far less electricity than the water and muscle you have in your body. So, when the scale picks up more resistance, it records more possible body fat”.
The scale utilizes your entered height, weight, age and gender to provide you with your body fat percentage.
Body fat scales are not very expensive, but the results you can get from them may vary drastically.
There are many factors that can all alter your body fat percentage reading with a body fat scale including:
- Your hydration level
- When your last workout was
- When you ate your last meal
Be sure to carefully read your instruction manual before trying out a new scale, so that you can try to get the best possible measurement.
MRI or CT scans
Healthline says that getting an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computerized tomography) scan is perhaps the best way to get the most accurate body fat measurements.
The machines take cross-sectional images of your entire body. However, getting these scans is very expensive, since they are typically not used for just measuring fat.
Tips On How to Start Losing Body Fat
Losing body fat can seem tricky, but there are several lifestyle changes that can be made to burn fat quickly.
Being in a caloric deficit is crucial to getting a more toned body, as you will only lose weight and burn fat if you burn more calories than you consume.
As explained in our fat loss nutrition guide, there are three general ranges that a caloric deficit can fall under: conservative, moderate, and aggressive.
If you are new to incorporating a caloric deficit into your diet, then it is recommended that you start with the conservative range first. According to our fat loss nutrition guide, a conservative caloric deficit “This is the easiest form of a calorie deficit because it involves eating slightly under your TDEE (the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight)”.
Moreover, a conservative calorie deficit will help you preserve the highest amount of lean muscle mass. Of course, feel free to read about the other deficit forms, but only try them once you feel that the conservative deficit is not working for you.
Additionally, eating a high protein diet will make it easier for you to lose fat, since it fills you up more than carbs and fats, therefore helping you to feel less hungry and eat less.
Eating a lot of protein also helps preserve lean muscle during a diet, so if you are an athlete who wants to cut down on calories, then protein is an essential macronutrient to have plenty of in your diet.
Do not forget how important exercise is to lose fat as well. You can only get so lean by cutting down on your caloric intake. In order to truly get the toned body you want, then exercise is a must.
High-intensity interval training, as well as a variety of cardio exercises such as swimming and biking, will significantly speed up fat loss.
Doing rigorous exercises that require the use of your entire body can greatly increase the number of calories you burn during your workout. Greatist says that just “20 to 40 minutes of moderate to hardcore cardio per day is ideal for burning visceral fat and reaping other fat loss and metabolism-boosting benefits”.
Activities like swimming and biking enable you to get your heart pumping, which in turn helps you burn fat.
In our article about the various benefits of swimming, one of the key takeaways is that swimming is a full-body workout, one that can burn lots of calories in a short amount of time.
According to Healthline, “A 160-pound person burns approximately 423 calories an hour while swimming laps at a low or moderate pace. That same person may burn up to 715 calories an hour swimming at a more vigorous pace….that same 160-pound person would only burn around 314 calories walking at 3.5 miles per hour for 60 minutes”.
Biking is also a great activity for boosting your metabolism and burning lots of calories. Biking can “burn between 400 and 1000 calories an hour which primarily depends on the rider's intensity and weight”. Incorporating some bike riding into your workout routine can surely help speed up your fat loss progress.
Remember that without 1) healthy foods 2) eating fewer calories, and 3) plenty of good exercise, you will not see the results you desire. A healthy lifestyle is the key to fat loss, so stay motivated and start slow if you do not currently exercise frequently.
Keeping track of your body fat percentage is a good way for you to judge how pleased you are with your physical appearance and fitness progress.
Moreover, having a plan for burning excess fat and getting into better shape is key. You can have a fat percentage goal already set in your mind, but if you do not take the necessary actions, then you will not achieve your goal. Starting with full-body exercises that are high in intensity will help get you into an effective routine.
Here are a few important takeaways from this article:
- Your body fat percentage is made up of all the fat that is non-essential for your survival. This means that your body fat consists of everything that isn’t your organs, bones, tendons, muscles and stored water.
- An important thing to remember that your body fat percentage is not the same thing as your body mass index, which is only derived from your body mass and height. While your BMI can be slightly misleading because of this, your body fat percentage will give you a better understanding of your current bodily composition and overall health.
- Your ideal body fat percentage depends on a few factors, such as your age, gender, and ideal body type. Keep in mind, however, that no matter who you are, you must have a certain amount of body fat on you in order to survive. This “essential fat” can vary per individual, but generally the range is about 2-4% for men, and 10-12% for women.
- Many methods for measuring your body fat percentage are available, but remember that although some of them may be very cheap and easy to find, they might not always provide the most accurate results. If you want the most in-depth and precise calculations, then you may have to spend a decent amount of money and time to get them.
- Some of the most popular ways of measuring body fat percentage are tape measurements, caliper measurements, DEXA Scanning, hydrostatic weighing, Bod Pod (air displacement plethysmography), body fat scales and monitors, and MRI or CT scans.
- The main way to lose that stubborn body fat is to put yourself in a caloric deficit, by burning more calories than you consume.
- Starting off with a conservative deficit is a good start, and as your fat loss begins to stall, you can further decrease the amount of calories you consume per day.
- High-intensity exercise, especially cardio, is very effective for losing fat as well.
- Exercises such as swimming and biking require a lot of energy output from your body, which can help you burn a ton of calories and burn fat quickly.
Learn more about Fat Loss in The Ultimate Fat Loss Nutrition Guide.
For more helpful articles on different fitness topics, be sure to visit https://www.myworkouts.io/edu.