How to Measure Body Fat
Most people want to look and feel their best, and most believe that achieving their ideal weight is a primary key to both good looks as well as health. However this isn’t necessarily true. It is a mistake, however, for a person to stand on a scale, look at the weight shown and arbitrarily decide they need to lose X number of pounds, or even that they’re “too” fat.
Every healthy human being’s body contains a certain amount of body fat. Body fat stores energy, surrounds and protects the body’s organs and helps with temperature regulation.
A far more valuable measurement for those seeking to achieve an attractive figure and to improve their health would be that of their body fat percentage.
Body weight consists of bone, organ, lean muscle and water weight as well as fat. By measuring body fat, you can determine not only how much fat you need to lose, but also where, and you will be able to avoid entirely the unhealthy scenario of your body being forced to digest its own muscles.
The following are several of the best known methods of how to measure body fat percentage listed in order from high to low as concerns their convenience, cost and ready availability.
- Air-Displacement Plethysmography — Body composition is determined by air displacement by having the subject sit in what is commonly called a “Bod-Pod.” The test is safe, comfortable, non-invasive and only takes five minutes to perform.
It is considered by professionals to be the “gold standard” of all body fat measurement methods. It works by determining both body volume and weight.
Subjects must not have exercised for two hours prior to the test and should be rested and hydrated. It uses the same principle as hydrostatic weighing, but uses air instead of water. Unfortunately each unit costs between $30,000 and $40,000 and so the cost of testing, if indeed you’re able to locate it in your area, is expensive.
- Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) — Patients are scanned with x-rays of of varying intensity while lying still on an examination table. The amount the body absorbs of each x-ray beam is measured and readings are given for lean body mass, fat mass and bone density.
The measurements are broken down individually for different parts of the body. The DEXA method of measuring body fat is highly accurate but is also quite expensive and usually requires a person to make an appointment via medical personnel. It also exposes the subject to radiation.
- Underwater Weighing — This unique method of how to measure body fat involves a person exhaling as much air as possible from his lungs and then sitting under water while being weighed.
Also called hydrostatic weighing, underwater weighing compares the difference between a person’s weight out of the water with his weight beneath the water. Body density and composition is then calculated.
This method is highly accurate but unfortunately requires a person to sit underwater, a procedure that not every subject welcomes. It also necessitates finding a facility that offers an underwater scale.
- Bioelectrical Impedance — Despite the fancy name, this is simply a scale that uses electrodes to send small electrical impulses through the subject’s body while measuring the speed of their return. Lean muscle returns the signals more rapidly than does fat which is how body fat is determined.
Affordable and available, the negative associated with this method of how to measure body fat has to do with the conductivity of water present in the body, which can return false results.
- Skin Calipers — You’ve no doubt heard the expression about “pinch an inch” and that’s exactly what the science behind skin calipers is based upon. Body skin folds in different areas of the body are “pinched” using measuring calipers which determine the thickness of the fold of skin in each location.
Commonly tested areas are the thigh, chest, abs, arms, etc. While this can be quite an accurate measure of determining body fat, it is important that the calipers be employed by skilled hands, and that the exact same area be measured each time when attempting to determine progress.
Skin calipers are widely available and quite affordable and the testing can be done at any time. Many people keep a pair at home. The downsides to skin calipers are human error, and the potential for false results in persons who tend to carry an unusual amount of body fat outside of the areas tested. Personally I use the FatTrack GOLD Digital Body Fat Caliper, it even comes with a measure tape!
- Tape Measure and Body Mass Indicator Calculator — This is no doubt the lowest cost and most effortless method of all, and generally does not require a purchase of any kind.
Subjects simply remove their shoes, stand up straight and measure their height with a tape measure. Next, measure your hips at their widest point, your calf (again, at it’s fullest circumference), waist, forearm, thigh, wrist and neck. BMI calculators abound online. Find one, and enter in your measurements.
The calculator will determine your amount of body fat. The flaw in a BMI calculator is that it has no way of taking into account differences in those who fall outside the normal range, such as heavily muscled athletes, or elderly persons who have lost muscle mass.
So what is the best way to measure body fat? That is an individual determination that can only be made by the person who desires it.
For some, accuracy will be the determining factor of which method is chosen, while for others it will be cost. Some people simply wish to know how to measure body fat at home.
The most important thing is to understand that body fat percentage is more important than one’s weight alone.