Looking For Ways To Measure Body Fat?
When it comes to measuring body fat percentage there are many differen methods out there, from the traditional body fat caliper to BIA scales that send a pulse through your body... many coaches, gym-goers and fitness models argue what works and what doesn't. You've probably heard guys reference the legitimacy of methods such as the DEXA scan, but what actually is that? Is it better than the old fashioned caliper or eye test?
I've discussed how to lose body fat and when you can expect to see shredded abs etc. but we've never discussed the different techniques used to actually measure your body fat percentage.
Below we'll delve into the 5 most common and popular ways to measure body fat percentage along with my recommendation to you.
1 - The Eye Test
The eye test is just that, comparing your physique (or the person you're attempting to measure the body fat of) to a chart similiar to the one listed above.
You can find a heap of different body fat charts on Google here.
The plus to using the eye test for measuring your body fat is you don't need to spend a cent, all you'll need to do is pull up a visual body fat chart and compare the physique in question to those on the chart in order to find the closest match. Here's the thing - you are not going to be able to get an exact body fat percentage just through visual comparison but if you're after a ball park figure this is an easy method to use. A lot of guys that claim their body fat is in the single digit range soon find they are actually around the 11% - 12% mark when comparing against a visual chart.
One thing worth noting with the visual charts and the eye test is people store body fat in different areas, while the chart for men places emphasis on the torso... I can tell you I store a lot more fat on my quads and hamstrings than I do on my abs, therefore using the eye test I often look around the 5% - 7% range while I know that I'm actually around 8%.
If you just want a rough figure of body fat this is a suitable method, but if you're looking to actually track the progress of your cutting phase over weeks or months I recommend utilizing one of the other methods listed below that involves some actual measuring.
Eye Test Summary
- No cost/equipment required
- Will give you a ball park figure, not an accurate reading
- Not recommended for tracking ongoing fat loss progress
2 - Body Fat Caliper
When it comes to reliable methods to measure body fat percentage the old fashioned caliper test is hard to beat.
An inexpensive skinfold caliper (you can pick up the one I use here) is used to measure the thickness of fat in a number of different sites on your body.
Some individuals choose to use 3 sites for their testing, others opt for 7.
I always opt for 7 as mentioned above in the eye test method different people store fat primarily in different areas - it's possible to get a reasonably inaccurate measurement if you only opt to test 3 sites, and hell... you've already got the caliper out so it'll only take an extra minute or two to measure the remaining 4 sites.
For men the 7 site test includes:
- Near armpit
- Beneath shoulder blade
You can check out a great video showing the entire measurement process here.
Once you've recorded your 7 different site measurements in millimetres divide that number by 7 to get the average and compare it to the chart that came along with your body fat caliper - here's an example chart above, find the body fat percentage that matches up with your average millimetre reading and that's your body fat!
- An inexpensive, accurate option
- Requires the purchase of a body fat caliper
- Will require assistance to measure 7 sites
- My recommended method for tracking regular progress
3 - DEXA Scan
If you'd like to measure your body fat on a budget this isn't the method for you.
Here in Australia a DEXA scan costs around $200, that said it will give you some great insight into your physique that you won't be able to obtain via any other method.
"SJ, what the hell is a DEXA scan?"
DEXA is an abbreviation for Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, this method essentially uses two different forms of X ray to draw a conclusion on your body fat percentage, but here's the thing by getting a DEXA scan you won't only find out about your body fat percentage, you'll also be presented with a ton of information on your bone density, percentage of lean muscle mass as well as signs of any muscular imbalances or oddities.
The DEXA scan isn't an overly attractive option to most gym-goes due to the cost and also the radiation emmited during the scan, which albeit isn't much according to research it's still of concern.
I'd personally only recommend the DEXA scan if you're interested in your bone density and lean mass numbers as for tracking regular progress during your cutting phase this isn't a very practical option.
DEXA Scan Summary
- Provides an accurate body fat percentage via two different X ray technologies
- Also provides insight into lean muscle mass percentage, muscular imbalances and bone density
- Concern of radiation
- In my opinion good for a once off to gauge mass and bone density, not practical for regular body fat monitoring due to cost and radiation
4 - BIA Scales
BIA, short for Bioelectrical Impendance Analysis is a technology implemented in many consumer scales used to measure body fat simply by standing on them.
BIA works by emitting electrical currents through your body to electrodes placed on your skin.
This works on the basis that the current will find its way to the electrodes faster and easier when travelling through muscle mass as opposed to body fat.
This is then used to draw a prediction on your body fat level based on how your body responded to the current transmitted through your physique.
I personally do not recommend BIA scales whatsoever as I personally have found them to be vastly inaccurate.
I've never personally owned BIA scales however having tried them at fitness expos on 3 seperate occasions and receiving body fat percentage estimations from the BIA scales in the range of 14% - 18% body fat they are far from accurate (I would've been 9% at the time of testing according to a caliper test).
That's a huge variance.
That was a few years ago so perhaps the technology has evolved and is now a more feasible method of measuring body fat percentage... but I'd recommend you spend a few dollars on a caliper before buying one of these inaccurate scales.
You can check out some BIA scales here.
BIA Scales Summary
- BIA is short for Bioelectrical Impendance Analysis
- Works by emitting a electrical current through your body
- Works on the premise that current travels easier through muscle
- Inaccurately estimates body fat percentage based on how your body responds to current
- Personally found to be quite inaccurate, don't really recommend this method
5 - Circumference Method
The circumference method is a body fat measuring technique that requires a tape measure, this form of measuring body fat levels is utilized by the US Army.
All you need is a flexible measuring tape (which you likely already have, if not pick one up here).
Measure the circumference of your neck and waist and combine this with your height and age and boom, you've got a body fat percentage estimate.
You can check out a video of this method in action here.
Circumference Method Summary
- Calculates body fat based on neck and waist circumference in relation to height and age
- Not a great way to track regular progress, may work well as a once off estimate
- All you'll need is a flexible measuring tape (inexpensive)
What's Your Take On These Ways To Measure Body Fat Percentage? Let Me Know Below!