This body fat percentage calculator will allow you to learn how to take your body fat measurements – 3-site and 4-site methods.
Measure skinfolds at the Abdomen, Suprailiac, Triceps, and Thigh
- Take only 3 measurements.
- Men – Chest, Abdomen, Thigh.
- Women – Triceps, Abdomen, Suprailiac
Stand relaxed with your arms hanging comfortably by your sides – do not flex! When taking the thigh measurement, shift your weight to the leg that you are not measuring.
If you do not have calipers: You can buy a set of digital calipers from Amazon.com.
Skinfolds can be taken using 3 or 4 sites on your body – both methods are similar in accuracy.
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Understanding Lean Mass
The difference between your weight and the total amount of stored fat is your “lean mass”. Many people mistake this for muscle – it is not. It includes muscle, but also includes bone, tissue, water, organs, even the contents of your stomach.
Just because your “lean mass” goes down doesn’t mean you lost muscle. You might have lost water. Just because your “lean mass” goes up doesn’t mean you gained muscle. You might have started to retain water. Again, use only as a guide – in general, your body fat should decrease over time until it stabilizes at a level that you are comfortable with.
Increasing the Body Fat Percentage Accuracy
Whoever administers the test should test each site in round robin fashion at least twice. In other words, one pinch on your abdomen isn’t enough. They should pinch your abdomen, then other areas, then return to the abdomen for a second pinch. If the results vary greatly, they should take additional measurements to narrow down the precision of the answer.
I prefer the calipers over other methods for testing body fat, when your Body Mass Index indicates that you are not in the obese range. The majority of equations for body fat percentage were not computed from obese or heavier people, and therefore they can be wildly inaccurate.
The Health Impact
Body fat percentage is sometimes used as an estimate of how healthy or fit you are. With obesity on the rise and recent changes with the health care reform tax credit, many are seeking to shed excess weight and furthermore, keep it off. Statistically, someone with a lower body fat than someone else is probably more fit. This is not always true, however.
A person with an extremely fast metabolism who eats junk food all day long may maintain a low body fat, but make no mistake: they are less healthy than someone with a higher body fat who eats healthy foods and exercises.
Measure Body Fat Consistently
Perform the test yourself, or have someone else do it. If you have different people perform the test, even trained professionals, the results may vary widely. The key with body fat percentage is to remember that it is just another number – a statistic – to help you gauge your progress, it is not the “end all”.
Someone who looks great and feels good but has a higher body fat has no reason to drop any lower. Someone who appears to have extremely low body fat based on measurements but looks overweight and feels terrible should probably consider dropping weight. One specific percentage doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone or even every age.
When To Use The Scales
There are many different ways to measure body fat. Operator error can make the measurement inaccurate and ruin any precision. If you are interested in seeing what various body fat percentages look like, check out the Body Fat Percentage Guide for Men.
It is common for obese individuals to assume they have more muscle on their body due to an inaccurate body fat measurement. I use the scale as the primary tool until you are in the overweight range (but not obese) on BMI, and then start to use the calipers for body fat. While other methods, such as body fat scales and hand-held devices are useful for measuring trends, they tend not to be as accurate or consistent as calipers.