How to Find Your Body Fat Percentage

Use Different Measurements to Find Your Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Calipers
Body Fat Calipers. © Comstock / Stockbyte / Getty

Are you getting leaner or are you losing muscle along with fat? Body fat percentage is a better measure of diet success than is weight. There are several ways to measure body fat yourself, plus methods that require special equipment. For the best accuracy, it is better to use a skinfold caliper or a body fat monitor scale that uses bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). Learn more about how to use these measurements.

Body Fat Measurement by BIA

Body fat scales are widely available that use bioelectrical impedance analysis to measure your body fat. With the bioelectrical impedance analysis method, a device sends a tiny electrical charge through your hands or feet. That makes it as easy as stepping onto a scale or holding a fat monitor device in your hands.

The data is used to determine how much of your body mass is fat and how much is water. Muscles and lean tissues are mostly water. To do the calculation, the device needs to know your gender, age, and weight. The drawbacks are that this method shouldn't be used by anyone who has a pacemaker.

Some of these scales are linked with apps so you can track your weight and body fat over time, or use as part of an activity and health monitoring system, as with the Fitbit Aria and the Withings body fat scales. This makes it convenient to track and review your progress.

Body Fat Calculator Using Measurements

All you need is a measuring tape for the body fat measurement method which was developed by the US military to assess recruits. You will take your height, neck, waist, and hip measurements. It gets a lot of criticism, so you may not want to use it as your primary method for estimating your body fat.

  • Neck Measurement: Done on bare skin. For men, the neck measurement is taken just below the Adam's apple. For women, the neck measurement is taken at a point just below the larynx. You must be looking straight ahead with your shoulders down and relaxed and take care that the tape measure is kept horizontal.
  • Waist Measurement: Done on bare skin. The waist measurement is done with arms down at your sides, after exhaling. Men are measured across the navel with their arms down at their sides after exhaling. For women, the waist measurement is done at their natural waist, which is usually halfway between the navel and the lower end of the breastbone.
  • Hip Measurement: Done only for women, over non-shaping shorts, at the point of the greatest protrusion of the buttocks, with enough tension to minimize the effects of clothing.
  • Now enter these measurements into a body fat calculator by measurements or check the Navy charts for women and for men.

Body Fat Using Caliper Measurements

The equations used to determine body fat percentage by measuring your waist, hips, and neck can give wildly varied results. You can get much better accuracy by using skinfold fat caliper measurements. A caliper is a measuring device that looks like a set of pincers.

You pinch together your skin at various places and measure it with the calipers. The following site allows you to enter skinfold caliper measurements and get a body fat percentage by several different methods: Body Tracker: Body Fat Percentage Calculator for Men and Women

Body Mass Index

The body mass index is not a body fat percentage, but it estimates whether you are normal, overweight, or obese. All you need is your height and weight, making it easy to get the measurements to use. There are many arguments about how accurately BMI predicts health risks, but unless you are a very muscular and lean person, it gives a good indication of whether you are overweight or obese.

If you are using a scale that connects to an app, often it will calculate your BMI if you have programmed it with your weight. That allows you to track it over time. Use the body mass index calculator.

The National Institutes of Health lists these BMI categories:

  • Underweight: BMI less than 18.5
  • Normal weight: BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI between 25 and 29.9
  • Obese: BMI of 30 or greater.

What Does Body Fat Percentage Mean?

Too little body fat can cause problems, as can too much. Men should not fall below 5 percent and women should not fall below 12 percent. On the higher end, it is best for health for men to stay at or below 25 percent and women to stay at or below 32 percent.

A Word From Verywell

It can be frustrating when you are dieting and exercising and you don't see results on the scale. Measuring your body fat can give you further insight into whether your efforts are producing a leaner body. A body fat scale linked to an app can help you track your progress and see the changes over time. Know that eating a variety of healthy food and getting 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day will reduce your health risks, even if you aren't seeing the results you want on the scale. 

Sources:

Guide 4 The Body Composition Assessment (BCA), Navy Physical Readiness Program.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk.

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