InBody Band Review: A Fitness Wearable for Body Fat Testing

Body Fat Testing at Your Fingertips

InBody Band
InBody

By now I've tried my fair share of fitness wearables. Most of them do the same things - tracking steps, heart rate, sleep, calories and time - although some do them better, or more thoroughly, than others. That's why I was so interested to test the InBody Band before it's official release date in late fall 2015. Unlike other wearables on the market, the InBody Band also measures fat mass, muscle mass and body fat percentage by using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA).

After my less-than-stellar impression of the Skulpt Aim Body Fat Monitor, I was hopeful, but wary about, the possible performance of the InBody Band. So I'm happy to report that after testing the band for a few weeks, I'm fairly impressed with the device.

The Importance of Body Fat Testing

Unlike body weight or BMI, testing and understanding your body fat percentage can help provide you with a better picture of your internal health. You see, it's possible for someone to maintain a healthy weight, but fail to maintain a healthy level of body fat - in other words, you may look thin on the outside, but be carrying too much fat on the inside. Likewise, it's possible for someone to rate as "overweight" or "obese" according to BMI calculations, but actually have a healthy body fat percentage.

The trouble with body fat testing is that it does require specific tools. You have to have a body fat scale, access to a trained professional who can perform caliper testing or access to a lab with DEXA, hydrostatic weighing or Bod Pod technology.

Body fat scales are actually pretty easy to come by - you can pick them up for about $50 online or at Walmart, but as someone who's not a huge fan of scales as a general rule, I like the concept of wearing a band that can deliver the same data.

How the InBody Band Works

Not unlike other fitness wearables, the InBody Band requires some simple setup.

First, you must bring it to a full charge using the provided micro USB cable, then you download the InBody app and sync your band to your phone. Once that's done, you provide some basic information to the app (height, weight, sex and age) so you can perform your first InBody Test.

The InBody Test uses two finger electrodes on the top of the band and wrist electrodes on the bottom of the band to send a tiny electrical current through your body. The faster the current moves through your system, the lower your total body fat percentage. This is because fat mass slows down the current more than fat-free mass (muscle, bone, and water).

You can perform the test at any time (just be sure to follow the directions on how to perform the test correctly), and you can sync the data to your app to learn more details.

In addition to body fat testing, the InBody Band's built-in electrodes can be used to test real-time heart rate. And like other similar bands, it tracks steps, distance, active time, calories burned and sleep.

Most details can be accessed at any time through the band's LCD display, and to monitor additional details, view graphs and compare day-to-day or week-to-week stats, you can access the smartphone app.

The InBody Band Experience

Overall, the band and app are thorough, easy to use and provide reasonably accurate data that can be applied to your fitness and health goals.

Body Fat Testing Accuracy

I have the benefit of an education, experience and extensive personal testing that allow me to assess the accuracy of most of these products. Because I own a body fat scale and I've been tested in an exercise physiology lab for body fat percentage using calipers and hydrostatic weighing, I can tell you that the InBody Band provides a body fat percentage rating that's within the desired range (plus or minus 2-3%) of real results.

In other words, I know my body fat percentage is probably somewhere between 14% and 18% based on all the tests I've had done. The InBody Band typically assesses my body fat percentage at 15% or 16%, but has tested as low as 14% and as high as 17%. In other words, it's perfectly in range.

Steps, Active Time and Distance Accuracy

I can also say confidently that the steps, active time and distance measurements all seem to be pretty accurate based on my current activity level.

Sleep Time

Unfortunately, I don't trust the band's sleep tracking. On nights when I know exactly when I've gone to bed and when I've woken up, the band always overestimates my sleep time. It seems to mistake time when I'm being quiet - reading or watching a TV show - as time sleeping. 

Heart Rate

The heart rate monitor seems to be one of the most accurate wrist-based monitors I've used, although I haven't used it while running or doing other high intensity training (it's hard to hold your fingers in place correctly while engaged in active, intense exercise), which is typically when this type of heart rate monitor gets wonky.

Calories Burned

Use the calories burned provided by the band as a ball park figure. The fact is, the band is counting steps, not intensity or type of exercise, which can significantly alter total calories burned. Plus, it won't count calories for non-step activity, such as strength training. You can add this type of activity to your daily total through the app, but it still won't make adjustments for intensity or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or the increased calorie burn experienced after a bout of exercise).

Call and Text Notifications

You can sync your band with your phone so the band will buzz and flash an icon on the screen whenever you receive a call or text. I've found this extremely handy, as I often have my phone on vibrate and tend to miss calls and texts. It also usually starts buzzing before my phone even starts ringing, so I know to start looking for my phone as soon as I get a buzz.

That said, it doesn't display the full text messages or provide information on who is calling, like some devices do.

The InBody App

For the most part, I'm impressed with the InBody app. It enables you to enter additional information - goals, activities and food intake - to personalize your biometric tracking experience. There don't seem to be many (if any) glitches or bugs, and the interface is logical and seamless.

The only bone I have to pick with the app is with the body fat percentage "interpretation."

Here's the deal: I'm a 6'0" woman who weighs 152 pounds and who has a propensity for leanness. As someone with two degrees in this field, I know that my body fat percentage, while considered to be athletic and lean, is certainly not unhealthy. Women, as a whole, should maintain an essential fat percentage of at least 10-12%, so as long as a woman has that minimum amount of fat, she's probably doing a good job of caring for herself. Since my body fat percentage is somewhere between 14% and 18%, I'm doing A-OK.

But not according to the app. This is the language it gave me on my body fat interpretation:

Your weight is 152-pounds. Your ideal weight is 154.9 pounds. Muscle Mass is 73 pounds. It is 7.3 pounds higher than your ideal (65.7 pounds). Body Fat Mass is 24.3 pounds. It is 11.4 pounds lower than your ideal (35.7 pounds). Percentage Body Fat (16%) is lower than the normal range (18-28%). To achieve your ideal body, increase 11.4 pounds of Body Fat Mass and maintain Muscle Mass.

I'm sorry, this "interpretation" is way off base. Suggesting that I gain 11.4 pounds of body fat when my body fat percentage is perfectly healthy makes no sense. Not to mention, I would have to eat like it was a full-time job to accomplish this goal while simultaneously maintaining my muscles mass. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat, but I already eat a lot. I understand why the app came up with this interpretation, based on averages and general standards, but it doesn't account for activity level, type of activity engaged in, or individual differences in physiology or genetics.

When I first read it, my initial thought was to laugh. In fact, I read it out loud to my husband (who also has a degree in exercise science), and we both had a good chuckle. But then I got to thinking - what types of "interpretations" is it giving other people, and how will they use the interpretation when making decisions about their health? How will someone else feel when an app tells them what their "ideal body" is, especially if the interpretation isn't completely on track?

My major caution to anyone using a body fat assessment device is to use it with a grain of salt. Use it as a guide to track changes over time, not as something to obsess over. Is your percentage increasing or decreasing month-over-month? Are you trending in the right direction? Are you maintaining essential levels of fat based on sex, or working toward achieving a healthy body fat percentage? If so, amazing. If not, you might want to make some changes. And in the case of using the InBody Band, please ignore the app's use of the words "ideal," because their calculations for determining "ideal" may not be 100% accurate.

The Takeaway

Overall, this is one of my favorite fitness bands to date. I really do like having the ability to test my body fat percentage on my wrist, and I feel confident most of the other assessments by the device are reasonably accurate. I'm also impressed with the price - at $180, it's definitely in range of other, similar devices, and offers extra features those devices don't have.

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