What is the Best Way to Measure Body Fat?

Covert Bailey believes that knowing your percent of body fat tells you more about your body than any other test. It tells you what your correct weight ought to be, how much fat you have, how much muscle, and what exactly you need to gain or lose. Knowing this one number allows you to design an exercise program to maximize your efforts. Bailey wrote Fit or Fat one of the fitness landmarks in the late 1970’s.

If you are a football fan, the percent of body fat is one of the first tests they do at the combine to evaluate the football players who hope to turn pro.

The gold standard of measuring body fat is hydrodensitometry weighing or underwater weighing. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult, cumbersome and uncomfortable. Others are afraid of total submersion or cannot expel all the air in their lungs. Clinical studies often require subjects to be measured three to five times and an average taken of the results, according to new Fitness.

Some folks use BMI, or Body Mass Index. However, this number is not your percentage of body fat. It is an index number that you have to relate in other ways. It simply compares weight and height. The wheels come off measuring professional athletes with significant muscular development. They end up with high readings which translate as obese! Clearly they aren’t. For a fuller discussion on BMI check out my post Don’t get hung up on your BMI.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian. Six foot two inches tall, 257 pounds, BMI 33 - obese?

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian. Six foot two inches tall, 257 pounds, BMI 33 – obese?

Bioelectical Impedence Analysis, BIA, is another common method. This estimates body fat by running a current through the body. Where the sensors are attached affects the reading. The Tanita scale that you stand on goes through the feet. The Omron Body Logic handheld goes through the arms. In tests they have been shown to be as much as 40% off, according to Wikipedia.

HealthCentral offers one that I think is really good. Click on this link to get your reading.

You will input your age, current body weight and gender. The second page asks for waist and hip measurements in inches. The final measurements will be your clenched forearm and your wrist. When you enter these, it will give you a body fat percentage.

The readout will also include how many pounds of fat you have and how many pounds of lean muscle.

The average American man has 22% body fat, the average woman has 32%.

In case you wondered how much fat my bicycle riding burns. I have 16.5% body fat as measured on the HealthCentral meter.

How do you measure up? You might also find it interesting to read my post on The differences between fat and muscle tissue.Now that you know your body fat, maybe you should read How Dangerous is a Big Belly?



Filed under body fat, Weight

4 responses to “What is the Best Way to Measure Body Fat?

  1. thanks that was really helpful to be able to get this number at home….scary but helpfu. I guess its better to face the fear!


  2. salbers12


    Your respect for the % bodyfat measurement strikes a chord with me. I’ve been investigating it for years. I concur that bioelectrical impedance IS NOT accurate enough (40%) for practical use, along with skin fold analysis and underwater weighing. Beyond that, your measurement methodology is seriously dated.

    There are three modern technologies that should be used: MRI or DEXA (+-3%) OR Bod Pod (+-5%). I urge you to determine your % bodyfat by ALL these modern technologies and compare them.

    Liked by 1 person

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