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How to Calculate Body Fat

Updated: May 13

scale and tape measure

There is a difference between what the scale reads and your body fat percentage. A big reason most people work out, other than the obvious gift of health, is to feel more confident and be more aesthetic. If you know this feeling, you know all too well that the changes you see in your body composition when looking in the mirror are beyond exciting. Furthermore, there are many ways you can “measure” health, and of course, if aesthetics is your goal you know that body fat percentage is an important number to track. Increased body fat has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure among other diseases. As a result, focusing on changing your body composition, is the best thing you can do. But, how to calculate body fat percentage? Well, there are a few ways, some you can do at home and some which require help from facilities.

1. Progress pictures

This is the cheapest and my personal favorite. Why? because you get to keep the progress of your results. If you’re first starting your journey, and you’re unhappy with where you are, you might feel you do not want to keep a record of it. Still, please do, it’s not about where you start but where you finish. With a bit of effort and a dedicated routine, you can have a record of a fantastic before and after, that will continue to inspire you and perhaps those around you. A simple weight scale does not always paint the full picture of progress, as there are other things that impact weight. Pictures allow you to visually follow small changes over a period of time. Places to visually track are of course your abdomen but include your chest, lower back, legs, and arms. Keep in mind some body parts may lean out before others because everyone’s bodies hold fat tissue in different areas.

2. Skinfold test- Body caliper

The skinfold test is a method of measuring the thickness of your subcutaneous fat under the skin through the use of body fat calipers. This method is effective and also fairly accurately done at home, though user error is possible. Your chest, abs, and thighs are usually the areas to pinch and pull away from the underlying muscle while using the calipers to pinch this fold. The measurements are then recorded and often plugged into a chart to help in finding the percentage. It’s important to always measure on the same side and take the average of a few measurements. This method along with progress pictures and scales is usually enough for the average individual's needs.

3. Smart scale

Smart scales have become significantly more accurate than they were before. However, the ones that actually do a great job at measuring body fat percentage, you might find yourself paying a good price for. Many commercial gyms these days offer the use of these scales with their premium memberships and are usually more accurate than the ones you can buy. These scales work by sending a small electrical impulse through your body and measuring how quickly it returns. This works because muscle is more conductive than fat, which slows the current flow. If you’re tracking your fat percentage through this method, the important thing is to see the total percentage number going down. (As the exact percentage will not always be accurate on less expensive scales) The cool plus is that most of these scales come with a supporting app that allows you to track the changes in measurements with charting.

4. Hydrostatic weighing

This is one of the most accurate tests that is accessible. However, this method can be pricey depending on the institution. The method works by measuring density, as fat is less dense than muscle and more buoyant. The user sits in an underwater chair and scales while her underwater weight is measured.

5. Air displacement

Since the introduction of Air displacement tests hydrostatic weighing is a second option. This method also measures body density using air blown inside of a pod and measuring displacement around you. The only downside, just like the hydrostatic weighing, is the cost.


General health is important to consider through the measurement of body composition. Simply stepping on a scale doesn’t paint the entire picture of your health, as weight fluctuations are entirely normal and weight is much more than fat. Other measurements, for example, measuring BMI also don’t take into account muscle mass. The best measurement is to track body fat percentage, as elevated levels of body fat have been linked to a number of diseases. Finally, keep in mind balance is key here, both extremes of fat level composition are unhealthy long-term, and balance is what leads to a higher quality of life.

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