Measuring Body Fat Percentage

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Lots of people are scale watchers.  They are stepping on the scale once a day or even several times a day to see if they have lost of gained weight.  This often leads to people giving up on their goals because they may not see the instant numbers that they were anticipating.  We never recommend anyone to step on the scale every single day.  There are many factors that will make ones weight fluctuate from one day to the next such as water weight which is most common.  The most accurate way to test weight loss progress is by testing ones body fat percentage.  There are several options to compute your body fat percentage such as skin fold measurements, bioletrical impedance analysis (BIA), hydrostatic weighing, whole body plethysmography using the Bod Pod, or a Duel-energy X-Ray Absorptiometry scan (DEXA).  Regarding accuracy, hydrostatic weighing, the Bod Pod, and the DEXA scan are the gold standard methods to computing body fat.  The skinfold measurements would reign in as silver standard; whereas the BIA would come in as a bronze standard.  

While the biometrical impedance analysis (BIA) is the least accurate it is the most commonly used because of its ease of use.  Your body fat percentage is computed by inputing your height, weight, and age.  When you are in contact with the electrode sensors little electrical currents are sent through your body.  In order to understand how it fully works you must know that muscle contains mostly water whereas fat contains very little water.  Because of this fat will have less resistance to an electrical current while the muscle mass will have more resistance.  By determining how the resistance runs though the body you are then given your estimated body fat percentage.  While the BIA can be fairly accurate it has been shown to be off by as much as 8% according to Weightology LLC.  While there is error amongst using this method it is still a decent and easy method to use to compute your body fat percentage in a quick manner.


The second most common and silver standard method is the skinfold method using calipers.  The Jackson/Pollock 3, 4, and 7 pinch tests are the most commonly used pinches.  There are several other pinch landmarks from other tests that are also used by doctors and fitness professionals.  The pinches are measured in millimeters and then entered into an equation to compute the percentage.  Weightology LLC states that there can be a 3%-5% discrepancy on calculating the caliper measurements.  


The other methods of calculating body fat percentage such as hydrostatic weighing, the Bod Pod, and the DEXA scan are the best options to get your more accurate number.  These tests are just more expensive and more time consuming to have done.  With the skinfold measurements only having a few percentage points in possible error this method is the most preferred to use.  Even though is there a range of error using the skinfold and BIA methods they can be spot on with the more expensive and extensive other methods.
Overall, don’t just be watching your weight on the scale as you may be gaining some lean muscle mass and losing body fat but the scale does not budge because you have replaced the fat with muscle.  


If you were wondering exactly what range you should be in for your body fat percentage check out the chart below.  



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