You want to read this article if you want to know THREE ways on how to measure body fat percentage and even track it.
There are some more ways which are more accurate than the ‘Three’ I discuss in this post but do note that they are very expensive and inconvenient. I leave it up to you to decide.
# 1 How to Measure Your Body Fat
Bioelectrical Impedance Devices
For about 8 years, I relied on this one method to measure and track body fat of thousands of clients who joined my gym.
I purchased 2 Omron Body Fat Monitors for INR 10,000 each almost a decade back and they have served me very well over the years considering the usage they went through. (They were used at least 50 times each day both in my gym and at marketing stalls).
How to use these devices
The process is very simple and takes less than a minute for the reading to display. Before a person steps on the machine (when using the full body scanner as opposed to a hand-to-hand as you can see in the above picture towards the right), her age, gender and height need to be fed in the machine.
The person then steps barefoot on the machine and also grips the handle with both his hands as shown in the picture:
How does bioelectrical impedance machine work
The Omron Full Body Sensor Body Composition Monitor and Scale estimates the body fat percentage by the Bioelectrical Impedance Method.
Muscles, blood, bones and body tissues with high water content conduct electricity easily. On the other hand, body fat does not store much water, therefore has little electric conductivity. The Omron Full Body Sensor Body Composition Monitor and Scale sends an extremely weak electrical current of 50 kHz and less than 500 μA through your body to determine the amount of water in each tissue. You will not notice or feel the electrical current.
The ratios of the water in your upper and lower body change throughout the day – as gravity pulls more water into your lower extremities. This means the electrical impedance of the body also varies – if more water is in your legs, other monitors such as foot-to-foot may show incorrect body fat readings.
The Omron Full Body Sensor Body Composition Monitor and Scale takes measurements from both hands and feet – which reduces the influence water movement makes on your body composition results.
That’s why if you want accurate readings you should buy the one where there are four electrodes, two for your legs, and two for your hands.
Lets quickly look at the ‘Key Numbers’ that Omron Bioelectrical Machines shows:
Visceral fat is found in the abdomen and surrounding vital organs. It is different from fat found directly underneath the skin, which is referred to as subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat can go largely unnoticed because it’s not visible to the naked eye.
Too much visceral fat is thought to be closely linked to increased levels of fat in the bloodstream, which may lead to conditions such as high cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In order to prevent or improve these conditions, it is important to try to reduce the amount of visceral fat levels to an acceptable level.
Note: Visceral fat levels are relative and not absolute values.
Body age is based on your resting metabolism. Body age is calculated by using your weight, body fat percentage and skeletal muscle percentage to produce a guide to whether your body age is above or below the average for your actual age.
For example, if a person who is 35 years of age, and have overall body fat at 25% and visceral fat at 17, then generally his metabolic age would show at least 10 years more.
It was a great marketing tool for our health club, as it used to scare people into thinking that they are ageing faster and they should start taking care of their workouts and diet to manage that.
And they were the happiest when after few weeks (or months) their body fat lowered and so did their metabolic age:)
This is the number of calories you burn when you at rest. Calories required to support the beating of your heart, and other important functions required to keep you alive. Just imagine for 24 hours you simply sitting on a chair the whole day and doing nothing.
BMR is usually a person’s 60-70% of daily energy use. The rest of is through physical activity and diet induced thermogenesis.
You don’t need to buy this machine to calculate your resting metabolism. A very simple way you can do is by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 10.
If you are 170 lbs your resting metabolism is 170 x 10 = 1,700 calories.
Resting metabolism is also called BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate).
Akash, then what the heck is TDEE that you keep talking about?
TDEE —Total Daily Energy Expenditure is a simply a sum of your BMR + Activity Level + Diet Induced Thermogenesis.
So is Bio-Electrical Impedance Machine accurate and it is worth buying?
No! Unless you are a health club owner and need a fancy way to measure your client’s body fat. In that case invest in the expensive one which I used, not the hand-held or the stand-on-one without the hand electrodes.
It’s important to note that there is a ‘recommended’ time during which you should use this machine.
Your numbers will be way off if you use the machine:
- After vigorous exercise, after a bath, steam or sauna
- After drinking alcohol or using any diuretics
- Around meal timings
This is because these things cause huge fluctuations in the water content in your body.
Here is a chart by Omron showing the ‘recommended timings’ to use their machine:
There is obviously a much cheaper way to do that and it’s surprisingly more accurate than this one. See No # 3, but before that let’s check out my favourite method.
# 2 How to Measure Your Body Fat
Measuring your Waist & Clicking Progress Pictures
This one is my favorite way of keeping track of my body fat levels. I guide my online personal training clients to do the same.
Here is what you should do:
- Wake up
- Get fresh
- Measure your waist from the navel.
Do this 7 days in a row.
- Take out the average. That is your correct waist.
What about body fat? Forget about body fat percentage.
Just know this:
A clear visibility of your six pack will suggest you are less than 10%. Note if you have worked hard to make your abs blocky you can have a six pack at 10% otherwise, you need to do down to about 7-8%
Depending upon your genetics (wide/narrow waisted..determined by your skeleton structure), your waist will be between 29-32 inches at 8-10% Body Fat.
If you are wide waisted, you can only reach a minimal waist circumference of 31-32 inches.
If you are narrow-waisted (like me…usually ectomorphs are) you can reach 29 inches.
Here is a chart I created for you:
Although this might not 100% be accurate, I made this table when I went from 27% body fat with 38 inches waist down to 31 inches in less than 7 months:
Bloating, inflammation, gas, and food stuck in your intestines (yuck!) may cause some variations when trying to measure your waist.
That’s why I have asked you to take the 7-Day average. You won’t be inflamed or gassy or even bloated for the entire week, will you?
#3 How to Measure Your Body Fat
Body Fat Calipers
I’ll be honest. After I got off the bioelectrical machine after using it on my clients and myself for about 8 years, I simply relied on measuring my waist and the mirror as a guide. I never felt the need to use body fat calipers.
I’ll still give you a brief idea of how it works, and if you want to give it a try, go ahead it only cost about $5!
If you want to use this method all by yourself (without anyone assisting you) then choose only one site to measure i.e. your abdomen. This is where most of your fat is stored.
Now pinch out the fat and use the tongue of the calipers to measure it. Note down the reading and use the chart that comes with the calipers to figure out your body fat percentage.
Always remember, test the same site (abdomen) in same conditions (first thing in the morning) over time to figure out whether you are losing/gaining fat.
There are other and very accurate methods (which are considered gold standards) when it comes to measuring body fat percentages, like DEXA Scans, Underwater weighing & Bod Pods, but they can be very expensive (upwards of $100 each time) and I feel is futile for most of you reading this post, as it’s only reserved for few (who have hundreds of dollars to spare each time).
Final Verdict- Which is the best method to measure your body fat percentage?
Check out the body fat percentage chart for men and women below:
Can you see where you fit in?
I am sure you can zero down one range. Still thinking whether you look like the women in red bikini (26-29)% or the one in black (30-33)%?
No problem, at least you have a range now: 26-33%
Now, if have a gym membership, chances are high that they have a bioelectrical impedance machine. Get yourself checked by following the recommended timings given above.
Note down the number.
This will make things a little bit clearer.
Now, go to Amazon and order a body fat caliper.
Figure out the reading that comes. Tally it with the previous two.
Hey, even if you don’t have the exact body fat percentage, it’s ok. Not even those expensive methods like DEXA etc are spot on!
Idea is to figure out a body fat percentage range, narrow it down & then use the same method in the same conditions over time to see if it’s going down or up.
If you still ask me, which is THE method to track and progress one’s body fat percentage, I’ll go with #3.
If you still having a tough time trying to figure out your body percentage I am here to help you. Upload your picture in the comments below and let me help you out.