Keeping track of body fat composition can be a difficult task, especially when most methods of calculating it are inaccurate. People often have the misconception that gaining weight means getting fat, but you can gain or lose muscle without gaining fat depending on your fitness and personal goals. For example, professional athletes must keep their body fat percentage low while training for their season and increasing their muscle mass.
Body weight is not a good indicator of health or fitness level since there are many other components that must be considered. If someone weighs 200lbs, you would need to know more information in order to make an educated judgement, such as gender, athletic level, and height. A good indicator to use is body fat percentage.For men between 20 years and 40 years old, body fat percentage of 6% is considered excellent for athletes while a regular fit person should maintain between 18-25%. For women, athletes aim for around 14% - 20% without affecting full body functions while healthy fit women would have body fat between 25% - 31%. With this in mind, let's explore the different ways to measure body fat.
Different Ways To Test The Body Fat
Skin Calipers (Pinch test)
This is the most common means of measuring body fat composition. The technician first pinches the skin and then uses the skin calipers to gauge the thickness of the skin folding for each position tested. Usually, the chest, arms and thighs are the positions where measurements are taken. The figures are then inputted into a formula or a chart which gives the technician an estimate calculation of body fat percentage.
Body fat measurement by skin calipers is widespread and can be done anywhere at any time. Anybody can also learn this technique and get sharpen their self-administration skills over time. The disadvantage of the method is the high degree of error depending on the skill and knowledge of the technician.
This works by sending small electrical currents through the body and measuring how fast they return. Electrical impulses travel faster through lean tissue than fatty tissue; therefore, the faster the response time, the lower the body fat calculation. The bioelectrical impedance devices range from a regular bathroom scale with electrodes to expensive multi-electrode devices. They can be found at gyms and personal training facilities.
Body fat calculation using bioelectrical impedance is as simple as standing on a scale or pressing a button, so no experience or skill is required. Readings are also done quickly and displayed immediately. The downside is the accuracy affected by hydration levels, and food consumption before body fat calculation is done. To reduce the margin of error, technicians recommend that subjects follow a strict set of rules regarding food or water intake and use multiple readings taken at relatively consistent conditions.
Hydrostatic Testing (The Best Method)
This is the most accurate method of body fat testing with the lowest margin of error. Commonly known as underwater weighing, it equates a subject’s weight outside water with the weight when fully submerged in water based on Archimedes’ Principle of displacement.
Hydrostatic testing is considered as the best way to measure body fat because the densities being measured are constant and results are more consistent, unlike other ways that are affected by several variables. The benefits and accuracy of this method classify it as the preferred method for scientific research. Learn more about this method here.
Difference Between Body Fat Calculation and BMI
BMI is a simple measurement of body weight scaled to height. Body fat calculation is body fat divided by weight. BMI does not consider that body weight is made up of muscles, bones and fat while body fat calculation measures all these factors. Body fat percentage is a more exact and a better indication of good health than BMI.
A person can have a good BMI and be susceptible to different diseases due to high body fat content. Keeping track of your health is better done when both measurements are considered hand in hand. Once you have achieved a desired body fat percentage, you can also measure your BMI periodically to ensure that your weight is still healthy.
Final Thoughts and Ideas
It is worthy of note that anybody can get to their desired body fat percentage goals. Maintaining it for a long time is very tough and can only be achieved through proper dieting, exercise, strict adherence to calorie consumption especially when you are maintaining a percentage of body fat less than what your natural body set point is.
Excessive loss of body fat can slow down muscle growth and make the process of losing fat very excruciating. It is advisable to monitor body fat over a period and decide what percentage composition works best for the body and can be easily maintained for a healthy lifestyle.