Body fat percentage is one of the best ways to determine whether you’re at a healthy weight. While BMI is easier to calculate, it only considers your height and weight, so those with a large amount of muscle or a very small amount of muscle may not get an accurate measurement.
Measuring your body fat percentage will tell you how much of your body is made up of fat, which can be much more informative and helpful than BMI. For women, a body fat percentage under 32 percent is considered acceptable, and a body fat percentage between 14 and 24 percent is considered fit or athletic. For men, a body fat percentage under 25 percent is acceptable, and a percentage between 6 and 17 percent is fit or athletic.
There are a variety of ways to measure body fat percentage and body composition. Some are easier than others, but some can also be inaccurate.
Body Fat Scales
Body fat scales are a popular method for measuring body fat percentage because the test can be done at home. Common body fat scale brands include Fitbit, Tanita, Nokia, Taylor, and Weight Watchers.
The scales work by sending a tiny electrical current up one leg and down the other. Muscle contains more water than fat, so it conducts electricity better. Therefore, the longer it takes for the current to return, the more body fat you have.
Although these scales can give you a general estimate of your body fat percentage, they tend to be inaccurate. They can be affected by how hydrated you are and how long ago you ate or exercised.
Skinfold calipers are small tools that pinch body fat in several places, including the triceps, shoulders, abdomen, and calves. The amount of skin that the caliper can grasp determines the body fat percentage. This test is quick and easy, and it tends to be mostly accurate. However, it can be inaccurate if someone carries most of their body fat in one area.
Hydrostatic weighing is a body composition test that involves submerging yourself in water while being weighed. The scale records your weight, and the person conducting the test will compare your underwater weight with your weight on land. Both numbers are used in a series of calculations to find your body fat percentage.
This is one of the most accurate ways to measure your body fat. However, finding a testing center in your area may be difficult. Also, unlike other professional tests, it doesn’t tell you your skeletal muscle mass, dry lean mass, or body water.
A whole body plethysmography, or Bod Pod, test involves sitting in an egg-shaped capsule that will measure the amount of air you displace. This information is used to determine your density, which can reveal your body fat percentage.
Bod Pod tests are very accurate, and they’re quick and easy to complete. However, like the hydrostatic weighing test, you may not have a testing location in your area.
During a DEXA test, you will lie down on a table while the machine sends X-rays through your body. The machine measures the difference between the energy sent through the body and the energy that exits the body. DEXA scans are very accurate and can determine body fat percentage, bone density, and soft lean mass. They can also measure each body area separately. Some hospitals and clinics have DEXA devices. However, the test can be expensive.
A professional body composition test will usually give you the most accurate information. If you can’t afford a test or can’t find one in your area, a skinfold caliper test or a body fat scale can give you an estimate of your body fat percentage. Although they might not be completely accurate, they can help you determine whether you need to focus on losing body fat.