How to calculate your body fat percentage? Measuring body fat percentage (BF%) is relatively easy to do at home within a few seconds. Most of the time people only look at the scale and focus on their body weight. As I’ve mentioned many time before, weight is just a number. It doesn’t reflect our body composition. Someone weighing 150 lbs with 10% body fat versus another who weighs the same but with 30% body fat. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be the former 🙂
Here’s a perfect example of why you shouldn’t rely solely on the scale! Who would you rather look like?
When we start a rigorous workout program, we not only lose body fat, but we build muscle. The fluid and hydration levels in our body will also change as our muscles get sore and/or in the recovery mode, as well as weight fluctuation due to sodium intake. These all play into a more complicated picture than just what the scale says in pounds. Therefore, one of the most important tools in monitoring your progress is tracking the change in your body fat percentage.
If you are not currently doing it, I’d like to encourage all of you to start monitoring your body fat instead.
Calipers – Using Skinfold Measurements (Preferred)
I use a body fat caliper to measure my body fat. It’s also known as the skinfold method. While it’s not as accurate as the underwater or near-infrared methods which is normally available at the hospitals or sports medicine facilities, it’s definitely more accurate than the biometrical impedance measurement that we sometimes see as part of the modern scales and workout machines at the gym. If measured properly, the margin of error is very low. I use the one from Beachbody and it costs a lot less than going to the doctor’s office or hospital.
I normally take a measurement on my waist – between the naval and the hip. It comes with an easy-to-follow instruction so anyone can do it. You can get one from Beachbody for $14 by clicking here.
LINEAR SOFTWARE – Online BF% Tracking
To make the DIY measurement even more accurate, I like to use the software by LinearSoftware.com There are separate calculation methods for men and women, and there are multiple methods to use. The all use your height, weight, and various skinfold measurements. You can experiment with them to determine which one you find most predictable and repeatable. It’s a good idea the first time to measure your body fat with multiple methods to be sure you are doing it correctly.
The popular option is the JP3 (Jackson/Pollack 3) site method because it’s quick, easy, and accurate. It requires measuring sites on the chest, the abdomen, and the thigh. It’s easy to do by yourself. Note that the “mm” for the 3 entry fields ask for the measurements from the caliper for the 3 sites. Don’t enter the numbers from your measurement tape 🙂
So many times we get frustrated if the scale isn’t moving down, but what we all should care about more is what is happening with our body fat percentage. Building muscle is a good thing, and it makes us more fit, more healthy, and able to burn more calories all day long. Often people burn up their precious muscle mass in an effort to crash diet and lose weight (extreme deficits without exercise). This sets them up for failure because they have less muscle mass to burn calories and when they fall off the wagon, they gain back all the weight and then some.
Biometrical Impedance Measurements
One way people can measure body fat is to get a scale that does it for them. These scales work by electrical impedance. They send a pulse through your lower body and measure the resistance. A standard formula is used (based on your age and height) to GUESSTIMATE your body fat. These are not that accurate. And because of their inaccuracy, I don’t particularly like the scales as a way to accurately measure your body fat. So many things are not taken into account with their formulas, like the amount of muscle mass you have, your muscle distribution, your fitness level, etc. They also can give erroneous readings depending on if your feet are dry or damp. There are professional models that can get closer to your actually BF%, but they are still not the most accurate (or even the cheapest).
Do yourself a favor and stop weighing yourself all the time! Instead, get some calipers, get comfortable with a measurement method, and check your body fat every week or 2 weeks. Write it down so you can monitor your progress!