Tag Archives: body fat percentage

How to Measure Body Fat

How to Measure Body Fat

Posted on 14. Feb, 2010 by .


As I got ready to enter the Turbulence Training transformation and took my starting measurements, I realized that I haven’t written a post about how to measure body fat. A lot of people tend to base their progress on the bathroom scale, the tape measure. or the body mass index but body fat is probably the most detailed measurement of progress that we can take. When we measure our body fat percentage, we can tell how much of our weight is from body fat and from lean mass or muscle. This becomes important as we take our second set of measurements at about 2-4 weeks apart, we can then tell if we are gaining muscle, losing fat, maintaining muscle, etc.

Note: the picture above the post does not have anything to do with it but I thought it was so cool and calming.

While hydrostatic body fat testing is the “gold” standard in measuring body fat, Dr. John Berardi at Precision Nutrition came up with something that’s pretty close. Most body fat measurement manuals only use 4 sites but Dr. Berardi’s system tests 7 sites for more accuracy.

The 7 testing sites are as follows:

  • Abdominal Skinfold
  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Midaxillary
  • Subscapular
  • Suprailliac
  • Thigh

Before you panic and tell yourself that you don’t know half of these sites, let alone pronounce it, I actually have a document with pictures and instructions for you. You can download the Body Fat and Girth Measurement Guide by Precision Nutrition here. This guide includes step by step procedure for measuring body fat and girth (circumference) measurements. In order to use this guide successfully, you would need:

The Accu-Measure Fitness 3000 Personal Body Fat Tester and


The MyoTape Body Tape Measure


You can use other brands but I have found Accufitness products to be easier to use. The other ones I’ve used before were bulky and awkward to use. You would also need another person to measure your body fat sites. The girth measurements are easier to do with the Myotape but there’s no way you can measure your body fat on your own (if you find a way to do that, let me know…lol).

Inside the guide you will find that the formulas are way too difficult to calculate and very confusing. So, I created an Excel file for both men and women so that all you need to do is enter your information. After that is done, the worksheet calculates everything automatically for you. You can track up to 12 weeks worth of measurements (spaced 4 weeks apart) in this worksheet.

Download the Men’s Results Tracker here.

Download the Women’s Results Tracker here.

Before you enter your information in the Excel file, make sure that you save a blank version first so that you can use it again for the next set of 12 weeks, and so on. These are the tools that I use when I want to get myself measured and when I measure my clients. I hope you find these tools as useful as I have.

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3 Reasons Why the BMI is Obsolete

Posted on 18. Mar, 2009 by .


Yesterday was a big day for my husband. He’s in the Air Force and it was time for his annual physical training (PT) test. He was really nervous that he would score poorly on this test but it’s not because he is out of shape or overweight. The real reason for his worries was the BMI.

Photo by Life Design Strategies

Photo by Life Design Strategies

So, what is the BMI?

Here is the definition by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH):

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women.

The military still uses the BMI as one of their standards for measuring body fat which becomes a problem for people who are heavier relative to their height because of their muscle mass (as you’ve probably heard that muscle weighs more than fat). In the case of my husband, he can’t be more than 200 pounds for his PT test because with a height of 6 feet, 3 inches, this would put him at a BMI of 25.1 which would mean that he’s overweight relative to this “standard.” This totally doesn’t make sense because if you see him in person, the word “overweight” would not even describe him one bit. In fact, he is tall and lean and I’m not even exagerrating here.

The BMI Table

Underweight 18.5
Normal Weight 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight 25 to 29.9
Obesity 30 or greater

So, now that I’ve made that point, let me tell you about why it’s not a good measure of physical fitness or body composition.

  • It is based on your height and weight which means that these numbers do not even have anything to do with body fat percentage which is a big factor when assessing health risks.
  • It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
  • It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle mass.

Take note that the last two reasons are actually limitations that I copied from the NIH’s web site. I am sure that there are some old research studies that support the BMI and which have made it into what it is today but I won’t even bother looking for them because my main point is this: measure your body fat percentage instead. I actually wrote a post about this in another post entitled, “Why Weight is Just Another Number,” and you can view that one here. Body fat percentages actually measure your body fat in a few different sites of your body where you would most likely have body fat such as the lower abs, the back of the triceps, the front of your biceps, etc. So, even if the measurements may be inaccurate, it will give you a better picture of your body composition.

I know that sometimes it can be difficult to get your body fat measured because you either have to get a personal trainer to do it or have someone wiling enough to learn how to perform the measurements on you. If this is the case, I read about another type of measurement which takes into account your waist to height ratio. Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat, talks about this in his post and you can see it here and scroll down to question #4. I asked him if it applies to women as well but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet.

Another option is to buy a bathroom scale that measures body fat but I find that they also have their own limitations as they can be inaccurate. But if you were to buy a scale with this feature, use it as a measure of progress. In other words, even if the number on it is not truly reprsentative of your actual body fat percentage, use the number as your baseline which means that if the measurements go up or down, take the difference between your baseline and the new number. If the number goes down, then you’re making progress and vice versa.

The only other time that I would ever use my weight in any measurement of fitness is when I want figure out my lean mass once I know my body fat percentage – that’s it. As for the military, my husband says that they may me changing the BMI into the waist to height ratio as described by Brad Pilon but it might take awhile for this change to happen (as with any goverment changes but that’s a whole different story).

The lesson I learned is that there are a lot more measurements out there that will give us a better idea of where we are in terms of health risks and physical fitness besides the more general, government issued standards. Sometimes the best thing to do is to not focus on the numbers too much but pay more attention to more important things like eating healthier and living a more active lifestyle instead.

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Why Weight is Just Another Number

Posted on 23. Jan, 2009 by .


Isn’t it frustrating when that pointer on the scale doesn’t move in the direction you want? I have this same frustration lately but then I got to thinking what this number really means.

Weight (noun) – the amount or quantity of heaviness or mass; amount a thing weighs.

The definition of weight is basically just that – a representation of how heavy a person or a thing is. So, why is it that of all the health assessments available to us out there, weight is the most common obsession among those who are aiming for weight loss?

First, there is that term “weight loss.” People really mean that they want to lose fat when they say that they want to lose weight. And yet, weight loss has become such a household name that everyone bases their success on these numbers. To add to the problem, almost all dieting advertisements talk about the amount of weight lost on their products. Even the Biggest Loser which has access to health professionals and personal trainers measure their contestants success base on the percentage of their weight loss (By the way, I love the show but I wish they would measure other stuff too).

Second, weight is the easiest measure of progress. All you have to do is to step on that bathroom scale and you can see how many pounds or kilograms you have lost.

I don’t blame anyone for doing this because even today, I still look at the number on that bathroom scale and still get disappointed if I don’t see the results that I want to see. Just this morning, I’m guilty of stepping on that scale and being disappointed that I haven’t lost any pound since last week. But, the difference between then and now is that I have other ways to measure my success. Now, I just see my weight as just a number that will help me figure out other numbers (or signs) that are more important in measuring my progress.

What are better measurements?

Body fat percentage

While this assessment takes more skill and time than weighing yourself on the scale, it gives you a better idea of your body composition. So, for somebody who has 21% body fat at 120 lbs., 25.2 (120 x .21) lbs of this is body fat and the rest (120 lbs minus 25.2 lbs = 94.8 lbs) is lean body mass (mostly muscle). In this case, you are using that weight to figure out your body composition which is a better way to see your body – that is, in terms of how much fat and muscle you have. Here are the average* body fat percentage for men and women:

Age Up to 30 30 – 50 50 and up
Females 14 to 21% 15 to 23% 16 to 25%
Males 9 to 15% 11 to 17% 12 to 19%

*An average man or woman would be someone who is not overly obese or not too skinny.

Most personal trainers at local gyms can measure your body fat for you. But, your results would be more accurate if you have the same person measure it all the time (there would be less variation with your measurements if you do this). As for any measurement, take this number as a guideline, a starting point. It will serve as a feedback. It can tell you if you’re doing something right or if you need to adjust your nutrition or change your workout routine.


Another great way to see your results is to take a picture every few weeks or so. Pictures are great because they make you see the big picture (for lack of a better word). If you have made some great progress over a few weeks, you can definitely see it in the pictures. On the other hand, if you didn’t do as well then, this will get you motivated to work harder. Pictures can tell you a lot. Take pictures at least once a month.

How your clothes fit you

Yes, this is even better. I remember one day, I had to put my belt on the very last hole to keep my pants up. At the same time, I had to go shopping for new clothes because I dropped a size or two. There is no greater feed back than that!

Measuring Tape

Sometimes I would see inches come off from measuring my waist and hips and yet I don’t see the pointer on the scale move. These measurements mean a lot because it tells you that you are still making progress even though the scale tells you otherwise.

All these other measurements or assessments tell you that it’s time to stop the weight obsession and start paying attention to other signs of your progress. I know that my weight used to dictate my mood for the day especially when I reach a weight loss plateau. It makes me forget about all the other progress that I have made. Now, I think about how much stronger I have gotten when I lift weights in the gym or how many inches I have lost so far or how great I look in my pictures.

So, the next time you step on that scale, take it with a grain of salt. It’s no big deal! It’s just a number. All you can do is keep doing what you think is right for your goals and trust the process.

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