Learn how to accurately measure you body fat percentage at home with a pair of calipers
When it comes to assessing their progress toward your body composition goals, most people are missing the boat. That’s because they rely on the scale as their arbiter of success. The problem with that is that the scale can’t differentiate between muscle and fat. The only reliable way to keep on track is with regular body fat testing.
In this article we show you how, with the aid of a simple plastic device that you can pick up for less than ten bucks, you can accurately measure your body fat anytime, anywhere.
What are Body Fat Calipers?
Body fat calipers are a plastic device that look a bit like a crab’s pincers. They feature a movable scale that allows you to measure the thickness of folds of skin at strategic parts of your body. Once these are recorded, a simple formula allows you to work out your body fat percentage. The formula presupposes that 50 percent of the fat in the body lies directly under the skin.
Body fat calipers can be purchased online for less than ten dollars. While this is not the most accurate way to measure your body fat, it is one of the most accessible. It has an accuracy level of +/- four percent. However the accuracy level can be increased by:
- Having the same person do your body fat testing
- Measure at the same sites each time
- Take three readings at each site and then average them
- Take all of the measurements from the same side of the body
In order to assess your progress to your fat loss goals, the most important factor is the difference between results. So, even if the readings are off by a percentage point, the decrease (or increase) between readings will tell you whether what you are doing is working.
How to Measure Body Fat With Calipers
Do not measure your own body fat percentage with calipers. Find a friend or family member who is able to do this consistently for you. The tester should hold the calipers in their dominant hand in an overhand grip position. The thumb should be resting on the short arm that extends from the base. This is a guide to the strength of your closure over the skinfold.
With the other hand, the tester should grab hold of the fold of skin in the testing area of the body, pinching in between the fingers. Reach down with your thumb and forefinger until you feel the muscle. Your goal is to pull the fat away from the muscle, and not to pull any portion of muscle tissue.
The calipers should then be placed on the skinfold about an eighth of an inch above your fingers. Use your dominant thumb to press the caliper arm until it is fully depressed. On such models as the AccuMeasure calipers, there is a notch in the main frame of the caliper that the bulbous end of the arm slots into. When it is all the way in, then you know that you are squeezing with the right intensity.
Hold this position for a few seconds to account for ‘caliper creep.’ Then take note of the scale reading. For the most accurate results, you should take three readings at each site and then average them to get your final reading for that site.
You can then move on to the next body part.
The Measuring Sites
The first testing site is on the chest, midway between the nipple and armpit. Stand side on to the person being tested and pinch vertically on that angle between the armpit and the nipple.
The second testing site is the abdomen. The position of testing should be about an inch to either the left or the right of the belly button. Grab between the forefinger and thumb, being sure to include all of the subcutaneous fat that is covering the abdominals.
The third testing site for men is the subscapular, which is located directly below the shoulder blade.Take hold of the skinfold at a 45-degree angle and measure on the same angle.
The fourth testing site for men is the front of the thigh. The position should be in the middle of the thigh, halfway between the hip and the knee.
When it comes to testing women, there are a couple of differences. Rather than measuring the chest, you will find a spot on the triceps to measure. Take a vertical pinch midway between the shoulder and the elbow.
Rather than measuring the abdomen for women, you should take the measurement directly above the iliac crest. This is slightly to the front of the hip bone on a slight angle. Take a pinch in that position on a slight downward angle.
Women will be tested on the mid thigh in the same position as men and on the subscapular.
Working Out Your Bodyfat Percentage
Once you have taken three recordings at each of the four body positions and worked out the average for each, you should total the four numbers. Use this reference number on the charts below to work out your body fat percentage.
Chart for Men
Chart for Women
(Charts adapted from accumeasurefitness.com)
By investing in a pair of body fat calipers, you will be able to quickly and accurately monitor the fluctuations in your body fat percentage. This is the most accurate gauge of how you are progressing toward your weight management goals. However, we don’t recommend testing yourself too regularly. It takes time to see meaningful change, so if you test too frequently, you will only be disappointed. We suggest taking your body fat measurements every 14 days.