How can I measure or Calculate my Body Fat Percentage
The drive for weight loss all comes down to body fat. What we are after are less body fat and ideally more lean muscle. None of us want excess body fat. This is an issue of how we look, but it is also an issue of good health. However, it is important to understand how to measure body fat, and body fat percentage is one of the most accurate ways to calculate body fat.
While getting rid of excess body fat is the main goal, it is important to lose body fat in healthy ways. Measuring body fat percentage allows you to determine how much body fat you carry and how much you should lose to remain healthy. Measuring body fat percentage gives you a realistic understanding of how to sustain health and wellness.
As we will see, measuring body fat percentage gives you more information than how much body fat you would want to shed. Body fat percentage is a way of gauging the health of your heart, for example. It tells you how hard your body is working to keep you moving.
What is body fat percentage? How do you measure body fat percentage? And what does body fat percentage tell us? This guide will explain the concept of body fat percentage and how to use this information toward realistic and healthy fitness goals.
What is body fat percentage?
Put simply, body fat percentage is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass, multiplied by 100. This figure includes all body fat—essential body fat and storage body fat.
Essential body fat is the level of body fat needed to sustain health and necessary body functions. For example, women require a specific level of body fat to properly sustain childbearing functions. For this reason, women have a higher essential body fat level than men.
Storage body fat is the amount of body fat that accumulates. This is generally stored in the abdomen and chest. Storage body fat does perform vital functions such as protection for internal organs.
Body fat percentage is used as a measure of fitness levels. It is one figure among others that is used to determine body composition relative to weight and height.
Examples of body fat percentage
When you input body measurements into a body fat calculator, the calculator uses a specific formula to estimate your percentage of fat. The formula is slightly different for men and women.
For women, the formula begins with a simple weight calculation:
- (Total bodyweight x 0.732) + 8.987
From there, the tool uses fractions of each body measurement to estimate your body fat percentage.
For men, the formula begins with a different weight calculation:
- (Total bodyweight x 1.082) + 94.42
From there, the tool uses a fraction of the weight measurement to estimate your body fat percentage.
A body fat calculator is not the most accurate way to measure body fat percentage. However, it's the easiest system to use. Therefore, you may be able to use it more often.
What should my body fat percentage be?
There are in fact two different measurements to determine your healthy weight and fat percentage. Body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage. BMI does not vary according to women and men. It is an index of measurements. Healthy body fat percentages are different for men and women, and a healthy body fat percentage will also vary according to your athletic levels and age.
The ranges for body fat percentage are below:
- For women
Essential fat: 10-13 percent
Athletes: 14-20 percent
Fitness: 21-24 percent
Acceptable: 25-31 percent
Obese: More than 32 percent
- For men
Essential fat: 2-5 percent
Athletes: 6-13 percent
Fitness: 14-17 percent
Acceptable: 18-24 percent
Obese: More than 25 percent
How to calculate or Measure my body fat percentage?
Body fat percentage can be calculated in several ways. There are methods to determine body fat percentage that are extremely precise and are generally used for specific medical purposes. Then there are methods to determine body fat percentage that give more of an estimate but which can be sued to set up a health and fitness plan.
The three main ways to determine body fat percentage include:
This method for estimating body fat percentage has been used for decades. Skinfold calipers give you enough information to work toward health and fitness. Skinfold calipers measure the subcutaneous fat in several key locations around the body. Usually, anywhere from 3-7 measurements are taken to get a good sense of body fat percentage.
For women, measurements are taken at the triceps, just above the hipbone, the thigh, and abdomen.
For men, measurements are typically taken at the chest, abdomen, thigh, triceps, and beneath the scapula. Sometimes measurements are taken at the armpit areas and below the shoulder blades.
Depending on the skill of the person taking the measurements, skinfold calipers can give an accurate measurement of body fat percentage within about a 3-5 percent margin of error. This is generally sufficient unless greater accuracy is necessary for medical reasons.
Body circumference measurements
You can get a sense of your body fat percentage by measuring certain parts of your body. Body circumference measurements are used by the US military to determine body fat percentage.
There is a simple equation for using these measurements. For men, measure the neck and waist circumference. For women, measure the circumference of the hips, neck, and waist.
The accuracy rate for body circumference measurements can be within a 2-4 percent error range.
This is a method in which your body is weighed underwater. Also called hydrodensitometry, hydrostatic weighing can be used to measure several forms of body density.
The technique involves weighing your body while you are submerged in water after exhaling as much air from your lungs as you can. Another measurement is taken of your weight on dry land.
These measurements are entered into an equation that can give an accurate account of your body fat percentage, among other body density calculations.
Sometimes more complex methods for measuring body fat become important. IF body fat is being measured for specific health issues, for example, doctors may use more complex methods of measurement. These may include:
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA)
As the name implies, DXA uses X-rays of two different energies to estimate your body fat percentage. During a DXA scan, you lie on your back for approximately 10 minutes while an X-ray scans over you.
The amount of radiation from a DXA scan is very low. It’s about the same amount you receive during three hours of your normal life.
DXA is also used to assess bone density and provides detailed information about the bone, lean mass, and fat in separate body regions (arms, legs, and torso). This method provides accurate and detailed information, including a breakdown of different body regions and bone density readings.
Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod)
Similar to hydrostatic weighing, air displacement plethysmography (ADP) estimates your body fat percentage based on the density of your body. However, ADP uses air instead of water. The relationship between the volume and pressure of air allows this device to predict the density of your body.
You sit inside an egg-shaped chamber for several minutes while the pressure of the air inside the chamber is altered. To obtain accurate measurements, you need to wear skin-tight clothing or a bathing suit during testing. This method is accurate and relatively quick, and it does not require being submerged in water.
Biometrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
BIA devices detect how your body responds to small electrical currents. This is done by placing electrodes on your skin. Some electrodes send currents into your body, while others receive the signal after it has passed through your body tissues.
Electrical currents move through muscle easier than fat due to the higher water content of muscle. The BIA device automatically enters your body’s response to the electrical currents into an equation that predicts your body composition. There are many different BIA devices that vary widely in cost, complexity, and accuracy. The real advantage of BIA is that it is quick and easy, and many devices can be purchased by consumers.
3D Body Scanners
3D body scanners use infrared sensors to get a detailed look at the shape of your body. The sensors generate a 3-D model of your body.
For some devices, you stand on a rotating platform for several minutes while the sensors detect your body shape. Other devices use sensors that rotate around your body.
The scanner’s equations then estimate your body fat percentage based on your body shape.
In this way, 3-D body scanners are similar to circumference measurements. However, a greater amount of information is provided by a 3-D scanner. A 3-D body scan is relatively quick and easy.
These methods for measuring body fat percentage are generally highly technical. You do not need this kind of specialized measurement simply to work on a weight loss or health plan. These systems are most often used when other physical issues are at work, and doctors need to get precise measurements.
Is BMI the same as body fat percentage?
Body Mass Index is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. Doctors view BMI measurements as a simple way to determine if a person is healthy or unhealthy, underweight or overweight. It is important to note, however, that your BMI score is not the same thing as your body weight percentage.
Body weight percentage is a determination based on your weight, your BMI, and several other factors. Body weight percentage functions more as a physical measurement whereas BMI is something of a benchmark for gauging your health.
Body fat percentage FAQS
What is body fat percentage? Put simply, body fat percentage is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass, multiplied by 100. This figure includes all body fat—essential body fat and storage body fat.
What should my body fat percentage be? There are in fact two different measurements to determine your healthy weight and fat percentage. Body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage. BMI does not vary according to women and men. It is an index of measurements. Healthy body fat percentages are different for men and women, and a healthy body fat percentage will also vary according to your athletic levels and age.
What are methods for measuring body fat percentage? Some of the most common ways of measuring body fat percentage are skinfold calipers, body circumference measurements, and hydrostatic weighing.
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