Ways to measure body fat

Doctor examining patient obesity on light background showing ways to measure body fat

When it comes to the weight loss process, many measure this aspect by the scale.

What many people fail to take into consideration, is what you actually want to lose is the fat.

The actual number that you see on the scale may not reflect that.

There are various ways to go about measuring body fat, but they will all have some kind of accuracy differentials.

When you know your body fat, it isn’t just for keeping track of weight loss.

It provides a true insight of your BMI, or body mass index.

This is what doctors use to measure if you are overweight.

The body mass index does not agree for body fat % with eighteen-percent of people.

This is because, if you have more muscle, you may show as being obese.

This may be the case even if you don’t have much fat. You could also have a high body-fat % that shows up normal on body mass index charts.

This information does not mean you must keep track of your body fat. You do not want to obsess or worry about another number and lose track of your real goals. If you want to get a close accurate number, then the following ways can be used.

Various Measure Methods


Weighing Underwater

This can be as complicated as it sounds. The price for doing this can be anywhere from ten dollars to $100.

This method can be successful because fat is lighter than your muscle and bones. Densities can vary between individuals.


Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry. Also know as DXA scans.

These scans are more medical and used to measure bone density.

But, they can be used to measure body fat as well.

This procedure is done while laying on a table and a machine takes low dose x-rays to make an image of your body.

This can then be used for a measurement.

This can be a good method for estimating bone density, muscles, and then used to figure out your fat by subtraction. Costs for this scan usually will start at $100.



This method uses Plethysmography.

This is a density-based measurement as well.

It works on the same principle as underwater weighing.

It can read how much space you occupy and reads your weight. It can then calculate how much of your body’s dense muscle and bone compares to less dense fat. The price for this is usually around $50.

When are these methods really worth doing?

These methods can be done if you are really serious about getting an accurate number on your body fat %.

You have to realize as well, that these still may not even be right.


Easier Methods

Rather than trying to get an accurate number, the best way to measure body fat for most is likely the same ways a scale is used.

If your number on the scale stays the same and your body fat goes down, it shouldn’t matter. The most important thing is that you brought the number down.

These methods offer a practical measurement while being cheap enough that they can be performed often.

SkinFold Calipers

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These are very common, and probably your best bet to use.

The accuracy of the measurement can vary with the person that is measuring. T

hese factors can include if they are using the same area of skin to pinch every time.

Are they being consistent with the pressure being applied?

Many people say it takes around fifty to one hundred measurements for someone to get really good at using these.

You might find a gym in your area that has someone who offers to do this for you. You should definitely take advantage of this.

It is not recommended to measure yourself because it can be hard to see the numbers on the caliper when you’re trying to pinch as well.

You will have to decide which body parts that you are going to measure.

Some take three measurements of chest, abdomen, and thigh.

But, some may measure seven or more.

If you are young and a little more athletic, it is advised to take thigh and calf measurements. This is because your upper and lower body may be very different in the amount of fat.


Tape Measure

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woman measuring her stomach with a different way to measure body fatPeople simply use the size of different body parts to calculate their body fat.

The standard variations will apply here as well.

There is a large variation of body shape in different people.

This can result in very different results.

As far as muscle and fat, the tape measure can’t read the difference.

You will not be able to tell the difference if gaining inches in your thigh is a good or bad thing.

The good thing, at least with calipers, is that it pinches the skin which separates fat from muscle.


Bio-Electrical Impedance Device

The ones with scales and silver foot pads have many drawbacks.

These send an electric current through your body.

It is supposed to measure your fat, which will have a different electrical resistance than other tissue. There can be a lot of variation with this method as well.

How well you are hydrated can affect this reading.

This causes a problem because your body fat reading could change from the beginning to the end of a workout. If this method is used, it’s important to be consistent. This means measuring the same time of day, same conditions, and same time of the month.

The device type will also matter. A scale that uses foot pads only puts current through your legs. If you use a handheld device, it will only use your upper body. If the device is used consistently, the results can still vary.



More expensive options like lab methods can certainly be more accurate, but none are still guaranteed to give you 100% accuracy of your body fat %.

If you really want to keep track of your number, calipers are probably the best bet for accuracy and convenience.

If your still undecided, our forums are a great place to ask more questions.

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