The Best Way to Test Body Fat

This woman is smart. She has realized that weight training will give her a strong AND lean body! By Javierlayus (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

This woman is smart. She has realized that weight training will give her a strong AND lean body!
By Javierlayus via Wikimedia Commons

Consider your body fat levels as well as your body weight if you are serious about getting in shape.  You must use some form of body-composition test to figure out your body fat levels. Several tests are available, including measuring a person’s skin folds with calipers, using the Body Mass Index, bioelectrical impedance scales, underwater weighing and DEXA scans. While costly, DEXA scans are the most accurate, according to an article at CNN Health. However, depending on how heavy you are and how your body stores fat, other methods work just as well.

Step 1

Take a good look at your naked body to determine what body-composition test to use. For example, if you are very lean, meaning you can easily see your muscles, hips and ribs, you do not need to shell out hundreds of dollars for a DEXA scan. Instead, find a fitness professional who has several years of experience using skin-fold calipers to measure body fat. Only lean people get an accurate reading using this method. I cannot underscore this last point enough.

Step 2

Use an bioelectrical impedance scale if money is tight and your main concern is to track progress rather than exact body fat levels. While the scale is sometimes off by up to five percent—especially the commercial ones intended for the general public— all you need to do is stand on it every morning, making it easy to use. You can buy one for your house for less than $100 (as of 2013). Because an electrical current goes through your body to calculate total body water in lean tissue and muscle, avoid using it if you are dehydrated or bloated for most accurate results.  This means that you should not use this scale the day after you went out binge-drinking…. If you have skinny legs and arms but a big belly or even a very large butt, using bioelectrical impedance scales will give you a much more accurate result than the skin-fold method. Big bellies mean that you have lots of unhealthy visceral fat and it is impossible to gauge this accurately via skin folds. Big butts are just hard to measure with calipers, not necessarily unhealthy.

Step 3

Take the DEXA scan test if you can find a facility that offers such tests and you can afford it. It can cost up to $300 (in 2013). This test is great because not only does it supply body fat levels, but it also tells you where the majority of your fat deposits are located. While it will give you an accurate reading of your current body fat levels, it is not recommended for obese people. Obese individuals might not fit on the narrow tables used for this test. If you are very heavy, consider underwater weighing instead, another highly accurate body-composition test.
Never rely on Body Mass Index charts to determine your body fat levels. While these are convenient, they are sometimes very inaccurate. An obese person and a highly muscular athlete of the same height may have the same BMI, yet their body fat levels will vary widely.

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