Measuring Body Fat
I’m sure many of you have had an experience like I have where you work your butt off for a month and then find out you have not lost any weight.
You are not alone!
Today I am going to explain why that happens, how to drop body fat, how to measure body fat, and how to calculate body fat. Buckle your seat belts because I’m about to throw you for a loop.
If you are someone who desires to make physical changes to your physique (aren’t we all), you are probably used to stepping on the scale, holding your breath, and waiting for that fateful number to appear. Most everyone thinks they need to “lose weight” to look better. But that isn’t exactly the case.
***You want to LOSE BODY FAT. You want to LOSE BODY FAT. You want to LOSE BODY FAT.***
What about Scale weight? blah blah blah….. focus on BODY FAT. (sorry to repeat myself but I need you to remember that)
Care More About Body Fat Percentage
We all want to look “leaner” and more fit. But a decrease in weight does not always equate to a decrease in body fat. Just like an increase in weight does not always equate to an increase in body fat.
And here is why: body composition.
Our body weight is made up of Lean mass + Fat mass.
If you are adhering to a good nutrition and training program that is customized for you and putting you in caloric deficit, then you will see a decreased body fat percentage over time. Guaranteed (unless there are medical complications). What I can’t guarantee is that you will see decreased weight. That is because your weight is made up of lean mass plus fat mass. Your fat mass is probably decreasing. However lean mass could increase if you are building muscle! Therefore if you are strength training and you gain more lean mass than you lose fat mass, the number on your scale will go up. Don’t let it scare you! This happens all the time with our coaching clients: especially with girls who are new to heavy strength training. They often maintain weight but lose body fat and look leaner.
My point: Stop obsessing over the number on the scale. Instead focus on other progress measurements like body circumferential inch measurements, progress pictures, and how you feel / how clothes fit. Here is a video on the 4 ways to measure progress explained in more detail.
Don’t forget there are many other variables that affect scale weight. I wrote an in-depth are on that called “9 Reasons Why Your Weight Fluctuates Throughout The Day” that is very informative and seriously life changing.
For one month, I started a new training program. Afterwards, I felt great, fit into my jeans better, and was more confident. However, whenever I checked my weight on the scale it was the same. So my confidence immediately went from WAYYYY UP HERE, to way down here. I took my monthly Skin Fold test to convince me that what I was doing was working. Rest assured: inches and body fat dropped. I learned I could stop freaking out over that darn scale weight.
My point again: drop BODY FAT, not necessarily weight.
How do you measure body fat?
There are several ways to measure body fat including scales, dexa scan, bod pod, and water displacement. However those cost much more and when you want to measure every two weeks, the cost can really add up. That’s why we promote using the caliper pinch method. You can do it on your own. And you can do it at the same time in the morning. That’s what’s important with measuring. Keep measurements consistent. Perform them right when you wake up. And have the same person do them each time. Pay attention more to the changes in the numbers from week to week instead of the actual number itself because it is hard to be 100% accurate with these. Consistency is key.
What is body fat percentage?
It is the amount of fat in your body compared to everything else (muscle,tendons, water, organs, etc). For us women, ours is usually higher than men’s. But in general, it ranges from 10-40% body fat for women.
What is normal body fat for women?
The essential levels of body fat are necessary for our survival. They protect our organs and they also provide energy during emergency situations. Without this amount of essential fat we would not survive. So this 10-12% is good to have ladies! If you’ve ever gone below that, you may have experienced what’s called hypothalamic amenorrhea where you stop having your period for at least three months. This is because you no longer had that required minimum amount of energy storage to maintain a regular cycle. This is common in women who do not eat enough, perform excessive exercise, or lose weight suddenly.
So ladies, if you want to look your best and show some good tone, you’ll want to be in the athlete or fitness range of body fat. Those are the healthiest ranges to be in while still looking good, feeling strong, and having a well functioning body.
How’s body fat different from BMI?
Body mass index (BMI) is purely a calculation of your height and weight. It doesn’t take into account your muscle mass or body structure.
How can I lower my body fat percentage?
#1 Diet: Be in a caloric deficit utilizing Flexible Dieting so the diet is sustainable and does not encourage binges or poor adherence.
#2 Training: Lift heavy 4-5x/week and perform HIIT (high intensity interval training) as needed.
For help with training and nutrition, checkout my coaching packages HERE.
Now that we know more about the importance of body fat, let’s go over how to measure it at home.
How to Measure Body Fat
1) Find someone who can take your measurement every month. It is important that the same person do it each time to remain consistent. Maybe your workout partner, your mom/dad, your friend? Then buy a caliper to use.
2) For the person taking the measurement, become acquainted with how the caliper works. They are all slightly different. On ours you have to re-set it to 60mm before each measurement. Ours also has a color tab that changes from red to green when the appropriate pressure has been met. You don’t want to apply too much pressure or else your body fat % will be too low. So practice first before taking the official measurements.
3) Since it is a skin fold test, wearing shorts and no shirt is best. Stand in the anatomical position with your arms relaxed at your side. Stay relaxed- do not flex your muscles or “suck in”. Be aware the test could be a little uncomfortable due to the need to pinch/pull the skin in order to acquire accurate measurements. Ouch!
4) You will be measuring 7 sites (those highlighted in pink above): Tricep, Chest, Subscapular, Mid-axillary, Waist, Suprailiac crest, & Thigh. Take them all on the Right side of the body. Take 3 measurements at each of the 7 sites & then average them. I suggest pinching with your Left thumb and pointer finger & pulling the skin out. Make sure it is the skin only, not muscle. Then use your Right hand to apply pressure & measure with the caliper. Here are pictures of each of the sites modeled by Zachary Dorworth:
-Tricep (vertical skin fold mid-way between shoulder and elbow)
-Chest (diagonal skin fold from the nipple to the armpit)
-Subscapular area (vertical skin fold at the bottom corner of the shoulder blade)
-Mid-Axillary area (vertical skin fold below R armpit near 5th rib)
-Waist (vertical skin fold to the R of the belly button)
-Suprailiac crest (diagonal skin fold just above the R hip bone)
-Thigh (vertical skin fold at the front of the thigh mid-way between hip and knee)
5) Now that you have your measurements, you can use this online calculator to calculate your body fat. You will see how to calculate your Body Fat percentage, Lean Mass, and Fat Mass. You will need to enter your sex, age, and body weight.
6) Now that you have your starting measurements, I suggest you make a spreadsheet/table and re-measure once a month. I promise this will help keep your spirits lifted. It is a more accurate representation of your progress.
7) You can also take circumferential measurements with a tape measure for yet another way to track your progress.