Body Fat Percentage

Although BMI is often quoted as a being a measurement of a healthy weight, it doesn’t really take into account the muscle levels of a healthier person, and as a result, someone with comparatively high muscle mass can show up as being overweight or even obese when in fact they’re in great shape.  Body Fat Percentage is a much more accurate measurement of how lean a person is, but it can be tricky to measure accurately.

Measuring Body Fat Percentage

If you were to go to a lab, they’d measure body fat percentage using displacement techniques – look at how the volume of your body and mass correspond, and then use electrical resistance and even ultrasound to get the most accuate measurement possible, however this isn’t usually a totally realistic option for most of us, so the following techniques are used.

Skinfold Body Fat Measurement

Body Fat Measurement callipers

Measuring body fat with callipers

A set of callipers are used to carry out a pinch test at various different parts of the body.  These measure the thickness of the skin and underlying fat layers.  By comparing the information from these pinch tests with a standard chart, it’s possible to get a reasonably accurate measure of the body fat percentage of an individual quite quickly and effectively.

A benefit of this measurement is that it is relatively easy to carry out, and also allows you to see progress with your fitness programme as the size of skin folds drops and you lose fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Body Fat Measurement

This sounds highly technical, but the chances are that there’s a facility for measuring body fat using electrical methods in your home scale – or even in some of the latest smart watches.

Essentially an electric current is passed through the body, and the level of impedence is measured.  When this is combined with information about weight, age, sex and height, it’s possible to calculate the body fat of an individual to a fairly accurate level.

Bear in mind that most home testing kits can be affected by what you’ve had to eat and drink in the run up to the test, so if you’re tracking your body fat measurements over time, try and run the tests at a fairly consistent time of day and at fairly consistent levels of hydration to get a good picture of your progress.

Ideally, you’ll want to combine both of the above methods to get the most accurate measurement.

What’s a healthy Body Fat Percentage?

Everyone needs some body fat for proper cell function and there’s quite a healthy range depending on whether you’re a man or a woman.  Also, your body fat level can be dependent of factors about the time of the year and your specific training programme.

Body builders and people looking for very strong definition of muscles will want to reduce their body fat percentage quite low, while endurance athletes will try and keep a certain amount of fat in their body in order to provide decent reserves of energy during long periods of exertion (although these levels will still be a long way below what you’d see with a sedentary person.

The following table shows the typical body fat ranges for men and women:

body fat percentages

typical body fat percentages for men and women

If your body fat is above the level marked as obese in the table, you’re putting yourself at risk of a variety of health problems including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Also, it means that you’re carrying around a lot more weight than you need to, which will leave you short of energy.

If your body fat percentages are too high, you should consult with your doctor about a weight loss programme to get yourself into better shape and become more healthy.

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