Have you ever wondered what your body fat percentage is, and have you ever wondered why it would even matter?
Well, today we’ll talk about all of that and you will find out exactly how to measure it relatively accurately, why you would even want to and what it all means for you and your fitness goals.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF YOUR BODY FAT PERCENTAGE
You see, your “actual body fat percentage” (from here on out referred to as “BF”) doesn’t really matter all that much since it really is just a number.
It begins to take shape when you use it as a fitness tracking tool and you’ll learn exactly how you can use it as an amazing tool to track your own fitness progress to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
The basic principle is this–if you’re dissatisfied with your leanness level then change it. Knowing the “precise” number doesn’t serve very many purposes, if any at all.
A little bit further down you will learn more about how you can use it as a tool to know when you should be looking to lose some fat or looking to lean bulk instead.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF KNOWING YOUR BF PERCENTAGE?
There are a few benefits of knowing your body fat percentage, and the most important one is establishing a baseline of leanness you can strive towards over and over.
In laymen’s terms, once you’re happy with your “leanness” level, you can measure your BF percentage and then strive towards that same percentage again after a prolonged lean bulk.
However, measuring your BF percentage the same way every time is the only true way you can capitalise on this principle.
Whether you choose to employ DEXA scans, hydrostatic weighing, use calipers, body composition scales or a measuring tape (which, by the way, will be one of the best methods you can use), you want to make sure you use that same method again later.
For example, establishing a “leanness baseline” with a DEXA scan and then using hydrostatic weighing next time will not work as the numbers will most likely not match up 100%.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TOOLS TO MEASURE YOUR BF PERCENTAGE WITH?
For the most part, you can pretty much disregard DEXA scans, hydrostatic weighing, fancy calipers, body composition scales and any other fancy device that wastes your time, effort and energy.
Again, there is no way to say 100% accurately what your exact BF measurement is nor does it matter.
But just because you don’t need to use them, we can certainly have a look at how each works below and under which circumstances they could be useful to you.
DEXA SCANS: HOW DO THEY WORK AND SHOULD YOU GET ONE DONE?
First of all, DEXA stands for Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry which is just a fancy way of saying that it measures your bone mineral density. They do this by essentially taking an X-ray of your body, bones, flesh, and everything else.
That’s what these machines were designed for but they also serve another purpose.
DEXA machines also have the ability to measure the composition of your body indirectly by basically subtracting the adipose tissue weight from the LST (lean soft tissue). It’s a cool way to know, relatively accurately, what your BF percentage is in my opinion and I’d probably get one done eventually.
DEXA Scan Final Verdict:
Although relatively accurate (similarly to hydrostatic weighing), DEXA scans aren’t at all necessary in any capacity if you’re just trying to establish a baseline of leanness to strive towards over and over again.
CALIPERS: YEA OR NAY?
Calipers are also a common method of measuring your body fat levels through complex formulas using measurements of pinched skin.
Again, if you’re just trying to establish a baseline of leanness to get back to after a prolonged lean bulk then calipers could offer you a reliable way of doing so but there are certainly a couple of caveats.
Caveat #1: In order to repeatedly get an accurate measurement from your calipers, you not only have to make sure you use the same calipers again, but you also have to make sure that you’re getting the measurement from the exact same spot that you did before.
If you’re somewhat inexperienced with these, you can always get your doctor or fitness professional to do them for you otherwise you run the risk of not getting a very accurate measurement.
Caveat #2: Calipers can be expensive, and, as we’ll discuss below, are just as effective as simply using a measuring tape and comparing that to your height. Stay tuned for the details on that.
Calipers Final Verdict:
Don’t use calipers. They’re expensive, complicated and the chances are too high that you’ll get an inaccurate measurement anyway.
HYDROSTATIC WEIGHING: MOST ACCURATE WAY TO MEASURE BF PERCENTAGE?
Based on the Archimedes principle, hydrostatic weighing relies on your body displacing its own volume of water therefore making it possible to measure your body composition pretty accurately.
I am not going to go into crazy detail about how this works, however, I can attest to the fact that hydrostatic weighing remains one of the most accurate ways of measuring your BF percentage.
Again, for most people this won’t matter too much but it’s certainly an avenue you can explore for sure if you are interested.
Hydrostatic Weighing Final Verdict:
Getting DEXA scans or hydrostatic analyses done not only cost money and time, they will also provide little to no increased benefit over the waist measurement method below that is simple, costs no money and takes very little time.
BOD-PODS: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM AND HYDROSTATIC WEIGHING?
In the most basic way to describe them, bod-pods work in a similar fashion to hydrostatic weighing albeit using air instead of water as the displacement tool.
Bod-Pod Final Verdict:
There’s not much to say here–again, they cost money, are about as accurate as anything else and are 100% unnecessary and way too time consuming for my liking.
WAIST MEASUREMENT: THE SINGLE SIMPLEST METHOD YOU CAN REPEAT OVER AND OVER AGAIN WITH GREAT ACCURACY
Some of you out there may have been reading my own fitness blog, and for those of you that have you probably know I’m a huge proponent of using the waist measurement method thanks to its simplicity and efficiency.
First, you need to measure your waist in inches. Then, you divide that number by your height in inches. Lastly, you consult the chart below once you’ve determined the percentage.
In simpler terms, if your waist is 33 inches and your height is 68 inches, your waist is about 48.5 percent of your height pegging you at around 15-17% body fat.
Now that you know your rough BF estimate, you can begin working towards your goal whether it be lean bulking or cutting a little bit more.
For the most part I recommend cycling between cutting to 8% percent BF and slowly lean bulking to 15 or so percent over the course of many months.
The waist measurement method is perfect for this because you will find out at what waist measurement you’re the leanest and happiest, and you can always go back to that same level of leanness by simply getting your waist down again.
Waist Measurement Final Verdict:
It’s definitely not the most accurate method, but a 100% accurate number is overall unnecessary anyway. You are simply establishing a baseline to always strive towards over and over again.
FINAL THOUGHTS & CONCLUSION
Some tools provide more accuracy such as bod-pods, hydrostatic weighing and DEXA scans, but all of these tools cost you money and take a massive amounts of time and in the end do the exact same thing as simpler methods anyway.
The caliper and waist measurement methods are the best in my opinion, with waist measurement coming out on top thanks to its simplicity, efficiency and repeated accuracy.