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Measuring Body Fat

If you have emailed me to ask for tips, tricks, and nutritional advise, one of the first things I always ask to know are your stats.  Height, Weight, and age are very important stats to determining what nutritional approach is correct for you but one of the most important stat to determining your proper nutrition as well as monitoring your progress is your body fat percentage.  I get emails everyday from people looking to put on 10lbs of muscle, or others who want to lose 10 lbs of fat but body weight only tells one side of the picture.  In order to get that “ripped” look your looking for so you can see those abs, you have to have low body fat.

This is why I would recommend everyone to monitor their body fat while they are going through a program like P90X, Insanity or TurboFire.  It might even be easier than you think, and it will give you a much better idea how well you are doing with your fitness.

There are several ways you can measure body fat so I will try to touch on all of them so you can determine which is best for you.  The first, is through scaless that do Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis… or BIA for short.  These work by sending a harmless electrical signal through your body and measure the resistance.  It’s basically a way to measure body density.  The only problem with this form is it can be thrown off very easily.  Too much water, too much muscle mass, different temperatures can all throw off the number and make it less accurate.  If you are consistent, scales can be a better way to monitor your body fat but not the initial measurement.  When I have used the scale version it has registered me at 10% body fat…I am down in the 4-6% rage so it can be off if you are muscular.  But there are better ways….

One of the more accurate ways to measure body fat is by using a Body Fat Caliper.  They are fairly inexpensive but a great tool that you can find on here or on amazon.  The only downside can be human error, so I recommend you have someone help you with your measurements, but it is a quick and easy way to determine your body fat more accurately.  I really like a website called www.liner-software.com that has a great place to put your measurements and have it calculate it for you.  They also provide multiple methods so I would try a few and determine which you like and which seem the most accurate.  It won’t give the exact number but you can definitely find within + or – 1% where you are at.  For example if you measure out at 12% body fat you can assume that your probably around 11-13%.  As you start using this method as your body fat decreases you can definitely monitor your decrease correctly.  If you go from 12% to 11% you can definitely assume you have lost 1% body fat.

The other form of measuring body fat is Hydrostatic body fat Testing (Getting Dunked) and Air Displacement Plethysmography or the “Bod Pod” (As seen on The Biggest Loser).  Both of these types of measurements take machines/facilities and trained staff in order to do them.  Both of these methods are quick, easy and usually cost around $50 per session.  If your looking to get a super accurate look at your full body composition then this is the way to go.  The only problem is that they are usually hard to find and cost a lot for what you can figure out using a body fat caliper basically.  Regardless, I decided to try the Hydrostatic testing and found out that I was at 4.5% body fat when I was determining how to get ready for the P90X2 Filming.  So it can definitely be worth looking into if your interested in getting another perspective.

Often we place to much emphasis on body weight.  When the scale doesn’t move we feel like we aren’t accomplishing our goals.  This isn’t necessarily the case.  What you should care more about is how well your clothes are fitting, and what is happening with your body fat %.  So instead of weighing yourself all the time, try using a body fat caliper and determining where you are at every 2-3 weeks.  Write it down, take your pics and monitor your progress.  I started at 16% body fat when I started P90X and finished at 8% on day 90.  I also went from 150lbs to 160lbs…if I wasn’t monitoring my body fat I might of thought I was doing something wrong.  I hope this gives you a better idea of how you can measure your body fat.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment!

 

6 comments
Matthew
Matthew

It would have been interesting to have all three types (BIA, calipers, and Hydrostatic) done within minutes of each other to see how similar they were.

Leland
Leland

Body fat is definitely the way to go! I'm at 4.7% and I'm pretty happy. Wish I had a little more muscle though. Great post!

Dan V.
Dan V.

Preach it, brother! Weight's not the key-- fat is! Awesome coverage on the ways to track it. If done consistently and correctly every couple weeks- the calipers don't lie... and man, they're pure informational motivation.

Karen
Karen

I'm guilty of looking at the scale too! Your stats and pictures tell the true story!

Jim
Jim

Very informative Sean. Women especially should look at this. My wife wants the scale to show weight loss, but her clothes fit looser and she looks more cut and lean after P90X. She kept thinking she was doing something wrong instead of believing her own eyes.

Coach Sean
Coach Sean

@Jim: Yeah that's a huge problem that I am finding with people...we are all way to obsessed about the number. Measuring your body fat is a much better indicator of progress.