I hear and read this question multiple times a day. Why are we so obsessed with the actual numbers and figures of our body fat percentage? Does it really matter that much? I mean really?
I will cover a few of the popular methods of testing your body fat, then give some example photos to go by for future reference. Then I will share with you my ultimate secret for testing your body fat that only a select few in the fitness realm know about. Dark secrets that have been kept hidden, tossed out and even forgotten until now…
The Body Fat Testing Methods
The Tanita Scale – Or Bioelectrical Impedance. This is a device that acts much like a regular weight scale but also acts as a way to measure body fat. In simple terms, you stand on the scale and an electric current runs throughout the body and all of its tissues such as fat, muscle, bone etc. I have found that the Tanita to be very inconsistent in day to day readings. One day it may have me pegged at 15% and another day at 6% when I am clearly neither of those.
Hydrodensitometry Weighing – Also know as underwater weighing. This one is kind of fun. I have done multiple hydrostatic tests, but they ended up being a waste of money and time as the results were clearly inaccurate. For whatever reason the stats used to pin me at 6-7% when I was clearly more in the ~10% range. Again, another epic fail when it comes to accuracy.
Pinch Test – Calipers are probably the most popular form of measuring ones body fat. While it sounds easy enough, the tester must have some hands-on experience using the pinch method in order to get an accurate reading. There are multiple test sites to pinch the skin. Using more locations usually ends up as a more accurate measurement given that everyone stores fat a bit differently. The method basically runs off of an equation. You just plug the numbers into the equation and it calculates the percentage for you based on the caliper measurements. I have had this test more than any other and while the readings are usually inaccurate, they are consistent nonetheless, which in the end is all that really matters when monitoring body fat.
DEXA Scan - I have never had the chance to try this type of testing out, but it does intrigue me somewhat. For information on this type of testing I will just direct you to this website that explains it in further detail. I am interested in testing out this method for fun, but I doubt I would be willing to pay for it, as it looks expensive.
While this list is not every single one of the tests available, they are a few of the more popular methods.
Here are a few pictures for reference and perspective on what certain body fat levels look like on males. I do not currently have any pictures of females to share right now, however Leigh Peele posted on this topic a while back.
Here is a picture of 2 people around the same height at 5’8″(me) and 5’9″(friend), same body fat percentage. I would estimate these pictures are about ~15%. However, take notice the difference in lean body mass. The first picture is of a guy at about 165lbs and the second picture is of me a few years ago at about 190lbs. The amount of lean body mass can make a big difference in the way a certain body fat percentage looks on the individual.
Here is another picture of about ~12-13% I would guesstimate.
This photo is representative of about 10%
This photo I would say is maybe a higher 8%
Finally, this picture is of a subject at about 5.5% after testing(calipers I believe). Who cares about the actual percentage… He is shredded to the bone.
The Dark Secrets of Testing Body Fat Percentage
Of course I am kidding about any secrets. The only way I ever test my body fat percentage is by using the mirror method. What is the mirror method? The mirror method is an advanced technique I use when dieting. I simply take off my shirt, look into the mirror and ask myself: “Do I look sexy?” If I can see my abs and say yes to those words, then I know it’s time to stop dieting and call my diet a success. If I can’t say that, I just continue dieting until I am happy with my body fat levels. In short, if I am getting leaner, I am doing the right things. If not, I need to change something. I don’t need some expensive or special body fat test to tell me that. If you are going to monitor your body fat while dieting or bulking, I would say go pick up a cheap set of calipers and take measurements yourself. It is inexpensive, easy and a great way to monitor the fat gain or loss. Also remember that going by the scale only can be misleading and discouraging. Water weight can fluctuate a ton at any time. Make a random food choice like soy sauce or pickles and you may balloon up like a beached whale. Tracking your progress by scale alone is not such a great idea. Water retention and sodium levels can really mess with the readings. I only weigh myself once per week, if I remember.
How many of you still use these popular body fat testing protocols? Were your results more accurate than mine? Tell me about it.