Scales and body mass index (BMI) are two of the most popular methods people use to evaluate their diet and fitness regimen. Unfortunately, these methods have flaws and don’t quite reveal the entire picture, especially for people who have a lot of muscle mass or a body composition that is different from the “average” physique. Often people are mislabeled as overweight or even obese as a result of the numbers that these two methods produce.
As a personal trainer, I often recommend that my clients rely on tape measurements and obtain their body fat measurements. When you can measure the changes in your body composition, you’re better able to tell whether your current workout and diet regimen is working for you. And when you lower your body fat to a recommended level, you’ll experience improvements in your health and see changes to your appearance.
3 Ways to Measure Your Body Fat
- Hydrostatic weighing: With this approach, body fat is measured by calculating body density underwater. This is one of the most reliable ways to measure body fat, but it can be difficult to do because some people don’t want to be submerged and access to a tank is limited.
- Skinfold measurement: This is a common way to measure body fat because the tool needed to obtain the measurement can be purchased for home use and is readily available to personal trainers. With this approach, you take measurements of subcutaneous fat using a caliper on different parts of the body. The sum of these measurements is then used to identify the corresponding body fat percentage on a chart. While not as accurate as hydrostatic weighing, this method is used by most gyms across the country. Just make sure that your trainer measures you prior to your workout to ensure a more accurate reading.
- Bioelectrical impedance scales: This is another popular way to measure body fat because it doesn’t require expensive equipment and is widely available. This approach sends a small electrical current through your body; the electrical signal is then measured and analyzed to estimate your body composition. Make sure you use this scale at the same time each day and are properly hydrated to ensure a higher accuracy of reading.
If you want to measure your body fat, be sure you take multiple readings, measure with the same technician and at the same time of day, and compare your results to the other approaches mentioned here. And retest once a month to help you assess the success of your diet and fitness regimen.