On Bodyfat Measurements: Accuracy vs. Progess

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Bodyfat measurements: both tricky, and important. Why?

Because you need to know where you’re starting if you want to have an idea of how go get to your destination.

That’s a really lame way of introducing this post, and I apologize for it. However, I have so much cool information that you’ll forgive my lack of cleverness.

It’s a bit of an interesting dilemma – fitness pros and diet books and all sorts of health websites try to give you dietary advice and insight on your calorie intake, all of which is based on a number of variables and metrics. In my recent post on calorie formulas, I did the same.

One of these, of course, is your body composition; that is, how much of your total body weight is composed of Lean Body Mass (LBM), otherwise known as as Fat Free Mass (FFM), and how much is Fat Mass (FM).

Your LBM isn’t just muscle, by the way—that number is made up of muscle, bone, and all other non-fatty tissue. Your Fat Mass is all of the fat on your body, which includes both subcutaneous fat (the “visible” fat that lies underneath the skin) and visceral fat, which is fat between your organs.

As you no doubt know, in almost all cases, your body composition is given in a percent; for example, if you weight 200 pounds and have 20 pounds of fat on your body, your BF% is 10%.

Once you know your body fat percentage, you can use a Calorie formula to help determine how much to eat.

However, getting from the measurement to the diet isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, because unfortunately, the measurement of body composition is not really an exact science.

Confusion about body composition measurements is one of the most common problems seen by beginner and intermediate trainees. In this series of posts, I’m going to detail the problems inherent in measuring body fat, as well as go over the most common methods, and how to use them effectively.

Today, I want to discuss the main problems with the idea of measuring in general, starting with the most obvious one: not actually measuring.

Problem One: Eyeballing It

Firstly, far too many people are trying to gauge body fat without actually measuring it. They look at a few photos online showing people in various body fat ranges, and then look in the mirror to try and “eyeball it.” Which would be fine, if they actually knew what they were talking about–but, of course, they don’t. And so for most people, the problem with eyeballing it is that it’s completely useless.

Unless you have a lot of experience with these things, either with your own body or with your clients, you’re going to get it wrong. If you’ve never been 6% body fat, you don’t know what it looks like; you also don’t know what it feels like. The more times you get ot 6%, the easier it is to recognize.

So, if you’re an advanced bodybuilder or model and have dieted down to a specific percentage ten times or more, you can eyeball it. After nearly a dozen times, I feel that someone knows the look and FEEL of 6% and isn’t at such a disadvantage.

Are you a competitor who has dieted to competition shape nearly a dozen times? You’re not!? Well, I am shocked. And you, my friend, are completely out of your depth.

For “regular” people, the main issue is that most of the time you’re just looking at your abs. If you can see them well, automatically people think they’re below 10%–which is usually true. But not always.

You see, guesstimating isn’t great because it fails to take regional distribution into account. If you’ve read any of my work on hormones and fat storage, you’re aware that your hormonal environment can heavily influence where you store fat. If you don’t take this into account, using the mirror and the relative visibility of your abs as the sole arbiter of leanness is a grave misstep.

Meaning that some people (like me) can have very visibile abs, but store fat elsewhere. In my case, it’s my love handles and lower back. For most women, it’s their hips and thighs. And so, if you’re assuming you’re 10% body fat because you see your abs, it’s possible that you’re underestimating because of regional fat storage. If you use that 10% as a jumping off point for calculating calories, you might wind up overeating by a potentially significant amount, preventing you from getting leaner.

Obviously, you need to actually measure to be sure. However, that actually doesn’t help much, because there are so many different ways to measure…which leads us to the second problem.

Problem Two: Mixing Methods

This is one of those things that seems like it would be a good idea; after all, you’re getting a lot of data and it could give you a more comprehensive view of your body composition, right? Wrong.

First you hop in the BodPod, then you decide to get your skinfolds pinched, and the on top of that you grab on to your handheld bio-impedance device. What’s the end result? A lot of measurement variability and frustration, that’s what. No bueno.

So before I go any further, if you take just one lesson home from this post, let it be this: Pick one method and stick with it for the duration of your training career—or AT LEAST for the duration of your diet and training program.

Now, during the second and third post in this series, I’m going to cover all of the most popular methods for measuring body fat. But, you should know that the only method that is 100% accurate is to cut you open and dissect you.

While this level of accuracy would be great for determining your caloric intake, it would ultimately kill you dead, so you couldn’t eat anyway. And once you die, your caloric intake is always Zero, anyway…unless you’re a zombie.

…but that’s a different post altogether.

All of which is to say that while I’m going to explain all of the most popular methods and their pros and cons (as I see them), the important thing is this: regardless of which method you choose, stick with it. It’ll give you the most consistent measurement–and that is the key.

If I had to boil it down to a soundbyte, the simple fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really matter which method you choose, as long as you use that method consistently.

Accuracy vs. Progress

Interestingly, absolute accuracy isn’t as important as you may think for measuring progress. When tracking body fat measurements, absolute accuracy is not nearly as important as convenience, consistency, and relative reliability.

To be clear: accuracy is important when trying to determine Caloric intake. It is NOT important for tracking progress.

Obviously, for the purposes of constructing a diet, we want the best information we can get to come up with our best estimate for Caloric intake; however, as I’ve written before, the unfortunate truth is that Calorie formulas are, at best, a crapshoot.

Calorie formulas allow us a framework for understanding how food is affecting us; from there, we make modifications based on observation–and therefore having an accurate starting point is nice.

However, when it comes to tracking progress, the absolute measurement is by far less important than the differences in your measurements relative to one another.

Ultimately, body composition measurement is merely a tool you use to track your progress in the gym. Assuming your methodology is consistent and reliable, even if your measurements are a bit off from your absolute numbers, you’ll be able to monitor your progress via the changes you see in both your fat mass (FM) and fat free mass (FFM).

This becomes incredibly important for anyone who desires to drop fat and/or to pack on muscle. You better know the composition of the weight that you’re dropping or adding; if you’re losing LBM, you probably aren’t eating enough and need to make some changes. The starting point for all of that is knowing your body fat.

All of which means something like this: if your body fat scale reads you at 12% and you’re really 14%, that doesn’t freakin’ matter. Ultimately, it’s just a tool to gauge progress. As long as you use that same scale and you see that reading going down, you’re making progress.

Got it?

So, whether your goal is to lose fat, gain muscle or both, you’re going to have to track those changes. Don’t be bogged down in what you’ve heard about the accuracy of various body composition measurement tools. Simply find a method that allows you to check your body composition frequently, reliably and conveniently.

Top Tips for Body Fat Testing:

  1. Pick ONE method and stick with it. For at least 6-8 weeks, anyway. However long your training program is, use your method for THAT length of time.
  2. Don’t go crazy with frequency. A lot of people try to treat body fat testing like weighing yourself: they do it too often. Testing your body fat every day isn’t necessary, and depending on the method you use, it’s probably pretty inconvenient. Test body fat (or have it tested) no more than once per week, TOPS. By the way, if you’re still weighing yourself every day, cut that shit out. Every third day.
  3. Consistency is Key. You know that you should only use one method. And you know you should only do it once per week. Here is where consistencuy comes in: makes sure that you test at the SAME time on the SAME day every week. Ideally, you should try to match the condidtions as closely as possible. This means similar hydration levels, stomach volume, etc. I always recommend that people get their body fat tested in the morning, after using the bathroom but before eating or drinking anything.

As an aside, I always take my measurements on Wednesdays. Why? Because Wednesdays are otherwise boring and this gives me something to loook forward to.

Next Steps

As I mentioned above, the remainder of the posts in this series will cover the most popular methods of testing, as well as the method that I use for my clients.

In order to make this series as useful to you as possible, I am going to cover the most popular methods that MY READERS use. So, please drop a comment and let me know which method YOU prefer for testing body fat.

So if you want to see your method covered—both its pros and cons—you NEED to comment and let me know what you’re using!

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • Elliott Acosta

    I use Bio Imp with hand and foot pads. For the last 2 months and have to say whether its accuracy is correct or my BF has been dropping on the scale and the mirror. Looking to drop to 10% or a bit less.

  • Leo

    I use plastic calipers once a week in the morning

  • Graham Rose

    Im running a fitbit aria scale, using to get trending data and smooth out any bumps.

    using this app: on my phone with some calipers monthly, and tracking and trending that.

    booked a dexa scan as a baseline for Prime, and will use that after each phase.

    Not comparing the results of the 3, but using them to ensure the trend continues in the same way – also its kinda interesting to chart your skinfolds over time and see how the fat is “moving”

  • Marcus DeAmicis

    I bought plastic calipers from Amazon. They broke before i could get all 9 measurements, but that is the way i’d go.

  • Rick

    Hey Roman, I’m using bio-impedance on a health machine at a local store and as you mentioned, I’m using it more to monitor my progress more than get an accurate reading.

  • Kerry

    I use waist and neck measurement applied to the tables in the 3X fitness book, which seems to be based on the formula given by Hodgdon & Friedl.

  • Thomas

    I use and has done so for several years. Not very accurate, but it picks up changes over a two-week period.

  • Marylin

    Accura calipers is what I use along with the 7 site approach. I take each measurement 3 times each and average them out. I do this once a week. A bit of pain in the ass but it works for me.

  • M

    Omron hand held device. Anyone comment on the best way to use it? I have heard first thing in the morning is not a good idea but am not clear on why

  • Karen

    Bio Impedance Scale

  • Jez

    Harpenden calipers, with the biosig sites

  • Simon

    I use electronice scales but they seem to give wild results. I can get a reading of 19% one second, and then step back on literally 3 minutes later and get a reading of 23%!!! What the ‘ell!

  • John P.

    I have always used the caliper. Using one by a professional, is very helpful, especially the same one over time. Usually it is free; sometimes not. I have a plastic caliber from, but it is flimsy at best. JP :>)

  • Brock Poling

    I’m using the Accu-Measure calipers. They were cheap on Amazon, and they had good reviews. I use them on myself and just test in one location.

  • Mike

    I’m 6′ 2″ and 160lbs., my body fat is at 10.5% and holding steady, LOL, I have a very high metabolism. I’m 43 and I’m about halfway through your book and really want to gain muscle. I don’t need to lose fat, I don’t have much, any pointers?

  • Stanley Ohlsson

    I use a scale with bf and lbm measure once a week.

  • Doug

    I use the scale to determine where I am, because I know where I want to be. At least once every couple of weeks, I will use the back up measure, which are the dress slacks I only wore once, when I was at the weight I wanted to be. I will never give up those slacks.

  • Michael Peterson

    Bio-impedance scale weekly. Same day and time.

  • Marcusvh

    Bio electrical – cheap and easy. Perhaps not the most accurate, but as you say, a good tool to measure progress.

  • Mitchell Holland

    I tend to use calipers (4 point measure) for people that aren’t too over weight and use girth calculations for those that are over about 30% BF as I find it too hard to get accurate or consistant measurements using calipers on them.

  • Antonis

    I use daily my Omron impedance scale. I use once a month the caliper method, but recently I discovered the DEXA scan which is by far more accurate than any other method. Measured 12,5% with the caliper but the DEXA shows 14%.

  • GreenTara

    I’ve used electrical impedance for years for the very reason you mention. I know there’s a significant margin of error but I keep the variables consistent: in the am, before water or breakfast, after….my b’ness. Works for me.

  • Cody S

    As of a month ago, i was 25.1% (hopefully lower now)
    My goal is to reach 10 to 7%.

    I used the Bod Pod test and will be doing another test at the end of July.

  • Tony S

    BIA Analysis and BodPod

    Handheld BIA is 9.5%
    Step on BIA is 18.0%
    BodPod is 14%

    Goal is 9%

  • Billy Beck III

    I’m a big nerd with this stuff. I own a training center and one of my best friends heads up the university Ex.Sci lab…so every 4 weeks I measure, with BIA with the Biospace INBODY(love this thing), Bodymetrix Ultrasound, and Calipers (biosignature modulation/Harpendon).

  • Russ Johnson

    I have been using the Bod Pod. Going every 2 weeks for measurements. At $50 a test it gets expensive so talking to the testing facility about your frequency usually will get you a break. The facility I go to for testing actually offered me a break on the $50 a test since I was coming in so often.

  • Naomi Sandoval

    I have used calipers and DEXA. During my cutdown, I got to 13% as measured by 7 sites via calipers. My maintenance look in winter after an illness was about 20% via the oldest DEXA on the planet. That doesn’t include bones in LBM. DEXA data is confusing. I will lean up and work on LBM and expect an improvement by my next DEXA.

  • Brett Witherspoon

    Calipers on an ongoing basis… Dexa when I get the opportunity!!

  • James Fiddler


  • Rob H

    Hey Roman. I use an Ormoron machine once a week not sure how accurate it is but used the same time in the same way every week I can track progress..

  • Steve Griffee

    I’ve been using a bodymetrix ( once a week for about a year. It uses ultrasound to measure your fat layers at several points and a computer program to estimate your overall BF and lean body mass. It takes a little practice to develop a good technique, but it is very accurate and consistent for me and I can use it at home by myself and store the results on a laptop. I’ve tried calipers and bio-impedance with lesser results.

  • Jim Bob

    basic weight scale that calculates BF

  • Reese

    I use the good ole’ Slim Guide Skinfold Caliper, got it off Amazon for $14. Although I do worry about accuracy as I never seem to get the same numbers for myself as my wife does when she does it to me.

  • Craig

    I use plastic Accu-Measure calipers to determine my body fat percentage. Although, I haven’t been using them as much lately. I found it cumbersome to detect small changes in body fat because the accuracy isn’t acute enough. I’ve deemed it to be more beneficial to use the calipers on a monthly basis. For my weekly measurement, I simply use a tape measure to measure my stomach circumference and track my fat loss to ensure I’m progressing.

  • Chris

    During regular daily training, Navy circumference method. When doing challenges, bod pod. Bod Pod is by far the most accurate method I can think of, other than hydrostatic.

  • Sam

    I use the BodPod at the University of Minnesota for myself and clients. It is expensive though

  • Ellen

    I use the Omron handheld

  • GregP

    I use calipers for my calculations for macros and calories but get DXA scans done to get the total picture. With calipers I am at 9.75% and with my last DXA scan it was 17.5%. I am just finishing Phase 2 of ETA and will be getting another DXA scan at that point to see how much fat has come off.

  • good read

  • Krarnold

    I liked your blog and would like to know how to measure body fat index and to know how much fat percentage I do carry.  Karen Arnold

  • Durnin/Womersley Method

    4 pinch points on the body,





    Using hand help calipers,

    Love the article looking forward to reading the results

  • George

    I use a scale with contacts in the heel. Basically the bio-impedence method. I use the scale about every day but only pay attention to the weekly numbers to keep from going insane. I use it second thing after waking up. First thing is a bathroom call. Being in the military, if you are over your max weight we use the circumference method. Waist – neck = Circumference value. Find the value on the chart and then find your height in inches to the nearest half-inch. where the two values meet that is your bodyfat percentage. Not the most accurate of methods but it is at least consistent across Marine Corps. Oh and it's cheap.

  • Jason Buberel

    Here is a cool trick for tracking progress over time using a tool like the Accu-Measure calipers:

    After the each measurement, take a photo of the calipers with your phone. Do this once each week for a complete photo history of your progress.

    I wrote a short explanation of it here:

  • Charlie

    I was spoiled at undergrad… as the Exercise Science department lab cleaner/ work-study bitch/ grunts, my friends and I got to play around pretty extensively with the hydrostatic weighting unit and the Bod Pod. Got a demo on the DEXA too, but we couldn't play around with that one… great post

  • Barbara

    I use a scale with body fat/muscle/water percentage option, once a day, before breakfast.

  • I use the military tape measure method, once a week. It's the only one I've found so far that adjusts for height, and being 6' 4″ tall, I think that makes a difference. I weigh 185, and with this method, I usual come in at 15%, but with others it's more like 18% or 19%. But it's hard for me to look in the mirror and see that I need to lose THAT much weight to get to 10%. I'd love to hear what you have to say about the height factor!

  • Thankfully most methods of measurement are not expensive =)

  • Good points, Terri.

    I'd just say that the only real reason I see to have a number on it is that it allows us to compute calories.

  • Ha! Pop pop indeed. Yes, as long as the mirror is looking good, you're on the right track.

  • Thanks for the comment, Celeste. In your case, a bioelectrical impedance scale might be a good piece to use.

  • As you mentioned, what you're doing isn't the most high tech, but its working for you and the important thing is that you're being consistent =)

  • Again, BioSig shows up =)

    One of the best methods around.

  • A good zombie reference never hurt nobody.

  • See, you've touched on a huge problem – two devices giving you a HUGE difference in results. We'll touch on this in the next blog, but that is why it's important to always use the same device.

  • I just use the cheapo Accumeasure BF calipers and the 1-spot (just about the hip bone) skinfold measurement. I know not the most accurate measure, but I am tracking progress. If I am 1% BF off I don't really care.

    I also periodically take measuring tape measurements: bicep, neck, chest, waist, forearm, quad, and calf. I use the same distance from landmarks to keep things consistent (ie – 3inches down from my elbow, 8 inches above my knee, etc).

    The REAL progress measure for me though is how I feel, how my clothes fit, and how I look in my close.

    Thanks for the article!

    – Greg

    ps – love the nod to zombies.

  • You've touched on my favorite method =) Will detail in the next blogs.

  • I'll detailed both pros and cons in my next few blogs ABOOT bodyfat =)

  • Congrats on the results so far, Tina!

    This just goes to show that the way you measure doesn't matter as much as HOW you measure and being consistent.

    Great work!

  • To be clear, you're only measuring the IC?

    Measuring one site can be a decent approach, IF you measure the site where you historically store the most fat.

    In that instance, you're getting a pretty decent picture.

  • The way your pants fit is probably the best indicator here. Eyesight isn't always helpful, unfortunately.

  • Yup. Got it call covered. I'll touch on all of these in my upcoming blogs.

  • Pretty much got all of the bases covered.

    Of all of those, the one with the most longterm value is the pics. Always nice to look at something to see how far you've come.

  • Ah, now THIS is the way to go. Very good, but hard to find a BioSig person. Would be nice =)

  • True. It's hard to do it yourself, but if you can learn to be consistent you can track changes pretty well.

  • I get my bodyfat done by a local BioSignature guy roughly every 4 weeks

  • Jonathan

    I do girth measurements weekly.

    I measure my body fat once a month. I use the Jackson-Pollock 3-point caliper test because I can easily measure the skinfold on my thigh, abs, and chest, whereas I am not able to measure other parts of my body as easily or at all. I use an Accumeasure device for this.

    I also take pictures of myself once a month.

    I do all of these things first thing in the morning after taking my morning dumps.

    It's very cool to be able to compare photos of myself over the years. It's always surprise how much has changed in a year, but how little has changed in a month.

  • great stuff…on one device I have 17% bodyfat tahts a device you stand on barefoot and on another deice in the gym which you stand on barefoot and hold some contacts in your hands I have 10.5% … well …tanita instruments by the way …. biological age 20 and Iam 42 should I party? thanks ROman for all your cool info

    greetings from Kuala lumpur


  • Celeste

    I use the tape measure method, I compare the measurements from each week, I have a skinfold tool but I don't know how to use it or where to measure. I am also not good at being consitent with measuring

  • Jeff

    accumeasure at the iliac crest and then use the chart. I only do every few weeks

  • Nav

    My coach is a biosig practitioner. He uses Poliquin's method. Its a 12 site body fat test.

    Cheers Roman


  • Terri

    ha – Wednesdays are boring otherwise – I love it!

    Sum of 7 skin folds once per week at home, once per month with the same sports scientist. Has anyone noticed that every formula gives a different %bodyfat – so why do we keep trying to put a % number on it? Not only that I am a fairly fit 49 year old female and it is obviously to me that age adjusted bodyfat percentages don't apply to anyone but the average person.. and who is average anyway?

  • Charles Mclaughlin

    I take my waist measurement and weight measurement very frequently. I would say 3-4 times a week in the morning before I eat anything. I plug those numbers into Hugo Rivera's body fat calculator. It gives me the largest reading out of all the body fat calculators that I have seen and I also use another online calculator that the military uses. It usually gives me a pretty low reading. I add up the body fat percentages and divide by 2. It gives me a fair estimate of where I am. Honestly, I feel that there are better ways than what I have mentioned but this is all I have to work with as far as I know. Also the prices is extremely affordable since its free to check! :)

  • Marie

    Aboot? That's something you hear up here in Canada, eh? Very timely blog as I was just thinking about this. I remember your comment on your fb page when I asked you about it. My scale goes up and down on BF% too much so I decided to continue with the Accumeasure calipers. Looking forward to reading the pros and cons.

  • lisa

    I use calipers- 9 points, both right and left sides. I agree that once a week is good and having the same person do the measurements every time if possible so it doesnt get all crazy:) Thanks!

  • Tina

    We (hubby and I) use tape measurements since we didn't have calipers at the start. I've ordered Calipers though and they should arrive soon. It will be interesting to see the difference in the results! So far, according to the measurement method, I've gone from 22% body fat to 17% and have lost 3kg in body weight. The results also look good in the mirror and my belt is getting too big!

  • Julia

    I have never measured mine but at a health fair they used some kind of calipers. I'll be anxious to see your future posts with recommendations. I'd love to know and be able to track it….if it's not expensive.

  • Heather

    ditto accumeasure calipers

  • paul

    Tried one of the hand-held units at my local grocery store a couple of times, and it was surprisingly close to the impedance tests i've been doing, and will continue to do, at the gym. The testing is included in my membership, so i'm gonna get tested once a month. First test came in at 33% body fat, so i'll be working on bringing that down a lot over the next few months. 8%, here i come!!

  • Sam J

    I use AccuMeasure cheap calipers. They seem to do the job. I used to have access to a BodPod. That things is pretty sweet!

  • Chris


    I used to use the cheap plastic accumeasure caliper. A couple of days ago, I got an Omron Full Body Sensor Body Fat and Body Composition Monitor. It's gets your weight, body fat %, BMI, BMR, and a few other things (haven't had time to play around with it yet). From what I can tell it's pretty legit, as far as body fat sensors go.

  • Roman, I couldn't agree with more. I tell my clients all the time it's all about consistency and not getting caught up with the numbers. Thanks for continuing to put awesome content on your blog that's entertaining Too.


  • Chris

    I just got the accumeasure calipers. They are cheap and consistent.

    I also have a scale that measures body fat %, but gives wildly different consecutive readings, so I have never trusted it.

  • Maria

    I use the bio electrical impedence (handheld)… I also have the body fat scale and there is a big difference in both. First off I am 5'2 115 and very muscular and lean and the hand held says I am like 21% and the body fat scale says I am like 30%, um yeah crazy!

  • I worked for 13 years at a University Lab, measuring elite (professional and national team level) athletes. I used a 10 site Parizkova formula which generally gives higher % fat values than the more common 4 and 7 site methods. The actual value should not really matter as it is more important to see the change. The key was consistency, the same experienced person using the same calipers (regularly calibrated).

  • Rex

    Scale, girth measurements, skinfold measurements and before and after pictures. I do this with all my clients, and it gives us a relatively good idea what is happening.

  • Dennis

    I use the Tanita Ironman bodyweight scale. I measure once a week. For convenience, that and the finger pinch test and eyesight (and occasionally my pants and the way they fit).

  • I use the 4 site skinfold calliper test. It has been demonstrated in a number of studies to be best alternative to a submersion density test. The only issue with it (and any other non submersion test) is that it doesn't account for the deep brown fat and fat stored in organs, so there are limitations to the population you can apply it to.

    It's great that you mentioned about accuracy, but I would suggest consistency in testing is more important than accuracy. If there is an error in technique, you need to make the same error each time and not a different error to be consistent. The main trick is to know how to feel the skin to get the fold correct.

  • James

    Inaccumeasure. As you mentioned, it's just a tool to measure progress rather than an accurate measurement of actual bodyfat. TBH I could care less what the real figure is as long as I look smokin' in the mirror POP POP!

  • scout

    I use Accu-Measure skinfold calipers,

    not the best and hard to find the same spot

  • Tamy

    I don't have access to a body fat scale that I can use regularly, so I use a website

    I enter my weight, waist measurement, height, age, and gender and let it calculate for me!

  • Miguel

    I go to the gym nutrionist and she uses an impedance test, built in a standard tanita scale…one question is: even if there is measurement error, is it always consistent such that when tracking progress the measurement errors cancel out with each other?…what matters are differences across time instead of the absolute value

  • My warrior calipers measure me at 6.7% BF. My bathroom scale with impedance pads measure me at 18+%. The only thing that I'm pretty sure of is that I'm not 18% and most likely am 10% or below. I was measured with calipers a year ago at my gym and was at 11% with no visible abs at the time. I'm 63 years old and the one site caliper measurement chart doesn't even go as low as I believe I am at my age. What's up with that?

  • Pat

    I use a scale that reads out body fat, muscle,etc. I use it daily for weight but about two or three times a week for fat/muscle percent. I also get tested by a similar method every two weeks on the same day and about the same time (mornings) before exercise.

  • Donna

    I go to the gym and have them do my body fat test. They use calipers.

  • Rob in Tampa

    My measurement is taken on the Scales @ home that also has the electrode pads. Programed to age/height

  • Steve in NY

    I've read about the “BodyMetrix” made by IntelaMetrix. It uses computer software and ultrasound to measure the amount of fat under the skin. It's a little pricey, but it claims very high accuracy (and most importantly, very high consistency). I'm wondering if you've ever heard of it or have had any experience with it?

  • Dee

    I use the BodPod every 12 weeks and skin callipers usually once a week. My trainer has me step on the Tanita scales in the gym every couple of weeks or so and I have some old Tanita scales at home which I tend to use daily. So I see what you mean about different results – they are entirely different!

    The callipers and BodPod give me consistently better results, i.e a considerably lower body % and they are fairly close as between them so I tend to work with these. The BodPod and callipers tend to be around the 26.5 mark, whereas the Tanita scales are around 37 – 38 % , which I find a bit depressing!

    I have heard that the Tanita scales just extrapolate from the bottom part of your body. Although I am quite a muscular female, I definitely carry my weight in my thighs (Afro Caribbean genes!). I would be interested to know whether this is the case and so whether this may explain why I get so much better results with the first two methods?

  • Kathy

    Use Withings scale. Automatically sends my weight, body fat and lean body mass through Wi-Fi to my iphone (or Android). Very nice charts showing progress (or lack thereof..).

  • Jalayne

    I just use a scale that also measures body fat! I know it is very inaccurate. I am short (only 5'2″) I weigh 115lb but am pretty muscular. I can see at least most of my abs so I would guess the 23% body fat reading is really not very close.

  • Matthew

    For me, I don't measure myself however since I am in the NG, we get measured for body fat every six months. First they weigh us and if we are over a certain amount because of our age and height which is bogus because I am short and stocky and I always get taped, it's kind of annoying. I'm not sure of the math but they measure my neck which is 16.5 in. Then my waist being 33… Tryin for 32… And throw that into the computer which spits out the total fat percentage. Personally I feel that the system is wrong in that even though I score near 300 every pt test which is the max amount of points possible ( unless they use the extended scale) if my fat percentage is over a certain amount then a certain amount then I fail which is very confusing and frustrating. My opinion is, if you pass your pt score then obviously you are fit regardless of weight. But my theory is. Some skinny ass general back in the day got his ass handed to him during a pt test by an over weight nco so he decided to make up the height and weight scale so us guys that are bigger in weight might fail even though we kill it on the pt test… Lol… Even though I am totally wrong it is still comical to say it…


  • Kathy

    I use calipers, 7 point method, and I measure myself.

  • Beverly

    Accumeasure calipers.

  • Jak Keegan

    I use the hand held electric fat tester at my gym. It is not incredibly accurate, but I just look to see if my numbers are going down, not up.

  • Dazz

    Current bf% = 14%

    Goal bf% = 8% by March '11

    Measure = Accumeasure skinfold

    I only measure 1 site but have spend a few weeks picking the right spot and using a consistent technique, so that readings aren't all over the shop. If I get someone else to do it for me, I'll come unstuck if they aren't around, so I had to get the measuring bit down where I'm comfortable that my average is showing my true progress.

  • Tunya

    Typo on my last post…Should read that the Futrex system shows to be as accurate as the water testing…not water tasting.

  • Tunya

    @Charlie: Our gym uses the Futrex System which is the Infrared type. From all the information that I have gone through, it is reported to be as accurate as the water tasting. You can check out their website. Roman can you give your feedback on this method as well.

  • Dan Bando

    My current BF is 16%, my long term BF goal is

  • charlie

    I have used in the past bio impedance and skinfolds (never been able to get under water weighting in my country)

    bio impedance is easy to do it yourself, but I believe it has a high margin of error (and lot's of pre-conditions for it to work)

    Calipers make you depend on somebody else (and the same person if you want consistency) so I don't like them 100%, also you must get good skills to measure it right, and you need to get your clothes off (mostly).

    Recently I heard about Infra Red measuring (only one site in the biceps) and find it a very interesting method, but haven't been able to find more information or convincing arguments. Could you please comment on that?

  • Rajat

    14.7% bio electrical impedence (handheld)…I read somewhere tht hydration can create a large difference in the readings (even a big piss:)…lol

  • ZEPH

    i use the eyeballing process like this. first my chest starts shaping up, then i start to get dramatically more vascular. i no im close to my final phase when i start to see the veins in my calfs clearly

  • I use a medical grade tanita scale again its easy. The first thing I do with my clients is test their resting metabolic rate. I can then compare their weight loss to the tanita print out…their losing fat or lean muscle which will then tell me if they are over eating or under eating.

  • Per

    I use callipers, 7 point method at my gym approx once a month. Have been thinking about getting me my own callipers since they cost about as much as what the gym charges each time.

    Reading about 9-point mehtod makes me think maybe I should start with that once I get my own set.

  • craig

    I use the 7-point and 9-point skin caliper testing methods you find at

    I use both because I originally used the 7-point method. But when I hit 5% bf with that I still had fat around my lower abs and lower back, so I switched to the 9-point as it included lower back (and calves).. which put me back to 8.5% bf.

    As for consitancy, I will continue to use the 9-point method. I get the same trainer at gym to do it, on the same day, at the same time, every week.

  • craig

    I use the 7-point and 9-point skin caliper testing methods you find at

    I use both because I originally used the 7-point method. But when I hit 5% bf with that I still had fat around my lower abs and lower back, so I switched to the 9-point as it included lower back (and calves).. which put me back to 8.5% bf.

    As for consitancy, I will continue to use the 9-point method. I get the same trainer at gym to do it, on the same day, at the same time, every week.

  • Sam

    Current: 21%

    Goal: 10%

    I'm using the Tanita scale right now. Just bought the Accu measure Caliper because I heard that is the most accurate to use to measure your body fat at home, but I am not really sure how to accurately use it because I keep getting different results every time.

  • Brad E.

    * Current body fat = 13.4% (currently showing 4-pack)

    * Goal body fat = 8.0% (all I want for Christmas is a 6-pack)

    * Bodyfat Measurement Method = Omron Bodyfat Monitor HBF-306C

    Note: For the first time ever, I recently had my bodyfat measured using the hydrostatic method and was excited to see the results of 12.5% when my Omron was measuring 14.4%. I've learned that hydrostatic is the most accurate and the baseline against which all other bodyfat measurement methods are compared. I plan to retest via the hydrostatic method once per quarter since I live nearby a facility (

  • Chuck S

    I'm cheap, so I didn't want to buy calipers or impedance meter. I have a voltmeter – I wonder if that could work. Some fitness guy has a web page into which I enter my sex, height, waist size, and neck size and it gives my % BF (48%). It also asks a woman for hip size. Another indicater is that I pulled in my belt 4 or 5 notches in the last few months. This may not work so well if you're not obese.

    A previous poster gave another site that asked for sex, waist size, hip size, forearm size, and wrist size for men.

  • Irideducs

    Tanita scale. May not be the most accurate, but it is fast and consistent. So it works for me.

  • Cindy

    I use one of those Tanita scales and have been extremely frustrated with it. As my weight went down from 144 to 130, my percent was stuck at 33%. I just did not believe this could be accurate. (I'm female, 5'4″) A week or so ago it needed to be reprogrammed and I did that. My weight is currently 135 and lo and behold, my percent is now 25, roughly, which seems much more reasonable. Bottom line , as I get back on the weight-loss wagon, I am going to switch to calipers.

  • Frank P

    Current: 9.2%

    Goal: 6.0%

    Method Used: 7-Point Skinfold Testing using AccuMeasure Calipers

    I started the 1000 Calorie Challenge at 11.6% and after 4 weeks (currently at week 6), I'm down to 9.2%. As you say the important point is not so much the method used but the consistency of method and the general direction of progress toward your goal.

    The method I use measures skin-folds at seven points using accu-measure calipers (you can buy them for about 15 bucks), including:

    1. Tricep

    2. Pectoral

    3. Midaxillary


    5. Superilliac

    6. Abdominal

    7. Quadricep

    These points are entered into a formula based on age and gender which gives you a bf reading.

  • Teresa

    Good blog, but doesn't really tell where we can be tested if we aren't hanging out at a gym or something. (and I don't…hang out at a gym.. ) So far, I am periodically taking measurements of arms, bust, abdomen, hips, thigh and calf. Down 21″ cumulative since I started. Liked the zombie pic John!

  • danelle

    current: 30%. Goal: 12%. Calipers. Time frame: 6 months

  • Kimberley in HK

    Current – 14%

    Goal – 14%

    I have actually just made my goal for the first time!! I normally sit around 15.5 to 16%, and have for the past, extremely frustrating year or so.

    I measure using calipers and a 3 point Jackson Pollack method. I record both mm and the bodyfat calculation. I measure every Wednesday first thing in the morning.

    I also measure using a tape measure at bust, waist, hips, upper thigh, lower thigh, calf and bicep.

    Along with weight, I record these stats in a spreadsheet so I have my history, my current stats and my goals clearly displayed.

    I agree that it is the overall trend on a consistent approach that is important not the actual numbers because when I use different methods such as bio electric impedance, more caliper measurement points or even, god forbid, any tape measure method, my body fat calculations can be anywhere from 3% to 21% (LOL – I am pretty sure that lower level as a female means I am dead).

  • Richard Steele

    I test usually weekly but sometimes every two weeks. I step on the bio-impedance scale first for a weight reading then my trainer does a 9 point pinch test. Tis is always on Friday evening. Last Friday bio said 186 at 6.1%. The pinch test showed 6.61%. I am aiming for under 6% and I am 63 years old. I didn't start training until I was 50.

  • Bob B

    Methods like skin fold and bioimpedance are not only notoriously innaccurate, but also suffer from poor precision. The only truly accurate and precise measurements are things like hydrostatic weighing (water immersion), DEXA and MRI, none of which are routinely available.

  • Sean

    Hydrostatic Body Fat Testing (Hydro-Densitometry) is the best way to really know. I find calculations and skin-fold testing are all a guessing game. However, you need to start somewhere so use what you have available, the way your clothes fit, and the mirror as a rough guide.

  • Cory Dillon

    I use a tanita scale that measures fat using bioelectric impedience

  • Michael kerley

    I usually just use the mirror and how clothes fit to judge, i used 5 site calipers test twice once the day before i started FPFL @20% and 3 weeks later @16%.

    ( is that a shameless plug)

  • chukki

    Great idea for a post Roman.

    I used to be totally addicted to the outcome of my skin-fold BF measurements. My most recent trainer told me that the data used to define BF% from skin fold tests came from a survey done of dead, black men in the US some 40-50 years ago. Being a short-ass white guy in Australia, it seems that data is not entirely relevant. He strongly recommended (along the lines that you do) to disregard the calculated BF% and use only the skinfold measurements as indicators of progress. Not so easy to do on your own :)

  • Dave

    Current – 12

    Goal – 10-12, adding lean mass while avoiding fat gain

    Method – AccuMeasure Calipers

  • Tunya

    At the beginning of 2010 my BF % was 41%. The end of 2010 it is now 34%. My goal for 2011 is to get it down to 24%. I use the Futrex Body Composition Analyzer.

  • W. C. M.

    There is a factor in fat measuring almost ALL people does not know. I accidently stumbled into that discovery. We all know that high protien and high fiber diet is a must for fat loss. One day I measured my bodyfat with bioelectric device which showed 14%. Three days later I got sick with Diarrhea. After recovery, I decided to check my bodyfat and I was shocked. It showed 9%. I was like “HUH??” I got on computer and did researches. I learned that feces contain fat and large intestine is designed to absorb whatever small intestine did not absorb. So, when measuring, take that into consideration while using bioelectric device.

  • Beansprout

    Great post. I do bioelectrical impedance by a trainer with a medical grade machine that attaches at the wrist and ankles. I totally agree that consistency is the biggest factor.


    Goal: Sub 10%

  • Susanne Dunn

    According to my body fat scale, I am 27%, although I don't believe that is possible. I am 5'4″ and 140 lbs.

    I don't know what my goal is, but I'll know it when I see it. :)

  • Interesting but I don't find measuring bodyfat important enough to bother about than doing any more than looking in the mirror.

    Maybe if I was professional bodybuilder but the judges don't care except what you look like!


  • Glenn

    Oh, here is the web link to the BF% test that uses body measurements that I mentioned:

    It agrees within about 0.5% with the Tanika scales I use.

    Just on the scales, I can't stress enough how important it is that the scales are used under identical conditions. I find that even if I haven't had a pee before using them for instance the reading will be non-sensical when compared to my previous ones.

  • ferre

    Hey, good writing. Hast thou all that I have an idea of our level of emotional and hypothalamus. Hypothalamus regulates our mood, and fat. Many start looking hard for meat, but they finish quickly. Why. Many personal trainers are totally out many times. They see only the body but no personality. Many people do not want them to be seen as a whole. Body and soul. If you see only your body and you take care of it so it does not go far. man is the whole body and soul. If a person is depressed, so he starts to eat sweet and a lot of calories in food containing-Why is this so? Therefore, because of our well-being of the whole (body and soul) If we leave out the second part of it is the same as you I would walk without feet. Sincerely, Ferre (Topmodel and a future doctor)

    sorry my english

  • Ah a post near and dear to my heart.

    Wrestling for many years I became quite aware of my body fat percent and the method at which was chosen.

    Skin folds—though not tremendously accurate was my method of choice. To make it more accurate I test 6 different areas, 3 different times and took the average of the average

    Also–like you mentioned I stock to UNO method (UNO as in one not the amazingly addictive game that I would smoke anyone who dares to challenge me in). Reason being consistency and awareness. I always had a good idea if where I was at in order to not get too low (for wrestling super low body fat is dangerous).

    Great post my man!


  • awpainter82

    I have always used a Bod Pod. They can be found almost anywhere and they are cheap. Supposedly as accurate as the water dispersion testing. Great way to measure over a set time period as well. A group of us at work use them every year at the beginning of the year…90 days to your best percentage! That's the game and the bet is usually something substantial to make it worthwhile…last year it was a 1000.00. (and no I didn't win but was really happy with second.)

  • Tony

    You had me at zombies, Roman.

  • Naomi

    Current: 20 via 3 pinch caliper by trainer

    Goal: 15

    also learning to use Accu-measure 1 site as gym not offering trainer appointments anymore without a lot of fussin'

  • Gerry

    I agree with the comment about DEXA. I'm in Australia too and getting mine measured properly for the first time next week. Bio-impedence shows 27%. I am aiming to drop to the 10-12% by mid-January.

  • David

    Current Body Fat %: 15-16

    Goal Body Fat %: 10

    I've been using a Tanita scale for about 6 months to monitor my weight loss. I know it uses bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA) to determine body fat levels. I'm interested to hear your take on this method Roman. Thanks.

  • Oh, wait, I have to amend that comment. I don't eyeball it. I use visual comparison. And I really take my time to do it! Eyeballing it gives me the impression that I'm just guessing.

  • Hey Roman,

    I disagree! I eyeball my body-fat levels. Leigh Peele has a great article and YouTube video about eyeballing it. For me, it's more about how you look than what some reading says.

    What I do is take a picture of myself and compare it to various pictures of men with CREDIBLE body-fat measurements. I might use Leigh's pictures, or I might look in bodybuilding forums or bodyspace websites for such pictures. They must be men who are of a similar size and build to me.

    I estimate my current bodyfat level at about 15-16%, which pretty much justifies my reasoning of using visual comparison. I just am not that advanced yet!

    By the way, Leigh's article is here:

  • Jared

    Had my skinfolds measured. I am at 15% right now, goal is to be about 6% by christmas.

  • Mond

    I use the 7 site caliper test done by a trainer with 20+ years of experience. Comes out to be about 8.7%. But we all know it probably under estimates the true about of bodyfat, the only figure I care about is how this bodyfat% changes. As long as it is consistently inaccurate, I can gauge process.

  • Glenn

    Tanika scales, currently down to 14%, the goal is 10%.

    There is also a website where you can enter some critical body dimensions and it calcs your BF% which correlates pretty closely with the scales, but unfortunately I don't have the addy on me, sorry.

  • David Lewis

    In Australia for body composition measurements you can't go past DEXA which measures body fat using a ultra low-dose x-ray scanning system. I have diabetes, and it is easy to see where I store my body fat, abdomen, handles especially. The rest of me is fairly lean at 15%, but the mid-section puts me at 24%. Anyway, now I have a bseline to measure against in a years time.

  • I checked on one of the electronic bodyfat scales at the gym and the human skin pincher as I like to call it. The electronic scale says 7.3 % and the skin pincher is 7 % i've went up in weight at about 162. So i'm feeling pretty pumped with my results thus far. My goal is to pretty much keep gaining weight but keep my bodyfat low like it is right now. When we start in January I know i'll surpass and crush this goal.

  • Seems like a lot of people use electrical bio-impedance scales. We'll def touch on that!

  • Dietrich Marquardt

    Hey man, great post – this is something I constantly try to drive home when explaining BF measurements to people: the key is progress, not the numbers.

    Anyway, my current figures are roughly 8-9% BF. I have clocked in at under 5% before, but have been working on building size for the past 3 or so months, so that's my goal, to get back down to 5%.

    To get my 'official' readings I tend to use a bio-impedance scale. Which I would use every 2 weeks. On a weekly basis I tend to use calipers (even if the numbers are different – I'm just looking to see if they are dropping or not). When using calipers, I'd do it first thing in the morning when I'm naturally dehydrated, so that water retention doesn't come into play, and so on.

  • Yea, you are absolutely right. I have to laugh when I see people trying various methods for meassuring their bodyfat and then being confused by the difference among the results.

    The only way how to be sure is to get it tested in the lab. But this is something that most people in the fitness community don't seem to get.

    Have a nice day,


  • Ted

    Current: 9.0? Haven't measured in a couple weeks.

    Goal: 5.5

    Metric: Bioelectrical Impedance (Omron handheld)

  • Josh M

    Current: 21.3

    Goal: 8-9%

    Metric: Bioeletrical Impedance