Calculating your body fat percentage (BF%) is not hard! I’ve hit on this in a bunch of emails lately so I wanted to make sure I had a post for TR.
One of the most important tools in monitoring your progress is tracking the change in your body fat percentage. Far too often we only look at the scale, but fixating on body weight is not necessarily the right thing to do. When we start a rigorous workout program, we not only lose body fat, but we build muscle. Our fluid balance and hydration levels will also change as our muscles get sore and as we change our diets and sodium intake. These all play into a more complicated picture than just what the scale says in pounds.
If you aren’t currently doing it, I’d like to encourage all of you to start monitoring your body fat instead. It is actually quite easy, and once you get used to doing it, it only takes a few seconds and it gives you a much more accurate picture of how you are doing with your true transformation and body composition.
One way people can measure body fat is to get a scale that does it for them. These scales work by electrical impedance. They send a pulse through your lower body and measure the resistance. A standard formula is used (based on your age and height) to GUESSTIMATE your body fat. These aren’t that accurate. And because of their inaccuracy, I don’t particularly like the scales as a way to accurately measure your body fat. So many things are not taken into account with their formulas, like the amount of muscle mass you have, your muscle distribution, your fitness level, etc. They also can give erroneous readings depending on if your feet are dry or damp. For instance, I am a big, muscular guy, and on these types of scales I will register a body fat of about 17%. That’s ridiculous! It isn’t even in the remote ballpark of being accurate. There are professional models that can get closer to your actually BF%, but they are still not the most accurate (or even the cheapest).
Calipers – Using Skinfold MeasurementsThe much more accurate method of measuring body fat, and the one I highly recommend, is using body fat calipers (or skin fold calipers). You can get fancy ones or cheap ones. They all work well! You can find them from about $10 on Amazon.com (like the ones pictured on the left). Once you get a set of calipers, then all you need is a way to plug in your measurements to a calculation method to see where your body fat percentage falls. A great pair for $14 can be found HERE.
LINEAR SOFTWARE – Online BF% TrackingI like to use the software by www.linear-software.com. Click HERE to access their body fat calculator page. There are separate calculation methods for men and women, and there are multiple methods to use (1). The all use your height, weight, and various skinfold measurements. (2) You can experiment with them to determine which one you find most predictable and repeatable. It’s a good idea the first time to measure your body fat with multiple methods to be sure you are doing it correctly.
Once you get used to the caliper method, you can be sure that your changes in body fat are very accurate. While operator error may lead to a slight variation in the body fat reading, any changes will be very precise (as long as you measure the same way each time). For instance, if you measure 10% body fat, you can assume that you are anywhere from 9% to 11% depending on operator error. But if the next time you measure, you measure 9.5%, you know for certain that you lost .5% body fat (even though you still could be in a range from 8.5% to 10.5% of actual body fat depending on operator error).
I prefer the Jackson/Pollack 3 (3) site method because it’s quick, easy, and accurate. It requires measuring sites on the chest, the abdomen, and the thigh. It’s easy to do by yourself. I recommend doing any body fat measurements first thing in the morning when you wake up, before you’ve ate or had anything to drink, or exercised. That’s the most reliable way to get consistent measurements (the least amount of variables are at play).
So many times we get frustrated if the scale isn’t moving down, but what we all should care about more is what is happening with our body fat percentage. Building muscle is a good thing, and it makes us more fit, more healthy, and able to burn more calories all day long. Often people burn up their precious muscle mass in an effort to crash diet and lose weight (extreme deficits without exercise). This sets them up for failure because they have less muscle mass to burn calories and when they fall off the wagon, they gain back all the weight and then some.
Do yourself a favor and stop weighing yourself all the time! Instead, get some calipers, get comfortable with a measurement method, and check your body fat every week or 2 weeks. Write it down so you can monitor your progress. I started Round 1 at 23% body fat. By day 90, I was at 8%. And over round 2 and 3, I was down to 5.5% body fat even though my weight didn’t change (I was building some muscle while eating maintenance calories). And now my body fat is in the 6% – 7% range at 225 lbs. Bigger and just as lean!
I hope this review of body fat calculation helps you monitor your progress more accurately!
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