How To Measure Body Fat And Why It Is Important

Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Charushila Biswas MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Experience: 6 years
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Merely measuring your weight will not give you the complete picture of your body composition. According to Matt Bliss, Training and Nutrition Specialist, “small, slender people who don’t weigh much may actually have a greater percentage of body fat than larger, more muscular people who weigh more. That’s just one reason why your weight on the scale or a set of measurements doesn’t necessarily give a true picture of your health.” So, you must measure your body fat to know if you are healthy or you need to work on certain areas or the entire body. Read this post to know how to measure body fat percentage and how it helps. Swipe up!

What Is Body Fat Percentage?

Body fat percentage is the percentage of fat in your body. It is calculated by dividing the total fat mass by total body mass and then multiplying by 100.

What is meant by total body fat? Total body fat includes essential fat (fat that is required by the body to maintain and protect the body) and storage fat (extra fat stored to protect the internal organs).

As long as your total body fat is under a certain limit (women’s body fat percentage is higher than men as they require to bear children), you will not be overweight or obese. But the problem starts when you lead a sedentary life, and your total body fat exceeds the upper limit. So, if your weighing scale shows your weight to be on the higher side, get your body fat percentage calculated before jumping to conclusions. It will help you understand if it is body fat or lean mass that you have gained.

Take a look at the following picture to know how your body looks depending on your body fat percentage.

How Your Body Looks Depending On Your Body Fat


How Your Body Looks Depending On Your Body Fat - Measure Body Fat

This picture clearly shows how a woman’s body can look/change depending on the body fat percentage. Since muscle mass has weight, you may still weigh more even when your body fat percentage has gone down. So, if you exercise regularly and eat clean, and yet, you see your weight on the higher side of the scale, don’t be alarmed. It is probably a good sign.

Before understanding the various ways by which you can calculate body fat, take a look at the following table to find out which category you fall into according to your body fat percentage.

CategoryFat Percentage (Women)Fat Percentage (Men)
Essential Fat10%-12%2%-4%

So, as long as your body fat percentage is between 10% – 25% (women), you will be fit and healthy. Anything above it should concern you, and you must take it seriously. Depending on your body type, you will either have to work really hard to lose body fat or make small tweaks to get back in shape (in terms of health). But how do you check body fat? Well, there are many ways you can do that. Choose any of the following methods to take a close look at what’s happening in your body.

How To Measure Body Fat – 7 Best Methods

1. Skinfold Test Using Calipers

Skinfold Test Using Calipers - How To Measure Body Fat
Image: Shutterstock

Calipers are widely used to measure the skinfolds at 5-6 sites in your body. Doing it yourself might not give accurate results. So, ask a friend or a technician to help you. The technician will pinch your skin and measure its thickness using a caliper. Your triceps, abdomen, chest, thighs, and side of the upper back will be tested. These numbers are plugged into a formula, which gives you the approximate body fat percentage.

  • Calipers are cheap, and almost every gym has them. You can also buy one to track your progress.
  • Easy to use and portable.
  • Calipers only measure the fat beneath your skin. The visceral fat or the fat in the organs remains uncalculated.
  • The reading is not the most accurate as it depends on the expertise of the technician – how much pressure is applied to measure the skinfold, how much skin is pinched, and which parts of the body are measured.

2. Ultrasound

Ultrasound - How To Measure Body Fat
Image: Shutterstock

The problem that the calipers cannot solve is solved by using ultrasound. It helps measure the fat in the visceral cavity (abdominal cavity). A-mode and B-mode ultrasound systems help measure the tissue sound speed at various sites in the body to help determine the body fat percentage.

  • It is more accurate than calipers.
  • It can be used to measure muscle thickness and intramuscular fat.
  • Is expensive.
  • It is not available in most gyms.

3. Bioelectrical Impedance

Bioelectrical impedance works on the basic principle of a very low voltage electric signal passing through the body. Don’t worry, you will not feel a thing! Two (or more) conductors will be attached to your body. The speed of the small electric current that passes through your body or the resistance between the two conductors is measured. The more lean muscle you have, the faster the electric current will pass as lean muscle contains about 73% water. And the more fat you have, the slower the electric current will pass as fat is a poor conductor of electricity.

  • It is an inexpensive device that is easily available in gyms.
  • It is portable.
  • Readings are not that accurate as they depend on the hydration levels of the body. Right after exercise, the reading may falsely show lower body fat percentage.
  • It requires a skilled person to operate the machine to get close to accurate readings.

4. DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)

DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) - How To Measure Body Fat
Image: Shutterstock

DEXA or Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry passes X-rays of different intensities to measure the bone mineral density as well as body composition. All you have to do is stand still, and the X-ray machine will scan your body, part by part, so you can get your fat percentage in the arms, thighs, back, etc.

  • No dunking in the water, no discomfort. Just stand still, and the reading will be done in few minutes.
  • This machine is insanely accurate.
  • Expensive.
  • Not portable.
  • You need to book an appointment.

[ Read: How to Lose Belly Fat in 1 Week ]

5. Hydrostatic Weighing

You are going to love this method of measuring body fat percentage if you love water. In this method, your actual body weight and the weight of your body when it is completely submerged in the water are measured. Then, the density of the water displaced is calculated. With these data, an expert accurately measures your body density, which is then used to estimate the body fat percentage.


It is the most accurate body fat percentage measuring device and is also used by scientists to analyze the body composition of the participants.

  • This is an expensive and uncomfortable method.
  • You have to go to a research center that has this machine as gyms generally do not have it.

6. Air Displacement Plethysmography

Air Displacement Plethysmography - Measure Body Fat

This machine looks like a sleeping capsule in spaceships in most sci-fi movies. But it is harmless and not really a sleeping capsule. The method of calculating body fat composition is very similar to that of hydrostatic weighing. First, your actual body weight is measured, and then you are asked to get into the Air Displacement Plethysmography capsule, and the amount of air you displace is measured. These two readings are then used to measure your body composition, which ultimately helps in calculating the body fat percentage.

  • No dunking in water.
  • Comfortable.
  • Expensive.
  • You might not find it in a regular gym.

7. 3D Body Scan

3D Body Scan - Measure Body Fat

3D body scanners scan the entire body with infrared light and check your weight. The 3D data collected is then converted to body fat percentage. There are various machines like mPort, Naked, Styku, etc., that do an excellent job in body 3D scanning.

  • Very accurate.
  • Easy to use as these scanners have corresponding apps.
  • You can use any of these at your home, at your convenience.

You must wear tight clothes and stand still until the scanning is complete.

These are the seven best devices that will help you calculate your body fat percentage accurately. Now, the question is, why is body fat percent considered the most reliable and not your BMI? Here’s the answer.

[ Read: 15 Best Home Remedies For Weight Loss In 2 Weeks ]

Why Body Fat Percentage And Not BMI?

BMI or body mass index is the measure of body fat, depending on your height and weight. Since fat weighs lesser than lean muscle mass, your BMI may not always give you a clear idea of how much muscle and fat you have in your body.

You may exercise and build lean muscle mass, and your weight will increase as a result. This can demotivate you and make you choose a low-calorie diet or do vigorous exercises, putting your health in danger.

But if you get your body fat percentage calculated, you will get an exact idea of how much fat and lean muscle mass you have in your body. This will help you design your diet and exercise routine according to your changing body composition.

To conclude, calculating body fat percentage is not a Herculean task. Just find a good gym that has a machine that gives the most accurate results. Book an appointment today and check your body composition. It will inspire you not only to lose weight but also to adhere to a healthy lifestyle that will protect you from obesity-related health issues. Good luck!

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Charushila Biswas
Charushila BiswasHealth & Wellness Writer
Charushila is an ISSA certified Fitness Nutritionist and a Physical Exercise Therapist. Over a span of 6 years, she has authored more than 400 articles on diet, lifestyle, exercises, healthy food, and fitness equipment. She strives to inform, educate, and motivate her readers via authentic, straightforward, and fact-checked information.

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