Your body fat percentage is exactly what it sounds like… it’s the amount of fat on your body. That’s what people REALLY want to lose when they say they want to lose weight, and it’s what people want to avoid gaining when they say they want to gain weight.
See, “weight” can be a lot of things. For example, water, muscle, or body fat. When you step on a scale, you only see weight. You can only tell whether you gained weight or lost weight, but you have no clue what that “weight” actually was.
This is of course is where measuring your body fat percentage comes in handy.
Why Should I Measure My Body Fat Percentage?
I’ll tell you why. Do you have a scale? Do you weigh yourself regularly to track your progress? Well, that’s great, and I highly recommend you continue doing that. But what if I told you there was a better way of tracking your progress than a scale? Because… there is.
Whether your goal is losing fat, building muscle or a combination of both, one of the best ways of ensuring your body is truly doing what you want it to do is by measuring (and tracking) your body fat percentage.
Scales are obviously great for tracking progress, but the way I see it, your weight is like a world map and your body fat percentage is more like a street map. One will show you a very general direction, but the other will show you exactly where you’re going.
How It Helps With Losing Weight
For example, let’s pretend your goal is weight loss. You started to eat better. You started to work out more. And now, after a certain period of time, you decide to get on your scale and see how much weight you’ve lost. How much progress have you made? Well let’s see what the scale says.
According to the scale, you didn’t lose a single pound. Now you feel all bad and discouraged and think about changing your diet or workout because it’s obviously not working. The thing is though, that scale may be lying to you. Well, maybe not lying… maybe just not telling you the whole truth.
You could have indeed lost fat, but, at the very same time… you could be retaining water or possibly even gaining some muscle. This would cause your weight to stay exactly the same (sometimes even increase). And since a scale only shows weight, it would appear as though you’ve made no progress whatsoever.
However, if you were measuring your body fat percentage regularly, it would actually show that you DID lose fat. For many people, this information could mean the difference between sticking with your current diet and workout or unnecessarily quitting and starting something else.
How It Helps With Building Muscle
The same thing goes for people trying to build muscle. When muscle growth occurs successfully, we gain weight. However, people looking to build muscle constantly confuse fat gain with muscle gain. They both make us a little bigger looking, and an increase in strength usually accompanies both.
However, there’s a big difference between gaining ugly body fat and gaining pretty lean muscle. The problem is, they both happen at such a slow gradual rate that it’s hard (sometimes impossible) to tell if the last couple of pounds you gained were mostly muscle or mostly fat. A scale certainly won’t tell you, but your body fat percentage definitely will.
So while the scale might just say you gained 5lbs, regularly measuring your body fat will let you know if those 5lbs were muscle, fat or a little of both. This type of information is crucial for adjusting your diet to ensure that muscle gains are maximized while fat gains are minimized. But, without tracking your body fat, you’d have no idea.
How Do I Measure My Body Fat Percentage?
Now that you understand the usefulness of it, you’re probably wondering how to measure body fat percentage. Well, there’s actually a few ways, and they range from super easy and horribly inaccurate to highly complicated and extremely accurate.
Some of the most common methods are:
- Online Body Fat Calculators
There’s a ton of diet and fitness related websites out there that provide free calculators that use your height, weight, age, gender, and a handful of measurements to give you a body fat estimation. Sometimes these might be somewhat close for some people, but they’re usually pretty horrible for most people.
- Body Fat Measuring Scales
There’s also a bunch of normal body weight scales available that also measure body fat percentage just by standing on it like you normally do using Bioelectrical Impedance. Again, while usually more accurate than calculators, accuracy still isn’t always great.
- Underwater Testing
This is the hands-down winner in terms of being the most accurate method of measuring your body fat percentage. Unfortunately, it’s also the method most people will never actually use. Finding a professional facility that actually does this sort of testing, paying to have it done, and then going through the awkward process of doing it is just highly impractical for most people.
- Body Fat Calipers
And finally, we have calipers. Calipers are a measurement device used to measure thickness. In this case, it will be the thickness of parts of your body. There are a few specific spots (referred to as “skinfolds”) that you measure with the calipers, and then you do some basic math, and… that’s it. MUCH cheaper, much easier, and much more practical than underwater testing, and usually a lot more accurate than calculators and scales. In my opinion, this is the method that’s best for most people.
So, with calipers being my recommended method, your next question probably is…
How Do I Measure My Body Fat With Calipers?
Well, if you work out at a high quality gym, they may offer free body fat caliper tests to their members. I’d suggest asking someone about it if you are interested in having it done this way.
However, if you’d rather not have some random person at the gym perform this test on you (they will have to see you with your shirt off and… you know… touch you in various places), you can just buy your own calipers and do it yourself at home.
This is what I do and have been doing for quite a while. It’s actually really easy once you get the hang of it. Being 100% accurate isn’t even THAT important. What is important is just measuring consistently each time so you can accurately monitor your progress.
I personally weigh myself once or twice per week, take measurements (with a tape measure) once per week, and measure my body fat percentage with the calipers every other week. This combination allows me to track my progress as accurately as I can and really know for sure what my body is doing.
Which Calipers Should I Use?
I personally use and highly recommend: AccuFitness Body Fat Calipers
AccuFitness is the most widely used brand of calipers around. They are super cheap and pretty reliable (I’ve been using the same ones for years without any problems).
So, there you have it. Knowing your body fat percentage is quite useful for losing fat, building muscle, or doing both, and calipers are usually the ideal way for most people to do it.
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