People often gauge progress by monitoring weight, physical appearance, BMI and even clothes sizes, but not by body fat percentage. The body fat percentage is one way to measure fitness level, since it is the only method of body measurement that calculates one’s body composition without regard for weight or height.
There are two categories of body fat in the human body. They are storage fat and essential fat. Both storage and essential fat are stored in two areas: beneath the skin (subcutaneous) and around the internal organs (visceral). Fat insulates and cushions the body, but it also stores energy through lipids. It is responsible for the production of hormones such as estrogen, leptin, resistin, among others.
Losing fat and losing weight… what’s the difference?
Losing weight is a lot like a game of roulette – you don’t know if the ball is going to land on red or black, odd or even. All you know is that it’s going to land somewhere. It’s a similar guessing game for weight loss.
Imagine your body divided into two parts: red for muscle and black for fat. When you lose weight, there’s no way to tell how much fat or how much muscle you are losing—just that you’re losing both. Primarily you want to lose fat, as fat loss is a better indicator of your fitness level. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is.
Two men both weighing 180 lbs. can look vastly different depending on their body fat percentage, so you could say that this is a better indicator of their fitness level. Naturally, the gym buff with a lower body fat percentage is going to look leaner than the sedentary couch potato with a higher body fat percentage.
To put it simply:
Losing weight = losing both muscle and fat
Losing fat = losing only fat
Bottom line: To avoid looking stringy and flabby, you want to focus on fat loss, not just overall weight loss. This is what gives you a lean, sculpted physique.
How to Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage
A. Inexpensive Methods of Measuring Body Fat Percentage
- Eyeballing it
Just by looking at yourself in the mirror, you can pinpoint the areas where fat usually accumulates such as the stomach, thighs, arms and face. For women, it’s normal to have more fat around the hips and in the breast area. Men are more muscular by comparison and have naturally lower body fat percentages.
- Tape measure
Using a tape measure, measure the following:
- Height – measure without any shoes on; feet flat on the ground
- Weight – take your weight without any clothes as soon as you wake up
- Waist (Women) – measure at the widest part of your hips, horizontally
(Men) – measure at navel level, horizontally
- Neck – measure at the point slightly below the larynx
- Hips (Women only) – measure at the widest part
To calculate your body weight (lean):
(0.732 x weight) – (0.157 x waist measurement) + (wrist measurement / 3.14) – (0.249 x hip measurement) + (0.434 x forearm measurement) + 8.987.
To calculate your body weight (lean):
(1.082 x weight) – (4.15 x waist measurement) + 94.42.
Final formula (Men and Women):
(Total Weight – Lean Body Weight) / (Total Weight) x 100 = Body Fat Percentage
Using a caliper to perform a “skin fold” test measures your body fat percentage through pinching your skin and measuring the thickness of that fold using a body fat caliper. In a nutshell, you are measuring the amount of ‘flab’ you have in certain areas such as the biceps, triceps, back and stomach. The reading, given in millimeters, is compared to a chart with a list of ages for both genders to determine your body fat percentage. Different types of caliper skin fold tests with varying numbers of measurement sites are also available.
B. More Accurate Methods of Measuring Body Fat Percentage
- Water displacement
The water displacement method involves being submerged in a tank of water and having trained professionals read the results. Based on Archimedes’ principle of displacement, it states that a counterforce equal to the weight of the displaced water will buoy a body immersed in water.
A body with a higher body fat percentage will be lighter in the water than a body with a lower body fat percentage.
The Bodpod helps determine body composition using air displacement. Unlike the water displacement method that relies heavily on the individual’s ability to empty the lungs before submerging, the Bodpod is more convenient and more easily administered.
DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) is quickly becoming the new ‘gold standard’ of measuring body fat. It is composed of a three-compartment model, dividing the body into fat tissue mass, fat-free soft mass, and total body mineral.
In addition to that, DEXA also allows you to analyze your body fat distribution. This means being able to see which part of your body has x amount of fat.
How Much Body Fat Should I Have?
WOMEN VS. MEN
Essential fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Average 25-31% 18-24%
Obese 32+% 25+%
The Dangers of Extremely Low and Extremely High Body Fat Percentage
Reducing body fat to extremely low levels can have a negative impact on health and performance. Severe health complications such as electrolyte imbalance, nutrient deficiencies and illnesses can arise as a result. In some cases, loss of reproductive function is also reported. Since fat has a profound effect on hormone production, other body systems are often affected.
Individuals with an obese body fat percentage range are at greater risk for developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Studies show that a higher body fat percentage is strongly linked with the development of chronic illness.
How do I manage my bodyfat?
1.Eat a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Consume adequate amounts of whole foods with minimal refined sugar.
2.Maintain or build lean muscle through strength training at least twice a week.
3.Form a healthy sleeping pattern so that you get 6-8 hours of sleep a night.
Check out our articles on fat loss for dieting and training methods geared specifically for torching fat and boosting the metabolism.