Body fat percentage represents an important measure of health, considered more useful and accurate than weight or body mass index (BMI) alone. Body fat is stored in connective tissue that is called adipose tissue. You accumulate body fat by consuming more calories than your body uses, increasing your risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers. Body fat is, therefore, a useful measure for observing the progress of a diet and exercise regimen. There are several tools available to measure body fat percentage, ranging in accessibility, cost/benefit and accuracy. Among them, adipometers represent a widely available option, but with which it can sometimes be challenging to get accurate results.
Method 1 of 2: Using adipometers
Step 1. Seek professional help for more accurate results
Experience is worth a lot when using the adipometer for skin folds, as the accuracy of the results depends on the quality of the measurement. "Competent" examiners will have already run 50 to 100 tests in controlled research environments. Experts are more likely to take the same measurement for a long time, which will give you the most accurate results to watch your progress.
Step 2. Ask a friend for help
If a professional is not going to perform the test, keep in mind that taking measurements from certain places, such as the back, can be difficult (if not impossible) on your own.
Step 3. Learn how adipometers work
These devices do not measure body fat percentage directly. They are used to administer the "footprint test," which measures skin folds at three to ten specific points on the body. This information is then entered into a formula to compute the body fat percentage value. The accuracy of adipometers in measuring this percentage depends both on the experience of the person using them and on the formula used to calculate the result.
Step 4. Choose a suitable formula
There are over 100 equations used to calculate body fat percentage from skin folds. Each is specifically aimed at different groups of people, according to characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity and level of physical activity, which affect the places in the body where fat tissue is stored. Entering the same data into different equations can yield results that vary by many percentage points.
- Some common equations include Jackson & Pollock, Carrillo and Navy Tape.
- To choose the formula that makes the most sense to you, work side-by-side with a professional and use it as a basis for observing your progress. Or, forget about the equation altogether and record only skinfold measurements.
- There are many body fat percentage calculators available on the internet, making it much easier to analyze the results of a test with few or many measurements.
Step 5. Record your progress
At the beginning of an exercise regimen designed to decrease body fat percentage, it is very helpful to take your measurements. Keep this information in a journal (good options are physical activity journals and fitness apps) along with your exercise routine (mileage walking, number of sets done, etc.) over time.
- The recommended range among healthy people varies according to gender, age and level of physical activity. Women with a percentage above 32% and men with a percentage above 26% are considered obese.
- If you want to lose body fat, taking weekly measurements can help you adjust your routine and get better results. If you want to maintain the body fat composition you have today, it may be more helpful to take measurements monthly.
- Get some skinfold adipometers. There are excellent products available on the market. Ideally, an experienced examiner will test with a good quality adipometer. If you intend to do it yourself, you can find products in several different price ranges (from a few reais to hundreds) and from many different manufacturers.
- You might want to invest in a high-quality adipometer, which will be much more expensive. Cheap products may not achieve the proper pressure for proper tension control and more reliable results. Some high quality brand recommendations include Harpenden, Lafayette, Lange, Slim Guide and Accu-Measure Body Fat.
Method 2 of 2: Taking the Footprint Test
Step 1. Choose the test of your choice
It is possible to find modalities that take measurements of three, four, seven or even ten different points on the body. Taking measurements from more places does not guarantee greater fidelity in calculating the percentage of body fat. This depends on the precision used when taking the measurements and the formula used for the calculation.
Step 2. Identify the points where measurements should be taken
The key is to be consistent with the exact locations and way of gripping the skin fold (vertical or horizontal). Generally, the right side of the body is used in a standing position to take measurements. Common areas for measuring folds include:
the person should bend the elbow 90 degrees and mark the midpoint between the elbow and the top of the shoulder. Next, measure the vertical bend (with the adipometer at a 90-degree angle) at the midpoint, keeping your arm relaxed at your side.
with the arm naturally extended at the side of the body, take a vertical bend in front of the arm, midway between the shoulder and the bend in the elbow.
Subscapular crease measurements should be taken diagonally (at a 45-degree angle) along the back, just below the shoulder blade.
take a vertical bend in the standing leg, at the midpoint between the kneecap and the meeting space between the thigh and hip.
the person should bring the right arm to the other side. Take the horizontal crease just above the hip bone on the side of the body.
this measurement should be a vertical fold 2.5 centimeters to the right of the navel.
With your foot on a chair or platform at approximately 90 degrees, take the measurement of a vertical crease on the inside of your calf at the point of greatest circumference.
measure the pectoral region by taking a diagonal crease between the nipple and the top of the pectoral muscle in the armpit.
the armpit area is on the side of the upper pectoral region. Here, the measurement taken should be in the form of a vertical fold directly below the center of the armpit and perpendicular to the nipple.
the supraspinatus measurement should be a diagonal fold at the intersection of a vertical line between the spine (front of the iliac crest, the hip bone protrusion) and the front of the armpit with a horizontal line at the top of the iliac crest. This region is also called the suprailiac in some measurement systems.
Step 3. Fold a piece of skin and pull it out
Making a "C" shape with your thumb and forefinger, grab as much of the fold as possible, until it hurts, and pull it out. It is important that you take the same amount of skin from the same place to repeat the measurement.
Remember not to exclude any creases or include any underlying muscle
Step 4. Hold the adipometer in your right hand, using your thumb on top and forefinger on the bottom
Position the ends over the fold of skin, continuing to hold it with your left hand. With your right thumb, press the adipometer in the indicated location until you hear a subtle click. This sound represents the correct measurement as the ends of the adipometer automatically stop at the minimum fold width. Repeat this step three times at each location to ensure accuracy of the result. If the measurements vary (this variation should not exceed 1 or 2 millimeters), calculate and note the average of the three values.
Measure the center of the fold between your fingers
Step 5. Write down the measurements on a piece of paper
Record the average of the three measurements in a well-organized way to avoid confusion in the calculations. It's best to use a notebook and keep all the values so you can compare them as time goes on.
Step 6. Enter the average measurements for each point of the formula in use
After calculating the result, write it down in your diary or fitness app.
- Never use an adipometer right after an exercise session.
- It takes time and experience to acquire enough competence to use the adipometer and calculate body fat percentage.
- Monitor and measure this value only by the skin folds - this is one of the most reliable methods.
- Be consistent in the type of adipometer used and always note the precise measurement location and the type of equation or calculator used.
- Body composition varies slightly throughout the day, usually due to fluid retention. Therefore, remember to always take measurements at the same time.
- There are dozens of spreadsheets available that convert skinfold measurements to body fat percentage.
- The healthy percentage differs greatly based on age, gender and activity level.
- Different models of adipometers recommend different measurement locations.
- Adipometers can vary in accuracy by up to 4%.