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Posted by Barry on Jul 21, 2012

Measuring Body Fat

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.

So I encourage all of you to start monitoring your body fat.  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 work by sending a pulse through your lower body and measuring the resistance.  A standard formula is used (based on your age and height) to GUESTIMATE your body fat.  As you can see by the way I said that, 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 on these types of scales I will register a body fat of about 20%.  That’s ridiculous!  It isn’t even in the remote ballpark of being accurate.

The much more accurate method of measuring body fat, and the one I highly recommend, is using body fat calipers.  You can get fancy ones or cheap ones.  They all work well!  You can find them from about $10 on Amazon.com.  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.

I like to use the software by www.linearsoftware.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.  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 site method because it’s quick, easy, and accurate.  It requires measuring sites on the chest, the abdomen, and the thigh.  When I take these measurements, my readings for the chest, the abdomen, and the thigh are plugged in with my age and weight, it calculates my body fat, with a lean body weight and body fat.  This is a handy thing to know as we work to build muscle and lose body fat.

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.  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 hope this review of body fat calculation helps you monitor your progress more accurately!

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