How pros measure body fat

How pros measure body fat

Body fat percentage is an important measure of fitness. Everyone needs to keep body fat under control, not just bodybuilders. Too much fat can have serious health implications.

It is impossible to measure body fat by looking, because the same fat percentage can look completely different on different people. It needs some science.

Here are 4 ways to do it, with increasing levels of accuracy.


This is a slightly more sophisticated version of the old ‘can you pinch more than an inch?’ Calipers are cheap, and all you have to do is measure the thickness of a fat fold at various points on your body. A chart supplied with the calipers converts this to an estimate of body fat percentage.


Available at most good retailers, these devices measure body fat by sending a small electrical current through your body. The scales measure your impedance and use that to estimate body fat percentage. The reading can be affected by your hydration level.

Note that these scales should not be used if you are pregnant or have a heart pacemaker.


Remember Archimedes and his cry of ‘eureka!’ when he got into the bath? This technique uses his principle by weighing you while you are in water. This reading is compared to your weight on dry land to give your body density, and then calculate your body fat percentage.

The test involves being completely submerged so you need to be happy with that. It can be done with scales and a home swimming pool, or at a professional facility for more accurate results.


The top level test (and the choice of sports professionals) is a body scan using a technique called DEXA (Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). Originally developed for medical bone density tests, the equipment is also able to measure body fat percentage. This includes spotting that risky internal body fat around organs.

Costs go up with the technology used, but if you are serious about your body fat you may find it a good investment.


The Author

Jessica Ambrose

Jessica is a fitness writer who loves long distance running, yoga, strength training and healthy eating.


Paula C.
4 December 2017

Paula C.

Just feel it yourself - no need for all these expensive and time-consuming methods.

Sean S.
29 November 2017

Sean S.

I had no idea there were so many ways of telling fat. It would be easy to get obsessive if you monitored yourself this closely.

Charlie M.
29 November 2017

Charlie M.

the super-whizzy DEXA is (says the link) used by football teams where fitness is a career and money no object. Fair enough, but I think calipers will do for me too and I am quite serious about this for an amateur.

Michael A.
28 November 2017

Michael A.

Good old-fashioned calipers sound good to me. If I feel fat I know I'm fat. Anything more scientific and I'm not interested.

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