If you want to know how fit you are or how much difference your training routine has been making, then you need to measure your body fat percentage. It is a much better and useful method than simply measuring the BMI. Measuring the body fat percentage can be done in a number of different ways which vary in ease of use, accuracy, and affordability. We recommend the body fat calipers as an ideal instrument for this purpose. So, how to use them?
How to Use Body Fat Calipers
1. Understand How Calipers Work
The body fat calipers are used to measure the skinfold at different places on a person’s body. They don’t actually measure the body fat percentage directly. The ‘pinch test’ or the method used to measure the skin folds is recommended to be taken at 3 to 10 places for an accurate measurement. The degree of accuracy of this method will vary, depending on the proficiency of the person as well as the formula used to compute the body fat percentage.
The more experience you have in using these calipers, the easier and more accurate your body fat percentage measurements will be.
2. Choose a Formula and Stick to It
Several different formulas can be used to measure the body fat percentage in a person. These are specific to different people depending upon their baseline fitness levels, age, race, sex and other factors. A person may get different results by using different formulas; therefore you'd better stick to one formula.
Bet you never thought the answer to ‘how to use body fat calipers’ involved so much math. You can use one of the commonly known measurements like Navy Tape or simply track the skin fold measurements. You can also use online software to help you calculate the result.
3. Learn the Points of Measurement on the Body
The key to administering the pinch test properly is to be consistent in your measurements. This begins with identifying the points on the body where you will be measuring the skin folds, as well as the kind of measurement that you will be taking: vertical or horizontal.
Usually, the right side of the body is measured when you stand straight.
Some of the common areas where measurements are taken include the triceps, the biceps, thighs, iliac crest, the axilla and the supraspinal.
4. Pinch the Skin and Pull Outwards
Still wondering about how to use body fat calipers? Start by making a ‘C’ shape with the forefinger and the thumb. Use this to pinch a fold of skin and pull it outwards. The attempt should be to include as much of the skin as possible without including any of the underlying muscle. Avoid excessive pulling. You should only feel a little pain when you are pinching the skin.
5. Hold the Pair of Calipers in the Other Hand
After you have pinched a sufficient amount of skin, proceed to measure that fold with calipers. The correct way to hold the calipers is to hold them with the thumb resting on the upper arm and the index finger on the lower arm of the caliper.
The jaws of the caliper should be placed over the center of the skinfold. Press down on the caliper arms till the jaws stop at the width of the fold.
It is always prudent to repeat these measurements several times so that any error can be eliminated. If the subsequent measurements vary by a few millimeters then calculate the average of these readings and use that for your measurements.
6. Write the Measurements on Paper
This may seem obvious at first, but a lot of people underestimate how fickle the human memory is. Make sure you write down the measurements on a piece of paper, average them out correctly and then enter them into the formula. Keep a notebook of your measurements so that you can have a clear idea of the progress you have made.
How Accurate Is the Result?
The body fat percentage measurements by using a body fat caliper are going to vary with slight changes in position, the person taking the measurement, or the number of times a person has performed this procedure.
The result returned by this method may not be corroborated by another method, such as a DEXA scan. What should be remembered is that the measurements should be taken as consistently as possible so that the change in measurements can be observed. If your body fat percentage goes down from 16% to 14%, then you should celebrate instead of worrying about whether the number is accurate or not.
What Are Good Body Fat Percentages?
How to use body fat calipers? You already know the answer. Then you may wonder what good body fat percentages are. Keep these facts in mind.
- Body fat percentages will always be a little higher in females than in males. For professional body builders who attend competitions, a body fat percentage of 4-7% for males and 10-12% for females is what they should be aiming for.
- Non-professional men and women who just want a lean physique should aim for having a body fat percentage of 8-12% and 12-18% respectively.
- A body fat percentage of 25% would be considered healthy for both males and females; however, if the level is higher than this then a reduction should be considered.