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How to Measure Body Fat

Learn 6 ways to measure your body fat and why you should it in the first place.

By
Ben Greenfield,
March 14, 2011
Episode #042

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There are so many ways to measure body fat that the options can be confusing. From skin calipers and scales and circumferences to underwater weighing, bod pods, and full body scans, it can be tough to really know what is accurate, reliable, and practical for your needs. So in this episode, you’ll learn 6 ways to measure your body fat and why you should measure it in the first place.

What Is Body Fat Percentage?

There are two different types of body fat. The first, your essential fat, is necessary for you to stay alive; essential fat levels are about 3-5% in men and 8-12% in women. When I was a bodybuilder, my total body fat dropped down to 2%, which meant my essential fat was very low, and I experienced mood swings, joint pain, and loss of sex drive and appetite--along with other issues that correlate to a low essential body fat. Needless to say, as soon as I was done bodybuilding I got my hands on some ice cream and brought myself back up to a healthy body fat level.

The second type of body fat is your storage fat, which is also know as adipose tissue. Some storage fat protects your organs or provides insulation, but for many people, it’s just annoying storage energy waiting to be burned.

Why Measure Body Fat?

If you know your body fat levels, then you have a number that you can use as a goal. For example, if you use any of the information in this article to find that your body fat percentage is 30%, and you weight 170 pounds, then you can calculate that 30% of 170 pounds is 51 pounds, and learn that’s how many pounds of fat you have on your body. You can then make a goal to lose 10 pounds of fat in 5 weeks. If you don’t lose any muscle along the way, then you’d weight 160 pounds, you’d have 41 pounds of body fat (51-10=41) and your new body fat percentage would be 25%.

But what if you do gain muscle? If you’re just tracking your body weight, then you may be disappointed because the scale might show that you’re not losing many pounds, even though your body fat levels are going down. By using a body fat scale, you can track what is happening with your body fat, even if your body weight is not changing. Since muscle takes up far less space than fat, a gain in lean muscle accompanied by a loss in body fat can result in a smaller waistline, flatter stomach, and a decrease in clothing size!

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