Measuring Body Fat by Shelly Pinkerton
As figure competitors, we certainly have concern for how much fat our bodies are carrying, especially come show time. The look we strive for is a fine balance of muscle definition without too much striation, roundness and fullness without too much softness, and smooth lines without too much cut. Easier said than done, right? Thankfully, there is no set amount of body fat a competitor can or cannot have; it is all relative to each girl’s particular physique. It is critical to have a trained eye – that of a coach or seasoned competitor – to look at your body often as you approach your show, and give you the feedback necessary to be in top shape for the big event. Aside from that, the actual measuring of body fat percentage is really not necessary, and only needs to be done if you want to know what the numbers are. There are several methods available, all with varying levels of accuracy, cost and ease. The following information comes from a great resource I use for many of my fitness-related issues called Sport Fitness Advisor. You can find them on the worldwide web at www.sport-fitness-advisor.com.
What is the single, most effective way to calculate body fat? That's a tough one. It all depends on what on you place most importance on accuracy? Reliability? Cost? Availability? They are all important factors to think about. Fortunately there are a few good techniques to choose from, as follows:
Skinfold Measurements... The Most Economical Way To Calculate Body Fat?
Along with body fat scales, body fat calipers are just about the most cost effective way to calculate body fat you will come across. Of course that assumes you buy cheap calipers! So, what are the advantages to using skin fold calipers?
+ Unlike Height-Weight tables and BMI they actually calculate body fat percentage.
+ They are very easy to use. The hardest part is finding the right locations to pinch.
+ They are relatively inexpensive and once you have a set they should last a lifetime.
+ They can be used to calculate body fat in the privacy of your own home.
+ They are portable. You can test others in the most convenient place for them.
+ Used correctly they are an accurate and reliable way to calculate body fat.
+ It can be a quick way to calculate body fat percentages for a large number of people in a short space of time.
Now for the disadvantages...
- For accurate results an experienced examiner is needed, as the measurements need to be taken in precise locations.
- There are different equations used for different people to calculate body fat percentage from skinfolds. Choosing the wrong equation makes a world of difference.
- It is very difficult to test yourself.
- Really cheap calipers won't stay very accurate for
long. They aren't as accurate as the more expensive ones to start with.
Bioeletrical Impedance Analysis:
BIA For Short. Until recently BIA was expensive, difficult to find and required the skills of a highly trained examiner. Not anymore. Body fat scales have appeared on the market and BIA is the technology they use to calculate body fat in seconds.
Their advantages are almost identical to skinfold calipers.
As for disadvantages:
- The amount of water in your body, your skin temperature and recent physical activity can all adversely affect the results.
- As with calipers there are different equations used to calculate body fat from your body density. Unfortunately you are stuck with the equation the manufacturers programmed in and it might not be the most one appropriate for you.
Again, don't let these put you off. It is probably easier to control the reliability of body fat scales than it is for calipers.
Hydrostatic Weighing... The gold Standard?
If it's accuracy you're after, hydrostatic or underwater
weighing is considered the "gold standard". The only way to
calculate body fat more accurately is through dissection – ouch! Hydrostatic
weighing is also a highly repeatable way to calculate body fat. This
simply means that your body composition is the only variable that affects
the results. Factors such as the amount of fluid in your body, different
examiners and skin temperature can all adversely affect the results
of other tests. Here's the downside. It can be an expensive, time-consuming
way to calculate body fat, not to mention difficult to find. A local
University may be your best bet. However, some larger gyms may have
a hydrostatic weighing tank. How does hydrostatic weighing calculate
body fat exactly? It is based on Archimedes’ Principle. The examiner
first calculates your body density. How? By simply measuring the amount
of water you displace when you first enter the tank. The examiner then
uses a specific equation to calculate body fat based on your body density.