How to Measure Body Fat: 5 Methods to Try

In searching for your ideal target weight, sports performance or super figure, taking measurements often plays an important role. It also gives a good indication of how healthy you are. Now, of course, there are several ways to do this. Measuring your fat percentage is an essential factor in determining whether you are on the right track. It gives you a clear picture during weight loss, sports goals, and how your health is currently at it. In these situations, the fat measurement is often carried out. But what exactly is the fat percentage? How do you perform a good fat measurement? And what differences exist between calculating fat percentage in women and men? I’m going to give you answers to all these questions in this article!


What is the fat percentage?

fat percentage

Your fat percentage is the total amount of fat mass, divided by your total body weight. It’s an important measure of your body composition. The measure is often used for sports purposes, such as dry training (to determine how much fat mass a person actually wastes) or determine your health.

In the bodybuild world, a fat percentage is also common, especially for the ladies and gentlemen who participate in competitions. At a lower fat percentage, muscles become more visible, which makes for a nice definition. It also transforms the belly into a six-pack, which often turns out to be a common wish for most athletes.

Anyone can measure their fat percentage, as long as it is done in the right way. I’ll show you how fat percentage calculation works and what methods there are.


Why would you calculate fat percentage?

For the simple reason, that standing on a scale is not enough. It indicates how much you weigh, but otherwise not the full state of affairs. Muscle mass is heavier than fat mass. You can calculate your BMI. However, this is also only a group average that does not provide sufficient information.

In one example, this quickly becomes clear. Suppose you have a bodybuilder who is 1.90 meters long and weighs 100 pounds with a fat percentage of 7 per cent. According to the scales and simple BMI too heavy, the reality clearly shows that this person is in absolute top shape. So measuring your fat percentage says a lot more about your shape, health and body composition than the scales or BMI do.


What is the healthy fat percentage in men and women?

There are large differences between men and women when it comes to fat percentages. In women, storing fat and quantity in which and the problem zones are completely different. It is perfectly natural, but it is important to take this with you when measuring the fat percentage.

Women are also naturally more fat than men. In women, this is mainly on the legs (thighs), buttocks (also naturally hips) and abdomen (together with the well-known love handles). The main reason why women have more fat is for fertility and any pregnancies. In the primaeval time, this was a body mechanism to enable the female body to give birth and feed children, even in times of scarcity.


The fat percentage for women

Below I’ll show you what fat percentages apply to women, explaining the state of a person. On average, women have a higher fat percentage than men, so the limits are logically also higher.

  • 10% is the absolute lower limit, albeit for athletes
  • 10% to 20% is extremely athletic for women
  • 20% to 25% is still good and above average
  • 25% to 32% is normal for women (a bit age-dependent)
  • 30% to 35% is a fat percentage where losing weight is a wise move
  • 35% and more is far too high, where you have to take immediate action

Of course, it’s smart not to let it get to the last two fat percentages. The moment you have 30% fat percentage, try to lose a little weight. This prevents you from moving to levels that are not desirable.


The fat percentage for men

Below you will find fat percentages for men and the corresponding state of a person.

  • 2% to 4% is the absolute lower limit, again for bodybuilders and often only at the time of competitions
  • 4% to 15% you are very athletic
  • 15% to 18% even at this fat percentage you are still fit above average
  • 18% to 25% is the average for the normal man
  • 25% to 30% is too high where losing weight is wise
  • 30% or more is far too high and calls for direct action plans

The percentages and women are somewhat age-dependent, where you should have a slightly lower fat percentage at a younger age. However, this is a few percentage points of difference.


5 ways of measuring the fat percentage

Now that you know the importance of fat measurements, it is also important to know which fat percentage methods are calculated. There are several ways of doing this, from accurate to a shot in front of the bow. Find out below how to measure your fat percentage best.


1. Skinfold measurement (the most famous)

Skinfold measurement

The most commonly used method for measuring fat percentage is skinfold measurement. For this, you have different types of skin folding meters (pliers) from cheap to expensive, with the more expensive ones often measuring more accurately. The price can range from a few euros to hundreds of euros.

You perform the skin fold measurement using your index finger and thumb to grab the different (mentioned) skin folds. Then you measure it with the skin fold meter (pliers) in a normal way, not too loosely but also certainly not very hard squeezing. You can write down the resulting results to determine your fat percentage with an included table (or online calculator). We also show below where you perform a 4-point, 7-point and 12-point skinfold measurement.


4-point skin fold measurement

This is the simplest skin fold measurement that exists, but in most cases it is sufficient. It gives you an overall fat percentage and, with a simple skin folding meter, it has an abnormality of 3-5% (sometimes rising to 15% with crappy pliers or wrong measurements). Check out below which 4 points to measure.

The 4-point skinfold measurement is added to:

  1. Biceps: on the front in the middle of your upper arm
  2. Triceps: on the back in the middle of your upper arm
  3. Subscapular fold: on the back directly under the shoulder blade
  4. Supra-iliac fold: above the pelvic edge


7-point skin fold measurement

Measuring your fat percentage based on 7 points is a lot more accurate and gives a more realistic picture of the fat percentage. For this, you can also use cheap/affordable skin folding meters. However, a more expensive variant (e.g. Harpenden pliers) is often used for a professional measurement.

The 7-point skinfold measurement is added to:

  1. Pectoralis fold: between shoulder and nipple, right in the middle
  2. Abdominal fold: on the abdomen, 1 to 2 cm left or right of your belly button
  3. Upper leg fold: in the middle and front of your thigh
  4. Axillary fold: at the bottom of the side of your chest
  5. Triceps: on the back in the middle of your upper arm
  6. Subscapular fold: on the back directly under the shoulder blade
  7. Supra-iliac fold: above the pelvic edge


12-point skin fold measurement

More spots on your body are measured to determine your fat percentage. Preferably, you only use a professional skin folding meter for this. You will measure the fat percentage even more accurately, where an accurate skin folding meter will provide much better results.

The 12-point skinfold measurement is added to:

  1. Triceps fold: on the back in the middle of your upper arm
  2. Subscapular fold: on the back directly under the shoulder blade
  3. Pectoralis fold: between shoulder and nipple, right in the middle
  4. Abdominal fold: on the abdomen, 1 to 2 cm left or right of your belly button
  5. Supra-iliac fold: above the pelvic edge
  6. Upper leg fold: in the middle and front of your thigh
  7. Hamstring fold: just below the buttocks in the middle of your hamstrings
  8. Calf fold: inside and in the middle of your calves
  9. Knee pleat: on top of the knee
  10. Chin pleat: at the beginning, in the middle of the bottom
  11. Cheek fold: slightly above the jawline and right below the cheekbone
  12. Axillary fold: at the bottom of the side of your chest

However, in most cases, we recommend going for a 7-point skinfold measurement, which is already very accurate and is practically sufficient.


Calculate formula percentage

Calculate formula percentage

Did you do a skin folding measurement? Then you can use the Jackson-Pollock formula to calculate your fat percentage. In this formula, different values are used for men and women, and the sum of all skin folds (s) and age (a) play a role [1]. This is for men and women in the 7-point measurement (this one is preferred) as follows:

  • Men: Fat Percentage = 495 / (1,112 – (0.00043499 * s) + (0.00000055 * s*s) – (0.00028826 * a)) – 450
  • Women: Fat Percentage = 495 / (1.097 – (0.00046971 * s) + (0.00000056 * s*s) – (0.00012828 * a)) – 450


Jackson Pollock formula calculator

Calculate your fat percentage online with our Jackson Pollock calculators. Choose which measurement you have done and fill in your age and the sum of the skin folds (in millimetres). Then you see what your fat percentage is.

3-punts huidplooimeting

The measuring points are different for men and women. Men measure a skin fold on the chest (pectoral), abdomen (abdominal) and thigh. Women measure the triceps, above the hip (supra-iliac) and the thigh.

4-point skin fold measurement

Men and women measure here in the same places—namely the abdomen (abdominal), above the hip (supra-iliac), triceps and thigh.

7-point skin fold measurement

Here, too, men and women measure in the same places. Namely the chest (pectoralis), abdomen (abdominal), thigh, triceps, above the hip (supra-iliacal), under the armpit (axillary) and the shoulder blade (subscapularis).

Buy skin folding meter?

Do you want to measure your fat percentage yourself? Then you can buy a skin folding meter. This pliers or calliper is available in different price ranges, and the quality can therefore vary greatly. In most cases, a more expensive model is firmer and more accurate. However, with an affordable skin folding iron, you can also measure your fat percentage at home.

2. Libra (impedance measurement)

Furthermore, you also have scales that can measure the fat percentage. You stand barefoot on this scale; in some cases, there are also handles that you have to hold. The scale works based on biometric impedance analysis and sends electrodes through the body. Because muscle bundles conduct very well (considering they contain a lot of water) and fat mass a little less, your fat percentage can be measured [2].

It’s a pretty easy way to measure fat percentage, but unfortunately not that very accurate. In such fat measurements, this is partly because electrodes choose the shortest way through your body. Mainly only the bottom of your body is measured. Do you want to measure your fat percentage at home with an impedance scale? Then opt for a reliable brand, such as Tanita. There are many cheap scales on the market, but these do not measure your fat mass accurately. Invest in a good scale to calculate your fat percentage in this way.


3. Hydrostatic roads

There are also other ways of measuring fat percentage that is not often used, including hydrostatic weighing. You go with this method with your body underwater in a small pool after which you get very accurate fast measurement results.

This fat measurement is done with the law of Archimedes. The fact that the density of fat-free mass and fat mass are constant ensures accurate results. The weight of water is compared to that outside, after which your fat mass (and therefore fat percentage) can be measured. However, it is not really a cheap method of fat percentage calculation. You also don’t find a practice on every corner where you can have this done. Logically, therefore, not the most practical way of measuring fat percentage.

4. DEXA Scan

Another solution for measuring your fat percentage is a DEXA Scan. It’s a pretty simple way of calculating the fat percentage because you lie down and the scan is done in a few minutes. This method is also very accurate, and visceral fat can also be shown [3]. You can also scan individually, where you can, for example, see if one leg has more fat than the other. Although this all sounds very nice, there is a hefty price tag.


5. Plethysmography

Another accurate way of measuring fat percentage based on air displacement measures body mass, volume and density [4].

It’s just a little bit of a search where you can get this done. After some online research, a lot or some results will pop up. Furthermore, this method is again not very cheap; you should soon consider an amount of around 50 euros.

You will also have to drive there (petrol costs), and it will work on an appointment basis. You can see that these methods, especially when measuring fat percentage more often, are not always the most practical.


Do you or don’t measure fat percentage?

Calculating your fat percentage can be very useful in different situations. It is not necessary, of course, but it does give an accurate picture of the state of play. Therefore, we recommend that, if you are serious about achieving goals, you should do a fat measurement. For example, you can monitor whether your nutrition schedule fits your goal well. Think of bulking or cutting. Based on your fat percentage and weight, you can calculate your fat-free mass. By comparing measurements, you can check whether you are achieving the desired results.


How often do you have to measure a fat percentage?

Of course, a fat measurement can always be done. However, I advise you not to do this weekly. For example, check every two weeks or every other month. That way, you have enough time between your measurements to see results, but you can also adjust on time when needed. The best and most practical way, for the most part, will be the skin fold measurement.


Measure or have fat percentage measure yourself?

You can measure fat percentage yourself, but sometimes it can be much better to have the fat measurements done by someone else. With a skin fold measurement, this is also highly recommended, especially when measuring multiple places. If you have a fat measurement, choose a gym, practise or other professionals specialising in this. Someone who has extensive experience in doing skinfold fat measurements will get the most accurate outcome. This expert knows exactly how to use the skin folding meter and which part of the body should be measured.



Why measure your fat percentage?

By measuring your fat percentage, you gain more insight into your physical health. The distribution between fat mass and muscle mass says much more than just your weight. Based on your fat percentage, you can more accurately calculate how many calories you need daily to lose fat or build muscle mass. Necessary to be able to put together a good nutrition schedule. By regularly measuring your fat percentage, you can also map the progress, and possibly adjust to diet or training schedule if necessary.


How can you measure your fat percentage?

There are several ways to measure your fat percentage. The most famous is the skin fold measurement, where you measure the skin folds with pliers. There are also good impedance scales for sale. This measure your fat mass, muscle mass, and bone mass based on your body’s electronic control. Other methods include hydrostatic measurement, DEXA scan and plethysmography. However, these fat measurements are less accessible.


What is a healthy fat percentage?

A healthy fat percentage varies greatly between men and women. Age also plays a role. In short, a fat percentage between 15% and 25% is the aim of women. For men, this is between 10% and 20%. This article can read more about the exact fat percentage categories and at what percentages you are athletic, average or obese.

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