Most people would agree that simply taking weight is not the most accurate way to determine whether or not an individual is healthy. This article offers a pretty good explanation about how you can be at a “normal” weight but have excess fat, which subjects people to the same risk for diseases that overweight and obese people face.
So how exactly does someone measure body fat and determine what is healthy? There are a few ways, ranging from very easy but potentially inaccurate (antiquated BMI measurement) to extremely complicated and very accurate (underwater hydrostatic testing).
The problem with a BMI measurement is that it only takes into account your height and weight, so Julius Peppers (listed at 6’7, 283 lbs, BMI of 31.9, or obese) would be an outlier because he has so much muscle.
Stores like Brookstone and Sharper Image offer bioelectrical impedance analysis devices which are also very convenient but horribly inaccurate as the measurement basically compares your weight with how much water is in your body. The more water in your body, the lower the body fat measurement will come out. It is plus or minus 11% accurate so someone who has a BF% of 20% might show as low as 9% or as high as 31%.
The most accurate ways to test BF% are hydrostatic body fat testing, BOD POD, and DEXA. These are all extremely accurate but also limited in availability as they are expensive to build and maintain.
In the middle of the spectrum we have skinfold calipers and circumference measures. Skinfold calipers measure the subcutaneous fat at different sites on the body and can be plugged into an equation to give a result that is usually within 3 percentage points of the actual measurement. Circumference measures are also taken from various spots on the body and plugged into a different equation that isn’t quite as accurate but those with weight loss goals find it very encouraging when you can tell them they’ve lost 3 inches off their waist.
At Empower we have skinfold calipers and tape measures with their equations along with a great group of trainers who can sit down with you after testing and recommend a healthy body fat percentage to try and obtain.
Paul Piracci, CSCS Professional Trainer
Paul brings a background of athletics and education to the Empower team. He believes that wellness should be viewed as a blended lifestyle that balances nutrition, a healthy mind, and fitness which incorporates fun recreational activities. For more information about Empower Personal Training please call (919) 401-8024.