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Using Body Fat Calipers: Measurements and Formulas

Body fat calipers are a trusted and inexpensive way to measure body fat. More informative than a scale and more accurate than a body mass index calculation, calipers can help quantify fat to anyone curious about their body fat percentage.

Measuring Body Fat Percentage

There is a selection of different ways to measure your body fat. Bioelectrical impedance analysis,  body average density measurement and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry are all methods of reading body fat percentage. Most of them are complicated and expensive endeavors that cannot be undertaken without a professional’s assistance. In addition, no two methods will yield the exact same readings, indicating that no matter how expensive and complicated, no method is completely accurate.

What Is a Fat Caliper?

A fat caliper is a device used to measure subcutaneous fat, and then derive a person’s all over body-fat percentage from that data. In the past, the object was shaped like an architect’s compass, though modern digital versions resemble something closer to a stopwatch with pinchers. The pinchers are used to grasp and measure the size of multiple skin folds on a person’s body. Plugging these measurements into one of many available formulas will give an approximation of a person’s overall fat percentage.

How to Use a Caliper

There are many methods for using a caliper. Different programs suggest different body parts to measure. Multiple sites must be tested together for maximum accuracy. Common areas of the body include the bicep and tricep, between the shoulder and elbow, between the armpit and nipple, the inside of the calf, the middle front of the thigh, between the shoulder blades, and the lower back (just to the right of the spine). Chose one side of the body for all measurements; the right side being the most recommended. Pinch the exposed skin with your fingers, and measure the pinched skin with the caliper. Repeat at the same area two or three times, averaging the results. Each time, allow the skin to first regain shape, before moving on to the next area.

Formula to Calculate Body Fat

There are many different formulas for calculating the results of the caliper’s measurement. One often used formula reads thusly:

  • (0.1548 x sum of triceps, chest, back, abdominal, thigh, calf) + 3.580 = Body Fat %.

Another instructs the tester to add up the measurements of the specific areas, divide the total sum by your weight and multiply the result by 27. Whichever caliper you purchase will come with the formula it was best designed to work with. If you are looking for an option that is not math intensive, consider one of the more high tech calipers that require no math on the part of the user. 

Tips for Successful Measurements

No matter how skillfully you use your calipers, you will not find out the exact percentage of your body fat. Instead, you will find a close estimate. Still, there are ways to increase the accuracy of this estimate. For instance, be sure to take your reading within 5 seconds of applying the caliper to flesh. Waiting any longer can cause the caliper to under-register  the fat content of the fold. 

Don’t measure immediately after exercising, but take progressive measurements at the same time each day. And finally, don’t place too much importance on exact fat percentage. It is likely that a different tester with a different caliper would find your body fat to be several percentage points away, in either direction, of your own testing. Instead, judge your progress by the measurement of the actual skin fold.

Although calipers, like most methods of fat measurement, can only give an estimate of your body fat, they can do so easily and inexpensively. Consider adding a body fat caliper to your health maintenance regime.

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