You step on the scale and see a number and it seems like even when that number does not vastly change, if you are lifting weights and performing strength exercise. What lies beneath is changing! Your body is more compact, you have definition now and you look leaner. So even if your weight does not change, there are other things to take into account like your body composition and muscle to fat ratio. That is why it is important to measure your body fat so you can take all of this into account. But since there are countless ways to measure your body fat, let me share with you the best and worst ways to measure your body fat!
1. Body Fat Scales
Although body fat scales are super convenient because you can purchase them pretty much anywhere. These scales use bioelectrical impedance (BIA) to gauge the amount of lean mass, water, and fat in your body by sending a current from the metal plates under your feet through your body and timing how long it takes. Although they are relatively inexpensive, they are highly unreliable if you are dehydrated. If you do use this measurement, drink lots of water the day before and weight yourself the next day bright and early.
2. Handheld BIA Devices
Handheld BIA devices are often used by trainers because they are easy to use, however they are not always the best! These devices can also have a huge fluctuation based on hydration levels. Grab te handles and hold! Unfortunately these devices cannot tell the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat. So save your money and purchase a more reliable device!
Okay so to break it down, most clients hate this test because the feel like they are being grabbed like a piece of meat. It is definitely a hands on test using a set of calipers to measure the thickness of your skin at certain points of your body. The numbers are then tallied and plugged into a formula to estimate your total body percentage. The biggest problem with this test is that results can vary widely based on who is doing the test. But compared to the previous methods of body fat measurement this is definitely one of the better gages!
4. The Bod Pod
The bod pod is an expensive futuristic looking machine. This is usually a first choice for professional athletes. This device works by measuring the volume of air you displace inside the pod, and then runs it through a mathematical equation to measure your fat, lean muscle mass, and resting metabolic rate, among other things. To use the Bod Pod, you need to wear a tight swimsuit and tuck your hair into a swim cap, as any air trapped in your clothing or hair could change your results, diverting them from the correct number. After weighing yourself, you sit inside the machine, taking normal breathes for several minutes. It's not uncomfortable, though a little claustrophobic. While the Bod Pod is much more accurate than all previously mentioned methods, it is a lengthy process and some people do not like having to sit inside this machine.
5. DEXA Scan
A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is primarily used for measuring bone density, often used for women to check for osteoporosis. It's as simple as laying on a table and getting a full-body X-ray, (like a MRI) but the accuracy of the formulas have been called into question recently. While it seems to be nearly as accurate as hydrostatic weighing (more on that later) for young, healthy males, it falls apart when used on other groups. Scans are often covered by your insurance for bone density checks but not for body composition, and this test can run in the thousands for a full workup. Yikes, yes thousands!
6. Hydostatic Measurement
The official god standard in body fat measurement is hydrostatic measurement. For this measure, you jump into a pool (sounds fun so far, right?). Then you sit on a special stool, and get into an ab engaged position so your body is entirely underwater. Then comes the hard part: You have to expel as much air as you possibly can and then hold perfectly still while the machine weighs you. Most hospitals and rehab centers offer this and this is considered the most accurate gage!
Here is the absolute best measurement of body fat, the InBody. This machine combines the ease-of-use of a BIA device with the accuracy of hydrostatic weighing. In testing the InBody correlated with the hydrostatic results with 98 percent agreement. And this is a simple process that involves standing on a metal platform and holding onto two handles for about one minute. In addition to your body fat percentage, the InBody can tell you where your fat is stored and where you have water collecting in your body (edema), which can be a sign of injury or inflammation. It will also measure your RMR, BMR, and relative strength of each of your limbs. Although these machines are expensive you should be able to find at a rehab or physical therapy center and it is worth the effort in finding because it works!
So go discover your body fat to increase your athletic performance, know your body fat stores and understand just what you have to work on. This is a great way to open your eyes to the improvement you can make!