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Measuring Body Fat Using Body Fat Calipers

A clinical study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) showed that self-testing body fat percentage with a basic set of body fat calipers was just as accurate as a body fat measurement performed by an experienced clinician who utilized a professional set of body fat calipers. When compared to an expensive underwater body fat calculation, which is considered the “gold standard” of body fat measurement methods, results achieved from using body fat calipers varied by as little as 1.1%.

To measure your body fat with calipers, all it takes is a few simple steps. Depending on the body fat calculation method you choose, measurements can be performed solo or with a partner. If you’re looking for a simpler, non-caliper method, we recommend US Navy or Body Mass Index (BMI).

Body Fat Caliper Procedures

To perform skinfold measurements with a body fat caliper, follow these 5 easy steps:

  • Using the tips of your thumb and forefinger on one hand, pinch the skin in the location to be measured
  • Once the skin is pinched, pull the skin away from the muscle
  • With your opposing hand, measure the thickness of the skinfold with your calipers
  • Note caliper reading, then release caliper and skinfold
  • Proceed to the next measurement location and repeat these steps

Quick Tips for Improving Body Fat Caliper Accuracy

  • For consistency, all measurement should be acquired from the right side of the body
  • Body fat caliper should be placed approximately 1/4 inch, or 1 centimeter, away from the thumb and finger that is grasping the skinfold
  • Body fat caliper should remain perpendicular to skinfold, and halfway between crest and base of fold
  • When measuring skinfolds with a caliper, wait 1 to 2 seconds before reading caliper measurement
  • Skinfold pinch should be maintained while reading the caliper
  • Take duplicate measurements at each site to ensure accuracy – same-site measurements should vary by no more than 2 millimeters
  • Before remeasuring, rotate through skinfold sites to allow time for skin to regain normal texture and thickness

If you’re new to measuring body fat with calipers, this guide should have up to speed in no time. After a little practice, you’ll be calculating body fat like a pro. You may even want to consider regular body fat testing as part of your daily heath and fitness routine.

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