Measuring Your Bodyfat

by Matt Biss Bodybuilding . com

You are qualified to measure your own body fat, with the help of a friend. It might be hard for you to believe that, but it’s true! The reason is simple, even though it’ll sound crazy at first. Your goal when you test your body fat isn’t to get accurate measurements. It’s to get consistent measurements. Take that to heart and you’ll do fine.

An experienced measurer with good equipment can get results which vary by as much as 8 percent just by using a different set of calipers. Even two skilled measurers using the same tools might get results which vary by a few percent points.

The lesson: Don’t focus too hard on the number; focus on the changes in the number. Once you can get a consistent reading, then you have all the info you need to gauge your progress as you work to transform your body.

Are you ready to learn? Ladies and gentlemen, start your pinching.

Body fat measuring calipers. You can get these as a free gift with a purchase from the store.
A helper (recommended for men, required for women)
A felt-tip pen and measuring tape (recommended)
A pen and paper or computer to write down the numbers and perform some basic math.
A BodySpace profile page to record and track your results.

These instructions will help you perform a three-site Jackson and Pollock (yes, that’s its name, just like the artist) skin fold test using either calipers or similar calipers such as those made by Fitlosophy.

You may scoff at using inexpensive plastic calipers rather than more expensive varieties you see trainers using in gyms, but you shouldn’t. I have performed more than 15,000 body fat measurements using a wide range of methods and I can attest that these simple tools and the following method are consistent with more complicated seven-site and nine-site testing.


  • It’s the easiest method to reproduce in future tests—provided you use the same tool, technique, and helper each time you test.
  • It’s the hardest method to screw up.
  • It’s most consistent method for the broadest portion of the population. If you are either obese or very lean and muscular, though, consider a different method performed by a professional.

When taking a skinfold the basic idea is to “pinch and pull.” Attempt to separate the fat tissue from the surrounding tissue with a good pinch, and then pull away from the body just slightly.

Once you feel like you have a good pinch, perform these steps:

  1. Place the calipers about 1 cm to the side of your fingers. Use the pictures below for examples.
  2. Press on the serrated thumb pad next to the word “press” until the two arrows line up.
  3. Note the measurement on the little scale to the right of the arrows. The hashes are in increments of two. That means one mark lower than 20 is 18.
  4. Release the pinch and repeat all of these steps several times for all three sites. Take the average of your pinches and plug it into the calculator tool below.

The sites used to determine body fat are usually identified by bony markings or body parts that are consistent between people, like a nipple or navel. This enables you to accurately find a specific point on the body no matter your overall body composition, and find the same point again on anyone else.

When you first start, I recommended that you use measuring tape to find the exact point you need, marking the spot with a felt-tip pen. As you become more practiced, you will be able to ditch the extra tools.

Imagine a vertical line running straight down through your right nipple. This reference point is called the “midaxillary line.” Halfway between your nipple and the crease of the armpit is the point we’re aiming for here. Pinch that spot diagonally, or have your helper do it.

Make a vertical fold one inch to the right of your navel. If you have trouble getting a consistent vertical fold, it’s OK to use a horizontal fold instead. There isn’t much of a difference, but you should note if you do something different from normal and use that method in the future to stay consistent.

Find the midpoint between the hip and the knee and use a vertical fold. Unless you take out measuring tape and a marker for precise measuring, I recommend using your hand to measure rather than eyeballing it.

For instance, I use the distance between the tip of my thumb and pinky from the top of the knee, which for most people is fairly close to the midpoint. Since I do it that way every time, I’m able to be consistent.

Find the midpoint between the acromion process (the bony knob on top of your shoulder) and the point of the elbow. You’ll need a helper for this. Use a vertical fold.

This site is found below the armpit at the top ridge of your hip bone, called the iliac crest or suprailiac, taken on the side. Gently press the area and find the ridge of the hip, going just above the bone. Then measure using a diagonal fold as shown in the picture.

As with men, use the midpoint between the hip and the knee. As I mentioned, I normally use the distance between the tip of my thumb and pinky from the top of the knee, which for most people is fairly close to the midpoint. Measure using a vertical fold.


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