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Skinfold Measurement of Body Fat

by Riana Rohmann Google

About Riana Rohmann

Riana Rohmann has been working for the Marine Corps doing physical training and writing fitness articles since 2008. She holds personal trainer and advanced health and fitness specialist certifications from the American Council on Exercise and a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology from California State University-San Marcos.


Skinfold measurement, also called anthropometric measurement, is considered one of the most accurate methods of estimating body fat. It is ideal because it's minimally invasive and relatively inexpensive. The skinfold measurement is a measure of the subcutaneous fat that can be pinched with a pair of calipers. It the method that most health clubs and gymnasiums use to estimate body fat .


To make the measurement, a tester grasps your skin with his thumb and index finger and pulls it away from the muscle. He places the calipers about 1/2 inch below his finger and pinches there. Measurements are always taken on the right side of the body and are done at least twice to get an average reading. In health clubs and fitness centers, the tester can use these numbers and refer to a chart or input the numbers into an algorithm on a computer to determine your body fat.


Skinfolds are best taken at a few different locations on your body. Any slight variation from those sites will cause the test to be inaccurate and give you the wrong body fat estimation. The Jackson-Pollock method of skinfold testing is considered the most accurate for those with average amounts of body fat. For men, measurements are taken at the chest, the abdomen and the mid-thigh. For women, measurements are taken at the triceps, the suprailiac, or hip, and the mid-thigh.


For those who do not have a chart to refer to, you can use a few formulas to determine your body fat percentage. The formula for body density can be plugged into the second formula for body fat percentage. See Resources for where to find the formulas. The American Council on Exercise website also offers fitness tools to help you use skinfold measurements to calculate body fat.


According to the American Council on Exercise, healthy body fat ranges for male athletes are 6 to 13 percent and for fit people are 14 to 17 percent. The acceptable range is 18 to 24 percent, and over 25 percent is considered obese. Healthy ranges for female athletes are 14 to 20 percent and for fit people are 21 to 24 percent. The acceptable range is 25 to 31 percent, and over 32 percent is considered obese.


With a skilled tester, skinfold measurement has about a 3.6 to 3.8 margin of error. However, certain factors can affect its accuracy. Fat tends to move from subcutaneous to visceral in elderly individuals, so they will read lower than they are. Calipers are not designed for severely obese individuals; they may have to use a different form of body fat testing. For repeated tests, make sure you use the same tester if possible, test at the same time of day under the same conditions, and avoid exercise 12 hours before the test.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.