Body Fat Percentage: What Is It & How Do You Measure It?
Too much fat is an indicator that you could be at risk of issues like heart disease or diabetes. Too little fat could leave you open to fragile bones, low energy and obsessive eating.
Managing exercise and diet will help you lower your body fat percentage to within a good range, without putting you at risk of falling too low.
Here at the Fit Father Project, we've helped thousands of men lose body fat and improve their shape, their health, and their lives.
Ideal Body Fat Percentage for Adult Men
As you move further and further into adulthood, your body fat percentage may be weighing even more heavily on your mind than it does around your midsection.
You may be at the point where you're sure it's higher than it should be, but need help with getting it into the right range.
The ideal aesthetic percentage for a man is between 8% and 15%. At the lower end of that scale, you'll generally have good muscle definition across your whole body.
At the higher end, you'll still have some fat coverage but will look fit, strong, and healthy.
Between 15% and 20% is the area where you're not in any immediate danger, but will notice a paunch around your belly. This is the ‘weekend warrior' type that eats ok and gets enough exercise on the weekend to keep things in check.
As you move to between 20% and 25% you're in the territory where you'll be considered overweight. The paunch has grown to a full-blown belly and you'll have lost almost all definition across your body.
25% and upwards is considered clinically obese and is where you'll probably have around 30+ lbs to lose to get back in shape.
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
The term body fat percentage refers to the total mass of fat contained in your body divided by your overall total body mass, multiplied by 100.
Fat Mass / Total Mass x 100
For instance, if you are 200 pounds and they determine you have 30 pounds of fat in your body, this means that your body fat is currently at a respectable 15 percent.
30 / 200 x 100 = 15%
For those of you that are interested in having abs displayed for summer, most men can have abs visible with less than 12 percent body fat.
I say most men because I have had my body fat calculated at 10 percent before, and my abs were just barely showing with a couple defined lines here and there.
I often think I went through some sort of childhood surgery that I can’t recall where they removed all of my abdominal muscles and my parents just have never told me about it.
On the other hand, I have a friend that is at about 15 percent body fat and his abs are well defined. Curse those genetics!
How to Best Measure Your Body Fat Percentage
There are so many body fat tests and devices out there that are supposed to accurately measure everything, it can be difficult to choose just one.
Plus, I have tried a couple devices within ten minutes of each other and my body fat varied between the two results by three percent.
Three percent does not sound like a lot, but it can often be the difference between being overweight and being the correct weight for your body type.
To determine your body composition, you have a few options. Below are a few ways to figure out your body fat percentage that are legit and should offer you some good knowledge of what your next steps should be.
By using one or two of them, you are putting yourself in a position to improve your health and document the changes along the way.
It's important to document because the changes are so gradual. You may not notice a huge difference at once… except for those jeans that used to be so tight, but are now having to be worn with a belt!
If you aren’t familiar with them, just the name “skin calipers” sounds like an awful medical device that you never want to encounter.
But, actually, skin calipers are a very good way to measure body fat percentage from the comfort of your own home.
You will probably need a hand when using them, but if using the skin calipers correctly, it is very accurate.
It's also a quick and inexpensive way to determine your body fat percentage. In fact, you can purchase skin calipers for less than ten dollars.
Now that I have you sold on them, let me tell how to use them.
Skin calipers determine lean body mass by measuring the thickness of the layer of fat with a slight pinching tool.
Use it on several parts of the body such as stomach, back of arms, and legs. The results are then calculated up and the body fat percentage is at your fingertips.
This is a great way to measure progress if you are on a diet and training routine. Simply do the measurements once a week and record your information.
Seeing your numbers go down almost weekly will leave you with the inspiration needed to continue.
I know many people that swear they receive the most accurate body fat information from the underwater weighing, or the more technical term is hydrostatic weighing.
It does produce very accurate results, but it is the most time-consuming way as well.
Plus, it is not cheap to do.
You could be looking at $50 a pop anytime you want to figure out your new body fat percentage.
When you are on a diet and training for results, you'll want to check your progress regularly.
Hydrostatic weighing is effective for this, but once again, the money for it can quickly add up.
Maybe your fitness center has a day every now and then where they complete a bunch of these at once at a discounted price.
The way it works is a bit tricky.
If you are like me and not the best swimmer in the world (I was rescued from drowning as a kid in about four feet of water and continued wearing a life jacket until I was about 15), this might not be the way to go.
However, if you love being around water and were a fish or a mermaid in another life, by all means, try it out.
The technician first will weigh you outside the pool. Next, they will weigh you while completely submerged in water.
You must blow out all your air and it takes only a few seconds. They’ll run all the numbers and determine your body composition quickly.
Handheld Body Fat Tester
There are a numerous variety of these handheld body fat testers on the market, but they mostly all operate the same way.
They use electric impulses that travel from one hand to the other, or sometimes one foot to the other.
Lean muscle conducts the impulses at a quicker speed than fat tissue, so it determines your body fat that way.
The electric pulses usually can’t even be felt, so do not worry about it if you suffered through a nasty stun gun incident that still has you rattled around electrical currents.
The problem with some of these devices are the readings are not always accurate.
I say “some” because I have not tried every body fat tester like this on the market. The ones I have used I felt have not always been correct.
I would recommend reading as many reviews as possible before purchasing one for yourself. They can range from $50 to hundreds of dollars.
But… there's a good chance your local gym might have one of these in the trainer’s office.
Go Old School
Sometimes going old school is the best thing possible.
After all, “Mama Said Knock You Out” is still the best rap song ever made.
While you may not be able to determine your body fat percentage this way, measuring with a cloth tape measure can give you great results when figuring out if your body composition is improving.
This is something that you can do in your home as well, and you will not need any fancy apparatus. All you need to know is how to use and read a tape measure correctly.
A cloth tape measure can be bought for a couple bucks and it will become one of your most valuable assets in your quest to get in better shape.
Between the scale and the tape measure, you can figure out quite a bit about yourself.
Start by writing down all your measurements in a notebook, or these days, possibly type it into your phone.
The main areas to measure in inches is the waist, chest, hips, upper thighs, calves, upper arms, forearms, and neck.
Once you are on a regular training routine and diet, remeasure every week to two weeks. You will soon be losing inches off of your waist and other parts of your body.
And if your upper arms are not really losing inches, that could be a good thing. You’ll be packing on more muscle and this will take the place of the fat.
There is nothing wrong with having big arms as long as your waist is not big as well.
Why You Should Be Concerned
The cold hard truth of it is that America is the fattest nation in the world. If it were an Olympic event, we would be killing it.
But instead, we are killing ourselves with our lifestyle choices.
Almost 40 percent of adults are considered either overweight or clinically obese.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be one of the people that still look good in a swimsuit? And wouldn’t it be great to live a long life and be there for your family?
If you are overweight, it brings on heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. All of these things will shorten your life.
Maybe you haven’t started yet in getting back into shape because it is all a bit overwhelming.
It can be intimidating to walk into a gym and not know where to start. Fit Father has you covered.
Our 24-Minute Workout is the perfect way to start an exercise program specifically made for busy men and fathers who are over age 40.
It will teach you what to do to lose weight, burn fat, and build lean muscle in just 24-minutes per session.
We also have a 1-Day Meal Plan that provides you with perfect examples of what meals to eat for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snack.
Be sure to keep track of your body fat percentage and take measurements through this whole program and soon you will be documenting amazing results.
As men that are aging and trying to take care of our families, we are all in this together.
Her's to your success!
Writer, The Fit Father Project
Ryan is a fitness expert from Illinois with two decades of experience under his belt. Never one to turn down a challenge, he has taken every class any gym has to offer, even the Dance Kickboxing class. If 70s disco dance music starts playing, everybody should run for cover. You have never lived until you have kicked somebody in the head to Dancing Queen.
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on the best body fat percentage.