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body fat % question

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ok so I started the boot camp program offered at my gym today.  They measured our body-fat % today and I am confused about the results.  From what I found online this seems to be a general guideline:

Body Fat Rating Scale for Women

Exceptionally Lean 10-15% (Elite Athletes)
Very Lean 16-19%
Lean 20-25%
Moderate 26-29%

My question is this- they measured the back of my arm (tricep area), area where my hip bones..should be lol, and mid-thigh.  My measurements for my arm and hip area were at 16% and 11% and my thigh at 21%.  How can there be that much difference?  Also, in that range some of my numbers are in the exceptionally lean and trust me, im not!  I am 5'4" and 144 so the numbers don't really make sense to me.   Can anyone clarify the body fat percentage ratings for me? 


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They shouldn't be measuring body fat that way, so no wonder you're getting confused. 

It is correct for them to take several measurements.  From there, they should be plugging it into a spreadsheet or a program that will tell them your overall body fat percentage.  I've never seen or heard it done any other way.

If they're saying you have X% of body fat in a specific area, I'd be wary of it.  It almost sounds like the next pitch might be for spot reduction.

Body fat testing also depends on the prowess of the person behind the calipers as well as the accuracy of the tool.  If they used an actual set of metal calipers, those are pretty danged good, BUT only if they've been calibrated correctly. 

I'd go back and ask them to run the numbers again, and give you the overall body fat percentage, not the per site numbers. 

It's a very magic art.  I assume that you are talking about using calipers.  You can find some good discussions on line.  Basically, sub-cutaneous (under the skin) fat is the most interesting and calipers can get an estimate of how thick that layer of fat is.  The theory being that fat gets distributed over your entire body but not necessarily uniformly.  So it would not be abdnormal for you to have very little fat in some places and a lot of fat in others. Several measurements are taken at different points on your body and the results averaged together to get an overall estimate. The estimate of your %body fat is obtained  from the estimated average thickness of your subcutaneous fat layer.

You can get your own estimate of % body fat a couple of different ways.  There are some on-line sites.  I use this one.  You can get yourself a scale that will estimate your %body fat based on an electrical measurement together with your sex, height, age and weight.
At 240 pounds, I'm sitting at 28% body fat (7 point caliper measurement)....according to the OP, I'm only 3% away from lean!?!?!?! I'm not sure wether to laugh hysterically or throw myself a party! Are those guidelines correct?

I am in a healthy BMI but my body % is like 30%...but I must say it is a subject that has kindof confused me. 

How exactly do you lower your body percent? Sorry if that is such a dumb question!  

doc2bmo, i don't think 28% can be correct.  at that rate, if you lost every ounce of fat on your body, you'd still weigh 172.8 pounds (240 x 0.72).  if you were a 6'4" guy, i could see it, but that's a lot of bone, muscle, and water for a woman.  i'm right around 28% (at 140, 5'8" and not particularly fit).

laurenhf, those numbers are probably millimeters, not percentages.  those numbers have to be run through a formula to generate the percentage (which maybe they don't want to tell you).
to lower your body fat percentage, you should burn fat and build lean muscle....cardio and weight training!
pgeorgian...that's what I thought.....I had two different people measure it though (nutritionist and a trainer) and both came up with the same thing....But what you said makes perfect sense...I'm sure that 172 lbs can't be attributed to bone and muscle alone! the only thing I DO know is that at 180 pounds I look downright sickly and it is not pretty AT ALL, so maybe the body fat percentage is somewhere between what they said and what I was thinking (a good bit higher!! LOL)
Texmez pretty much hit the nail on the head.  The reading is only as good as the person doing it.  A lot of places do not require there employees to be certified Personal Trainers or they "Certify" them there selves.  With a caliper test you can not tell what a fat % is of that particular part is.  The number they get does not work that way so if they told you that do not believe any more of the readings they give you as they are not doing it properly and are probably going to sell you on spot reduction.  If you want to keep track of it your self get you a Bioelectrical Impedance Device, not as accurate as the caliper test (which sounds like they are not doing it right anywise) but is helpful none the less.  They come in hand held or on a scale, just make sure you are well hydrated when you use it.  Remember muscles are 60% water so if you are not hydrated then the ready will not be accurate.Doc2bmo were the people that measured you at the same place?  Try a Bioelectrical Impedance device to see what that says.  Who did the 7 site test on you and what were the sites.  Generally for females they use the Triceps, Hip and Thigh.  They tend to avoid the chest for obvious reasons and the stomach is a sometimes used instead of the hip.  The sites are as follows Chest, Bicep, Triceps, Subscapular (Below the scapula), Supraspinale (Hip), Iliac Crest (lovehandel), Stomach, Thigh and Calf.  Also a good trainer will measure because it is x amount of inches below the scapula for example.  Check this page out sites.htm.  It shows some good photos of a Caliper test, describes how they do it and it show how they would mark your skin when doing it.


Honestly, I know a lot of people are picky about what specific % they are (I know I can be at times), but what you really want is to know that % is going towards a healthier place. A person may not measure correct using whatever device(s) they have, but they should at least be good enough to measure consistently. If you get into the situation where calipers are coming back all over the place with percentages, write them down and see what they all say the next time. If the means to measure is consistent, and the numbers are decreasing in this case, then that's good. my trainer uses one of these: 1109&def=Omron%20Healthcare+HBF%2D306& ;gclid=CKDHlKyO9JECFQMKPAodewEeyQ. I have been debating getting one myself, not a bad price if you ask me.

I just bought that same monitor on ebay (new - shipped from mfg) for $25. 

These don't really work for me. They measure body density with the weight you enter into the system. When I do mine I am like at 30% which means I am obese, but when I do the pinch measurement done by my PT, I am at 14%. I am 6' 1" about 240 give or take 5 pounds. Most of extra weight is around the middle. I hope that starting my boot camp class it will help drop that, along with my other cardio and weight training I do. I am happy with my 14% but would like to get a little lower...

I just checked 2 different random sites. At 25yrs, 5'5" & 160 pounds my scale says I am @ 29% BF- - according to 1 site that makes me obese and according to the other I am "average/healthy".

I don't really get it but as long as it goes down (and the chunk comes off) I will be happy.

Yeah, I realize they aren't 100% accurate, but they do give you a number to track your progress.  I'm curious to see what mine places me at - I'm 6'2" 196lb and all of my fat is around the middle...  My brother is at a disgusting 8% (after police academy), but I can still whoop him.
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Original Post by rcflyr:

Yeah, I realize they aren't 100% accurate, but they do give you a number to track your progress.  I'm curious to see what mine places me at - I'm 6'2" 196lb and all of my fat is around the middle...  My brother is at a disgusting 8% (after police academy), but I can still whoop him.

Why is 8% disgusting? I have been at a healthy 4% for prolonged periods without starving myself. In fact, I have gained muscle at 4%. A strict diet and exercise program can keep a male less than 5% year round.

It's disgusting because I'm not there yet! Tongue out
I don't agree with those body fat measuring devices at all. Even my trainer at the gym says that the thing they use, which you hold in your hands and they input your age, height, sex and weight, is just a sham in order to get people to sign up for personal training sessions.

The device says that I have 33% body fat, but...I wear a size 6 and my hip bones aren't getting any smaller and there's little, if no fat covering them. Granted, my thighs are bigger then average, but I've got some massive muscles in my legs (from carrying around over 300 lbs for 40 plus years) and I've got big breasts for my frame. The online guides actually say I am obese!

I don't even bother with them any longer because just make me frustrated. As long as I see the scale moving and my clothes fit well, I'm a happy camper.

Good luck!

Edited Mar 06 2008 04:59 by melkor
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Yeah, I'm not looking for the real number with mine, just to plot change over time.  I've read tons of good reviews on them and most people find that they are not accurate to the real number, but from day to day they show your change pretty accurately. 

Caliper test need to be done by some one that is properly trained, certified(ACSM would be the best since you have to do a clinical test which includes the caliper test as well as written to be certified) and the calipers need to be calibrated as well.  If there is that much difference between a Caliper test and Bioelectrical impedance device such as the hand held’s there is something wrong.  There a lot of factors that play into the BEI Device that could through it off.  Also remember BF% is just that so it is possible to have a higher BF% if your skeletal muscle is low.  If you are 120lbs at 30% you would necessarily look fat but it means that you have 36lbs of fat and 84lbs of every thing else.  So especially in females if they tend to have larger breasts, which are primarily made of fat cells you will have a higher BF%.  There probably is not much you can do about that.  Try this article it has some useful info on different ways to measure and what your % means.  Msrobbyn at your age acording to the chart your 33% would be in the healthy range.

I tried a bioelectrical impedance device when Gold's Gym was trying to sell me a membership and it came up at 18% which seems like it's on the lower end, yet, I still see tons of fat on myself and I've lost 5 pounds since then and actually gained a visible muscle in my arm.


How does this work? 


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