Do You Have A
Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

A healthy body fat percentage is easy to achieve once people know the steps they need to take to get there and are willing to do so. For women, the ideal body fat percentage is 20-25%, whilst men should aim for an ideal body fat percentage between 15-20%.

Of course, it is possible to achieve lower body fat measurements and women who get under 20% body fat can usually see some abdominal definition. When women get closer to 10% body fat it is common for them to become amenorrhoeic (stop having periods) due to the body's significant reduction of sex hormones.

Men can generally achieve a healthy body fat percentage into the low single digits without any adverse health problems.

Healthy Body Fat Percentage

In fact, most men should aim to achieve a body fat measurement under 10% if they want to achieve an athletic-looking physique and if they want to compete in physique competitions then a body fat percentage under 5% is absolutely essential!

How to determine if you
have a healthy body fat percentage

Measuring body fat is actually quick, easy and cheap if you simply use skinfold callipers. Of course, there are more accurate ways to measure body fat like, a DEXA scan or hydrostatic weighing but these techniques can be rather costly, time-consuming and cumbersome.

I personally believe the best scale to use is the Durnin and Womersley scale. It only requires you to measure 4 sites on the body: biceps, triceps, subscapula and supra-spinale. Then, enter the results of the 4 sites into the calculator along with your age and weight and then the calculator will give you your body fat measurement.

The Durnin and Womersley scale certainly isn't 100% accurate but it does give you a very good indication of your current body fat measurement.

People who are very lean will find that they may go 'off the chart' when they use the scale and some people who remain lean as they get older will be given a higher body fat percentage than they actually are simply because of their age.

For example, if you are measuring your body fat percentage when you are 39 years old and then measure it again the following day when it is your 40th birthday, your body fat measurement will be higher simply due to the age factor! This is an example of where inaccuracies may be present in the scale.

Nevertheless, in saying this, if you simply keep a record of the 4 skinfold measurements and then monitor your results over time, that is probably the best way to maintain a healthy body fat percentage.

When taking skinfold measurements to determine if you have a healthy body fat percentage, there are a number of important points to keep in mind:

  • Use Harpenden or Holtain skinfold callipers (ideally)

  • Only measure the right side of the body (even if the person is left handed)

  • Carefully identify the skinfold site, mark it and then measure it

  • Grasp the skin 1cm above the site using your thumb and forefinger using a pinch and rolling action (the rolling action helps to separate the subcutaneous fat layer from the connective tissue (fascia) that overlies the muscle)

  • Lift the skinfold by placing the thunb and forefinger approximately 8-10cms apart perpendicular to the axis of the skinfold

  • Maintain the fold elevation while performing the measurement

  • Place the jaws of the calipers on the site, slowly release the jaw pressure and once released wait two seconds before taking the reading

  • Perform all measurements consecutively and then repeat the process (don't wait longer than two seconds when holding the callipers on the site or immediately repeat the measurements on the same site because this pushes fluid out of the area, reducing the measurement and giving you and inaccurate measurement)

  • Avoid measuring skinfolds immediately after exercise because increasedblood flow to the skin will inflate the measurements

  • How to perform the site measurements

    On the side of the arm measure the distance from the acromion process (acromiale landmark) to the head of the radius (radiale landmark). Using a felt tip marker put a mark on the side of the subject's right arm. This point will be used for determing the triceps and biceps skinfold sites. From this mark, in a horizontal plane, move to the back of the arm and place a mark on the most posterior (back) point on the arm. This is the triceps skinfold site. The measurement is taken in a vertical plane.

    Move to the most anterior (front) point of the arm from the same original mark and that is the site for the biceps skinfold. The measurement is taken in a vertical plane.

    Find the inferior angle of the scapula (the very bottom, pointy tip of the shoulder blade). Measure 2 cms immediately below that point. That is the site for the subscapular. The measurement is taken at a 45 degree angle.

    Find the anterior, superior iliac spine (the very front and top of the hips bone). Then measure 7 cms towards the armpit. That is the site for the supra-spinale. The measurement is taken at a slight angle towards the groin.

    If you are serious about determining if you have a healthy body fat percentage, purchase a set of skinfold callipers, follow these instructions and perform some skinfold testing with a friend or partner.

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