Let’s say that you have been strictly following a high protein diet, hitting the gym every day, and pushing yourself to the limit. However, you get on the scale and you simply don’t see the results you want. What’s going on here? If you are feeling frustrated over a lack of progress toward your fitness goals, don’t worry: you’re not alone.
While a scale can be a useful tool for keeping track of your weight, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. If you want to see the real results of your health and fitness routine, you need to keep track of your body fat. Here are some methods you can use to calculate your actual body fat:
1. Measure Waist Circumference
Two things tend to happen when you begin a fitness routine: your body burns fat and it gains muscle. As these two things tend to happen simultaneously, you may not notice a drastic shift on the scale; however, you may notice the pounds dropping from your waistline, particularly if you are following a weight loss diet.
Simply measuring your waist is a great way to measure your results, and it doesn’t require any special equipment! Monthly or weekly measurements will help keep track of how much fat you’ve shed. It can also be a motivating tool — a smaller waist is a marker of your decreased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
2. Using Skin Calipers
If you have access to a personal trainer, gym, or health club, you may have used skin calipers to test your body fat percentage before. This can be a very useful metric when you are trying to lose weight. As you’ll continue to diet and exercise, you’ll watch the measurable skin folds get smaller and smaller.
Of course, it’s very important that the person using this tool (your doctor, trainer, or gym buddy) knows what they’re doing if you want an accurate measurement. Skin calipers should not be the only method that you use to calculate your body fat, they offer a quick and easy way to gauge fat objectively.
3. Hydrostatic Weighing
Hydrostatic weighing is the technical term for underwater weighing, where a technician compares your normal weight to your weight after being dunked in a tank of water. These two figures determine your density, which in turn calculates your body fat percentage with only a 2.7% margin of error according to the American Council on Exercise.
This method can give you an accurate look at your body fat levels and how you’re progressing over your fitness journey. However, it is not always easy to find a lab or a performance center that offers this service — and when you do, it’s not always financially feasible. If you have the opportunity to try hydrostatic weighing, go for it, but be aware there are other more cost-effective options available.
4. Bioelectrical Impedance
The theory behind bioelectrical impedance is that muscle tissue conducts electricity quicker than fatty tissue. In this method, you will stand on a bioelectrical impedance scale, which sends electrical impulses through the body and tracks how fast they return. A slower return time indicates a higher body fat level, while a faster return time indicates a slimmer body.
While this may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, bioelectrical impedance scales are widely available these days. You can even purchase one for use in your home! Just make sure to measure at the same time consistently each day: doing things like eating, drinking water, or even exercising recently can affect your reading.
5. The DEXA Scan
The Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is a very accurate body fat measuring tool. In fact, Men’s Fitness has called the DEXA scan the “gold standard” for body fat measurement. This method involves laying on a table while a medical professional scans your body with a low-energy x-ray beam. The x-ray reveals many details about your body composition, including your fat mass.
The greatest impediments to using a DEXA machine are its availability and its cost. However, it is a very accurate tool (just like hydrostatic weighing). In fact, because the machine scans one body part at a time, it can help you know for certain if you favor one side over another in your workouts.
Of course, eating right, exercising, and taking the proper vitamins and supplements are the keys to having a happy and healthy day — whether or not your body fat is where you want it to be. But if you want a complete picture of your fitness progress, you may want to consider adding some of these methods to your trip to the scale.
But remember: whether you’re hitting the gym for a CrossFit workout, detoxing with herbal tea, or counting calories to shed those pounds, make sure that you always do so safely.