7 Ways to Measure Body Composition

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Your body weight does not necessarily indicate the overall state of your health and should not be used as the only factor in determining general wellness. Give attention to your body’s makeup, carefully examining where the additional weight originates. A body composition assessment can reveal not only your level of body fat but can also assist you with improving your dietary habits to facilitate shedding fat and building muscle, as well as authenticating potential health threats.

This guide will provide you with knowledge of body composition and instructions on how to calculate it.

What is Body Composition?

Analyzing the components of the human body is referred to as body composition. It involves assessing body fat mass, muscle bulk, bone mass, tissue, and water percentage. Breaking down one’s makeup and analyzing the components is the core of body composition.

Have a body composition assessment to gain insight into your body weight beyond what the scale shows. It can inform you of your body fat percentage, the number of bones in your body, and the amount of muscle in your body.

When someone expresses a desire to alter their body composition or “recomp”, it typically implies that their goal is to trim body fat while maintaining or increasing their muscle mass.

Why is Body Composition Important?

Measuring body composition is the most reliable way to determine if you are shedding fat or gaining muscle.

Commonly, individuals trying to shed pounds may experience a lack of results in the initial stage of their effort, resulting in annoyance and quitting. It is typical to depend mainly on the scale if you are trying to track your weight loss. The weight of the situation is only one piece of the puzzle and does not provide a full understanding.

Even if the scale isn’t moving, that doesn’t mean fat loss isn’t occurring. In many cases, you are likely going through alterations in fluid levels or potentially adding muscle and reducing fat together. This is where body composition testing comes in clutch.

The measuring you can use to know your weight is a scale. However, body composition gives you info on where the weight is distributed (i.e., body fat, muscle mass, or bones).

It is also beneficial to measure your body composition, as it gives an indication of how well your physical fitness is and can help indicate a potential risk for some chronic illnesses.

The greater your proportion of fat in your body, especially in the form of visceral fat found surrounding the organs in your abdomen, the likelier you will be to suffer from long-term health issues, such as metabolic syndrome, heart illness, obesity, and diabetes (1,2,3,4).

Conversely, a larger proportion of muscle mass can usually contribute to a better metabolism since muscle is active metabolism-wise compared to fat and increases the basal metabolic rate.

What is a Healthy Body Composition?

The proportion of your body made up of fat, and muscle is dependent on your gender, age, and fitness level. The “standard” range can differ depending on the precision of the body composition evaluation you pick.

How to Measure Body Composition

There are seven different types of body composition analysis tests available, each employing a different procedure and level of precision. Below are five methods for determining your body composition and ascertaining your body fat percentage.

1. Skinfold Tests

One of the oldest and simplest techniques to gauge the amount of fat in the body is a skinfold test. Due to the straightforwardness of this tactic, it generally is the least precise.

This method involves taking a pinch of the skin in specific zones (chest, thigh, and belly) with skinfold calipers in order to measure the thickness of the skin. It is possible to assess other parts of the body in addition to the bicep, such as the triceps, the Midaxillary area, the subscapular region, and the supra iliac hip, via either a 3-point or 7-point measurement.

The amount that is calculated from taking measurements is joined with a person’s age and gender and put into a special equation to give an idea of the percentage of their body fat.

Skinfold tests are not comprehensive since they only assess fat beneath the skin and do not provide an overall analysis of the body. Not everyone has the same manner of retaining fat in their body. The accuracy of the test may be compromised due to the possibility of mistakes made by the individual administering it.

A skinfold test can be obtained from many workout locations, and the pricing will be different.

2. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

BIA employs a small electric flow that is sent through the body to evaluate the fatty-free mass.

Electricity can only travel through liquids, and because each tissue in the body has differing levels of water, the flow of current is affected by the conductance of each kind of tissue. For example, muscle has greater water content than fat, thus creating a less disturbed current when an individual possesses more lean mass and a more agitated current when they possess more adipose tissue.

Then, the device will use a commonly used method to estimate your body fat percentage.

The accuracy of the results is largely dependent on hydration status due to how these tools work. Whether or not you have had a meal or done physical activity prior to the test should also be taken into consideration.

Different varieties of BIA products can be obtained from the market. Numerous bathroom scales and handheld machines can be easily transported and are quite economical. There are BIA machines of a more advanced level that use electric pads placed on the body.

The accuracy of body composition analysis using BIA technology is estimated to be within a range of 3-8%. However, when using scales at home, the margin of error is probably higher, with reports that it may reach 5-6%.

You can purchase an at-home BIA scale or a handheld machine that ranges in cost from $30-$50, allowing you to conduct a body composition evaluation when necessary.

3. Hydrostatic (Underwater) Weighing

Hydrostatic or underwater weighing is a type of densitometry that utilizes your body weight on land and when submerged in water, plus the volume of fluid displaced, to determine your body composition.

This approach is derived from Archimedes’ principle, which states that the upward force on an item that is partly or fully submerged in a liquid is equivalent to the weight of the liquid displaced by the object.

Muscle is more dense than fat, meaning it occupies less space per pound, though it weighs the same.

This means that because muscle is denser than fat, a person who has more muscles will weigh more underwater than someone with a larger body fat percentage.

When carrying out underwater weighing, it is essential for a person to exhale every bit of air from their lungs, as increased air amounts can alter the amount of water movement. The procedure is typically carried out three times, and then the mean underwater mass is calculated.

Seek out fitness providers or companies available online that have a mobile van or outpost to complete a Hydrostatic body composition test. It will cost approximately $35 to $50 per test.

This technique is commended for its high level of accuracy, with the possibility of an error rate of only 1-3%.

4. Air Displacement Plethysmography Method (ADP)

It is essential to take a step back and not be scared off by ADP when it is brought up! Take a deep breath and go for it! ADP is just like the dunk tank technique, except without the experience of scuba diving, and you should recognize that something has changed.

An individual enters a small chamber-like structure. Currently, alterations in the pressure of the room are observed to calculate body size.

ADP calculates body density based on an individual’s mass and size. This technique employs air instead of liquid to determine volume. Through looking at the density readings, ADP figures out what fraction of a person’s mass is composed of lean and fat.

ADP is an optimal solution for those more sensitive populations like the elderly, kids, and those with physical disabilities because its technology is easy to access and doesn’t require invasive procedures.

There are many factors that can influence the results of an ADP body composition assessment, including hydration levels and temperature. This can make it difficult to receive precise results, particularly for fitness enthusiasts who are usually tested before and after exercise. We don’t want our exercise routine to get in the way of our studies. It’s why we’re being evaluated in the first place!

5. Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA)

Aside from resembling a figure from the X-men series, the DEXA scan is really considered a medical benchmark in evaluating body composition. A DEXA scan differs from other types of radio waves and ultrasound because it involves exposing patients to only a small amount of ionizing radiation.

The person reclines on the test bed while the DEXA scanner passes above them. This procedure lasts around 15 minutes which appears like it is taken right out of a science fiction movie.

A DEXA scan, which was initially intended to measure bone mineral density, is now commonly used to evaluate body composition too. A DEXA scan uses two beams of light that are shone over the bones, afterward measuring the amount of light that is absorbed. The more muscle there is compared to fat, the less the beams will be able to penetrate to the bone. The reading is translated into a figure for the percentage of body fat.

This method provides precise outcomes; it can measure not only bone density but also body composition. This is likely the most highly accepted body composition technique within the educational society besides Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

The DEXA system, which is incredibly accurate, tends to cost a lot, frequently up to $100,000. A DEXA scan uses X-rays, which, if taken too often, may cause health issues.

6. 3D Body Scanning

3D body scanning is an up-and-coming technique for gaining an understanding of someone’s body composition. We find appealing both the visuals and the numbers that this engages customers with. The primary motivation for body scanning obtaining precedence is its capacity to expand upon the power of the caliper and circumference approaches while reducing human mistakes. Using 3D body scanners (body surface imaging technology) is one of the most accurate ways to determine body fat content without Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Other methods include caliper measurements and circumference measurements. However, not all body scanners are built the same. Thus, it is essential to make sure that the digital tape readings from your preferred body scanner are exact and accurate.

A person is positioned on a rotating platform with arms outstretched and clenched fists. It takes approximately forty seconds for the machine to make a three-dimensional picture of the person while it is in the process of turning one full revolution.

Non-invasive 3D cameras are employed to capture the surface features of someone and generate an exact representation in three-dimension of that person. This is done by utilizing a non-harmful infrared light that bounces off the entirety of the body but cannot be seen by the human eye. Data is collected from the body’s surface digitally, which portrays a tape measure accurately and without the reduction of accuracy that is often caused by human measurements.

It is possible to calculate volume and surface area from the 3D model too. These measurements are then used to calculate body composition. The hope that these body scanners represent has been highly encouraging, prompting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to award a sizeable grant to two key body composition institutions in order to further analyze the technology and work towards commercial practicality and dependability.

This 3D Scanner is lightweight and can be taken with you wherever you go. Just like BIA, the entire process takes only a few minutes. 3D body scanning utilizes camera technology to take exact measurements, decreasing any errors that happen when using calipers and enabling tracking modifications in size, similar to DEXA. The 3D imagery is incredibly captivating and serves as a wonderful way to begin a conversation. A lot of fitness centers are utilizing 3D body scanning as a technique to attract new customers and demonstrate their cutting-edge services. 3D scanning can be a helpful supplement for teaching, as it can demonstrate to someone just how their body shape and form are altering in ways that are easier to grasp, such as through measures like waist size. It is especially crucial if their overall body mass is not changing but their silhouette is altering.

3D body scanning does not produce accurate results if someone is wearing loose or baggy clothes, as it uses a camera that does not penetrate the body and only captures a surface image. Therefore, subjects must wear form-fitting clothing. This is typically an effortless request for females since females, more often than not, are clothed in compression apparel such as Pilates/yoga pants. Men, however, don’t usually own compression shorts.

7. US Navy/circumference Method

Using a tape measure to take measurements of areas with high concentrations of body fat is another affordable option for assessing body composition. It’s such a widespread practice that every branch of the US military applies this approach when estimating body composition. The concept of body fat is similar to that of calipers; people accumulate fat as they increase in size in different parts of their bodies. Nonetheless, unlike calipers, there’s no pinching involved. Nevertheless, employing the tape measure may be awkward for your client or patient. Occasionally, the main difficulty is not being able to reproduce the results because it can be challenging to recapture the same location when carrying out a measurement.

The US Navy or circumference approach uses sophisticated equations taking into consideration particular body measurements to calculate body fat percentage. The circumference of the abdomen and neck for men and women are manually measured at the waist and hips. This formula was tested using information obtained from DEXA scans for its development period, and it is believed that the correct dosage will provide the same level of precision.

Manually recording body dimensions is done by taking measurements with a measuring tape at specified areas of the body. This measurement process is then repeated three times. The mean of the three body composition assessments conducted at each location is then input into an equation to work out a person’s overall body composition.

Very easy to use and administer on-site. The formula is highly reliable when done correctly.

This procedure is susceptible to mistakes due to the fact that measurements are taken by hand. Angle the measuring tape a tiny bit or leave a little bit of slack, and you’ll find a wide range of outcomes. In certain situations, an inaccuracy of 10% in a tape measurement could be entirely due to a human error.


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