T Nation

Body Fat

Is it only me or are there others out there that chuckle when they read peoples post stating they know their body fat percentage. The gold standard is underwater weighing and I haven’t the time or scratch to do that. Calipers are extremely fallible, waist hip wrist measurments are also very suspect. electronic and other devices, while pretty good with change over 2 measures are inconsistant. Why don’t people just rip off their shirt and subjectively say “I am too fat” instead of inacurate “measurements”? I just did and guess what? I am fatter than I should and want to be. Anyone else chuckling or am I alone?

I agree. I read these posts like I’m 200lbs 8% bodyfat but I want to get abs. Duh at 8% you have abs. Or I’m 4% bodyfat (tested at bally’s maybe). below 6% and you have muscle fibers showing everywhere!

JJ: I AGREE and DISagree. I think that body fat percentage is useful, but only as a monitoring tool (i.e. to monitor a fat loss or resistance training program and its effectiveness). What you use to measure is not nearly as important as CONSISTANCY in the device you use. I have a “double check” by using a Tanita TBF-612 and an Omron “Body Logic” Body Fat Analyzer. (Believe me; the cost of BOTH is worth it and MUCH less than a lot of this “juice and swamp water” a lot of people on this site use!)

That being said, I think that body fat percentage is being used much like biceps size, dress size, waist and weight. A sort of arbitrary “I have arrived and I’m lookin’ great and I’m better than you” sort of “status” number. And here we agree. There is NO replacement for the mirror! A number is just that; a number.

I’ve also read that underwater weighing may not be accurate for people other than white males, since the original studies were done on white male cadavers.

I’m with you, Bro. I get a kick out of how everybody that lists their bodyfat % is at “10%” or lower. Why then, do we have so many people on this post asking how to lose fat, get rid of their “handles”, etc.? I think it would be a hoot to have these dudes post pic’s so we can all “admire” their low fat percetages.
Before I found T-Mag I was checking out some other BB message boards. I wasn’t too impressed with the info provided, but it was the best I had found. Then I noticed the site had a place where the message board contributors could post their pics. What a Fuckin’ riot!! Once I stopped laughing I immediately deleted my membership on that board. Maybe that experience has left me a little cynical, but based on the majority of guys that showed up at the “No Holds Barred” Seminar in Orlando, I’d have to say that 90% of this board’s contributors are probably like me, somewhere between 12-15%. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are on a mass building phase. Just don’t try to piss on me and tell me it’s rainin’. Peace out.

I don’t think underwater weighing is the best method. As Hyok said, there are differences based on skeletal mass between whites and blacks. Also, my bodyfat percentage is based on what I have had tested and how I look in the mirror. So when I say I’m between 10-13 percent, I’d have to say that’s pretty accurate. I can tell if I’m leaner or not by how I look in the mirror and how much I can pinch. I think that if you’ve been doing this long enough, you get pretty good at estimating your bodyfat. But I’m sure there are a few who are way off. Especially if they say they are under 10 percent and can only see their upper two abs or no abs. At under 10 percent, I can easily see my abs. At 7 percent, I can see my entire six pack as well as seratus and everything else!

It would be cool to be able to post our pics on the site. I think T-mag should let us do that. I have a pic of when I was at 7 percent, and I looked pretty damn good. I also have pics of when I was at 14 percent. I'd post them. It would also be cool because if we wanted feedback on something, people could see your pic and then critique your physique. I'm sure that would come in handy for many of us. So how about it Chris Shugart? When can we start posting pics within our posts? Is it possible?

I know that with me, if I lost five pounds of fat, it makes a huge difference in my appearance. That is less than 3% change in % bodyfat if I assume that I am 12% right now. Considering that underwater weighing method has an accuracy of plus or minus 3% (so I’ve read), then it may be more accurate for me to just look in a mirror. It would be cool if T-mag would do an article showing pics of people at various bodyfat percentages We could visually correlate the change in bodyfat versus appearance. For most of us, comparing our appearance against the photos would probably be as accurate, if not more accurate, as some dumbass personal trainer at Bally’s. My buddy, who has abs, was measured at 24% bodyfat by one of those dumbnuts.

The errors of underwater weighing as a means
of estimating percent bodyfat aren’t limited
to just the male/female or white/black differences. For example, about 6 years ago,
I was measured at UF (I was a test subject) by a scientist who
did body composition as a routine part of
her work… I’m sure she knew what she was doing.

Underwater weighing put me at 4%, but one
glance would tell you that this was completely
ridiculous. 7-point skinfold put me at 8%
which, surprise surprise, was how I actually
looked. She told me that sometimes underwater
weighing gives even more absurd results, such as negative estimated percent bodyfat.

(Sadly, I only weighed 158 back then, after
three years of training HIT style. That
was about a 10 lb LBM increase, using the 8%
figure, so, so much for HIT.)

Underwater weighing does NOT measure percent
fat. It measures density. Percent fat is
simply guessed from that.

Skinfold, however, does to a large degree
measure amount of subcutaneous fat. It
can be inaccurate in estimating total fat,
since visceral and intramuscular fat is not measured but must be estimated, but sub-Q
is what affects your appearance (although
visceral fat can give you a potbelly which
certainly adversely affects appearance.)

Reporting estimated percent bodyfat is
a more precise method of communicating
than just saying “I’m fat,” “I’m a little
fat,” or “I’m pretty lean” or whatever.
However it would be better if people
gave a number only if there was an actual
measurement taken, even if by someone
incompetent :wink:

I think bf measurements can be of great use at times. I’ll give you an example of exactly what I mean:

Not long ago I was leanness obsessed. I knew every calorie that went into my mouth and those calories were definitely sub-maint. Anyway, I constantly felt like, “hey, if I can just drop five more pounds I’ll be below 8% or something.” I had no measurement done, so I just went by guesstimate (a poor, poor idea, BTW). I couldn’t lose the fat and just bemoaned the ease with which I lost muscle despite the intelligence of my diet and training. Finally, I got a BF assessment. The BIA couldn’t read me, meaning that I was sub 5%. I didn’t believe it. I was calipered at around 4%. I was amazed. Why couldn’t I lose that “stubborn fat”? Because there wasn’t any! My body was burning muscle as fast as it made it for fuel. I took a more objective look at myself in the mirror and started to ask myself from where I could lose more fat. I couldn’t find it. I could barely pinch skin off my body. I rearranged my head a little bit and went on a mass-gain phase (which just recently ended). 25 lbs later (about 15 of muscle), I feel better and am much stronger. I’m going to cut just a little bit and then go for more mass. I completely agree that some people are full of s*** regarding their BF%, but sometimes it’s an invaluable tool.

About 2 years ago I did an experiment to find out just how innacurate calipers were. These were all done on the same day, within about 4 hours of eachother (it took me that long to complete it and walk/drive to the next test):

  1. Underwater weighing and SDSU (which by the way only charged $30 for it, but you need to make an appt).
  2. Bio-impedanece (with a high end machine, not just a tanita scale).
  3. Calipers - good electronic ones using 9 measurement points.

They were all within 1% of eachother - underwater being the highest, bio-impedance being the next highest, and the calipers being lowest (which strangely enough was the order that I did them in). They were also done by 3 different people. BTW, the readout on the calipers (it has it’s own 3-site calculation) was quite a bit higher then any of them.

So, what's this prove? First, calipers aren't always that far off - it depends on how many sites and the person doing it. Second, I think the low amount of sites that most people use is ridiculous, and probably only somewhat accurate for a small percentage of the population (depends on where YOU store your fat).

BTW, there are some other more reliable ways to measure BF% nowadays, but their probably out of the realm of most people. I think it was in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition where they recently (about 4 months ago) had an article where they were using MRI’s to measure BF - this can be done exactly, as you can clearly see what’s fat and what’s not. But I don’t think sitting inside a box for a half hour (and the $$$) is really worth the extra accuracy.

The last thing I think needs to be realized is that there’s alot more to how you look then just the BF%… mine is (supposedly) quite low (7%), but because of loose skin from when I was heavier/younger, and excess water retention, I usually look heavier - can I see my abs? Yes, but only if I flex them a bit.

Time to wake up JJ. In my buisness the bodyfat test is irriplacible. Beginners need to see progress ASAP and BF% is noticable WAY BEFORE Mrs. Jones can SEE IT in the mirror. Its my #1 motivator for continued progress.BF-lost,and LMass-gained. Bodyfat tests are FAIRLY accurate,but when you use the SAME person(who does lots of BF tests),the CHANGES made from one reading to the next,ARE VERY ACCURATE. It really mistifies me that so many bodybuilders record: everything about their training,write down calories,macronutrient ratios,etc then tottally neglect the benifits derived from a SIMPLE BF Test

Logan: Excellent point! Especially for somewhat analytical people, the proof is in the numbers way before it’s in the waist size or mirror.

Lots of good points here. Just my two cents: Underwater weighing is not the gold standard. How can in be if we have negative bodyfat with some athletes? An autopsy is the only accurate measure. Anyway, I have to say that the posts lately (not this thread) about bodyfat, are from someone who “just wants to know”. Ok, you’re 10%. Happy? Now what are you going to do with that? If you are not going to measure youself every month or two, those digits are worthless. I do agree that they help the “newbie”, “client” or the person who is trying a new program, diet or supplements. But, just knowing for knowings’ sake is a joke. Anyway, enough of that rant. I use a Futrex unit (near infra-red). It doesn’t matter what method you use, just stick with it. calipers, bio-impedence can be influenced by hydration or lack thereof; Underwater weighing by lack of blowing out all your air; Near infra-red by not answering the questions that determine your body type correctly. They all have their flaws. Just take that in consideration when you get tested. test the same time of day, day of week and normal eating/hydration.