T Nation

Fat, Callipers, and Accuracy


I've heard mixed feelings on measuring BF through calliper use - some people say its bullshit, other people say its the shit. I mean, dexa scans aren't exactly usable weekly.

My question is assuming you do the 6 or 8 or whatever bodypart test, where you do the pinch on each and plug them into the algorithm - is that in any way accurate or just total bullshit? I imagine it varies on the day to day but if you kept conditions near constant and did it bi-weekly, I assume you'd see a difference. The question is do the percents actually ever line up with the real stuff well enough to matter?


If you have the same tester doing it each time, it will be better that way to track changes. That's what it should really be used for.

Of course the tester themselves with practice can be more consistent.

I've found that the larger a person is, the harder it is to be accurate and consistent. so, for larger people I prefer Bod Pod, BIA or just photos and circumference.


Actually I think calipers are extremely useful for tracking your own relative progress over time, whereas the "real" bodyfat number (i.e., accurate) is not that useful. The main thing you're interested in for body composition purposes is subcutaneous fat -- and calipers measure that, to the half millimeter or so for a cheap pair of calipers. Take readings at the exact same spots every time, and yes, you'll get a reliable measure of progress.

Caring about the accuracy of the number is irrational. It's just a number. Suppose you buy a $20 pair of calipers, plug the measurements into some formula that seems appropriate for your age and body type, and get 10%. You're happy. Then you go get a DEXA scan and get a reading of 16%. Now you're not happy. This is irrational. The reality of the fat and muscle you actually have hasn't changed, nor has your appearance. This is like worrying about whether your scale is accurate, or preferring the number given in pounds to the number in kilograms, because pounds is a larger number (or the reverse, for females)...It does not change reality or matter in the least.

Scales are useful when you use the same scale as a reliable measure of change over time, and calipers are best used in the same way. So that means buy your own and pinch the same exact spots every time. This will give a more reliable picture, IMO, than having different trainers at a gym pinching you with expensive calipers.


I've used calipers for a couple of years now, and if I'm going to make a claim on my BF% I'd go by my eye, which generally is about calipers + 3-4% I reckon.

Calipers for me are a great comparison tool. As in if I'm taking readings and they're generally going down then that's great. If they didn't match with what I'm seeing in the mirror and how my clothes felt then I'd chuck them out, or do some reading on whether I'm using them properly.

So yeah... I'd buy some slimguides (best I've used) and just use them for yourself to make sure you're moving in the right direction. You can easily do three sites.


I used to use calipers and measure myself. I tried to be consistant each time.
About 2 years ago I stopped using them. Based on how my clothes fit, how I look in the mirror, and how I'm progressing in the gym I can access if I'm doing what I need to do.

The way I look at it is if someone has veins in their lower abs does it matter if they are 4% or 5% and likewise if someone has a big belly does it matter if they are 25% or 28%?


^^exactly. I dont care what my actual BF% is and I dont know why people actually care to be honest? If im getting stronger, looking bigger and leaner I could care less what my BF% is.