T Nation

Help with Caliper Measurements


#1

So apparently I’ve been doing my skinfold caliper measurements wrong because it calculates to 8% on a 3-site, and I know I’m nowhere near 8. I do a horizontal measurement 1" to the right of the navel, a diagonal measurement along the bottom edge of the pec (halfway between the armpit crease and nipple), and a vertical at the quads.

Looked through some websites and used different methods, only to come up with lower results. The most accurate (the one that more closely matches my visual estimate) seems to be the 1-point suprailiac measurement which says I’m around 12%.

It bugs me that I’m screwing up somehow in my measurements. Any tips or techniques to try?


#2

Use the mirror.

Self measuring is fraught with pitfalls. I’ve had similar experiences with just about the same results, 9% with three site, 12% with single site, fifteen with scale, 18% with a professional and calipers. Mirror told me 16%.

Mirror rules.


#3

Makes me feel a little better knowing its not just me. I’ve been using the calipers to track progress, so for that it works great, but its a little aggravating not being able to get an accurate reading. I plan to diet until I see a drop in strength (still gaining atm), so I know it doesn’t really change anything, but it irks the piss outta me.


#4

For what it’s worth, I’m a BF whore. I check it everyday with an Omron hand held BIA, I have a BIA scale, a Skulpt, and calipers. I have my weight and body fat in a spreadsheet for everyday of the last three years.

And, what the BBers say is right, it don’t mean shit.

But, I still keep it.

Also, I feel like the logarithmic extrapolation equation is inaccurate based on ages, so take it with a grain of salt. According to my scale, I’m 13% at 34 years old, but 16% at 54 years old (I’m 54).

According to my hand held, it’s 13% at 34 and 14.5% at 54.

Either way, according to some charts, I’m considered ultra lean, lol, but according to BMI, I’m currently overweight.

Just use it as a tool and don’t get wrapped up in the numbers - advice I give but do not heed. I’d like to get sub 10% for Summers, but then I look like I don’t even lift. I was 11% this summer, and honestly, I look better twenty pounds heavier at 15%.

For me it just confirms, or refutes, that my diet and programming are working.

Post a pic, I’m sure a bunch of dudes will be really harsh and give you a real reading. And, honestly, I’ve seen this happen often enough, you’re probably closer to 16% than you are to 9%.

Good luck.


#5

I stumbled across an online article detailing the pitfalls of different BIA tools. The handheld one only measures your arms and upper torso and estimates the rest.

The scales only measure the legs and estimates the rest.

When I say measure I mean the impedence that the instrument receives while the signal is passed from one side to the other.

Supposedly there’s a whole body impedence tool that basically combines the scale and handheld tool. The article claimed that this version has been closely compared to a DEXA.

It didn’t mention any particular brand or model though. In still trying to figure that part out.

The article said that any instrument that has you enter age and sex is probably estimating.

The new toy is called a DSM-BIA.


#6

CT had an article on his ThibArmy blog a long time ago that talked about body fat measuring and its faults. He was at a professional conference or training and had multiple “pros” measure his body fat with calipers. The results ranged from 9-16%!


#7

These devices are better used to measure progress and trends, not to find your exact %. As long as you are using it the same way at the same time every day or week they can help see if you are heading in the right direction.

But I would just use the mirror and maybe progress photos.

Does it really matter for you to find your exact Bodyfat percentage…?


#8

Google ThibArmy Thib Rant and you should find the article.


#9

I believe that is the Skulpt. It takes several measurements bilaterally - biceps, pecs, abs, quads, glutes - and also calculates muscle quality, not really sure what that is. They’re $100 or so. I bought one six months ago and used it once. I lost the spray bottle (you have to spray before each measurement). The ad was a bit of a testimonial by a jacked dude that had just gotten a Dexa and they were within a tenth of a percent or so.

I did like the Skulpt, keep planning to break it out and check it again. @Serge_A_Storms also uses one and he is pretty jacked, seems to trust and like it. I don’t mean to imply that the use of any BF calculator = jackedness, just saying.

Sharing my experience here, not preaching at all, but what does BF really matter? If I look like Fred Flinstone but my calipers tell me I am 10%, what’s the point?

If I look like Bam Bam but my BIA tells me I am 20%, what’s the point?

Using a tool consistently is more important, in my opinion. For example, I’ve had two scales that I have used over the last three years, and am currently using the Omron. I fucked with the parameters because I felt the scale was wrong. my first scale had me at 21% three years ago (down from 26%) when I felt I was closer to 18%, so I changed my age to what reflected a BF% I was comfortable with. That age was 34.

Later, as I got leaner, I tweaked the parameters again because the scale had me leaner than the mirror said.

Then, new scale, monkey with that shit. Then, hand held, monkey with that shit.

Bottom line, my numbers from three years ago are not relevant because I am now using the handheld with my real age.

So, two years ago, when I was 190 @15%, what does that really mean? I have no idea because I don’t have that scale anymore, my caliper measurements were around twelve, and my pics, which I do have, tell me I was about 16%

The guy that measured me 18 months ago is a SSC and a DPT at a local university, and he offered me a Dexa and a water tank (supposedly the gold standard). I thought about taking him up on it but decided against it - waste of time. All that really matters to me is how I look because I am just a shallow bitch. A mirror tells me that in a second.

TMI?

My apologies.


#10

If I had an accurate body fat tool then I might listen to it. I tend to be hard on myself. If I was told with confidence that I was 11-12% but I thought I looked worse, then I might actually accept it and try to be satisfied instead of beating myself up.


#11

Nah, it doesn’t really matter. It only bugs me because its something that I apparently don’t know how to do very well, and I like knowing what the fuck I’m doing.


#12

I’m kinda the same way. I have the skulpt as well. Good tool. I use the MQ readings as a measure of how well I’m working a particular muscle. Example: took readings from the middle of the thigh, VM, and VL to see how my leg program was going. VL MQ was lower, so I changed some lifts and measured again three weeks later and got a better reading. A few weeks later, it got even better, and then I started seeing visual progress.

Once you start hitting a muscle pretty well, MQ improves before you ever see it in the mirror.


#13

Also using the skulpt, I learned that my chest likes low reps (5-), lats like medium-high (10-15), and legs like em high (15-20). Hard to beat a tool that saves you years on figuring shit out


#14

How do your body fat readings on the Skulpt compare to the calipers?

I looked at Omron’s website and they lost me when they claimed that their handheld, scale only, and total body BIAs were all equally accurate. They went on to say that 68% of users had accurate readings within like 3-4.5%. 4.5%!? If you’re 30% fat then I guess it doesn’t matter but when you’re trying to hit 10% then that error is problematic. And that’s only two-thirds of users. What’s the error in the rest of the people?

@Serge_A_Storms would you mind sharing your thoughts on the Skulpt?


#15

You can pretty much take whatever the caliper readings are and multiply them by 1.5 for the Skulpt. Which makes perfect sense, really, because its algorithm factors in intramuscular fat to be closer to a DEXA reading


#16

That’s depressing but makes sense. When I’m in a good place the calipers usually tell me I’m at 8-10% but I know it’s not true based on the reference photos on the web now - - including CT’s article.

It turns out the DSM-BIA instruments I was reading about are several thousands dollars and more likely to be found in a fitness or health center instead of my bathroom.


#17

Well, when we’re talking about aesthetics, we’re really only concerned with subcutaneous fat. Intramuscular is good for size and performance. If anyone ever came up with a way to cut SC while preserving IM, they’d revolutionize the entire fitness industry


#18

I bought a Tanita scale about 10 years ago at £200. I bought it on the back of a newspaper review where a selection of scales were tested on a subject and compared to the hydrostatic weighing result. According to this, the Tanita was almost identical in accuracy.

Having now undergone dexa scanning, I can tell you this is woefully inaccurate. I’ve had calipers measurement done before and, while better, they too have been inaccurate in comparison.

While it is expensive, I would endorse periodic dexa. Where I’m based in London, there a few places competing for business so you can get them at decent rates. You also get lots more data, like bone density, visceral fat levels, limb comparisons, so you know quite literally what shape you’re in.

That £200 would have given me at least 3 scans, probably 4, which I could have spread over 12 to 18 months. Would have been money much better spent.


#19

I like the Skulpt a lot. I think it may give a slightly generous reading, but if you’re only using it for yourself to monitor progress, it does the trick.


#20

this is pretty much the only worthwhile point made in this thread. Don’t get bogged down in absolute numbers in and of themselves, or whether one machine is more accurate than another, or anything like that. The number in and of itself is useless.

the obsession with knowing one’s bodyfat % astounds me. I just don’t get it.