What is Body Fat Percentage? - THE FIT MUM FORMULA

What is Body Fat Percentage?

Body Fat percentage is, quite literally, the percentage of your body that is made up of fat. The remaining percentage includes water, bones, organs, and muscle tissue etc. It is not the same as BMI which measures height versus weight. Two people with the same BMI can have a different body fat percentage. The higher your body fat % the ‘softer’, ‘rounder’ and ‘plumper’ you will look, whereas a lower body fat % will result in the underlying muscles (or bones if insufficient muscle is present) becoming visible.


What is your ideal body fat percentage?

Essential fat – required for organ functioning, any lower than this can be dangerous. 10-12%
Athletes – think Olympic sprinters; fit, toned, defined muscles. Most women train and perform better at 20% rather than lower. 14-20%
Fitness – slim, healthy and glowing, many of those fitness models that are on the front of your ‘health’ magazine probably fall at the lower end of this bracket. 21-24%
Acceptable – ‘curvy’, with a soft, rounded appearance, perhaps a little overweight. 25-31%
Obese – need to take action, this is not good for your health at all! 32% +

N.B. For anyone wanting to get pregnant lower than 15% body fat is not advised. This varies between women, but if you stop menstruating or periods become irregular and erratic, you might have dropped your body fat too low.

Methods for Measuring Body Fat

  1. Skinfold Measurement (calipers)
  2. Bioelectrical impedance analysis (Body Fat measuring scales)
  3. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (Dexa Scan)
  4. Height and circumference methods (Taking measurements)
  5. Hydrostatic Testing (Underwater Density Test)

How to measure at home using calipers

  1. Body Fat Caliper Measurement Sites – Women
  2. Chest – Diagonal fold, one third of the way between upper armpit and nipple
  3. Midaxillary – Horizontal fold, directly below armpit
  4. Bicep – Vertical fold, halfway between shoulder and elbow, directly on bicep
  5. Abdominal – Vertical fold, one inch to the right of navel
  6. Suprailiac – Diagonal fold, directly above iliac crest
  7. Thigh- Vertical fold, midway between knee cap and top of thigh
  8. Calf – Vertical fold, inside of leg on largest part of calf
  9. Subscapular – Diagonal fold, directly below shoulder blade
  10. Tricep – Vertical fold, midway between elbow and shoulder
  11. Lower Back – Horizontal fold, directly over the kidneys, and 2 inches to the right of spine

Body Fat Caliper Procedures

  • All measurement should be made on the right side of the body.
  • The caliper should be placed 1 cm away from thumb and finger, perpendicular to skinfold, and halfway between crest and base of fold.
  • Pinch should be maintained while reading the caliper.
  • Wait 1 to 2 seconds (no longer) before reading the caliper.
  • Take duplicate measures at each site and retest if duplicate measurements are not within 1 to 2 mm.
  • Rotate through measurement sites or allow time for skin to regain normal texture and thickness.

Source for caliper usage instructions: American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines For Exercise Testing and Prescription. 6th Edition. USA, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2000.

N.B. using calipers is not the most accurate method, results can be 3% out even for people who know how to use them; practice will improve this.

The easiest and cheapest way to get a fairly accurate result is to check with your local gym or GP surgery to see if they have a set of body fat measuring scales for you to use.

What does each percentage look like?


How do I lower my Body Fat Percentage?

Here are some suggestions. The lower you want your body fat percentage to be (within healthy limits), the stricter you’ll have to be.

  1. Eat fewer calories – whilst calorie counting itself is not required while using The Fit Mum Formula’s methods, the high protein and fibre, reduced sugar and starch methods make it difficult to overeat since protein and fibre are very filling. A reduction in calorie intake will most likely occur without much effort when eating this way, and is necessary to reduce your size if you are overweight.
  2. Do weight and resistance workouts. These strengthen (NOT bulk!) muscles, which in turn burn fat. So a double effect is the result; a toned appearance from this new/stronger muscle, and reduced top layer fat so thus muscle can be seen! Working muscles also results in an ‘afterburn’ whereby you are burning fat and calories for hours after you finish your workout.
  3. Sprint don’t jog. Sprinting has the same effect as intense weight and resistance based workouts. Jogging encourages fat-storing stress hormones and induces muscle wastage.
  4. Reduce your carbohydrate intake (carbs turn to sugar, so on that note reduce your sugar intake too). What we have devised at The Fit Mum Formula is a system where you can adapt to your needs, your body and how you feel, so some people will need more carbs than others to create a long term sustainable lifestyle for themselves. At the end of the day though it comes down to the fact that reducing carbohydrates means your body has to burn fat for energy. Focus on lean protein, fibrous vegetables, some fruit and a little ‘healthy’ fat.
  5. Workout first thing in the morning before eating. Your body is forced to burn fat for energy rather than whatever you have just eaten. Eat around half an hour afterwards instead, to refuel your muscles, build new muscle tissue, and help prevent muscle soreness.


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