Accurately determining your body fat percentage isn’t an easy task.
We spoke a while back about abs. You want them. Everybody wants them. They look cool. We established some absolutes. Most healthy folks have abdominal muscles, but in order for you to see your illustrious six, that layer of fat has to go. In fact, you’ll need to be pretty damn lean. From livestrong.com:
While everyone is different, there is something to be said for looking at a standard guide when determining what levels of body fat you need to see your abs. According to trainer and nutritionist Tom Venuto, you’ll need to get very lean to see your abs. Venuto classes this as under 15 percent body fat for women and below 9 percent for men.
Unfortunately, determining how much body fat you’re carrying isn’t necessarily a simple process. During my playing days, my teammates and I had our body fat measured on an annual basis during our physicals. Spring training always saw the nurses coming in with calipers. They pinched and poked us like the Pillsbury Doughboys we were. Generally, this test involves pinching fat in at least three different locations, like the chest, abdomen, thigh, arm and back. In theory, this should give you a measurement of your total body fat. In reality, the accuracy depends on your tester. Some testers squeeze too much skin, some not enough. It’s especially invasive if you don’t particularly like being prodded by strangers.
If you’d like more accuracy, there’s a guaranteed way to get an exact measurement. From Howard Schneider of the Washington Post:
The only true way to measure body fat is through an autopsy.
I’ll pass for now, thanks. Fortunately, there’s a way to get a reasonably accurate measurement without the peculiar interaction of the caliper skinfold test. I just went for a dive with the mobile hydrostatic body fat clinic company, Get Tanked. From their website:
Hydrostatic body fat testing is the most accurate method of measuring the amount of fat and lean (fat-free) mass a person has on his or her body. Just as a person weighs a different amount on the Moon than on Earth, a person weighs differently underwater than on land. Using measurements of a person’s weight underwater and weight on land, precisely how much fat a person carries can be calculated.
It’s pretty simple, actually. You track down the truck, preferably in board shorts (if you live in Alaska, I’m sure you can show up in long johns). The clinic inside will have a scale, a computer and a rectangular metal tank with a few feet of “chlorinated, pH balanced, and approximately 90° F” water.
After a few questions, you strip down to your suit and in you go. You’ll lay a weight belt across your legs, blow out all of your air and go under for a few seconds. The clinician will tell you that you must blow out the last bits of air underwater (sounds intimidating, it’s actually simple) because oxygen in your lungs will show up as fat on the test. Nice move, right? They force you to comply by playing on your vanity. Sly.
Upon your emergence from your dip, the company provides you with the following:
- Your body fat and lean mass percentages and weights
- How your percentage of body fat compares to others
- How much fat, if any, needs to be lost in order to reach your composition goals
- Basal metabolic rate—how many calories/day you burn without exercising
- Personal caloric intake and expenditure chart—how many calories/day you burn when doing various exercises and activities
- Historical readings and progress, if more than one test has been taken
Here are my results. This shit is scientific.
As of now, the clinic I used is not everywhere. Here’s the location map. However, a quick Google search will likely yield results in your area. If not, you can always go with the tried and true approach of looking in the mirror. Can you live with it? Cool. Me too.