If you’re serious about fitness, get body fat tested

February 15, 2014

There are many ways to test the effectiveness of your training program, but none as important as checking your body fat. You can be strong, fast or have bulging biceps, but if you’re carrying a high percentage of body fat, you’ll never reach your full potential. If you reduce your body fat to an optimal range, you will look, feel and perform in ways you never dreamed of, so if you’re curious to see how you stack up against the competition, get tested and adjust your program accordingly.

Getting tested

It really doesn’t matter what method you use; as long as you have a baseline, you’ll be able to chart your progress. I’ll break it down from least to most effective so you can choose the method that’s best for you.

Bioelectrical impedance (least accurate)

This method works by sending low-level electrical currents through your body to determine your body fat, usually through a scale or handheld device. It’s popular because it is quick and easy, but it's not very accurate. Several factors including skin temperature, body hair and fluid retention make it even less perfect. On average, bioelectrical impedance has a margin of error of approximately 10-12 percent.

Skin fold calipers (Moderately accurate)

This test uses a large set of calipers to lightly pinch the skin in several key areas. The calipers allow you to measure the thickness of fat on the outer layer of skin. You then compare the measurements to a predetermined chart or do a fancy mathematical equation, and you have your body fat percentage. This is a more accurate way, but it doesn’t test visceral body fat, which lies between the organs, so the more obese the person being tested the less accurate the test. It also depends on the skill and consistency of the person administering the test, and usually this varies quite a bit from test to test. The average margin of error is about 3-6 percent.

Hydrostatic weighing (difficult to do and impossible to find)

This test requires your body to be lowered into a giant tank of water, and since muscle is denser than fat, your body composition can be determined based on how much water you displace. People who have low body fat will displace more water than those with a higher body fat percentage, but very few facilities have the equipment to give this test except possibly some hospitals or universities, making the test unrealistic for the average person to get access. Not to mention it's time-consuming and difficult to administer.

Bod Pod (highly accurate and easy to do)

The Bod Pod is the most technologically advanced way on the market today to test body fat. It does this by using air displacement to test the amount of fat and muscle a person has on their body and uses this information to calculate the individual’s body fat. It’s quick, easy, and will track and compare each test you take, so you can see exactly how much body fat you are losing and if you are preserving or gaining muscle mass.

It also calculates the change in your metabolism, telling you exactly how many calories you need to continue losing weight and getting lean or putting on muscle.

The Bod Pod is also connected to an extremely accurate scale that must be calibrated every time you take a test, ensuring that your weight is 100 percent accurate.

To schedule a test, email or call 443-223-9137. The Bod Pod is mobile and can test on site if requested.

How do I measure up?

The only real way to know what kind of shape you’re in is to see what you’re made of, and I mean literally. Here’s a chart to see how you measure up. Remember, women naturally carry more body fat than men, so don’t be upset if your boyfriend is lower than you are.

Where do I go from here?

Ok, chances are you won’t be as lean as you had hoped for, but that’s the beauty of getting tested. First, find out where you are and what your fitness level is, and then make a plan to become a better, leaner version of your current self.

As a wise historian once said, “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you been?” If you get tested, you’ll know where you’ve been. The only real question left to answer is where are you going from here?


Men Women
Risky (high body fat) Above 30% Above 40%
Excess Fat 20.1-30% 30.1 -40%
Moderately Lean 12.1-20% 22.1 -30%
Lean 8.1-12% 18.1-22%
Ultra Lean 5 -8% 15-18%
Risky Low Body Fat less than 5% less than 15%


  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out