Body Fat Testing Methods

Here is the heigharchy of body fat testing from most, to least accurate.

The top three are all, generally speaking, very accurate and pretty expensive.

1.) Dexa Scan: Originally developed to diagnose and measure the effects of osteoporosis, the Dexa scan is the only way accurately measure three things: bone density, fat free mass (muscle and organs), and body fat. It also can accurately break down how the amounts of all three in different parts of your body, something no other method can claim. Some electrical impedance scales claim to do this but the data isn't very convincing. DEXA scans are generally regarded as very accurate and very expensive. 

2.) Hydrostatic weighing: It claims to be as accurate as the Dexa Scan but two significant variables come to mind for me. A.) You empty your lungs as much as possible before weighing and they apply a formula to account for the small amount that is generally left. This could vary significantly. B.) Bone density isn't taken into account and everyone's weight is applied to one of two standard formulas. An athlete with significantly greater bone density would potentially be underestimated while an elderly sedentary patient with osteoporosis may be over estimated. Only other disadvantage to DEXA is that it gives you less information. All that said, your body weight will broken down with a very small margin of error between stuff that is fat, and stuff that isn't fat. 

3.) BodPod: Using air displacement, this machine looks like a tiny space ship that you sit in. It gives us an accurate measurement with the same breakdown as hydrostatic weighing down to 1/10th of a pound. In fact, if someone flipped my #2 and #3, I wouldn't be insulted at all. They are both great methods with comparable prices.

To add insult to injury, none of these top 3 methods are publicly available in the West Texas area as far as I know. I believe there are some traveling services that provide Hydrostatic weighing for events. The DFW area has all three in abundance if you're willing to make the drive! If you're desperate for accurate numbers to measure your progress, these are really the only realistic options

The following methods are very generally available and affordable but give us only a vague idea of our progress. In my opinion, standing in the same place, in the same pose, with the same lighting and taking regular progress pictures for comparison is superior to the following methods:

4.) Skin fold calipers: There is so much room for human error that it makes my eyes roll. I think there are some people with tons of experience administering these tests that might be moderately accurate but seeing these results does little to convince me of anything about a client's progress. 

5.) Electrical impedance: These are the scales you stand on with metal plates. There are some you hold in your hands like a steering wheel and some with floor and hand placements. None of them are super accurate. The problem with this method is our level of hydration, a variable with a wide variance from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour, has a very significant effect on the results. On top of that, it's margin of error is generally high to begin with. Even if we could ensure we were administrating the test with consistent hydration levels (we can't), the numbers would be consistent but they wouldn't necessarily be correct.

6.) Antropometric: By taking waist, neck, and height circumference for men and hips, neck, and height for women and applying it to a formula we get a rough estimate of body fat percentage with a high margin for error. There's no effort to actually measure fat and human error could potentially play a significant role. 

The top 3 are accurate and costly while the bottom three give us, at best, a vague idea but are generally affordable. Go figure. 

For those of you who love the data and are motivated my concrete measurements, don't hesitate to find and utilize one of the more accurate methods in the top three! I'd recommend at lease a few months between testing to see what kind of progress and results you are seeing. For the rest of you, trust that if you are hitting your targets and training hard with relentless consistency, you're going to see dramatic results that our program is known for. 

Have a great day!

David Barnett