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Body Fat Percentage

Measuring body fat percentage is an easy method of discovering correct body weight and composition. Beneath the skin is a layer of subcutaneous fat, and the percentage of total body fat can be measured by taking the 'skinfold' at selected points on the body with a pair of callipers. This test only requires four measurements. A similar alternative method is the Yuhasz skinfold test which requires six measurements.

Objective

The objective of this test is to monitor the athlete’s level of body fat.

Required Resources

To undertake this test you will require:

  • Skinfold callipers
  • Assistant
Calipers Body Fat

Measurement Sites

The assistant records measurements taken from the following sites:

Triceps Triceps

The athlete’s arm to hang naturally by their side. The assistant takes a vertical fold midway between the shoulder and the elbow on the back of the arm.

Subscapula Subscapula

The assistant takes a diagonal fold across the back, just below the shoulder blade.

Biceps Biceps

The athlete’s arm to hang naturally by their side. The assistant takes a vertical fold midway between the shoulder and the elbow on the front of the arm.

Suprailiac Suprailiac

The assistant takes a diagonal fold just above the hip bone.

How to conduct the test

  • The assistant takes the measurements, in millimetres, on the right side of the athlete’s body
  • The assistant picks up the skinfold between the thumb and the index finger so as to include two thicknesses of the athlete’s skin and subcutaneous fat
  • The assistant locates the callipers about one centimetre from the fingers and at a depth equal to the thickness of the fold
  • The assistant repeats each measurement three times and records the average value
  • The assistant records the sum of the four measurements and uses this value to assess the athlete’s percentage body fat

Assessment

To obtain an estimate of the percentage body fat, weight of body fat and fat-free body weight please enter the skin fold measurement, age, weight and gender and then select the 'Calculate' button.

Skin fold mm (between 20mm & 100mm)
Age
Weight
Gender
 
Estimated percentage body fat is - %
Body fat weight is - lbs kg
Fat-free body weight is - lbs kg

Fat-free Body Mass & Lean Body Mass

The fat-free body mass (FFBM) represents the body mass devoid of all fat whereas lean body mass (LBM) contains a small percentage of essential fat.

LBM is a theoretical value developed by Behnke (1974)[2] For men Behnke considered it to be FFBM+3% essential fat and for females FFBM+12% fat (3% essential fat + 9% sex specific essential fat).

Fat and Fat Free Tissue Density

The density of fat and fat free tissue remains relatively constant: fat = 0.9 grm/cm³ and fat free tissue = 1.1 grm/cm³.

Typical % Body Fat (Wilmore 1994)[1]

The average man has 15 to 17% body fat, while the average woman is between 18 and 22%. Typical values for elite athletes are 6% to 12% for men and 12% to 20% for women. The following table details the percentage body fat for male and female athletes for a variety of sports.

Sport Male Female
Baseball 12-16% 12-19%
Basketball 6-12% 20-28%
Canoeing 6-12% 10-16%
Cycling 5-14% 15-20%
Field Hockey 8-14% 12-18%
Gymnastics 5-13% 10-16%
Rowing 6-14% 12-19%
Swimming 9-13% 14-24%
Tennis 12-15% 16-24%
Track - Jumpers 7-11% 10-18%
Track - Runners 8-10% 12-19%
Track - Throwers 14-20% 20-27%
Triathlon 5-11% 10-15%
Volleyball 11-14% 16-24%

Analysis

Analysis of the result is by comparing it with the results of previous tests. It is expected that, with appropriate training and diet between each test, the analysis would indicate an improvement in the athlete's percentage body fat.

Target Group

This test is suitable for everyone but not for individuals where the test would be contraindicated.

Reliability

Test reliability refers to the degree to which a test is consistent and stable in measuring what it is intended to measure. Reliability will depend upon how strict the test is conducted. The following link provides a variety of factors that may influence the results and therefore the test reliability.

Validity

Test validity refers to the degree to which the test actually measures what it claims to measure and the extent to which inferences, conclusions, and decisions made on the basis of test scores are appropriate and meaningful. This test provides a means to monitor the effect of training on the athlete's physical development.

The test is not a good predictor of percentage body fat, however it can be used to indicate changes in body composition over time.

Advantages

  • Minimal equipment required
  • Simple to set up and conduct
  • Can be conducted almost anywhere

Disadvantages

  • Specialist equipment required - Skinfold callipers
  • Assistant required to administer the test

Referenced Material

  1. WILMORE, J.H. and COSTILL, D.L. (1994) Physiology of sport and exercise. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois
  2. BEHNKE, A.R. and WILMORE, J.H. (1974) Evaluation and Regulation of Body Build and Composition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Associated References

  • WESSTRATE, J. A., and DEURENBERG, P. (1989) Body composition in children: proposal for a method for calculating body fat percentage from total body density or skinfold-thickness measurements. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 50 (5), p. 1104-1115
  • DEURENBERG, P. et al. (2001) The validity of predicted body fat percentage from body mass index and from impedance in samples of five European populations. European journal of clinical nutrition, 55 (11), p. 973-979
  • GALLAGHER, D. et al. (2000) Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72 (3), p. 694-701

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1998) Body fat Percentage [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/fatcent.htm [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: