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
The objective of this test is to monitor the athlete’s level of body fat.
To undertake this test you will require:
- Skinfold callipers
The assistant records measurements taken from the following sites:
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.
The assistant takes a diagonal fold across the back, just below the shoulder blade.
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.
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
Fat-free Body Mass & Lean Body
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) 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)
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.
|Track - Jumpers
|Track - Runners
|Track - Throwers
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.
This test is suitable for everyone but not for individuals
where the test would be contraindicated.
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.
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.
- Minimal equipment required
- Simple to set up and conduct
- Can be conducted almost anywhere
- Specialist equipment required - Skinfold callipers
- Assistant required to administer the test
- WILMORE, J.H. and COSTILL, D.L. (1994) Physiology of sport and exercise. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois
- BEHNKE, A.R. and WILMORE, J.H. (1974) Evaluation and Regulation of Body Build and Composition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
- 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
The reference for this page is:
- MACKENZIE, B. (1998) Body fat Percentage [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/fatcent.htm [Accessed
The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: