Affordable Body Composition Testing Available

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body composition testing

The following methods of defining body fat percentage offer an accurate and scientific reading, as well as being a bit more convenient, accessible, and affordable than other methods.

Bioelectrical Impedance

Electrical signals are measured as they pass through fat, lean mass, and water when using the BIA test, according to the article "Body Fat Analyzing - Comparing Methods for Measuring Body Fat." Lean body mass, because of its high water content, is very conductive. The current between two electrodes is measured and then the resistance reading, in ohms, is applied to formulas to acquire the body composition measurement. This type of test is now available as a scale from several companies for convenient, affordable, and accurate testing at home. These scales use handgrip electrodes and feet electrodes to complete the measurements required for an accurate body composition profile.


Skin fold testing is based on the body fat stored directly beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat). The amount of subcutaneous fat is measured by pinching folds of skin and fat at several locations. The skin fold test is performed with a hand-held vice-like instrument called a skin fold caliper. The caliper jaws pinch a fold of skin and fat, measuring the fat fold thickness in millimeters. The sum of the measurements is used in a calculation to derive a body fat percentage.
Specifically designed for self-testing is the skin fold caliper called the Accu-Measure. This caliper is found to be just as accurate as the sum of three skin folds taken by an experienced tester, according to Tom Venuto in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (2004). This caliper is convenient and affordable and accurate for home testing.

Underwater Weighing

Although this method is not nearly as convenient and affordable as the two mentioned above, it is considered the "gold standard" of body composition testing, according to Venuto and has been around for a long time. With this test, a person is weighed outside of a water tank, then immersed in water and weighed again. Fat floats and muscle sinks. Someone with more bone and muscle density weighs more in the water, indicating a higher body density and a lower percentage of fat than a person with less bone and muscle density. Factors to consider to assure test accuracy include people with denser bones (athletes, young people) may appear to have lower body fat percentages when measured this way, according to Venuto. Another factor, according to Venuto, is residual volume which is the amount of air left in the lungs after a complete exhale. Before being submerged, a person must exhale as much air as possible. If every bit of air isn't exhaled (which isn't possible), a person can appear to have a higher body fat percentage than he really does. Although this method is one of the most accurate, people find it cumbersome, uncomfortable, and may fear the total submersion required.

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