What Your Scale Isn’t Telling You – The Truth on Body Fat Percentage

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I don’t know about you, but my husband and I have been sucked into The Voice. We record and watch the shows weekly, this week we were a little upset because our two favorite singers were booted off. Anyways that’s my two cents on the voice. This blog is not about the voice in fact it’s actually about body fat percentage.


Body Fat Percentage Realities

This week my CrossFit gym had a company come in to take body fat percentages, and VO2 Max. All the testing is a part of an 8-week challenge to change your body for the better. For those of you unfamiliar with body fat percentage, and are a little unsure about what it measures, what is accurate, and what you should aim for, keep reading.


What is Body Fat Percentage?

Put as simply as possible: “It is the amount of fat in your body compared to everything else. Everything else could be things like organs, bones, tendons, water, etc. “


How Do You Test Body Fat Percentage?


In my opinion the most accurate way to test is through Hydrostatic Weighing. It is the gold standard in many ways. It generally has a +- 1.5% error. The way it works is you submerge your entire body in a tank of water. Because bone and muscle are denser than water, a person with a larger percentage of fat free mass will weigh more in the water and have a lower percent body fat. On the flip side, a large amount of fat mass will make the body lighter in water and have a higher percent body fat.


Hydrostatic weighing is my first choice, however since we all don’t have the luxury of throwing money at a tank of water, I would suggest a few other options. These options vary in accuracy. However, if your looking to manage your body fat percentage, the most important thing no mater which method you choose is to do the test under the same circumstances each time. I would not recommend comparing results between two different methods, as your results may be wildly inaccurate.


Options for Testing Body Fat:


Body Fat Calipers – Calipers can be picked up for less than $10. Making this testing method considerably practical. The test is administered by pinching different parts of your body and using the calipers to measure your skin fold. You then look at a chart (http://www.accumeasurefitness.com/charts.html) to figure out your body fat percentage. How accurate is the Body Fat test with calipers? It all depends on how disciplined you are when administering. It is very important to test the same spots on your body when comparing over time. It is also important to check the same chart and administer under the same circumstances each time. With that said I think this is a great, inexpensive option for testing.


The Measurement Test

Warning, this method is not as accurate as other methods. While the US Navy Seals use this method for testing I would not recommend it. To administer you would measure your waist, neck, and height. Then compare to a chart.


Hydrostatic Weighing

This is the test I did last week. I was fairly happy with how easy the test was. You literally step on a scale like you would weigh yourself. However, this test is done with a scale that sends an electrical current through your body and uses biometric impedance analysis. There are arguments on the accuracy of this test, however if you consistently use this method to compare your percentage over time, and keep your variables (time of day, water weight, etc.) consistent then it does a good enough job. This test can range from $50 – $100 depending on the company. Or you could invest in buying your own scale.


DEXA Scanning

Another Gold Standard. Highly recommended, however if your worried about costs then it probably isn’t your best option. This method uses a full body x-ray of your body composition, it even tells you where your body fat is most prominent in your body. It’s typically expensive roughly $100 to $150 per session.





What Type of Information Should You Expect?


The type of readout you should expect depends on what method you choose. For the sake of this article I am going to speak to Hydrostatic Weighing.


After giving my age, height, and getting weighed on the Tanita scale I was presented with these readings:



Body Fat % – Percentage of fat your body contains

Body Fat Mass – The amount of fat in your body

Body Fat Range – Usually uses words like Overfat or Healthy

Fat Free Mass– the amount in weight of your body that is not fat

Visceral Fat Rating – indicates the rating of visceral fat in your body. Visceral fat is the fat that is in the internal abdominal cavity, surrounding the vital organs in the trunk (abdominal) area.

Body Water% – Total Body Water Percentage is the total amount of fluid in a person’s body expressed as a percentage of their total weight.

Body Water Mass – Weight of the water in your body

Muscle Mass/ Score – indicates the weight of muscle in your body. The muscle mass displayed includes the skeletal muscles, smooth muscles (such as cardiac and digestive muscles) and the water contained in these muscles.


Bone Mass – indicates the amount of bone (bone mineral level, calcium or other minerals) in the body.


Metabolic Age – This feature calculates your BMR and indicates the average age associated with that type of metabolism. If your BMR Age is higher than your actual age, it is an indication that you need to improve your metabolic rate.


Daily Calorie Intake – The amount of calories that are suggested for your body per day


Physique Rating – This feature assesses your physique according to the ratio of body fat and muscle mass in your body.


Desirable Weight

Desirable Body Fat %

Desirable Body Fat Mass


Visceral Fat Rating – Visceral fat is the fat that is in the internal abdominal cavity, surrounding the vital organs in the trunk (abdominal) area.




What Body Fat Percentage Should You Aim For?



ESSENTIAL FAT      10-12%

ATHLETES                 14-20%

FITNESS                     21 – 24%

ACCEPTABLE            25 – 31%

OBESE                         32% PLUS




ESSENTIAL FAT         2-4%

ATHLETES                   6-13%

FITNESS                       14-17%

ACCEPTABLE              18-25%

OBESE                           26% PLUS



Still not sure what you’re looking for? I really like this analogy from nerdfitness.com. “If your trying to look like Ryan Reynolds or Jessica Beil in Blade III, good luck. You will have to aim for a body fat percentage of 6 -8% (men) or 13-15% (women). “


For a six-pack to grace your body then you won’t need to be so drastic. 8-11% (men) and 15-17% (women).



What Now?


A plan of attack is in order. If you are really serious about making a change in your body. Whether it’s to gain more muscle or lose body fat then you need to get a handle on where you are at right now. Every good scientist knows you need to know your baseline reading before testing anything. So before you start your quest for 6 Pack Abs or Jessica Beil’s body take your body fat percentage.


Once you know your body fat percentage, you will need to figure out how many calories your body needs a day. While I normally wouldn’t stress calories as I think you should eat good clean food, I do believe tracking calories and overall food tracking is a very wise choice. I track my meals with the MyfitnessPal App.


Best of luck on your Quest!


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A little more about Natasha Hawkins...

Experience: Division 1 Fastpitch Softball player at San Jose State. Degree: B.S in Marketing and Advertising Certifications: Certified Level 1 CrossFit Trainer Interests: She loves the way the brain works and how personalities and attitude can create a warrior of an athlete that will always persevere and make success for themselves. While she is not a certified nutritionist she studies and practices the Paleo diet and Zone eating. Quirk: I am an avid archer and hunter. Yup, it's true. I have shot archery since I could walk, and hunted with my Dad since I was born. I also have a sister (Cheridan Hawkins) who is a stud pitcher for the Oregon Ducks Softball Team and is on the Junior Olympic Team. My youngest sister Charli Hawkins trains with me at CrossFit and is also a catcher on the 12U California Grapettes. Follow Natasha on Twitter: @NatashaBHawkins