How To Measure Your Body Fat % Using Calipers

How To Measure Your Body Fat % Using Calipers
This in-depth guides teaches you how to calculate your body fat percentage and measure your progress using skin fold calipers. This is the most accurate method to measure your body fat.

Tutorial written by Doug Lawrenson

The following tutorial was written by Doug Lawrenson and aims to teach you how to measure your bodyfat and fat free mass using calipers. The tutorial includes detailed charts, instructions and diagrams. If you need assistance using the tutorial, you can ask on our forum.

Bodyfat Testing With Skinfold Calipers

BodyFat Calipers

The Skinfold caliper is a device which measures the thickness of a fold of your skin with its underlying layer of fat. By doing this at the key locations can be a quite accurate representative of the total amount of fat that is on your body, it is also possible to estimate the total percent of bodyfat on your body.

The diagrams show the locations of the areas for the measurements to be taken. Because of the location of the tests you will need someone who can do the measurements for you. It is important that the measurements are taken as close to the area's shown in the diagrams for each measurement.

Recommended caliper:

How To Correctly Take Measurements

If you're right handed, pull out the fold of skin with the underlying layer of fat with your left hand and hold it with the fingers of the left hand. Then with the calipers in your right hand, place the jaws of the calipers as shown in the diagrams below. The jaws of the calipers should be about 1/4" (7.5mm) from the fingers of your left hand which continues to hold the fold of skin. Release the trigger of the calipers so the entire force of the jaws is on the Skinfold. Do not release the fingers of the left hand while taking the readings.

It is important to keep holding firmly the fold of skin with the fingers so that the calipers are measuring just the thickness of the fold of skin. You will notice that when you place the calipers on the Skinfold that the calipers will "creep" a little, after a few seconds the “creep” will slow down and this is the time that the measurement should be taken. You must note the reading on the scale before releasing any pressure off the calipers.

Taking Measurements & Calculating Your Percentage

Measure all four locations shown in the diagrams below and write down the readings on the calipers scale. It doesn’t matter what order you do the readings in. Add up the four readings. The % bodyfat can then be determined from the chart at the bottom of this page. You will notice one set of figures for males and one for females, make sure you use the right one!

You may also note that the charts do not have a line for every millimetre or column for every age group on the chart, to do this would make the chart very large. To get accurate figures it is necessary to interpolate. For example, a female in the 16-29 age groups could have a sum of 29mm for the four measurements. This is halfway between the 28 and 30 on the chart. The % bodyfat for 28mm is 18.6% and that for 30 is 19.5%. Interpolating halfway between would give approximately 19.0%. Another example would be a 40 year old male with a sum of 42mm for the four measurements. Referring to the chart for males we find % bodyfat listings for 40 and 45mm. 42mm is 2/5ths of the way between 40 and 45. The bodyfat for 48mm is 20.3%, and for 45mm it is 21.8%. Two fifths of the way from 20.3 to 21.8 is approximately 20.9%.

Where To Take The Measurements

Back of the arm (triceps):

The back of the upper arm, (Triceps). This is located halfway between the shoulder and elbow joints. The fold is taken in a vertical direction directly on the centre of the back of the arm.

Front of the arm (Biceps):

The front of the upper arm, (Biceps). This is taken exactly the same as the Triceps, Figure 1, except it is taken on the centre of the front of the upper arm.

Shoulder blade:

Back, below the shoulder blade (subscapular). This is located just below the shoulder blade. Note that the skinfold is taken at 45 degrees angle as shown on the diagram.


Waist (Suprailiac). This is located just above the iliac crest, the protrusion of the hip bone, a little towards the front from the side of the waist. The fold is taken approximately horizontally as shown on the diagram.

Charts To Calculate Your Bodyfat Percentage

Men's Chart:

Chart #1 - Men
% Fat For Sum Of Measurements At All 4 Locations
Sum in mm Age 16-29 Age 30-49 Age 50+
20 8.1 12.1 12.5
22 9.2 13.2 13.9
24 10.2 14.2 15.1
26 11.2 15.2 16.3
28 12.1 16.1 17.4
30 12.9 16.9 18.5
35 14.7 18.7 20.8
40 16.3 20.3 22.8
45 17.7 21.8 24.7
50 19.0 23.0 26.3
55 20.2 24.2 27.8
60 21.2 25.3 29.1
65 22.2 26.3 30.4
70 23.2 27.2 31.5
75 24.0 28.0 32.6
80 24.8 28.8 33.7
85 25.6 29.6 34.6
90 26.3 30.3 35.5
95 27.0 31.0 36.5
100 27.6 31.7 37.3
110 28.8 32.9 38.8
120 29.9 34.0 40.2
130 31.0 35.0 41.5
140 31.9 36.0 42.8
150 32.8 36.8 43.9
160 33.6 37.7 45.0
170 34.4 38.5 46.0
180 35.2 39.2 47.0
190 35.9 39.9 47.9
200 36.5 40.6 48.8

Women's Chart:

Chart #2 - Women
% Fat For Sum Of Measurements At All 4 Locations
Sum in mm Age 16-29 Age 30-49 Age 50+
14 9.4 14.1 17.0
16 11.2 15.7 18.6
18 12.7 17.1 20.1
20 14.1 18.4 21.4
22 15.4 19.5 22.6
24 16.5 20.6 23.7
26 17.6 21.5 24.8
28 18.6 22.4 25.7
30 19.5 23.3 26.6
35 21.6 25.2 28.6
40 23.4 26.8 30.3
45 25.0 28.3 31.9
50 26.5 29.6 33.2
55 27.8 30.8 34.6
60 29.1 31.9 35.7
65 30.2 32.9 36.7
70 31.2 33.9 37.7
75 32.2 34.7 38.6
80 33.1 35.6 39.5
85 34.0 36.3 40.4
90 34.8 37.1 41.1
95 35.6 37.8 41.9
100 36.3 38.5 42.6
110 37.7 39.7 43.9
120 39.0 40.8 45.1
130 40.2 41.9 46.2
140 41.3 42.9 47.3
150 42.3 43.8 48.2
160 43.2 44.7 49.1
170 44.6 45.5 50.0
180 45.0 46.2 50.8
190 45.8 46.9 51.6
200 46.6 47.6 52.3

Normal Or Ideal % Bodyfat?

What is the correct or ideal % bodyfat? This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer. Not all people have the same ideal % bodyfat. It varies with age, sex, and genetics. One person might be better at a higher or lower bodyfat than another person of the same age and six. And the desirable bodyfat of athletes can vary depending on the sport. For example, swimmers seem to perform better at a higher % bodyfat than runners. But, some general guidelines can be given that are applicable to most people.

For men:
For men up to about the age of 30, 9-15% is good, from age 30 to 50, 11-17% is a good range, and from age 50 and up, 12 to 19%. A person should try to stay at or below the upper limits given, and a person near the lower limit would be described as lean.

For women:
For women, the range up to age 30 is 14-21%, from 30-50 it is 15-23%, and from 50 up it is 16-25%. Again it is desirable to be at or below the upper limit, and a woman near the lower limit would be lean.

It should be noted that the ranges given above are not averages for the US and UK populations, but are the desirable ranges. The actual averages for the populations as a whole are much higher because of the large number of people with % bodyfat well above the upper limits of the desirable ranges.

How To Determine Muscle Loss Or Gain

As explained earlier, the measurement of muscle loss or gain is one of the most important uses of bodyfat measurements. It is very easy to determine and simply involves finding the weight of the "lean mass" by measuring % bodyfat and weight. Since muscle tissue is the component of the lean mass that can change the most, changes in the lean body weight are going to be caused mostly by changes in the weight of the muscles.

To determine the weight of the lean mass, the person must be weighed on an accurate scale. This will give the weight of the lean mass. After a period of time on a diet and/or exercise program, the measurements are repeated. Any change, up or down, of weight obtained for the lean body mass, will represent the amount of muscle lost or gained.

Male example:
For example a male weighing 210 lbs. He measures his % bodyfat and finds it is 30%. Multiplying 210 lbs x 30% gives 63 lbs, as the weight of this mans bodyfat. Subtracting 63 lbs from 210 lbs shows that his lean mass weights 147 lbs. After a month of regular exercise and a proper diet, his weight has dropped to 195 lbs. and his bodyfat to 25%. Multiplying 195 lbs. x 25% gives 49 lbs. as his bodyfat weight. Subtracting this from his 195 lb. bodyweight shows that his lean mass is 146 lbs. This shows that he has lost 1 lb. of muscle while losing 14 lbs of fat, a very good result, and means that his diet and exercise program is working very well for him.

Reviewing the basic calculations above:

Bodyfat = 30% & Bodyweight = 210 lbs
210 x .30 = 63 lbs. 210 – 63 = 147 lbs. lean body weight

Bodyfat = 25% &Bodyweight = 195 lbs
195 x .25 = 49 lbs. 195 – 49 = 146 lbs. lean body weight

147 – 146 = 1 lb. loss of lean body weight.
63 – 49 = 14 lb. loss of bodyfat.

Female example:
Another example could be a female who weights 150 lbs. and has 30% bodyfat. Multiplying her weight by her % bodyfat will show that she has 45 lbs. of bodyfat. Subtracting this from her 150 lbs. bodyweight shows that her lean mass is 105 lbs. After a month of a low calorie diet, she has lost 20 lbs. and is down to 130 lbs. measuring her % bodyfat gives 27%. Again multiplying this times her bodyweight of 130 lbs. and subtracting the result of 35 lbs. from her bodyweight shows that her lean body mass dropped to 95 lbs, a 10 lb. loss from her previous lean mass weight of 105 lbs. Bodyfat and weight measurements used to compute lean mass weight, have shown that she lost as much muscle tissue as fat and that her weight loss program is not a good one.

Reviewing the basic calculations above:

Bodyfat = 30% & Bodyweight = 150 lbs.
150 x .30 = 45 lbs. 150 – 45 = 105 lbs. lean body weight.

Bodyfat = 27% & Bodyweight = 130 lbs.
130 x .27 = 35 lbs. 130 – 35 = 95 lbs. lean body weight.

105 – 95 = 10 lbs loss of lean body weight.
45 – 35 = 10 lbs loss of bodyfat.

People who have lost muscle mass and replaced it with fat over the years due to inactivity can actually build this muscle back up and reduce fat at the same time. An example of this might be 68 year old male who weighs 155 lbs. Measurements with Skinfold caliper indicates he has 28% bodyfat. This is 43 lbs of bodyfat and 112 lbs. of lean mass. For 4 months on a regular basis he does a variety of exercises including weight lifting, combined with a very sound diet. At the end of 4 months he weights 150 lbs. and his % bodyfat has dropped to 18%. Again multiplying his 150 lb. bodyweight by his 18% bodyfat shows that his bodyfat has dropped to 27 lbs. subtracting this from his bodyweight of 150 lbs. shows that his lean mass has increased to 123 lbs. a gain of 11 lbs. In other words, he has gained back 11 lbs. of the muscle he had lost over the years, and lost 16 lbs. of fat.

Reviewing the basic calculations above:

Bodyfat = 28% & Bodyweight = 155 lbs.
155 x .28 = 43 lbs. 155 – 43 = 112 lbs. lean body weight.

Bodyfat = 18% & Bodyweight = 150 lbs.
150 x .18 = 27 lbs. 150 – 27 = 123 lbs. lean body weight.

123 – 112 = 11 lbs. gain in lean weight.
43 – 27 = 16 lbs loss of bodyfat.

How To Find a Persons Weight For a Desired % Bodyfat

If you know your present weight and % bodyfat it is possible to determine what your weight should be for any % bodyfat. This can be done by simple calculations. Firstly subtract your present % bodyfat from 100 and divide this by 100 minus the desired % bodyfat. Multiply this by the present weight and this will give you the weight for the desired % bodyfat. For example, a female 145 lb. who is now 32% bodyfat. She desires to be 21% and wants to know what she would weight if she was 21% bodyfat. Subtracting 32 from 100 she gets 68. 21 from 100 equals 79. Then, 68 divided by 79 equals 0.86. Multiply 145 lbs. x 0.86 and this will give her a desired weight of 125 lbs.

She has learned that to reduce her % bodyfat to 21%, she must lose 20 lbs. However, the above formula only works if the person reduces in such a way as not to lose muscle tissue. This can be done through adequate exercise and proper nutrition. If the weight is lost primarily through a low calories diet in a short period of time then muscle tissue will be lost, as well, and the weight for the desired % bodyfat will be correspondingly less.

Reviewing the basic calculations above:

Present % Bodyfat = 32% ~ Desired % Bodyfat = 21% ~ Present Weight = 145 lbs.
100 – 32 = 68
100 – 21 = 79
68 ÷ 79 = 0.86
Desired Weight = 145 x 0.86 = 125 lbs.

Another example of the above is a weight trainer who is currently 200 lbs. and is 21% bodyfat and wants to get to 5% bodyfat, how much weight would he have to lose to achieve this goal?

Present Bodyfat = 21% ~ Desired Bodyfat = 5% ~ Present Weight 200 lbs.
100 – 21 = 79
100 – 5 = 95
79 ÷ 95 = 0.83
200 x 0.83 = 166
200 – 166 = 34 lbs.

So to achieve a 5% bodyfat he would have to lose 34 lb of bodyfat and should have a lean body mass of 166 lbs. By having his bodyfat done on a regular basis will enable him to see if his dieting to achieve his goal involves the loss of his hard earned lean body mass (muscle tissue).

So there you go, there's all the information you need to measure and monitor your bodyfat and lean muscle mass. If you would like to discuss anything from this article you can join our muscle forum and chat to the authors from this site!

Adapted from: How To Measure Your % Bodyfat by Wallace C. Donoghue.

108 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Sun, 03/11/2012 - 11:29

What about me that my previous body fat was 29% and my weight was 65 kg but now my body fat is 35% and my weight is 63 kg ! ?
How was my weight decrease and the body fat increase ?
Does it effect my health ?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/13/2012 - 13:04

I would need to know more information. Are you lifting weights and building muscle? How frequently do you take caliper readings?

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Posted Tue, 05/15/2012 - 11:05
Truth About Six...

Your method of explaining the whole thing in this piece of writing is really pleasant, every one be capable of effortlessly be aware of
it, Thanks a lot.

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Posted Sat, 06/16/2012 - 20:59

it is very possible that you lost muscle and replaced it with fat. Muscle weighs more than fat.

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Posted Fri, 09/21/2012 - 08:10

muscle does not weigh more than fat! it is simply denser.

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Posted Sat, 09/29/2012 - 19:17
sara brown

a pound of fat and a pound of muscle both weigh 16 oz just as a pound of butter and a pound of feathers both weigh 16 oz. just one takes up more room. Apound is always 16 oz!!!!

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Posted Thu, 10/04/2012 - 23:22

Is this reality? Muscle weighs more than fat when it is the same volume. therefore a square inch of muscle weighs much more than a square inch of fat.

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Posted Thu, 10/18/2012 - 02:41

how about a cubic inch. thats more like reality.

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Posted Wed, 10/24/2012 - 21:34

If your really going to argue semantics then I feel that I need to point out that a square inch of fat and muscle weigh the same because they have no weight. That would be area not volume. You are looking for a cubic inch.

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Posted Sun, 10/27/2013 - 23:28

Actually you are arguing semantics. When anyone says something weighs more they generally mean its denser. Eg If someone says iron weighs more than cotton, isn't it obvious that they mean the same volume? Of course 1kg of iron is identical in weight to 1kg of cotton.

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Posted Sun, 03/23/2014 - 19:59

The fact that people are down voting this comment leads me to believe there are a lot of foolish people on this board.

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Posted Wed, 09/17/2014 - 13:20

Hey, if we are going to argue semantics, a kilogram is a unit of mass, not weight (force). An English lb is comparable to the metric unit of force, the Newton. The English unit of mass is the Slug.

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Posted Mon, 08/19/2013 - 15:49

think of it this way, a pound of muscle is like the popcorn bag before you pop in the microwave
a pound of fat is like after you pop the bag

this is why you can weigh the same or a little more and your clothes are loose, you lost a little fat and gained a little muscle,

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Posted Sat, 11/23/2013 - 11:59

Great explanation Libby!

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Posted Thu, 10/11/2012 - 09:40

When people say muscle weighs more than fat they are speaking in terms of volume. 4 cubic inches of muscle does weigh more than 4 cubic inches of fat. Only an idiot would think a lb. of muscle weighs more than a lb. of fat.

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Posted Sun, 10/20/2013 - 14:19

correct. it is denser. making it weigh more by volume.

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Posted Mon, 01/20/2014 - 13:46

If muscle is denser than fat, then a volume of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat. By your logic "Steele does not weigh more than cotton! it is simply denser" Anything can weigh more than something else if there is enough of it.

No Profile Pic
Posted Wed, 10/10/2012 - 19:47

muscle does not weigh more than fat.... 1 lbs of at and 1 lbs of muscle still both weigh in at 1 lbs !! try not to confuse people with those kind of comments thanks!! :)

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Posted Tue, 08/13/2013 - 16:15
Silent Bob

No kidding a lb of anything equals a pound of something else but a ball of steel weighs more than a ball of yarn of the same size. Please don't confuse people with stupid logic thanks!! :)

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Posted Tue, 08/07/2012 - 23:55
John-Brandon Pierre

Easy question. You lost lean muscle mass and gained body fat. Fat weighs less than muscle so if you're losing lean muscle and gaining body fat then you can see a decrease in weight and an increase in body fat %.

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Posted Fri, 11/16/2012 - 12:33

The simplest answer is that your lean muscle mass has decreased, which means that your weight may decrease, but in turn would increase the body fat %.

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Posted Tue, 12/04/2012 - 00:01

Muscle weighs more than fat. Before you would have had less fat and more muscle for a larger total weight. Now you would have lost some of that muscle (probably turned it into fat) which would lower your total weight.

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Posted Wed, 12/05/2012 - 22:11

Dude you gained 3.2 kg of fat.... and lost 5.2 kg of muscle.....??? might have to re-evaluate your training/diet program...

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Posted Wed, 01/02/2013 - 18:17

When you started, your fat mass was 18.85kg and your lean mass was 46.15kg. However, your fat mass is now 22.05kg and your current lean mass is 40.95kg. This shows that you have gained 3.2kg of fat mass and lost 5.2kg of lean mass. This has a negative impact on your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which was initially 1367kcals and is now 1255kcals. I.e. your BMR has decreased by 112kcals. If this continues, you will store an excess 784kcals per week. Equivalent to 0.112kg of fat mass gain each week or 0.45kg per month and over a year will amount to you gaining 5.38kcals. If this left unchecked, you will find yourself becoming over fat and obese. Increasing your risk of mortality from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), type two Diabetes, Osteoporosis, some cancers etc... I will strongly advise you to follow a sensible nutritional plan and physical exercise or activity, to avoid the negative effects of obesity. I Hope that this advice will help.

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Posted Sat, 04/13/2013 - 08:44

You will have lost more muscle than you gained in fat, easily done!!

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Posted Sat, 05/25/2013 - 08:24

because you are loosing muscle which is much heavier than fat(a portion of fat is up to 5 times the same portion of muscle) ... so you can become sizer loosing weight on the scale

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Posted Sun, 11/24/2013 - 08:15

Fat is lighter than muscle. So the 2kg difference is just loss of muscle (which in turn turned into fat), which explains your increase in body fat.

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Posted Mon, 01/27/2014 - 22:02

basically you are losing muscle instead of fat when you lose weight. While you lose weight, you have actually gained coupld pounds of fat.

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Posted Tue, 03/13/2012 - 13:00

fat measurment

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Posted Wed, 03/14/2012 - 03:30

I'd like to use this equipment on Ronald MacDonald...!!!!

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Posted Wed, 03/14/2012 - 15:31

You mention doing it yourself but all your photos show someone else doing it. Can you accurately measure it by yourself?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 03/16/2012 - 09:31

I do. It's fairly easy to do with a little practice. I only use the 3 location test obviously, but that's reasonably accurate.

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 03/24/2012 - 08:33

Hi Steve,
interesting method. I used skinfold measurement from one place - at the waist - as recommended by Tom Venuto. Measuring four locations esp back requires help of another person.

Do you know any method to determine body fat % without using calipers? Even when it is approximate? I am looking for a way to help my readers determine whether they need to go on 1200 calorie diet or not, but they usually don't have calipers. Thoughts?

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/27/2012 - 13:43

I recommend asking your question on the forum and seeing if any of the trainers can give you some good suggestions.

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 04/03/2012 - 07:38

Do you have any idea why age affects the calculated percentage body fat? For example, two females (one in 16 to 29 age band and another in 50+ age band) each with a sum of 20mm will have %age body fats of 14.1 and 21.4% respectively. It's had me baffled for months - I'm 50 in a few months time and can't work out why I'm soon to have a have a significant increase in measured body fat!

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 04/09/2012 - 10:54

i think it might be because as we get older our skin gets thinner

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Posted Tue, 04/03/2012 - 17:17
Thai Qis

I am not an expert, but my guess would be that as we age we build up a higher percentage of body-fat around our organs.
As the calculation only uses measurements taken on the exterior of the body the age range helps estimate the corresponding volume of fat around the internal organs.
Just my guess. Happy to be told otherwise.

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Posted Wed, 08/08/2012 - 00:03
John-Brandon Pierre

As you age your body becomes less efficient in burning fat. It's that simple. The older you get the cleaner you have to eat and the more you have to take care of your body to keep it in good shape.

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Posted Thu, 04/12/2012 - 15:37

Caliper measurement is the most accurate - after calorimetry methods. Without calipers, you can use a formula to calculate your lean mass, and your body fat by subtracting it from your body weight.
Lean Body Weight (men) = (1.10 x Weight(kg)) - 128 x ( Weight2/(100 x Height(m))2)
Lean Body Weight (women) = (1.07 x Weight(kg)) - 148 x ( Weight2/(100 x Height(m))2)

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 04/23/2012 - 14:32

How long should you wait after working out to measure bodyfat using calipers?

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Posted Thu, 05/17/2012 - 00:41

I had mine measured today and its misleading in my opion..I will turen 50 in 3 months and it measured at 14.6 but when you make my age 30 it's like 12.1.its seems like it should benefit you more the older you are..

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Posted Tue, 06/26/2012 - 16:36

Th older you get, the more muscle you lose. This is what my Dr. told me.

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Posted Wed, 08/08/2012 - 00:01
John-Brandon Pierre

True. As you age it is harder to maintain muscle as the body begins to break down. In order to maintain and even improve your body with age you need to adopt a healthy eating regimen and do resistance training. I know planty of older clients that still see growth but as you get older you have to be more careful what you eat and how you train.

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Posted Thu, 02/28/2013 - 11:58


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Posted Thu, 06/28/2012 - 11:48

When someone has lost a lot of weight and has that loose skin hanging in the tummy area, how does that affect the accuracy of the measurment of the waist. I just purchaed this item and have not recieved it yet but I am curious about this as well as how do you know how much skin to pinch when measuring.

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Posted Tue, 07/17/2012 - 10:32

Quick question, how hard are you supposed to pinch with the callipers? My friends tell me I have a high pain threshold (hey, I get kicked by cows all day, who wouldn't) be seriously the little tab on my Accu-measure callipers clicked into place almost as soon as it touched my skin. When I've had it done other times there was always at least a little bit of pinching, so I cheated and pressed a bit harder until it was the force I'm used to, but was the first click accurate? It seemed quite high, and like I said, it clicked almost immediately which made me dubious. Thoughts?

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Posted Fri, 07/20/2012 - 08:27

Hi. I have just done the test and it says that i have 8.1% bodyfat. I think this is not accurate as I am bulking right now and gained a tiny bit of weight and abs are not visible now. I think the problem is that I squeeze the calipers too hard. How do you know how much pressure to apply?

Much appreciated!

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Posted Tue, 08/07/2012 - 23:58
John-Brandon Pierre

On the calipers there should be two arrows. you squeez till they met up and then that is your answer.

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Posted Fri, 08/10/2012 - 01:38


Thanks for you reply, but my callipers don't have arrows. I have the exact same set that they used in the photos, which just have a sliding marker. Any other indicators that I'm measuring correctly?

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Posted Mon, 08/13/2012 - 18:27

Did you squeeze the calipers until they clicked, and stopped squeezing immediately? They're a bit like a torque wrench, they make it very obvious when to stop squeezing.