How do I Use a Body Fat Chart?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 09 February 2020
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To use a body fat chart, a person has to first measure her own personal body fat using a caliper, add up the measurements, and match the findings to data on the body fat chart in order to discover her body fat percentage. The most detailed body fat chart lists desirable body fat percentages by gender and age range. Often, columns will identify a range of categories, including excellent, good, fair, and poor. Those with body fat percentages ranking as poor are at risk for diabetes and heart disease, according to many studies. By using the body fat chart with a caliper, a person gains a greater sense of whether his body mass is healthy; people consider body fat charts to be more helpful than scales, which only measure only weight and not how much of that weight is fatty tissue.

Shaped like a pincher, a skin-fold caliper is designed to fit over folds of fatty tissue. A ruler-like attachment on the caliper then measures how thick the fold of fat is. Once the thickness is measured in several strategic locations on the body, a person can acquire a general estimate of his body fat percentage by consulting the grids on a body fat chart.


The most common four areas for measuring skin folds are the triceps, waist, biceps, and just under the shoulder blades. To measure, a person simply pinches the largest mound of fat possible in these areas, according to fitness instructors. The correct place to measure the waist is generally in the front and just above the hip.

The unit of measurement for most calipers is the millimeter. Once caliper measurements for all four body locations are added together, people can locate the total on a body fat chart by searching under the first column; it is usually titled “Sum of Skinfold Measurements.” This column may not list all measurement sums possible, but users will likely be able to find approximate matches. For example, a user whose four measurements add up to 98 mm might find that her body fat chart doesn’t have that number, but instead has 100 mm. She can use that measurement instead.

After the total of measurements has been found in the first column of the body fat grid, a person will find that the next several columns correspond to age groups and gender. To complete the body fat analysis, the person should use those next columns to locate the correct one for his age and gender demographic. Then, he can scroll down to find the body fat percentage that corresponds with the measurement total identified in the first column. Returning to the earlier example of 100 mm, a male who is 29-years-old will find that 100 mm of body fat suggests that his body is 27.6 percent fat, according to a standard body fat chart. A female having the same age and measurement total will find that the body fat chart converts her data to a 36.3 body fat percentage.


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