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How To Interpret Your Body Fat Test
Written by Calvin Sun

Body fat testing is a great way to have an accurate metric for your body composition. There are many ways of getting your body fat tested, but most experts will agree that the DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan is the most accurate testing technology available. Hydrostatic weighing was touted as the gold standard for many years, however, hydrostatic weighing is not able to account for bone density. As a result, hydrostatic tests tend to underestimate body fat in athletic individuals with high bone density and overestimate in older adults who have low bone density. These tests can provide a lot of useful data but many of our clients aren’t sure how to make use of the information.

Most people are rarely excited with their baseline body fat test. Keep in mind that your body fat percentage should be viewed as a metric in the same way that your total cholesterol or liver enzyme values are metrics of your health. It’s a data point we can track over time… not a measure of your self-worth. You can see how lifestyle, diet, supplements, medications, aging, and other factors can begin to affect your health. If you have a body composition goal, it can also be useful to have this data point tested again to validate whatever training and nutrition strategy you may be using. However, when it comes to aesthetics, I’d argue how you look and feel is probably far more important than a number on a sheet of paper.

That being said, most people want to know more about where they stand and there are various sources for helping you interpret body fat percentages. One of the most commonly referenced charts is from the American Council on Exercise. You’ve probably seen this as a poster or laminated card on a personal trainer’s desk at your local Globo Gym.

 

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You’ll notice that women will have a higher body fat percentages at any level compared to men due to biological differences. While the ACE chart is an easy quick reference, it doesn’t account for age and the use of the word “obese” may be a bit extreme in some cases.

Another useful chart is sourced from the research of Dr. Andrew Jackson and M.L. Pollock. I prefer this chart over the ACE chart as it accounts for both gender differences AND age differences. Simply find your age category in the left hand column of your respective gender, and then look across to see where you fall in your age group.

 

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Body fat percentage is only one metric that people tend to fixate on a little too much. Body fat testing provides another very important number: lean body mass (LBM). Your LBM is simply your body fat subtracted from your total body weight. LBM includes organs, bones, muscle, and everything else in your body besides body fat. Typically, changes in LBM are primarily from increases or decreases in muscle mass. Changes in bone density can affect your LBM as well, however a DEXA scan will be able to differentiate between the two. Usually, this is listed as Bone Mineral Content (BMC) on a DEXA report. It’s important to note that when viewing a DEXA report, LBM is calculated by adding the “Lean Tissue” and “BMC” measurements together. A hydrostatic test will give you LBM and body fat only.

If your goal is to get leaner, you need to decrease your body fat percentage while maintaining (or increasing) your LBM. It’s important to keep an eye on both numbers as you work towards your goal. For more information on the importance of maintaining LBM, read my “Training For Fat Loss” article.

Your LBM is also very useful for helping us calculate your daily nutritional requirements which we’ll discuss in a future article. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of body fat percentages and feel better about your numbers after reading this article. Feel free to post any questions you may have on our blog or Facebook page.

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Sfia
Sfia
April 1, 2021 7:52 am

hi im so fat but im just a child who have 52%

Chris Walker
Chris Walker
June 14, 2021 4:42 am
Reply to  Sfia

Well now is as good of a time as any to lower fat and carb intake and focus on proteins and fiber… if you are a child I do not suggest dieting but if you can type that you can look at nutrition facts on the food in the pantry and elect to grab some carrots instead of potato chips… that will only do you good it can not harm you. Usually overweight kids are overweight because the parents have bad dietary habits as well… so you may have to make some polite requests about what you eat with your… Read more »

Brad
Brad
September 21, 2021 4:32 pm
Reply to  Sfia

A child that needs to work on her english.

samantha evans
samantha evans
September 14, 2018 2:29 am

have you ever heard about cannabis can also help you to lose weight? it will come as no surprise to them that those who smoke it are usually slimmer compared to those who don’t. As a natural bodyweight regulator, cannabis also helps to fight diabetes in the body. As I continue researching, Cannabis can also help you to relieve some pains. blimburnseeds.com/chemdawg-4/ I learned thru this bout medical cannabis. do you wanna try cannabis?

Chris Walker
Chris Walker
June 14, 2021 4:36 am
Reply to  samantha evans

Many of the people I know who smoke cannabis get fat and lazy…. as a matter of fact people laugh about how it causes “the munchies” so I have no idea what the hell you are talking about. I think some people who smoke it way too much just plain forget to eat… just like I know some very skinny alcoholics who consume 1000 calories a day just in alcohol… but I don’t think doing either of these 2 substances in excess like that to lose weight is “healthy” and people worries about body fat percentage are trying to be… Read more »

Michelle Dorani
Michelle Dorani
August 29, 2017 11:13 am

I had a DEXA scan done today. I am a bit confused about the results and the technician who explained them was not as knowledgeable as I had hoped. I am a 42 year old woman. My weight is 157.7 lbs, I am 5’7″ tall. Lean mass is 95.3 and fat mass is 56.7 lbs, which means total body fat is 36% I was shocked by this percentage because although I am not in the shape I was in when I was regularly lifting weights and running, I did not expect my body fat to be quite that high. The… Read more »

Shanae Justine Stewart
Shanae Justine Stewart
June 24, 2018 12:53 pm

Incorrect. A healthier body fat % would be about 24% but it already includes the essential fat which is between 10-13% according to the charts above. I am about 5’7′ and am currently 176 lbs and about 29% (had a baby 10 months ago). Comparing our body weight and body comp, this means you just need to build some muscle girl! 😉

Brad
Brad
September 21, 2021 4:35 pm

You got fat! Thats it, eat less, move more!