A Guide to Body Fat Scales And How To Make Them More Reliable
It's true... body fat scales ARE one of the most convenient ways to measure your body fat percentage.
But just how reliable and accurate are they?
Body fat scales have some tremendous advantages over other types of body composition tests. Here are some of the most important...
How many places do you know that provide underwater weighing or DEXA (these are generally considered the most accurate ways to measure body fat)?
Once you have a set of scales they are right there whenever you need them. And what about...
Anything with a name like Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) has to be expensive right? It is! Even good quality body fat calipers are more expensive than most scales.
You can buy a good set of body fat scales for under $100 and you can use them again and again.
Would you rather have a body fat test in the privacy and comfort of your own home or in a lab? Body fat scales are there right when you need them, no appointments to make and no travelling to do.
And probably the most important benefit of all...
There are only a few ways you can test your own body composition. Using scales is one of them. Even most calipers require someone else to take the measurements for you.
How Body Fat Scales Work And Why It's Important
Body fat scales use a technique called Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis... or BIA for short. Very simply...
A small and completely harmless electrical current is passed through your body. The electrical current passes more quickly through fat free tissue like muscle than it does through fat or bone tissue. So...
The amount of resistance to the electrical current relates to how much fat-free mass a person has and their body density. Here's the first challenge...
Like all body fat tests, body fat scales don't actually measure your body fat percentage. They determine your body density. The examiner (or the scales) then uses a formula to calculate body fat percentage based on body density. Here's the key...
These formulas just predict your body fat. Unfortunately there is no one formula that accurately predicts body fat for the whole population. Differences in age, gender, ethnicity, body size, and fitness level all have a significant affect on the results.
Most scales can account for some of the basic differences such as age and gender, but take the actual body fat percentage they give you with a pinch of salt. What does this all mean for you?
Well, whether body fat scales measure your "true" body fat percentage or not doesn't matter! As long as they can accurately monitor changes in your body composition over time, that's all you need.
Your body position, the amount of water in your body, your food intake, skin temperature and recent physical activity can all adversely affect the results of body fat scales. So...
To achieve accurate, consistent results, you must standardise the way you perform each test. That simply means making each test with your scales as similar as possible. The great thing about body fat scales is...
Standardising each test is easy to do. Check out the Top 10 Tips at the bottom of this page to get the most from your body fat scales.
Are body fat scales any better than plain old weighing scales?
One of the biggest mistakes people on a weight management program make is gauging their progress by weight alone. For all the reasons you should calculate body fat see the body fat percentage article.
The 10 Top Tips When Buying And Using Body Fat Scales
1. Use them to measure your progress only. Don't compare your body fat percentage to tables or to your friends score. It is probably inaccurate no matter what the manufacturers say.
2. Choose body fat scales that have the right profile for you. If your children are going to use them make sure they can be calibrated for children. If you're an athlete (+10 hrs of strenuous exercise a week) same thing applies. This is important. It makes a big difference.
3. Measure out some water one hour before you test yourself. Make sure you always drink the same amount of water one hour before you test yourself.
4. Measure yourself at the same time of day for each test.
5. Your skin temperature affects the electrical current used by the scales. It's difficult but try to test yourself in a similar room temperature each time.
6. Don't test yourself after exercising. When you exercise you sweat and when you sweat you lose water. This affects your hydration levels and hence... the results.
7. Thoroughly clean the foot pads, preferably with alcohol and then dry them off each time you test.
8. Buy the most expensive body fat scales you can afford. Accuracy will almost certainly increase with price.
9. If ever you get the chance, have your body composition measured by a professional using skin fold calipers. It will give you a frame of refernece as to how accurate your scales are.
10. Read the page on body fat calipers for an alternative you could consider.
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