In a pinch, calipers measure your body fat

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Monday, June 9, 2014 12:17pm
  • LifeEverett

You know how much fat is in your favorite snacks.

But do you know how much is in you?

Find out in a pinch using a skin fold caliper, a simple device that measures body fat.

“It tells you what you’re made of,” said Curt Langager, manager of 41st Street Fitness Center, an Everett corporate gym.

Yikes, do we really want to know?

“We all have that inherent fear that we’re not up to standard,” said Langager, a certified personal trainer. “People will say to me, ‘I know I’m fat. I don’t need to know how much it is.’”

Maybe so, but knowing can help.

“You own that number,” Langager said. “Use it to stay on track. If you know where you start out, it can keep you going and establish goals. These are quantifiable numbers. Goals that are measurable.”

Langager uses a caliper to take readings in four places: upper arm, thigh, side and belly. It’s quick and painless. The tongs gently pinch the flesh and might even tickle in parts as a gauge needle shows results to the millimeter. The numbers are used in a formula with scale weight to get an estimated percentage of body fat.

“It’s interesting to find out how much of your weight is fat,” said Jill Sundin, who works out daily on her lunch hour from Frontier Communications. “It was better than I thought it would be. I’m really hard on myself. I just look at that scale and think it’s all fat.”

Gym member Eric Tolbert gave up bad carbs as part of a fitness regimen devised by Langager and monitored by caliper readings.

“It motivates you a lot when you see numbers,” Tolbert said. “You want to make those numbers move.”

The 6-foot-3 former football player dropped 33 pounds in the last three months and decreased his body fat from 25 percent to 20 percent.

Tolbert, 42, is now at a good percentage for a man his age, but he’s not done. He’s striving for excellent in the 15 percent to 17 percent range.

Body fat recommendations vary by age and gender.

According to Langager’s American College of Sports Medicine chart, a healthy body fat range for males ages 20 to 29 is 14.1 to 16.8 percent. For female counterparts, good is roughly 20.5 to 22.7 percent. For a 50-year-old woman, good is 28.5 to 30.8 percent, a range considered poor for a man that age.

Look at it this way: If you weigh 128 pounds and your body fat percent is 29.4 percent, then 38 pounds is blubber.

That might make you pause before eating that second slice of delicious pizza.

Nutrition undermines the numbers. As Langager put it: “You can’t outexercise a bad diet.”

There are other ways to measure body fat besides pinching the flab.

Bioelectrical impedance scales, starting at about $40, measure the flow of electric current via the soles of your feet to estimate body fat.

Another option is to take the plunge and get dunked in a hydrostatic tank. A Snohomish County business, Body Fat Test, has a box truck outfitted with a water tank that does mobile testing at gyms and wellness events. Bring a towel, bathing suit and $50 for a comprehensive body analysis.

Calipers go from a few dollars to a few hundred. Langager use the same trusty metal British-made instrument he’s had for years. It looks more like something in an auto repair shop than a fitness studio. Newer models have digital displays.

You can buy simple plastic calipers and do it at home. “If you do it with the same caliper each time in the same spot each time, it is fine,” Langager said. “All you are really looking for is positive change.”

You still have to stand on a scale.

“If your scale weight doesn’t change but you get a loss of fat, you can quantify it,” Langager said.

In other words, it means you’re getting ripped, dude.

Langager said people should find what works best for them.

“Some people are motivated by seeing improvement on paper,” he said. “Other people can look at in the mirror and say, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling and looking better.’”

Of course, the ultimate test is not having to do the zipper dance to fit into those jeans.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.

Caliper tips

  • Take measurements the same way, site and condition each time.
  • Chart progress on a regular basis.
  • Don’t exercise immediately beforehand. Exercise can change the thickness of the folds.
  • Skin should be dry and free of lotion or sweat.

For more information about Body Fat Test mobile hydrostatic testing, go to www.bodyfattest.com.

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