How do I Take a Skinfold Measurement?

Henry Gaudet
Henry Gaudet
Skinfolds are used to measure subcutaneous body fat.
Skinfolds are used to measure subcutaneous body fat.

A skinfold measurement is a pinch test taken with a pair of calipers. Skin is pinched in specific areas around the body, and the thickness is measured with the calipers. These measurements are then used to determine the percentage of body fat present. To take a skinfold measurement, you will need to have calipers, know the locations to take the measurements and know the proper way to take the measurements.

Triceps and biceps are typical skinfold measurement locations.
Triceps and biceps are typical skinfold measurement locations.

Consistency is required to accurately compare measurements and mark progress. To achieve this, the skinfold measurement should be taken in the same places and in the same manner each time. The exact sites vary depending on the protocol being used, but traditionally, seven locations along the right side of the body are measured. Typical skinfold measurement locations include the triceps, biceps, chest, thigh, calf, abdomen, below the scapula and above the hipbone.

Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.
Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.

Most people are not able to comfortably reach all of these locations, and assistance likely will be required. If possible, the same person should take the skinfold measurement each time, for the greatest possible consistency. If no assistance is available, an abbreviated test involving three accessible locations can be used. This test will not be as accurate, but it will allow you to determine your body fat percentage somewhat reliably.

Skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger when taking a skinfold measurement.
Skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger when taking a skinfold measurement.

When taking a skinfold measurement, the skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger. The objective is to pinch hard enough to pull up the fat layer but not deep enough to pull at the underlying muscle. Pinching should be firm but should not cause discomfort.

Measurements taken with the calipers should be close to the pinch, no more than half an inch away from the fingers, and halfway up the skinfold. Multiple skinfold measurements, usually three, are taken for each site and then averaged. For the best results, it is recommended that, rather than taking three consecutive measurements at each location, measurements should cycle through all of the sites three times, so that the skin can recover between pinches.

Skinfold measurement may be influenced by the individual's level of hydration.
Skinfold measurement may be influenced by the individual's level of hydration.

After these measurements are taken, calculations can be made to determine your percentage of body fat. Like the skinfold measurement sites, the specific calculations vary depending on the protocol being used, but most of them include factors such as your age and bone density. The simplest method of calculating body fat without a lot of math is with the use of computer software designed for this purpose. A quick online search can be used to find a body fat calculator.

Experts agree that skinfold measurement can accurately determine body fat percentages. When performed by a qualified professional, the tests can be as high as 98 percent accurate. Factors such as the tester’s skill, quality of the calipers and the level of the individual’s hydration can impact on the results, but even so, when tested consistently under the same conditions, an accurate record of progress still can be made.

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    • Skinfolds are used to measure subcutaneous body fat.
      By: miiko
      Skinfolds are used to measure subcutaneous body fat.
    • Triceps and biceps are typical skinfold measurement locations.
      By: Paul Maguire
      Triceps and biceps are typical skinfold measurement locations.
    • Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.
      By: Earl Robbins
      Wrestlers must keep their bodies lean and maintain minimal levels of body fat.
    • Skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger when taking a skinfold measurement.
      By: Robert Hoetink
      Skin is pinched between the thumb and forefinger when taking a skinfold measurement.
    • Skinfold measurement may be influenced by the individual's level of hydration.
      By: mallivan
      Skinfold measurement may be influenced by the individual's level of hydration.