From low-tech and old fashioned to high-tech and cutting edge, there are many ways to determine your body fat percentage.  Health experts consider body fat percentage to be a more accurate measure of personal fitness than the number on the scale. What is a healthy body fat percentage?  The American Council on Exercise provides this chart:

                                 Women          Men

Essential fat             10-12%          2-4%

Athletes                   14-20%          6-13%

Fitness                    21-24%          14-17%

Acceptable              25-31%          18-25%

Overweight             32-41%          26-37%

Obese                     42%+             38%+


Essential fat means the amount every body needs to function.

Athletes have more muscle and less body fat due to exceptional fitness.

Fitness means the range of fot on a normally fit person.

Acceptable means you're not at your top fitness level but you're not overweight either. 

Overweight and Obese mean you're carrying way too much body fat and you're at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems. 

How do you measure body fat?

1. The old fashioned way:  When your pants feel tight and your shirt  gaps, that's a clue: something's up.  Step on the scale and pull out the tape measure and measure your waist circumference.  The National Institute of Health says health risks go up with a waist measurement over 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women.

2. Body Mass Index (BMI):  One of the simplest ways to determine body fat is a calculation tool based on height and weight.  The National Institute of Health provides an online BMI calculator or you can use the following formula

Divide weight in pounds by height in inches (in) squared and multiply by a conversion factor of 703.

Example: Weight = 150 lbs, Height = 5'5" (65")

Calculation: [150 ÷ (65)^2 x 703 = 24.96

3. Skin Fold Calipers:  Calipers are measuring tools available at the gym or doctor's office that measure skin folds on various body parts to calculate total body fat.

4. Underwater (Hydrostatic) weighing:  Considered a more accurate but more expensive and inconvenient method, this procedure is usually done at medical or university research facilities or sometimes at high-end exercise facilities.  The basic idea is that fat floats while bone and muscle sink.  The person being measured is submerged into a watertank in a special chair with a weight belt attached to their waist.  A technician repeats the procedure many times then calculates body density based on the difference between what your body weighs in air and water. 

5. Bioelectrical impedance:  This high-tech method is available at medical research facilities, high-end fitness centers and your bathroom.  Certain bathroom scales are equipped with the  same technology as the instruments used in scientific research laboratories.  A small amount of harmless electrical current is delivered through the body to calculate total body water in lean tissue and muscle.  Fat contains no water so body fat percentage is based on the difference between your body weight and lean tissue.  Results can be inaccurate in people who are dehydrated, over-hydrated, morbidly obese, aged or those with very low muscle mass.  The procedure is contraindicated for people with pacemakers.

Once you know, more or less, what your body fat percentage is, you can use this as a guide in choosing fitness goals.