Body Mass

The purpose for measuring your body mass, also referred to as body composition, is to determine your percent body fat in comparison to your total body weight. Excess body fat is a secondary risk factor for coronary artery disease [CAD].

You can estimate your body fat by measuring your waistline and using the body mass index [BMI]. The BMI formula relates a person's body weight to height and correlates accurately with body fat in most people. A high-risk waist measurement is 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men.

  • Underweight - BMI values less than 18.5 are considered underweight.
  • Normal healthy - BMI values from 18.5 to 24.9 are considered healthy and pose minimal health risk.
  • Overweight - BMI values of 25.0 to less than 30.0, and represents moderate risk.
  • Obesity - BMI values of 30.0 or more, and 40 or more defines extreme obesity. People who have BMI values of 30 or more are at high risk of cardiovascular disease.


Measuring BMI

There are several methods employed to measure body fat.

  • Measuring Fat Using Calipers - Certainly not the most reliable method, but it is convenient, if you are willing to accept the lack of accuracy. This is useful as a relative measure, acting as a good guide to the change in measurement throughout the program.
  • Waist to Hip Ratio [WHR] - measures ratio of fat between waist to hip to give an indication of coronary artery disease risk
  • More accurate measures - including impedance analysis, underwater weighing, DEXA or Bod Pod are beyond the scope of this program

Measuring Body Fat Using Calipers

Skinfold measurements are based on the presumption that 50 percent of your total body fat is just below your skin. The experimenter pinches 3 sites on your body.


Take the measure either:

  • on the upper pectoral area
  • the midsection, or
  • on the top of the quadriceps of the leg.


Take the measure either:

  • On the back of the arm
  • The midsection
  • Side of the hip.

Here's another simple bmi calculator like the one above. Typical body fat ranges for various theoretical body types


Body Type Female Male
Lean 17-22% 10-15%
Athlete 17% 10%
Normal 22-25% 15-18%
Above Average 25-29% 18-20%
Over-fat 29-35% 20-25%
Obese 35+% 25+%

General Body Fat Percentage Categories

Classification Women (% fat) Men (% fat)
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32% + 25%+

Source: The American Council of Exercise


Waist to Hip Body Fat Distribution

The WHR measure is considered by many as being a more accurate body fat measure because it tells you where body fat is predominantly stored:

  • If it's in the bottom, hip and thigh area, you are lucky. Fat in this area is not dangerous to health.
  • If your extra fat is in the abdominal area, you are more prone to developing diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems.

The more weight you carry in your belly, the higher your risk for coronary artery disease [CAD].

  1. Use a tape measure to assess your waist and hips in inches.
  2. Divide your waist by your hip measurement.
  3. If your waist is 36 inches and your hips are 42 inches (36/42 = .85), this signifies a moderate/high risk for CAD. High CAD risk for men is greater than 1.0. For women, high risk is greater than .85.

As a quick ratio: Waist measurement [inches] : Hip measurement [inches]


  • Women - 0.8 or lower
  • Men - 1 or lower

A further indication is using your waist measurement with your Body Mass Index (BMI)

Risk of Associated Disease According to BMI and Waist Size
BMI   Waist less than or equal to
40 in. (men)
35 in. (women)
Waist greater than
40 in. (men)
35 in. (women)
18.5 or less Underweight N/A N/A
18.5 - 24.9 Normal N/A N/A
25.0 - 29.9 Overweight Increased High
30.0 - 34.9 Obese High Very High
35.0 - 39.9 Obese Very High Very High
40 or greater Extremely Obese Extremely High Extremely High

For imperial:metric measurement conversions


More Accurate Measures of Body Composition

Hydrostatic weighing - considered the ultimate for measuring body fat. Fat weighs less than water; your body density is calculated from the relationship between your normal body weight and your underwater weight.

Bioelectrical impedance - measures body fat by passing an electric current from your finger to your toe. The conductivity of an electrical impulse is faster through lean tissue than through fat. Prior to the test, you should be well hydrated, not have exercised within 6 hours, and consumed no alcohol 24 hours before the test. This ensures a more accurate reading.


Other Fitness Measures & Tests


Fitness Tests


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