Measuring Skinfolds for Determining Body Fat Percentage

How to use skinfold thickness to determine body fat percentage

Measuring BMI using calliper and tape measure

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Skinfold measurement is a test that estimates your amount of body fat, which is converted into percentage of total body weight. To do it a caliper is used to pinch body fat and measure it's thickness on multiple sites of the body. You need to have experience and skill to perform the test correctly.

The thickness of these folds is a measure of the fat under the skin, also called subcutaneous adipose tissue. Skinfold thickness results rely on formulas that convert these numbers into an estimate of a person's percentage of body fat according to a person's age and gender.

Skinfold Measurements

The skinfold measurement test is one of the oldest and most common methods of determining a person's body composition and body fat percentage. This test estimates the percentage of body fat by measuring skinfold thickness at specific locations on the body. Skinfold measurements are generally taken at specific sites on the right side of the body, with the tester pinching the skin at the location site and pulling the fold of skin away from the underlying muscle so only the skin and fat tissue are being held.

Special skinfold calipers are then used to measure the skinfold thickness in millimeters. Two measurements are recorded and averaged. The measurement sites vary depending upon the specific skinfold testing protocol being used, but typically include the following seven locations on the body. These include the abdomen, midaxilla, pectoral area, quadriceps, subscapular area, suprailiac area, and triceps.

Where to Take Skinfold Measurements

  • Abdomen: Next to the belly button
  • Midaxilla: Midline of the side of the torso
  • Pectoral: The mid-chest, just forward of the armpit
  • Quadriceps: Middle of the upper thigh
  • Subscapular: Beneath the edge of the shoulder blade
  • Suprailiac: Just above the iliac crest of the hip bone
  • Triceps: The back of the upper arm

Watch Now: How to Determine Your Body Fat Percentage

Calculating Body Fat Percentage

Once you have taken skinfold measurements, you'll need to convert these numbers into a percent of body fat. The easiest way to calculate the percent of body fat is to use a software program. There are as many different formulas and calculations as there are ways to measure skinfold thickness, but some that have held up over time include those published by Jackson and Pollock.

You can find these being used in the following online body fat calculators:

If you would like to measure your body fat percentage without requiring any special tools or measurements, you can also try out our calculator:

Skinfold Measurement Accuracy

The accuracy of these tests may depend on the type of calipers being used, the competence of the tester, and a person's level of hydration at the time of the test. Since using the calipers can be difficult, skinfold measurements may not be the best choice for assessing fat percentages, especially if you're trying to do it yourself.

However, even if the accuracy is somewhat off​ if you have the test done by the same tester under similar conditions, you may find the test a useful way to determine body composition change over time.

With other technologies available, skinfold testing is becoming somewhat of an ancient art-form. Most personal trainers today use electrical impedance methods and scales that measure body composition instead of directly measuring skinfolds.

A Word From Verywell

No matter the method you use, it's important to keep in mind that weight fluctuates constantly and most body composition tests should be used as a general reference point and are best when averaged over a given timeframe.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beam JR, Szymanski DJ. Validity of 2 skinfold calipers in estimating percent body fat of college-aged men and women. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(12):3448-56. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bde1fe

  2. Barreira TV, Staiano AE, Katzmarzyk PT. Validity assessment of a portable bioimpedance scale to estimate body fat percentage in white and African-American children and adolescentsPediatr Obes. 2013;8(2):e29–e32. doi:10.1111/j.2047-6310.2012.00122.x

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.