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How reliable is skin fold analysis?

Calculations have been created to estimate body fat percentage based on skin fold measurements to the same accuracy as hydrostatic weighing.  The calculations and calipers themselves are very accurate.  While there is large room for user error in skin fold measurements, skilled trainers who practice often can obtain up to 98% accuracy.  However, it has been found that skin fold measurements may be less accurate for larger individuals, where it is more difficult to separate muscle and fat by a simple pinch.

If done by a skilled practitioner they can be very accurate, comparable to underwater weighing.  For the best results each site used should be marked and three measurements per site performed.  It would be ideal to use more sites vs. less and have the same person do the test each time. 

In a gym setting three to four sites are common and usually only one measurement per site is performed.  As long as the same person is doing the test each time and they are experienced with using the calipers, than this should provide an accurate measurement of body fat percentage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.