Body Composition Analysis: 4 Ways to Measure

Female doctor consulting with male patient on touchpad in hospital

Body composition analysis is an important tool for understanding your overall health. It provides valuable insights into the amount of fat, muscle, and water in your body. It is a useful tool for monitoring changes in body composition over time and can be used to help achieve fitness goals or as part of a comprehensive health assessment.


What is the Body Composition Analysis?

Body composition analysis is a way to measure the amount of fat and muscle in a person’s body. It looks at the body as a whole, to determine the relative proportion of fat and muscle and where the fat and muscle are located. The results of a body composition analysis can indicate overall fitness level and body shape, as the amount of muscle and fat stored in different parts of the body can vary depending on a person’s body type.


The Basics of Body Composition

Body composition is the relative proportion of fat and muscle in the body. Generally, body composition is calculated by measuring the body’s fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM). 

Fat mass is the total weight of fat, while fat-free mass is the total weight of all other components of the body, such as muscle, bone, and water. The ratio of fat mass to fat-free mass is used to determine the body’s overall composition.


How to Measure Body Composition?

Body composition can be measured using various methods, including skinfold calipers, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans, hydrostatic weighing, and bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the accuracy of the results depends on the method used and the skill of the technician performing the test.


Skinfold Calipers

Measuring body composition using skinfold calipers involves assessing the thickness of subcutaneous fat at various sites on the body. A trained professional pinches the skin and underlying fat at specific locations, such as the triceps and abdomen, using calipers. The sum of these measurements provides an estimate of body fat percentage. The accuracy can vary, but with skilled practitioners, skinfold calipers can provide reasonable estimates of body fat percentage.


  • Accessibility: Skinfold calipers are widely available and cost-effective.
  • Non-Invasive: The method is non-invasive, making it comfortable for individuals undergoing the assessment.


  • Operator Dependency: Results can vary based on the skill and experience of the person using the calipers.
  • Limited Sites: Measurement sites may not accurately represent total body fat distribution.

Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) Scans

DXA scans use X-rays to measure bone density, lean mass, and fat mass. During the scan, the individual lies on a table while the machine emits low-dose X-rays, producing detailed images that allow for precise body composition analysis. Considered one of the most accurate methods for assessing body composition.


  • Precision: DXA provides accurate and detailed measurements of bone, lean tissue, and fat mass.
  • Whole-Body Assessment: Offers a comprehensive analysis of body composition.


  • Cost: DXA scans can be expensive and may not be readily available to everyone.
  • Radiation Exposure: Although low, DXA involves exposure to ionizing radiation.

Hydrostatic Weighing

Hydrostatic weighing, or underwater weighing, determines body density by measuring weight in and out of water. The individual is submerged in a tank, and the difference in weight provides information about body composition. Hydrostatic weighing is considered a precise method for body composition assessment.


  • High Accuracy: Hydrostatic weighing is considered highly accurate, especially when performed meticulously.
  • Fat and Lean Mass Differentiation: Provides separate measurements for fat and lean mass.


  • Availability: Requires specialized equipment, limiting accessibility.
  • Discomfort: Submersion can be uncomfortable for some individuals.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

BIA measures body composition by analyzing the resistance of electrical flow through the body. A low-level electric current is passed through the body, and the impedance, or resistance, is used to estimate the amount of fat, lean mass, and water. BIA provides estimates and trends but may not match the precision of other techniques.


  • Non-Invasive: BIA is non-invasive and quick to perform.
  • Accessibility: Portable devices make BIA widely available for routine assessments.


  • Variables: Results can be influenced by factors like hydration levels and meal consumption.
  • Accuracy Concerns: Accuracy may vary, and BIA may not be as precise as some other methods.

What are the Healthy Body Composition Ranges?

Understanding and maintaining healthy body composition is crucial for overall well-being. Both men and women should be aware of the potential risks associated with extremes in body fat percentages. For women, having too little body fat, generally below 12-15%, can lead to increased vulnerability to injury, illness, weakened bones, and a higher risk of fractures. For men, a healthy body fat percentage typically falls in the range of 6-24%.

A fixation on achieving an excessively low body fat percentage may quickly escalate into serious eating disorders, compromising both physical and mental health. To optimize performance and ensure a balanced body composition, weight management should be approached with caution. It is recommended to seek guidance from coaches, medical professionals, and nutritionists. For women, maintaining a body fat percentage between 20-25% is generally considered healthy, while for men, a range of 10-20% is often associated with optimal health and well-being. Striking a balance is key to achieving sustainable and long-term fitness goals without compromising overall health.


Health Benefits of Understanding Your Body Composition

Measuring body composition can help you understand how your body is responding to your current training and nutrition plan. With this information, you can change your plans to optimize performance. It can also help to identify potential health risks associated with having too little or too much body fat. 

Additionally, measuring body composition can help you set realistic and achievable goals for your desired body composition. This can keep you motivated and focused on your performance goals.


The Bottomline

Body composition analysis is a great tool for understanding a person’s health. It can help identify any areas of concern and provide a baseline for tracking future progress. 

With the help of body composition analysis, individuals can learn to make smarter decisions about their diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits. This can lead to a healthier and happier life in the long run. Furthermore, body composition analysis is an efficient way to measure progress over time to determine if desired goals are being met. Overall, body composition analysis is a valuable tool that can provide insight into an individual’s health and well-being.

Craft Concierge is your direct primary care in Tulsa. We offer an affordable monthly rate. Get in touch with us.


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