Official Website of Sarah E. Rippel, BS, CPT, FMS

-Progress…It Ain’t Measured In Just Numbers!-

Holy cannoli!!!I just got home from training my last client of the morning, and made her be my “guinea pig” for comparing the Tanita scale to skinfold calipers.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • 45 years old
  • 5’3
  • 117.8 lbs
  • Bodyfat from scale = 26%
  • Bodyfat from caliper readings (3-site test: triceps = 12mm, hip = 6mm, thigh = 23.1mm) = 18.61%
  • “good” rating

I have been pinching peoples’ fat since 1995 (lol)…seriously, though, I feel i’m pretty accurate at the pinch test. In fact, after seeing what the scale said, I told her there’s no way…I guessed that she’s 18%…and after pinching her I knew she was roughly that…no, I don’t have ESP…lol! 😀

Anyhow, there ya go…a 7.4% difference between the scale and the calipers.  From what I know, there is a 3% margin of error when testing with calipers…obviously, that margin is a lot larger when using bioelectrical impedance (the scale).

Just for kicks, I did my readings on the Tanita right after I started grilling my healthy quesadilla for lunch…then I re-tested myself after eating…and I also did a self-test with the calipers (i’m super-talented, 😉 so it IS possible to do this, although it’s tricky, lol)

Here are my stats:

  • 33 years old
  • 5’2
  • Pre-yummy quesadilla scale readings: 122.4 lbs 25.9%
  • Post-yummy quesadilla scale readings: 123.6 lbs 26.5%
  • Bodyfat from caliper readings (3-site test: triceps = 10mm, hip = 6mm, thigh = 19.33mm) = 15.8%
  • “excellent” rating

That’s roughly a 10% discrepancy between the scale and the calipers for me.

So…hopefully this will put more than a few minds at ease. The scale is a more efficient means of taking measurements. It also can give inconsistent readings based on the time of day you’re tested, if you’ve eaten, gone to the bathroom, worked out, drank water, etc. Calipers take a little longer, are a bit invasive (because I gotta pinch on people, and some may not like that), and are not something I would use on obese clients. I learned a lesson years and years ago when I was roughly 22 years old and still a bit “green” as a personal trainer. I made the mistake of deciding to do a caliper test on a new client who was very obese. All went pretty well until I went to do her thigh pinch, and the calipers wouldn’t open wide enough to measure. I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I fudged the test, estimating in my head how many additional millimeters of pinch there were. In retrospect, this client would have been perfectly content simply knowing her baseline weight and girth measurements (ie waist, hip, etc.).

To be perfectly honest, I could care less about numbers these days. I come from a background of disordered eating and obsessive exercise. I used to weigh myself numerous times a day and my life revolved around all sorts of numbers…weight…bodyfat…sets…reps…pounds…workouts per day…time…distance…calories…fat…protein…carbs…I was OBSESSED. I feel that numbers often mess with peoples’ minds. We get fixated on certain numbers in relation to our weight, exercise routine, etc. It’s maddening! The last thing I want to do is see other people fall into this crazy cycle of obsessing over a specific number.


What i’m most concerned with is the fact that my clients are making progress. People who hire me are wanting to lose weight, plain and simple. If you are exercising and eating healthy, it’s gonna happen. Yes, there are other factors involved, but if you are able to tell that your clothes are getting looser, that’s a BIG indicator that you’re losing bodyfat. If you are wanting to lose bodyfat and are tracking your weight/etc, if the number given by the assessment is decreasing, that’s most often a good sign!

Again, the main thing that we’re looking for is PROGRESS. Please don’t limit yourself to thinking that progress is only measured in numbers…it is SO MUCH MORE than that. 🙂

Yours in Health, Sarah


One response

  1. good blog post!

    i have the tanita, and it keeps showing me over 16% which doesnt seem right given i seem to continually get skinnier.

    im going to try calipers.

    August 27, 2010 at 6:18 am

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