The Russians Used Pencil: Measuring Body Composition Part 2

Skinfold calipers: sometimes Old School really is better.

The Lowly Caliper Measures More than Body Comp

Last week, we looked at the shortcomings of methods for measuring body fat.   I’ve always leaned on calipers but in recent years I’ve started to like them for the very reason they are criticized.  Detractors will say that because when you measure with calipers, you are measuring everything under the skin.  Yes, fat, but this also includes water.  Critics will say this means that calipers aren’t accurate.  Not for measuring body fat, perhaps.  But the fact that they measure water under the skin makes them an invaluable tool.

Why?  Any stressor—lack of sleep, alcohol, high blood sugar, psychological stress, toxins, lack of sunlight, antigens, overtraining—will tax the adrenals, causing inflammation.  Since the adrenals are responsible for water balance, any sudden, significant increase in a skinfold measurement can likely be attributed to the adrenals working overtime.  Calipers actually help me pinpoint which foods and lifestyle factors cause inflammation in a client.  So the very thing that’s always been cited as the major shortcoming of the calipers actually make them a more informative tool than the other measurement methods.  Blood and cortisol tests would be too cost prohibitive to run on a weekly basis.  With calipers, though, I’ve been able to determine food intolerances and training thresholds conveniently and cost effectively from week to week.

While some love to poo poo the fact that calipers don’t give an accurate fat measurement because they don’t account for edema, water retention from inflammation is often more of an aesthetic issue than actual body fat is!  Get rid of the bloat and clients are already happier with their appearance.  And, of course, chronic inflammation leads to metabolic disorders, elevated cortisol, and increased body fat.  So even if the calipers are not measuring precisely only body fat all the time, they can provide invaluable clues as to what is causing inflammation.