How to Test Your Body Fat in 60 Seconds

How to Test Your Body Fat in 60 Seconds

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The Maffetone Method

You may not be overweight, but most people are overfat according to one study. Are you? Find out in one minute. Here’s how.

90% of Men, 80% of Women
That’s about how many people are “overfat” according to a recent study. That means, statistically, YOU are overfat. And that overfatness can lead to cardiometabolic dysfunction and a whole bunch of chronic diseases that’ll kill you until you’re dead.
Wait, What Does “Overfat” Mean?
Think of it as a new category on the body fat continuum:

The problem? “Normal weight” and the three latter categorizations of fatness are typically measured using the BMI scale. As you know, this is an oversimplified formula based on height and weight. It does not discriminate between muscle mass and fat mass, nor does it tell you anything about WHERE you store your fat.
That last bit is important. First, storing fat in the abdominal/belly area is much worse for you health-wise than storing it elsewhere.
Second, BMI doesn’t tell you a damn thing about visceral adipose tissue and subcutaneous adipose tissue. Visceral fat is stored inside the abdominal cavity and around your internal organs. That’s the stuff that’ll most likely lead to insulin resistance and, generally speaking, dying in an assortment of nasty ways. Subcutaneous fat is that jiggly stuff just beneath your skin. It’s less dangerous but definitely gross.
Australian health expert Philip Maffetone and his researchers believe that a person who’s not obese or even overweight (as measured by BMI) can still have an unhealthy level of body fat – particularly in the abdominal region. That overfatness is either a sign of growing health problems or at least a predictor of soon-to-be health problems.
They think we should just do away with the confounding BMI scale and use something different. Their method is fast, simple, and will probably hurt your feelings.
Measure Your Belly
Here’s the Maffetone method in a nutshell:

That’s it. Strict? You bet, but their research is pretty compelling if you want to dig deeply into the study.
Wait, Am I Overfat?
You want to know, don’t you? I sure did. So to help you break down that one-sentence fatness test, I’ll use myself as an example:
How tall am I? I’m 5’11″. That’s 71 inches. Half of that is 35.5.
What’s my waist measurement? Although Maffetone uses the term “waist,” he really means “belly.” The measurement should be taken across the belly button area. Your pants size is NOT your waist size. Here’s the diagram Maffetone uses:

My jeans size is 32, but my belly measurement is 34. That’s the number we want, so get out the tape measure, don’t suck in your gut, and do the deed. (I’ve always liked the MyoTape device for this.)
Now look at the definition of overfatness again: “If the circumference of your waist measures more than half your height, you’re overfat.” My 34-inch belly measurement is not greater than half of my height – 35.5 inches. So, I’m not overfat.
How I’m Using This Info
Okay, I’m not overfat… but damn, that seemed close, didn’t it? For reference, I have visible abs right now. Not dehydrated bodybuilder-on-stage abs, but pretty good. So maybe this test is a bit too harsh? Or is that just rationalizing? Either way, the Maffetone method made me step back and ponder. And ponderin’ is always good.
The researchers here are focused on avoiding heart disease, the 13 types of cancer associated with being too fat, type 2 diabetes, etc. They’re concerned with longevity and quality of life. Their test seems strict, but it’s ultimately more reliable than BMI and more realistic for athletic folks. It’s also easy to do at home.
I’m probably not going to freak out if I decide to go on a short-term mass phase and my numbers start to tip the other way just a smidge. But I’m definitely not going to stay in the overfat zone for long. The research is pretty clear: excess fat stored in and around your belly, even if you’re not “overweight” by conventional standards, is bad news in the long run.
Oh, go ahead and reply with photos of World’s Strong Man competitors with big waists and visible abs. Just remember, they’re genetic mutants using tons of drugs and you’re, well, probably not. (Also, their sheer “bigness” may be causing other issues.)
Health first, guys.
Maffetone PB et al. Overfat Adults and Children in Developed Countries: The Public Health Importance of Identifying Excess Body Fat. Front Public Health. 2017 Jul 24;5:190. PubMed.
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I think this is pretty good for people that are within a few standard deviations of average height. Especially for the really short folks it seems much harder to meet.
I do think it’s a better standard than BMI.
Meeting it seems more like being fit / healthy moreso than not meeting as overfat.


I think this is pretty good for people that are within a few standard deviations of average height. Especially for the really short folks it seems much harder to meet.

How does height affect fat accumulation in and around the midsection? Honest question. Maybe I’m missing something.

I could be wrong on this, but I was assuming that some stuff in the torso doesn’t change much with height. Perhaps the spine is about the same thickness.
As an example, I have a short friend. He has a wide frame, and thick bones. His wrists are over 7″ at 5’2″. I am guessing his spine is roughly the same thickness as mine.
I actually mentioned this study to him and a few other friends at the gym. He was the one that mentioned it seems harder for really short people. He actually meets the standard, but barely, he is at a 31″ at the navel. He has visible abs, and most people would say he is jacked, but he barely meets the standard.
I very well could be wrong on this. Perhaps his example is an outlier case.
Another thing that comes to mind for me, is muscle gains around the torso. Someone doing a lot of powerlifting type training is likely going to have build up some erectors. I do certainly think it is possible to build those up. That may be partially why my buddy can look jacked and barely make the standard. Really low lat insertions may interfere as well.

I am guessing around the navel, this guy is getting some lat, and spinal erector muscle influencing his measurement. He probably has a pretty lean stomach, but he may not meet the standard.
I’ve noticed that if I go around the navel in the front, but a bit lower on the back side, my measurement goes down.

You make some good points. I think, though, that someone would have to be an extreme outlier if they failed this test simply because of a thick spine or just massive core musculature. The latter can happen, but usually steroids, insulin, and GH are involved (possible internal organ growth). Like the photo you posted: genetic outlier on a whole bunch of drugs. The test isn’t made for lab experiments.
As for muscle gain around the torso: it’s possible. But I know a lot of powerlifter-types who make this claim because they have thick waists and a smidge of abs. They might be forgetting about sub-abdominal fat accumulation. Their abs are somewhat visible because they’re storing fat internally, what docs used to call “heart attack fat.” (Visceral.) It’s that hard, pregnant-belly look in men. This tape measurement test would catch that type of fat too, for the most part. (Seems to store in the high-belly area in some men.)
I do think this test is crazy strict though. But I kinda like that. Keeps you from straying too far and never finding your way back. And it’s tougher to bullshit a tape measurement.


But I know a lot of powerlifter-types who make this claim because they have thick waists and a smidge of abs.

Yes, me haha. I have sorta abs. 4 pack, but I don’t pass the test. Most say I am in pretty good shape though.
I have made passing the test a goal. It lines up with my cut going on right now anyways.


I do think this test is crazy strict though.

Agreed here. If one has been lifting for awhile and passes, I’d say they are likely in awesome shape.


The research is pretty clear: excess fat stored in and around your belly, even if you’re not “overweight” by conventional standards, is bad news in the long run.

I think that this HERE is the important part. Ego aside, the vast majority of us probably need to work on this. I think that unless you are close to the mid teens in BF% you probably are carrying some midriff fat. I know I am.

Maffetone’s fat test, like all of his running coaching, is fine for average/ general fitness and idiotic for athletes.
Both have the same fault–they select for mediocrity. The fat test incentivizes people to drop body mass at all costs. The heart rate-based training system, which ignores the fact that heart rate is neither the limiting factor nor reliably indicative of any limiting factor in trained athletes, is just an excuse for people not push hard in training.


…we should just do away with the confounding BMI scale…

Please! …and ASAP.

Good stuff, seems like a better indicator than BMI as a predictor of heart disease. Also, weirdly I have the exact same numbers as Chris.

Hey Chris thanks for the postQuestion for you:I’m 47 male, 6’1, 205 @ approx 25% BF, skinny fat, majority of fat is on love handles/stomachI’ve been yo-yo dieting for a long time, but was 230 at the beginning of 2022Dec 2022, I went to maintenance calories for the month (~3000/day) and am considering doing the same/moderate increase until April then start cutting again.Lifting x3/week, moderate intensity with active lifestyle
Ultimate goal is to get to around 10% BF, don’t really care what the weight is but probably around 185 I’m guessing.
Would you just start cutting now cuz I’m pretty fat or would you try to gain a bit of muscle over the next few months, then cut?

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