Expert Q&A

Muscle gains: Can you measure muscle without testing body fat?

Without taking a body fat test, is there any way to know if I’m building muscle?


Actually, a body fat test is the best way to measure muscle gain. Here are some of the methods used to calculate it:

Bioelectrical impedance can measure muscle

A very popular method, bioelectrical impedance works by sending a weak electrical current through your body. The current resists muscle and fat differently, and this is measured. This method can be very accurate if you are moderately overweight.

Skinfold calipers can deteremine the muscle and fat in your body

Skinfold calipers measure skinfold thickness at various locations on the body. Scientific calculations of these measurements tell you how much muscle and fat is in your body.

Underwater weighing is an accurate muscle measurement method

Underwater weighing requires sitting on a swing type chair in a water tub. Your body is immersed while you expel all your air and hold still. This is one of the most accurate measurements, although not the most comfortable.

If you absolutely don’t want to take one of these tests, you can assume you’re gaining muscle if you’re getting stronger. Muscle size and strength are related.

Keep in mind that if you gain 5 pounds of muscle and burn 3 pounds of fat, you may not look any different. However, if you find yourself able to do more strengthening exercises (like push ups, dips, lunges or squats), then you have gotten stronger and therefore built more muscle. Without the body fat test, though, you won’t know exactly how much.

Michele Silence, MA
Contributing Expert

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