Come back skinfolds, all is forgiven: a narrative review of the efficacy of common body composition methods in applied sports practice

Andreas M. Kasper, Carl Langan-Evans, James F. Hudson, Thomas E. Brownlee, Liam D. Harper, Robert J. Naughton, James P. Morton, Graeme L. Close

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Whilst the assessment of body composition is routine practice in sport, there remains considerable debate on the best tools available, with the chosen technique often based upon convenience rather than understanding the method and its limitations. The aim of this manuscript was threefold: (1) provide an overview of the common methodologies used within sport to measure body composition, specifically hydro-densitometry, air displacement plethysmography, bioelectrical impedance analysis and spectroscopy, ultra-sound, three-dimensional scanning, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and skinfold thickness; (2) compare the efficacy of what are widely believed to be the most accurate (DXA) and practical (skinfold thickness) assessment tools and (3) provide a framework to help select the most appropriate assessment in applied sports practice including insights from the authors’ experiences working in elite sport. Traditionally, skinfold thickness has been the most popular method of body composition but the use of DXA has increased in recent years, with a wide held belief that it is the criterion standard. When bone mineral content needs to be assessed, and/or when it is necessary to take limb-specific estimations of fat and fat-free mass, then DXA appears to be the preferred method, although it is crucial to be aware of the logistical constraints required to produce reliable data, including controlling food intake, prior exercise and hydration status. However, given the need for simplicity and after considering the evidence across all assessment methods, skinfolds appear to be the least affected by day-to-day variability, leading to the conclusion ‘come back skinfolds, all is forgiven’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1075
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2021


  • Athlete
  • Bioelectrical
  • DXA
  • Densitometry
  • Exercise
  • Impedance
  • Monitoring
  • Plethysmography
  • Scanning
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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