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Everything you need to know about body fat

Body fat is a subject that isn’t spoken much of among fitness enthusiasts. Not because it’s not important but because it’s really tricky and most of the people confuse it with weight. You want to be leaner and look better but the only indicator you go by is the scale, this could be the worst mistake. It can push you to do things that will do more harm than good to your body, but don’t you worry  In this article I will cover some of the most common questions I get and help you get a better understanding of what body fat actually is. I will go over:

“What is body fat percentage?”

“What body fat percentage is good to aim at?” and “What effect it has on our body?”

“How to calculate your body fat percentage and the best way to lower it?”

If you want to get answer to all those questions keep going. You’re luckily reading S.K. fitness which means you are awesome, good looking and humble person. You also know that this is one of the subjects that is directly connected with improving the way your body looks. Changing your body composition doesn’t happen by luck or a miracle, to ensure success on your journey educate yourself, and don’t blindly follow advice.

Warning: This article is not office environment-friendly, as it contains a lot of half-naked people pictures with different levels of body fat.

So what is body fat percentage?

That is the amount of fat your body has compared to your muscles, bones, organs, tendons, water etc.

There are generally two types of fat:

  • visceral (surrounding internal organs)
  • subcutaneous (beneath the skin – about 80% of all body fat)

From a health perspective, visceral fat is the dangerous one as it is associated with increased risk of a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes.

Both men and women carry different amounts of body fat percentage because of their hormonal differences.

They also store the body fat in different areas:

  • Women – generally around the buttocks and thighs (gluteofemoral): “pear-shaped”.
  • Men – generally around the abdomen: “apple-shaped”

Both of the shapes can be found in either gender but these are the predominant patterns.

A male bodybuilding or physique competitor can go as low as 3-4% of body fat while a super lean female competitor can go down to about 8-9%. A male athlete can have a visible six pack at 10% body fat (you also have to account the development of abdominal muscles here) while athletic women will achieve that look at 16-20% of body fat. So comparing female with male body fat percentage is out of the question. Individual approaches must be taken into account for both when designing plans for reducing the body fat.

Before I answer the question “What is “good” body fat percentage to aim at?” I want to debunk a myth that is widespread among un-experienced trainees. Spot reduction.

This study shows that there is a minimal sign of spot reduction in targeted areas.The young women who did High-Intensity Intermittent training had slightly more loss in leg and trunk fat compared to the group who did normal steady state cardio. Despite that, It is not scientifically proven with other groups that a certain type of exercise will favor fat loss in a particular area.

Exercising should be always a part of your fat loss program but vigorously doing crunches will not have any impact on losing the fat in that area.

Another myth that has been debunked again and again put people don’t seem to get it. “High-repetition (e.g. 20-30 reps) weight training  leads to greater fat loss”.

Just on the contrary, the loss of intensity may ultimately result in less fat loss than lower reps with heavier weights. Higher repetitions are good for muscular endurance and are utilized by bodybuilders in their late stages of competition preparation to bring up detail in their physiques and not aid fat loss.

So let me get back to the question,

“What a good percentage of body fat to aim at?”

Here is the generally accepted body fat percentage scale provided by the American Council of Exercise (ACE).

Ideal body fat percentages by ACE

Essential fat is the minimum amount of fat you can’t live without. It protects your internal organs, provides you with necessary energy stores, helps you trigger hormonal functions and allow your body to perform its functions.

You should only get to these extremely low body fat percentages if you are preparing for a bodybuilding competition and you have a coach and health professional behind you to ensure that it is safe. And while you can reach that body fat percentage it is highly unlikely to maintain it for prolonged periods of time. It is also unhealthy as it weakens your immune system and you are more prone to injuries and illness.

If you are looking to have that “aesthetic” look (gentleman) and “toned” look(ladies), you’ll want your body fat percentage to fall into the second category – “athletes”.

If you will be satisfied with a healthy look then “fitness” range will be suitable for you. Once you get to the upper range of “Average” a reduction of the body fat percentage is highly recommended if you don’t want to be puffing and going out of breath on a 10 step staircase.

So how to determine which one is right for your needs and goals:

If you are trying to look like Brad Pitt in “Fight Club” or Jessica Biel in “The A team” – Your body fat percentage should be in 7-10% range for men and 13-16% for women. This will require some sacrifices and might not be suitable for everyone but some people are ready to pay the price. I’m, at least for a couple of months a year.

Brad Pitt in fight club

-If you want a “visible” six pack – somewhere between 9-12% body fat for men and 16-19% for women would get you there. It also depends on how developed are your abdominal muscles. The more defined and developed they are the higher body fat percentage you can walk around with while still having a visible 6 pack.

-If you just want to look good and get asked the question “Have you been working out recently?” – 12-15% body fat for men and 19-24% body fat for women would get you compliments on a daily basis.

Now I will give you a visual representation of how these body fat percentages look like so you can get a better idea and decide what your ultimate goal will be.

Men:

Male body fat percentage

Male body fat percentage 2

Women:

Female bodyfat percentage

Female body fat percentage 2

Let me put a note here before you mock the first two pictures in each category. Body fat is the percentage is just the amount of fat you have in your body, and it has nothing to do with the muscle mass you have. Which means you can have two people with the same body fat percentage looking completely different.

“How to calculate my body fat percentage?”

This is the question I get asked the most.

I’ve created a list of the different options you can use to measure it and accurate each is. But before we start, let me warn you all the methods give 1-2% difference that’s why the percentages you see on pictures are always between a certain range.

  1. The easiest and the cheapest way to figure out your body fat percentage is just by looking at your body and comparing it to the pictures. It is not the most accurate way and it takes an experienced eye to be able to give you a good estimate but it is a good starting point. Be aware that there is difference between 10% body of a fit body and 10% of a skinny body and it is illustrated here: 10 percent body fat different males And here for females: 

A picture comparring two females at 15% body fat

  1. Grab a set of calipers (extremely money efficient option, just 5$) and pinch yourself, grabbing the fat and separating it from the bones and the muscles. Write down the millimeters the caliper measured sum it up with all the notes you took and look here on the chart to find out your body fat percentage. Here you can find videos on how to do it yourself and where to pinch in order to be as accurate as possible. Always add 1-2% once you get the body fat number as it this method tends to underestimate.
  2. Body fat scales and monitors – this is the method that most modern gyms utilize when doing assessments of new clients. Extremely inaccurate method that is affected how much water you have in your body and can spit out 3 different numbers in the matter of an hour. That’s good for the “fitness professionals” because they can round it up to the higher number, scare you and then make you sign up a membership with a year contract. Not a pleasant experience for sure. You should be really cautious when getting measured your body fat percentage on these scales.
  3. DEXA scanning– This one is probably the most accurate method and you can have it done in a health facility. You get an X-ray going through your body giving you the numbers afterward. It can be pricey though so unless you really need to know your body fat percentage I wouldn’t advise you to use this method.
  4. Bod Pod body fat measurement can be also extremely accurate but is still quite expensive and it is not widely spread.

The method I personally use is calipers and taking a look as it gives me a good understanding of where I’m at. I’m also taking progress pictures so I can see if I advance with my training and nutrition or not. Usually, the mirror is the best method you can use, if you are happy with what you see, you are going in the right direction. If you are not, my premium courses cover everything you need to know to succeed at fitness.

What is the best way to lower you body fat percentage?

Down below I will outline the methods that I personally use to get in shape and reduce my body fat percentage. Different approaches are used if you want to get to single digit numbers for male athletes and low two digit numbers for female athletes. You have to be more strict and experiment with what works for you and your body and what doesn’t but if you follow the principles I’ve written down below I ensure you, you will get a sexy looking body.

1.Eat in a caloric deficit – there is no way around that. If you want to lose fat, you have to eat less than you burn as energy, simple as that. How do you figure out how much you burn? I’ve got you covered, I’ve written an awesome guide that gives you step by step explanation on how to create your own nutrition plan. Here’s the link to it, so go download it for FREE.

  1. Weight train and train as heavy as you can. This will allow you to preserve the muscle which will allow you to expend more calories doing your day to day activities and also trigger and after-burn effect, which will allow you burn calories even when you are not training.
  2. Avoid Junk – Really simple step but it is more neglected than you think. Pizzas, burgers, sodas, alcohol save these for rare occasions if you want to be rocking a six pack. And if you have a cheat day remember that what you consume on that day is not erased just because it is “your cheat day”. It still goes into your body and adds up calories and slows down your fat loss process.

“ A piece of cake is okay, half a cake is not.”

  1. Eat nutritious food– I know, so annoying, everything revolves around eating healthy but that is the truth, that’s what it takes to have the body that you want. Eat lean meats, more veggies, fewer carbohydrates. Simple as that.
  2. Get enough rest – Really important, very few are blessed with the opportunity to sleep 8 hours a night but when you get a chance make sure you do. It definitely helps your body recover faster, and utilize all the nutrients you consume better.

I think I’ve covered pretty much all the questions that I’ve been asked and came up to my mind. I know this is a complicated subject and it will take time, to get all the information in your head and more questions will come up as you assimilate it. So, I’d love to help you and answer any other questions you might have.

Just leave a comment down below and I will do my best to provide you with an answer.

I know this has been a longer than usual post so I want to thank you for sticking with me to the very end.

Images copyright: Body fat 1, 10% body fat difference male, 15% body fat difference female,

Simeon Krastev About Simeon Krastev

Simeon is a fitness coach with a unique perspective on training and nutrition. For the past six years, he’s been helping busy people achieve an impactful fit look without putting their life on hold. Stay in touch by connecting with him on LinkedIn.

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