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Whether you have access to body composition measuring tools or not you should have a good idea of your body fat percentage. With that being said below is a post regarding what you can expect to see in the mirror based on several different body fat percentages.
Body fat measurements are the superior method in determining body composition and weight loss. Body fat percentages are very self-explanatory; they are simply the percent of fat that your total weight is comprised of. For example, a 200 lb male with 15% bodyfat would have 30 pounds of fat on his body. The remaining 170 pounds would comprise of bone, muscle, organ tissue, water, blood, and everything else.
Consuming fat and having baseline amounts of body fat and is vital to the human body for performing essential bodily functions. Body fat provides insulation and protection for vital organs, produces hormones, aids in digestion, maintains body temperature, and promotes healthy cellular function.
There are many ways which health and fitness professionals use to measure body fat percentages. There are circumference measurements, bio electrical impedance (BIA), skinfold measurements, ultrasound, bodpod, hydrostatic weighing, dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), X-Ray, and MRI.
As with any test there is variation and error in body fat percentages, with even the best tests still having a percent error ranging from 1-3%. Most of these tests require skilled technicians, consistent testers, algorithms, and environmental variables, and some pocket change in order to perform the tests. As you see lots of variables must be accounted for in order to get an accurate reading of your body composition.
Picking out a professional facility and well-trained technicians is a great option and will give you the most accurate results but this is not always feasible. For that reason, I will provide some descriptions of different body fat percentages and what you can expect to see in the mirror at these body fat percentages.
Essential body fat is typically 3-5% for men and 10-12% for women. In terms of obesity males reaching 25% body fat and females reaching 32% body fat qualify as obese by most standards.
How to Estimate Your Percent Body Fat
Below are descriptions of various body fats and what you can expect to see in the mirror:
20% Body Fat: No visible muscle definition, poor separation of major muscle groups unless extremely large and developed.
15% Body Fat: Some moderate muscle separation begins to become evident; specifically in the deltoids as they shoulders do not hold much fat. In most cases the abs are not yet visible.
12% Body Fat: The chest, back, and abs all gain some definition. There is an outline of the abdominal muscles and a 2-4 pack may be visible.
10% Body Fat: A 6 pack is visible when flexed. Deeper more pronounced muscle separation in the arms, chest, legs, and back.
7-9% Body Fat: 6 pack abs visible at all times. There is visible separation between quadriceps muscles and back musculature is clear. The serratus anterior (those wicked cool lines on the side of your ribs) should be visible Arms should be visibly vascular most of the time.
5-7% Body Fat: Competitive male body builders often are in this range. Lower abdominals and legs are both vascular and well-defined. Striations appear in large flexed muscle groups, especially the chest.
These descriptions are by no means an end all, as everyone has unique muscular development. These percentages also only take into account subcutaneous fat, the fat that sits directly underneath the skin and not the visceral fat which sits around the organs.
Hydration status also plays a huge role in many tests such as the skin fold because subcutaneous fat holds water. In most cases body fat percentage is underestimated, so swallow your pride and be conservative with your estimations.
Knowing your body fat percentage is a great way to set body composition and FAT loss goals while giving you a tangible picture of what you can expect to see. For best results see a qualified professional and follow pre-testing protocols, but if this is not an option use these descriptions to get a good idea of where you are.