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How to Estimate Your Percent Body Fat

body fat percentage chart for men and women

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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.

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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.

body fat percentage chart for men and women
body fat percentage chart for men and women

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.

Hook me up with the Free Fat Loss Program, Eric!

Fat Deposits and Hormone Correlations

getting back into shape, Fat Deposits and Hormone Correlations

Here are some common issues and questions that my clients bring up when coming in for body composition testing, typically done as skinfold measurements and body circumference measurements.

“My arms and chest are toned and lean, but I just can’t seem to shake this stubborn lower belly flab, why am I lean everywhere but my stomach?”

“I can’t get rid of this stupid fat around my hips, it looks like a muffin top!”

“ Why am I developing man boobs  fat on my chest muscles?”

I’ve heard every combination of slang terminology for fatty deposits around the body. As funny as some of them may be they represent real, common problems that can wreak havoc on both physique and confidence.

Having body fat tested is a great way to get a reliable, quantifiable idea of your current body composition and is recommended for everyone. If this is not an immediate option (make it a priority!) Check out this post on how to estimate your body fat percentage based on what you see in the mirror.

Skinfold measurements will provide vital information to track body composition with changes in activity level and diet. These numbers from a skinfold also provide important data that can signify correlations between important body altering hormones in the body and skinfold measures.

Here are the most common trouble spots along with necessary interventions and strategies to correct the issue:

High abdominal Skinfold

  • Physiological Correlation: High Stress, High Cortisol
  • Intervention: Cortisol Suppression, Stress Control
  • Potential Strategies: Frequent protein meals, improved sleep, BCAA’s, stress reducing techniques such as meditation

High Suprailliac Skinfold (hip region)

  • Physiological Correlation: Large Insulin Release w/meals (Too many carbs!)
  • Intervention: Control Carb intake and greatly reduce processed foods
  • Potential Strategies: Decrease Carb intake (start going carb-less until workouts!), Improved Nutrient Timing (carbs post workout window)

High Subscapular Skinfold

  • Physiological Correlation:Poor Insulin Sensitivity
  • Intervention:Boost Insulin Sensitivity
  • Potential Strategy: Add Fish Oils, R-ALA Supplementation, Low Carb Diet, potentially Intermittent fasting protocols

High Chest Skinfold

  • Physiological Correlation: Low Testosterone
  • Intervention: Support Healthy Testosterone Levels
  • Potential Strategy:Adequate caloric intake, adequate dietary fat intake, possible medical referral

High Triceps and Thigh Skinfold

  • Physiological Correlation: High Estrogen
  • Intervention:Reduce estrogen levels
  • Potential Strategy: Increase exercise volume, add cruciferous veggies (always a good idea), discuss prescription estrogens with doctor

As you can see there is a pretty consistent consensus that high carbohydrate and consistent carbohydrate intake has the potential to increase fat stores in many common trouble spots.

Body composition is very diet specific and using the potential strategies to attack trouble spots can yield significant changes in body composition.

It is important to note that if body fat is high universally on all body composition measurements then correlations are relatively meaningless. This indicates a poor diet, lack of exercise, and energy imbalance that need to be attacked on all fronts.

Replace grains with greens, eat 1-2 fists of protein per meal, and keep carbs to post-workout meals. If looking to lose weight do whatever is necessary to increase your activity level, but studies show 5+ hours per week is what is needed to optimally lose weight.

And if you’re looking for a workout program to maximize your fat loss, here’s a free program to get building your dream body.

Hook me up with the Free Fat Loss Program, Eric!


Andrews, Ryan, MS,MA,RD. Berardi, John, PhD,”Chapter 12 Interpreting Client Information.” The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. 2nd ed. N.p.: Precision Nutrition, n.d. 316-18. Print.

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