What Is Body Fat Percentage & How to Find Your Perfect Look

January 12, 2016

When it comes to fitness, body fat percentage is everything. You can either be a solid 120lbs or you can be a fluffy 120lbs. The difference is muscle mass versus body fat.

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What is body fat percentage anyway?

To put it simply, it is the amount of fat in your body compared to muscle. There are so many ways that BFP (body fat percentage) can vary from person to person. Take gender for example: men obviously have a lesser amount of body fat than women because women’s bodies were created to use that extra fat for reproduction. Also, it can vary by goal: a bodybuilder will obviously have a lesser amount of fat than your average Joe. It all depends on your genetics, your gender, your fitness level, and your health goals.

What’s a healthy body fat percentage to have?

Take a look a the chart below that’s broken down by gender & age to help give you an idea:

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Most of us average folks who aren’t training for a competition or marathon will be in the ideal range-or at least, we should strive to be. Unfortunately, due to America’s climbing obesity rates, most of us will barely meet even the average amount.

But, don’t worry because body fat is GOOD. We NEED body fat to survive because it protects our interal organs and regulates our body temps and hormones. However, you need to focus on having the right amount which is not too much, but not too little: ideal. However, if your goal is to be ripped and you want some serious definition and tone to your body (think Dana Linn Bailey or Michelle Lewin), you’re gonna have to aim for the Athletic category.

So, how do you find your goal? 

  • If you are aiming for an all-around fit Jamie Eason type of muscular body, you will want to aim for 13%-15% BFP.
  • If you are just looking to getting 6 pack abs, aim for 15%-17% BFP.
  • If you are aiming for an athletic body type to improve your performance, 20% is fine.
  • If you just want to look good-no real goal in particular-aim for 20%-23%.
  • For my ladies who are concerned with fertility or menstration, do not drop below 15% BFP. Your body needs extra fat for these hormones.

What do these numbers even look like on a person?

Men:

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Women:

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While these photos give you a great idea, please know that body fat percentages are just that-the amount of body fat in your body. There’s a whole other half of the equation missing that thats: muscle mass. Two people can have the SAME BFP and look completely different because one may have more muscle mass than the other.

How do you calculate your body fat percentage?

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Well, there are quite a few ways that you can go about measuring body fat and whichever method you choose really all depends on how accurate you are wanting to be.

Here’s a few ways:

  1. Assess visually. If you know your body fat percentages well enough to do this, then go for it. This is usually a method best used by trainers who work with different body types on a daily basis and does not work so well with the average Joe or Jane. Obviously, you may use the BFP photo examples above to help you determine an average percentage, but to really get your true percentage, you will have to do some measuring.
  2. Body Measurements: A more accurate method of calculating your BFP is through the use of body measurements. You can follow the instructions here to measure. However, keep in mind that this is not always a sure way of figuring our your exact number as people measure differently. For example, some may pull the measuring tape too tight or too loosely.
  3. Body Fat Calipers. These nifty little tools come in a “claw-like” form that are actually used to pinch your fat to determine your body fat percentage. On the tool are measurements and what you do is you pinch your skin away from the muscle. The 4 best places to measure are the back of your upper arms or triceps, thighs, illiac crest, and the abdomen about 2 inches to the right or left of your navel above your hipbone. Keep in mind there are more locations that you may also use the caliper to measure BFP. A caliper is cheap and can be found very easily, but it isn’t always so accurate.

There are more ways than just the ones listed above to measure your body fat percentage. However, to get a good idea of your exact number, I would suggest following all 3 methods and writing down your results for comparison. Have no clue on what to do? Have a personal trainer or a gym member assist you.

On final note on measurements: don’t sweat the numbers. It is actually not that big of a deal to know your exact BFP anyway-unless you are entering a bikini or bodybuiling competition, which most of us aren’t. Bsaically: If you are liking how you look, fantastic! If not, then I will explain how to lower your BFP in the next little bit.

How do you lower your Body Fat Percentage?

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If you are unhappy with your physique and are wanting to improve and maybe tone up a bit more, you will have to be willing to put in some work. After all, your goal will be a body transformation. I do not want you to focus so much on what the scale says here, but how you look to yourself. As I mentioned before, two people can have 15% BFP and look totally different. I wasn’t happy with the way that I looked at 25% BFP and so I slimmed down and in the after picture above, I was right around 18% BFP. Amazing the change, right?

Here’s how you can drop your body fat percentage to attain a better look:

  • Eat a clean diet that’s HIGH in protein and LOWER in carbohydrates. This might seem sort of a “duh” suggestion to you, but people still fail to do it each and every day and the numbers don’t lie. We are getting fatter than ever and it appears that the epidemic is not going to slow itself down anytime soon. Eating a diet high in natural foods and low in processed junk is a sure way to get the results you want pretty quickly. Aim for less than 100 grams of carbs per day while aiming for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you are 120lbs, aim for 120 grams of protein-at least. A good way to up your protein is by eating some at every meal and snack. If you want to drop weight rather quickly, try the Paleo diet which encourages you to eat foods in their most natural state. Basically, if God himself didn’t make it, don’t eat it. This is also why it’s called the caveman diet.
  • Cut some calories. In order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat. This is just the best know fact there is surrounding weightloss methods. See where you can cut your calories and go from there. For example, are you a late night snacker? Try cutting out that bedtime snack or that extra snack per day. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of putting all of your calories into one meal. Aim for water instead of that sweet tea, juice, or soda. Make healthier choices and you will surely cut some calories.
  • Lift some weights. In order to lose weight by burning more calories than you consume, exercise is needed. After all, activity is what “burns” calories and weight training is perfect for doing just that-despite contrary belief that weights do not burn many calories at all. In fact, lifting weights helps you burn calories for an extended amount of time throughout your day, long after your workout. Muscle burns calories and by lifting weights, you create muscle-not to mention it all raises your metabolism.
  • DO CARDIO and SWEAT! The best form of cardio are sprints and HIIT exercises. These type of moves help to shock your body and your metabolism, forcing your body to exert more powder to complete the action, which in turns burns more calories (and fat) due to the demand that is being placed upon it. It’s simply better than just “going for a jog” which never keeps your body guessing long enough. You can jog for 30 minutes or do a 10-15 minute HIIT routine and actually burn more calories in less time with HIIT than you would on that long, boring jog. Don’t aim for boring cardio-do something that’s going to kick your butt and make you sweat.

As you can see, so much goes into Body Fat Percentage. You always hear it being discussed in the fitness world, but nobody ever truly breaks it all down for you. Personally, I do not track my BFP-there’s just no reason for me to do so, but there are people out there with specific goals who need to know these things.

Do what best works for you and find the Body Fat Percentage or “look” that you are most happiest with. You can acheive it! It will not be easy to reach or maintain, but it is certainly possible.

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PLEASE NOTE: Following and/or participating in my blog, daily workouts, meal plans, and any tips or advice is solely your decision. I recommend checking with your physician prior to following any of the workouts or meal plans that I share. I am very open in sharing that I am not a health care professional, personal trainer, nutritionist, or counselor. I provide the workouts, meals, and tips that have worked for me based on my personal experiences.

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