Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Percentage

Why Should You Care About Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Percentage Woman

You might have heard bodybuilders, or other fitness "enthusiasts" who seem to be obsessed with muscles and bulking up, talking about body fat percentage. The lower the body fat percentage, the greater the bragging rights and the more respect garnered in the weightlifting world. These peculiarities, mostly associated with bodybuilding, are often lost on the average person. However, that doesn't mean that body fat percentage is unimportant, even if you’re just starting your fitness journey. In fact, it's the single most important measure you can take. Why is body fat percentage so important? What is it exactly? Read this post and you'll find out exactly what body fat percentage is, how to calculate it, and why you should care.

What is Body Fat Percentage?

In its simplest form, body fat percentage is exactly what it sounds like – the percentage of your body that is comprised of fat. Body fat percentage is measured as the amount of fat in your body compared to everything else; organs, muscles, bones, tendons, water, etc. Different body fat percentages will look different on different people. Males, for example, can get down to as low as 3 or 4 percent body fat, while females might only get down to 8 or 9 percent. A male athlete could be in fantastic shape at 10 percent body fat while a woman at a similar level of fitness could be up to 18 or 20 percent.

What Constitutes a Healthy Body Fat Percentage?

The chart below illustrates the different categories associated with rising levels of body fat. Remember, some level of body fat is essential, as fat is necessary for energy. It is physically impossible to be below a certain minimum level of body fat, as indicated by the first level of the chart.

Body fat percentage chart

If you're interested in obtaining the coveted six pack, that starts somewhere between the first two levels of the chart – 8% to 11% body fat for men and 15% to 17% body fat for women. If you are an athlete focused on athletic performance over looks, aim for 15% body fat if you’re a male. Go for about 20% if you’re female. Contrary to popular belief, looking like a bodybuilder doesn’t automatically mean you’re in peak performance form. In fact, athletes train and perform much better with slightly higher body fat percentages. If you’re interested in simply looking and feeling good, any number less than 18% for men and between 20% and 23% for women will immediately start getting you compliments.

How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Percentage man

Unfortunately, body fat percentage is tricky to calculate. There are several methods you can use. The first is simply eyeing it. Compare yourself to lists of pictures of others at certain body fat percentages and you can roughly determine what your body fat percentage is. Another method is using body fat calipers, which can be as cheap as a few bucks. You simply pull the fat away from your muscles, pinch it with the caliper, and compare your measurement with the chart the caliper comes up with. For added accuracy, compare your measurement to multiple charts online. Calipers can underestimate body fat percentage, but typically by only a few points. Overall, calipers are very accurate considering their low cost. You can also shell out money for professional testing services, such as the bod pod,  DEXA scanning, or a water displacement test. These services are costly and not recommended unless you’re interested in your body fat percentage on a professional level.

How to Lower Your Body Fat

There are a few ways you can lower your body fat percentage. Eating healthily and exercising are the only surefire ways to guarantee you stay trim, but here are some additional tricks:

  • Eat a Caloric Deficit – In other words, burn more calories than you consume. To lose fat, you also need to drop weight.
  • Lifts Weights – Strength train with weights or other heavy objects to keep and build muscle mass. Heavy lifting also boosts your metabolism which encourages fat burn.
  • Eat Less Than 100 Grams of Carbohydrate Per Day – When you deprive your body of carbohydrates, your body has less sugar to pull from to use as energy. Instead, your body will be forced to pull from fat storage to fuel itself, which is good news for you!
  • Workout on an Empty Stomach – This one is based off a similar concept as the previous point. If you train in a fasted state, your body will be forced to pull from fat to energize you. Don’t eat your first meal of the day until after your workout.
  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – Exercising in short bursts of energy helps burn fat. How to do HIIT? Amp up your reps or speed for a minute or two at a time. So if you’re on an elliptical, pump up your speed and pedal for a minute or two until your legs feel like they’re on fire. Then reduce to normal speed for several minutes, then repeat. Sprinting is one of the best forms of HIIT training.

Approach These Changes with Appropriate Caution

Using these techniques and eating a protein-rich, low-carb diet will definitely lower your body fat percentage and get you closer to that “ripped” look you’ve been dreaming of. But pay close attention to your body's nutritional needs in the process and always consult a healthcare professional before making drastic alterations to your diet. You can inadvertently create dietary deficiencies that might cause you harm. Six-pack abs are not worth your health!

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If you're interested in learning more about body fat percentage or any aspect of your overall fitness, and you'd like to discuss it with a professional, RX Fitness works with hundreds of nutritionists, coaches and personal trainers. We'd be happy to refer you to one who can help. If you're looking for a great selection of fitness equipment and accessories of all kinds, we carry the top brands to fit every goal and budget and we're here to make your fitness routine more productive. Stop by any of our three store locations or give us a call. And don't forget to check out Tim's best-selling book, Fitness Equipment – A Shopper's Guide, available at Amazon and other online book sellers as well as in our store.

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