What’s Your Ideal Body Fat Percent?

Many gym goers have a common goal: Shed body fat once and for all. Whether they’re looking for extreme weight loss or just a more chiseled frame, the vast majority of men and women want to cut excess fat. Body fat is, of course, that thing you see in the mirror, that thing that makes your jeans fit a little tighter, that thing that obscures the muscles you’ve worked so hard to build up. Plain and simple, less body fat equals less of a layer covering your muscles and a more impressive physique overall.

If you’re one of those people who has always assumed the number on the scale reflects how “fat” you are, think again! Because muscle is denser than fat, it’s possible for two people to weigh exactly the same but one person to have a ripped body while the other looks more Pillsbury Doughboy. As a measure of progress, body composition (i.e., the amount of lean muscle versus fat you possess) is far more accurate.

One spot-on and cost-effective way to assess your body fat percentage is with a skin caliper, an innocuous device that’s designed to gently pinch the skin and measure the amount of fat beneath it. A 4- or 7-point caliper test is your best bet. Whatever method you use, make sure you’re being consistent with your measurements! Try to perform them under the same conditions (e.g., first thing in the morning, after using the restroom and before breakfast). This will help eliminate potential discrepancies and allow you to accurately evaluate changes in your body composition.

Recently, I’ve received some questions from people wondering about their ideal body fat percentage. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different, so the numbers themselves aren’t the be-all, end-all. For example, certain guys have thicker abs that peek through the skin even with higher amounts of body fat. Moreover, some people carry fatty deposits in different parts of their body, which means a single measurement taken from one area may not tell the full story. With those caveats, here are some general barometers of where you want to be based on your specific goal:

MEN:

Competitive Bodybuilder About to Get on Stage: 3–4 %

Super Chiseled Ab Look: 8–10%

Athletic with Some Basic Cuts: 12–15%

Shred-less: 16%+

WOMEN:

Competitive Bodybuilder About to Get on Stage: 8–12%

Figure Competitors: 15–17%

Lean, Toned Look: 17–20%

Untoned: 21%+