On my old blog, I posted a video on the topic of body fat percentage that is still incredibly popular to this day. However, problems some people had with it were:
a) It is a video, not a blog post
b) It is too long in length
What I want to do with this post is provide a comprehensive picture gallery of various body fat percentages in men and women. In short, I am providing the video in written form with a few changes and updates.
What is the measurement of body fat percentage?
Put simply, measuring body fat percentage is assessing what percentage of your body is made up of fat. The opposing percentages are organs, water, muscle tissue, etc.
What are the methods of measuring body fat percentage?
There are quite a few methods to measure body fat; the most common ones are the following:
1. Skinfold Measurement (Skin Pinch)
2. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (Handheld/Scale Device)
3. Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA Scan)
4. Height and Circumference Methods (Measurement Collections)
5. Hydrostatic Testing (Underwater Density Test)
Of all these tests, it is the general consensus that the DEXA scan (Pic 1) provides the most accurate results aside from an autopsy. Knowing the exact body fat percentage while living is extremely difficult. There are many cons to the different types of measurements. Water is usually the leading deceiver of body fat readings in all of the methods.
When we look at the error factors of these methods, we see pictures can be used as much as any of the others.
Do we need to know our body fat percentage?
Technically, there is not a need to know our body fat percentage. While our body fat percentage can provide insights into our health status, simply knowing doesn’t do much to change things. Knowing merely provides amusement, motivation, or a harsh dose of reality.
What is the minimum body fat percentage for human beings and how do we decrease it?
Currently, there is no definitive answer for what is essential body fat. Looking at research though, we assume a range of around 5% for men and 12% for women is essential. For hormonal and reproductive reasons, women need to store a higher level of body fat than men. It is thought that 15% is the lowest range a woman should maintain. There is some argument about this, but technically the data isn’t there to conclude if it is body fat or lifestyle/training habits that cause problems. In my personal opinion, I think women should tread lightly trying to maintain body fat levels below 15%.
To decrease body fat, you need to take part in a deficit based program. If you would like more information on this, please refer to The Fat Loss Troubleshoot.
What do different body fat percentages look like?
As discussed, the level of accuracy regarding body fat levels is difficult to determine even with machine use. Still, there is something to be said for using photography to see varying body fat levels at lower levels of body fat. Is it possible to use pictures to estimate body fat percentages? I think it is as relevant as other basic methods. How can we utilize pictures to determine a rough estimate for body fat pictures? See below.
Male Body Fat Percentages by Picture
There are various tell-tale signs of body fat levels for men and women. If we look at the lean body mass of a muscled skeleton and compare it to a human counterpart, how low in body fat they are shows. If you consider the skeleton model to be 0% body fat, then simply look at the male model in the picture above and determine how close they are in relation.
Looking at the diagram above for the male, we see clearly defined chest striations (1), serratus anterior (2), upper abdominals (3), and quadriceps (4). For men, generally speaking, these are the last areas that fat is lost. People generally claim much lower body fat percentage than they should. Look at the percentages below and compare them to the muscled skeleton. You will understand why they are at higher body fat levels than you might have thought.
Female Body Fat Percentages by Picture
Females follow a lot of the same rules as males with a few slight alterations. Lower body fat levels can really be registered by taking notice of their face (1) chest separation, (2) glutes (not shown), iliacus/quads, (3) and breasts (4).
These pictures give you a more accurate look at varying body fat levels and percentages in females.
Does everyone look alike at the same body fat percentage?
No, not at all. Body fat percentage isn’t an indicator of your amount of lean body mass. The amount of muscle your body has is going to make a significant difference in your overall look. What is the right look? This is up to personal preference and program design. This post isn’t about judgment, but more so a definition of the difference between the two.
Take these two males in the picture below. Both are roughly at 10% body fat. As you can see, there is a noticeable difference in their look and muscle composition. Again, this isn’t about judging, but simply stating a noticeable physical difference. The guy on the left has a legitimate 15 more pounds of muscle than the guy on the right.
The same is true for these females below. The one on the left is a fitness competitor and the one on the right is a fashion model. You may or may not like one or the other’s appearance, but that isn’t the point of the comparison. The point is that both have roughly 15% body fat with varying levels of water depletion. As you can see, there is quite a stark difference between the two.
There are also other variables and factors to take into consideration when looking at body composition. One of the main factors is carbohydrate and water manipulation. I discuss in detail how to manipulate both in the Water Manual. Water manipulation or advanced super-compensation techniques can have dramatic differences on your appearance. The 15% woman on the left is likely utilizing those techniques. It is often done by bodybuilders and figure competitors.
As you can see body fat percentages range and methods for measurement vary. You can also see training will greatly affect what you look like at various body fat percentages. Any questions? If you want to know what I think your body fat percentage is, contact me to become a client or a member of The Clutch Society.
Update: This post has been so popular I created a report going into even more detail than this post does. If you would like more information on this topic, download this new report now!