Q: Tom, I know what I want to look like and I follow your
advice about visualization and seeing my abs the way I want them
to look. But what I can't figure out is what body fat % I should
be aiming at to achieve that look? I am female, 35 yrs old and I've
done awesome on your Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program. I started
at 19% body fat and the lowest I've gotten so far was 11.8% body
fat with a caliper test. I've been thinking about doing a figure
competition, but even at that body fat percentage, which I know is
very low, I still had some "patches" of fat. How do I know what
body fat percentage I should target so that all the fat is gone? ”
A: Congrats! For most women, 11.8% is ripped, and for many,
that's contest ready.
Just for comparison, I've done over 7,000 body fat tests during my
career, and the lowest I have ever measured on a female was 8.9% (4-site skinfold method).
She was a national-level figure competitor and she was shredded -
full six pack of abs... "onion skin!"
However, I do know some women who get down to 11-13% body fat - by all
standards extremely lean, complete with six pack abs - but oddly, they
still had a few stubborn fat spots - usually the hips and lower
body - so this would confirm your experience.
I know a guy who looks absolutely chiseled in his abs at 11% body fat,
but other guys don't look really cut in the abs until they get down to
6-8% body fat.
That's the trouble with trying to pin down one specific body fat
number as THE body fat level for seeing 6-pack abs (or being contest
or photo-shoot ready):
Everyone distributes their body fat differently and two people may
look different at the same percentage.
Here's what I'd recommend:
Get familiar with some benchmarks for body fat levels.
My Burn The Fat system has a body fat rating scale, which includes
averages and my suggested optimal body fat percentages.
This is my own chart, which I created with a combination of research
literature and my own personal experience.
:: Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle Body fat rating scale ::
Competition Shape ("ripped"): 8-12%
Very Lean (excellent): < 15%
Lean (good): 16-20%
Satisfactory (fair): 21-25%
Improvement needed (poor): 26-30%
Major improvement needed (Very poor): 31-40%+
Competition Shape ("ripped"): 3-6%
Very Lean (excellent): < 9%
Lean (good): 10-14%
Satisfactory (fair): 15-19%
Improvement needed (poor): 20-25%
Major improvement needed (Very poor): 26-30%+
Just a quick note: You're not destined to get fatter as you get
older, but in the general population (non fitness and bodybuilding
folks), the average older person has more body fat.
What I did to accomodate this is to include a range instead of one number, so younger
people can use the low end of the range and older people can use
the higher number.
Also, just so the average reader can keep things in perspective,
single digit body fat for women and low single digits for men is
far beyond lean - it's RIPPED - and that's usually solely the domain
of competitive physique athletes.
Competition body fat levels were not meant to be maintained all year
round. It's not realistic and it may may not be healthy, particularly
The average guy or gal should probably aim for the "lean" category as a realistic year round goal,
or if you're really ambitious and dedicated, the "very lean category."
You'll probably have to hit the "very lean" category for six pack abs.
However, the bottom line is that there's no "perfect" body fat
percentage where you're assured of seeing your abs.
Besides, body fat is one of those numbers that gets fudged and
exaggerated all the time. I hear reports of women with body fat between 4 and 8% and I usually dismiss it as error in measurement (or there's some "assistance" involved). Body fat testing, especially with skinfolds, is not an exact science. All body fat tests are estimations and there is always room for human error.
The low numbers are nice for bragging
rights, but the judges don't measure your body fat on stage. What counts is how you look and whether you're happy with that (or
whether the judges are happy with it, if you're competing).
You can use my chart to help you set some initial goals, but for the
most part, I recommend using body fat testing as a way of charting
your progress over time to see if you're improving rather than
pursuing some holy grail number.
In my Burn The fat, Feed The Muscle program, you can learn more
about how to measure your body fat - professionally or even
by yourself in the privacy of your own home.
Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle explains why body mass index and
height and weight charts are virtually worthless, and shows you how
to track your body composition over time and "tweak" your nutrition
and training according to your weekly results.
Get more details at: www.BurnTheFat.com
Train hard and expect success,
Author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, freelance writer and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle and the national best-seller, The Body Fat Solution (Avery/Penguin books). Tom has written hundreds of articles and has been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Men's Fitness, Men's Exercise, Exercise for Men and on hundreds of websites worldwide. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the Internet's premier fat loss support community, the: Burn The Fat Inner Circle.
Photography Copyright Kostas Marangopoulos of Greek Bodybuilding