I’ve discussed 5 Ways to Measure Your Body Fat Percentage and the Ideal Body Weight Formula, but what is your ideal body fat percentage? What is a healthy, realistic body fat percentage to shoot for so you can have that lean, toned body you desire?
While there is some debate as to what constitutes a “healthy” body fat range, I have below 2 different types of body fat percentage charts, which I will walk you through along with some insights into how to read each chart.
The chart below from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the most commonly used body fat charts. As you can see, women have a higher body fat percentage relative to men for a given level. Women have more fat because of physiological differences such as hormones, breasts, and sexual organs. In addition, women need a higher amount of body fat for ovulation.
“Essential fat” is the minimum amount of fat necessary for basic physical and physiological health. There is a lot of controversy over what amount of body fat is optimal for overall health. A research paper by Gallgher et. al. in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) came to the conclusion that certain low body fat ranges are “underfat”, which implies “unhealthy”. According to this research paper, men who are between 20-40 years old with under 8% body fat are considered “underfat”, whereas a “healthy” range is described as between 8-19%. For women in this same age group, any level under 21% is “underfat” and 21-33% is considered “healthy”.
In my opinion, I think body fat is only one measure of health, so stating a certain body fat level is “unhealthy” doesn’t give the whole story. In fact, surprisingly, some sumo wrestlers have significant amounts of body fat, but generally have low cholesterol levels and can live long lives (See: Do You Eat Like a Sumo Wrestler?). Conversely, to imply that anyone who has a six pack (below 8% body fat for men), is very athletic, and eats well is “underfat”, or “unhealthy” is a stretch. We all have different shapes, sizes, and fat distribution profiles, but I think the chart above is a good starting point.
The limitation of the ACE chart is that while it takes into account gender differences, it does NOT take into account your age, which is exactly why I included the next two charts.
AccuFitness is the maker of the popular Accu-Measure Body Fat Caliper, which is a one site skin fold body fat measurement method. When you buy the product, AccuFitness includes a body fat percentage chart based on research by Jackson & Pollock (which has become the industry standard) that I think both aesthetically and from a health perspective is right on the money.
In case you don’t understand how to read this chart, the age column is on the left, the body fat percentages are in the chart, and the colors represent Lean, Ideal, Average, and Above Average ranges. So if you are a 30 year old man, a body fat percentage between 10% and 16% is considered “Ideal” and between 18% and 22% is considered “Average”, and so on. I also like how this chart has the color red to represent percentages that are too high and the green to represent ideal ranges. The first chart is for men, and the second for woman.
You may have noticed as your age increases, your acceptable body fat within these ranges increases as well. Why you ask? As we get older, there are physiological changes in our bodies so that our fat increases.
There are 3 types of fat: subcutaneous (under the skin), visceral (around the organs), and intramuscular (in between muscle, like a marbled steak). The amount of subcutaneous body fat you have can stay the same, but the visceral and intramuscular fat increases as you age.
I hope this discussion of this ideal body fat percentage chart was helpful for you! Let me know if you have any questions.
This guest post was written by Tony Gentilcore, certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-owner of Cressey Performance. The opinions expressed herein are his. To learn more about Tony, visit www.tonygentilcore.com.
If I had to make a list of things that really annoy me, it would be as follows:
2. People who don’t turn right on red.
3. People who don’t prioritize getting stronger.
As a strength coach this last one is what really gets me irritated, and for good reason. To be blunt: Strength is kind of a big deal. It’s what allows us to pick up that bag of groceries off the floor without blowing our back out; it’s what keeps us from getting injured on the playing field (whether a professional athlete or weekend warrior); and it’s undoubtedly the foundation behind many of the “qualities” we’re chasing in the weight room (be it speed, agility, power, or just looking good with our clothes off).
Unfortunately for some, despite knowing better, and despite their best efforts, they’re just not getting stronger. No matter what routine they follow or how many days per week they hit the iron, they’re just not getting any results — frustrated they’re still using the same weight now as they were weeks (if not months) prior.
Are you making the mistakes below?
While it’s the most obvious place to start, surprisingly, there are many trainees who fail to grasp the notion that progressive overload is key when it comes to strength. Simply stated: The body will adapt to any stress placed upon it, and in order to get stronger, you need to make certain that you force the body to do so.
Many know the story of the Greek god, Milo, who, as a young boy, made it a point to carry a small heifer over his shoulder every day. Each and every day, for years, Milo would carry the heifer, and as the heifer grew and became a full-grown cow, Milo, too, grew. So much so that stories of his strength have lived on forever in Greek mythology.
There are numerous ways to approach progressive overload and make any exercise more challenging. Adding more sets, decreasing rest intervals, and increasing range of motion are some of the more common components.
The most evident, however (and in many cases, the most neglected), is to simply increase the weight or load of an exercise by adding a little weight each and every week.
It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that (really!). We’re not trying to do calculus here.
It could be as simple as adding five more pounds to the barbell on your squats; or maybe just grabbing the next heaviest pair of dumbbells on your next set of presses. Either way, unless you’re making a concerted effort to challenge your body and force it to adapt to heavier loads consistently, you’ll never make much progress.
We live in a society that celebrates excess. It’s not uncommon for someone to own more than one car, or even more than one house. Likewise, when it comes to training, many people are of the mentality that more is better. If training three days per week is good, then logic would dictate that training every… single… day… until you can’t feel the left side of your face, or you cough up your spleen (whichever comes first) must be even better, right?
Fatigue will mask an individual’s true fitness level. In other words: Making yourself tired for the sake of making yourself tired, and accumulating more and more fatigue is a tried and true recipe for zapping your strength (and performance).
As an example, let’s say we go ahead and figure out what your one-rep max is for the deadlift. Afterwards, you go out and run 10 miles.
Upon your return we decide to re-test your deadlift. What are the chances you’ll even sniff that original number? My guess is you’d have a better shot at winning the lottery and getting struck by lighting in the same day.
To that end, it’s often beneficial to implement structured de-load weeks where the goal is to allow the body to rest and recover. There are a multitude of ways to approach a de-load week: Decrease total reps, decrease total number of exercises performed, omit direct spinal loading, maybe even take a week and perform outdoor activities rather than hit the gym.
The point is, in order to make consistent progress, it’s imperative to give your body a break every now and then.
People often look at the programs I write and are amazed at just how “simple” they are. Funny enough, every client I train always gets stronger — because I place a premium on mastering the basics:
If people learned to place a priority on those six movements and did away with all the “fluff” (Really? Seventeen sets of bicep curls?), they’d be amazed how much improvement they’d see.
In order to get strong, you need to perform movements that will force you to get strong. Oftentimes this entails people going outside of their comfort zone — and not only learning the basics, but mastering them.
Your Action Plan: For the next 1-2 months every session should begin with one compound movement:
Day 1: Squat Variation (box squat, front squat, back squat, etc.)
Day 2: Pressing Variation (bench press, floor press, etc.)
Day 3: Deadlift Variation (trap bar deadlift, SUMO deadlift, etc.)
You should put your heart and soul into that first movement of the day. Literally, you should hate life.
Remember: Each week, try to add just a little weight. After that, do whatever you want. Do some handstands for all I care. Just, for the love of God, perform one of the six patterns above to start each and every training session, and I guarantee you’re going to get stronger.
Pigging back on the previous point, while it will increase your general level of awesomeness to include more compound movements in your routine, it would also be nice if you’d quit with the three sets of 10 nonsense. I don’t know who made the golden rule that every exercise, every day, had to be done for three sets of ten reps (3×10), but it needs to stop.
Sure, you can get strong(er) using 3×10 — but it only lasts for so long, and it really only works for newbies, and they could do anything and get stronger. Ah, to be a newbie again.
Instead, I like to advocate different set/rep schemes that have more of a strength focus — anything between 3-5 repetitions.
The options are boundless: 5×5, 4×3, 4×4, 8×3…
It doesn’t matter. There are no rules! All that matters is you get outside your comfort zone and start utilizing set/rep schemes that will force you to get strong.
Using an example, lets say every Monday is “deadlift” day.
Week 1: Trap Bar Deadlift – 5×5
Week 2: Trap Bar Deadlift – 4×5
Week 3: SUMO Deadlift – 6×5
Week 4: SUMO Deadlift – 3×5
Week 5: Pull-Through – 3×10 (deload week, no spinal loading)
Week 6: Conventional Deadlift – 4×3
Week 7: Conventional Deadlift – 5×3
Week 8: Conventional Deadlift – work up to 3 rep max, then 2×5
And, to take it a step further (to give people an idea of what an entire training day would look like):
Assuming a three-day per week, full-body split:
Day 1 (Monday)
A1: Trap Bar Deadlift 5×5
A2: Supine Glute Bridge 4×8
Note: A1-A2 is performed as a superset, going from A1 right to A2, and then resting 90-120 seconds before moving on to the next set.
B1. Seated Cable Row 3×10
B2. 1-Legged Push-Ups 3×5/leg
Note: B1-B2 is performed as a superset, going from B1 right intoto B2, and then resting 60-90 seconds before moving on to the next set.
C1. Dumbbell Forward Lunge 3×6/leg
C2. Pallof Press 3×8/side
Note: C1-C2 is performed as a super set, going from C1 right to C2, and then resting 60-90 seconds before moving on to the next set.
D. Additional Scapular Stability/Rotator Cuff Work
E. Be Awesome x infinity
Lastly, and this is a point I won’t spend a lot of time on: If you want to get better at chess, you hang out with people who play chess. If you want to get better at computer programming, you hang out with people who program computers. If you want to get better at never getting laid, you hang out at Star Trek conventions.
Likewise, if you want to get stronger, you need to hang out with people who have the same passion as yourself, will push you to get better, and more importantly, are much, much stronger than you.
Even if it’s only one day per week, go out of your way to train at a facility that prides itself not on the number of treadmills or fancy gadgets it has, but rather encourages its members to use chalk and throw around some weight. Train in that sort of environment and the sky’s the limit!
After pressing, curling, sprinting, and crunching, the next logical step for many is shaking (and no, we don’t mean with a Shake Weight). Shakes, bars, and gels are marketed to be as essential as anything for an effective workout. But are these packaged and powdered foods really necessary for super recovery, or do the whole-food alternatives have them beat?
Downing protein after a workout is often just part of the routine, and for good reason — consuming protein has been shown to speed up recovery time and increase strength before the next gym session   . The magic results from amino acids (tiny parts of proteins), which act as a building block for muscle. After pumping iron, eating (or drinking) foods high in protein supplies the body with amino acids to start repairing the damaged tissue (mainly muscles) . Protein shakes offer one method of getting in some muscle-building nutrients after a workout. But are they really more effective than high-protein foods like the chicken or the egg?
Pitting powder against whole food, research indicates that the supplements may provide a slight advantage . The quick source of amino acids increased the fractional synthesis rate of muscle (a fancy term for rate of muscle building) more than just a regular meal. In addition to adding size, it proves to be effective at increasing workout performance. One study using whey protein found that supplementation did increase hypertrophy (read: muscle size) and strength in participants . A similar study showed that individuals chugging protein could jump higher following a training program than their shake-less counterparts . Just remember: All powders are not created equal. Certain varieties are hydrolyzed (a fancy term meaning partially broken down) and are absorbed faster into the muscle (hence quicker recovery) .
Size also matters. Don’t look to shake up an entire jug. It appears that 20 grams of protein taken within two hours after exercise is the most effective amount to maximally promote muscle growth . A heavier dose likely won’t produce any major added benefit and may present potential complications in those with kidney problems.
Getting in some protein after a workout looks to be a definite way develop an Arnold-worthy physique, but the form and variety may come down to personal preference . Whole-food sources can provide all of the building blocks necessary for a full recovery, but lugging a turkey sandwich to the gym in a lunchbox isn’t nearly as fun as it was in grade school! Also, some gym-goers might find it hard to force down food after exercise. The reason: During exercise, blood makes its way from the stomach to the working muscles, making it hard to digest whole foods right away .
Still, protein powder isn’t for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t replace whole food. While it can provide a convenient post-workout fix, whole foods should comprise the bulk of any diet. The most widely used variety, whey protein, may not be appropriate for lactose-intolerant folks or those living the vegan lifestyle (although different varieties like hemp, soy, and brown rice are now available). The key is finding the most convenient (and enjoyable) method for you — leave the hard work for the weight room floor.
Supersets (5 minute intervals, 2 minutes rest)
Boxing (Left/Right jabs on bag while holding deep squat)
High Knees (Holding 16 lb med ball)
Low Squat Jumps (Holding 12 lb dumb bells in front of me at a 90 degree angle)
Squat curl to press (12 lb dumb bells)
Half Burpee and then Jump onto step (4 risers)
Lateral steps as fast as possible holding 12 lb med ball over head (4 risers)
Wrapping a resistance band around something sturdy, run backwards and forwards (while remaining in control) as quickly as possible
Low squat row with same resistance band
Row machine, as quickly as possible.
Work Out Time: 45 minutesish
Calories Burned: 439 calories burned
Seriously..the hardestfreaking work out I’ve had in a long long time.