For those looking for a flat stomach and six pack abs, knowing your body fat percentage can be a valuable tool for measuring your progress. If you have been reading my fitness blog for anytime you know that crunches, sit ups, and core exercises don’t burn fat off your stomach. Great abs are made in the kitchen, not just in the gym. No matter how much you work out, if you don’t eat right and have a calorie deficit, your abs will remain covered by a layer of fat.
The next question that people ask, is how low of a body fat percentage do I need in order to see my abs. This question is not always easily answered. There will be slightly different percentages for everyone and in particular for men and women. Though there is a general rule of thumb that you can go by.
Here’s what I’d recommend:
First, 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 Body fat rating scale:
- ripped: 3-6% –> Competition Shape
- excellent: < 9% –>Very Lean
- good: 10-14% –> Lean
- fair: 15-19% –> Satisfactory
- poor: 20-25% –> Improvement needed
- Very poor: 26-30%+ –> Major improvement needed
Just a quick note: As we age we are not destined to gaining weight and get fatter! This generally isn’t the case for the general population, as the average person has more body fat the older they get. This is not typical of fitness and bodybuilding populations.
What I did to accommodate this was to include a body fat range instead of one number, so younger people can use the low end of the range and older people can use the higher number.
Just For reference and to put things in perspective I should mention that low single digit body fat for guys is better than just being lean, this is definitely considered ripped. For the most part the only guys that fall in this category are competitive bodybuilder, athletes, those whose fitness is their life.
Competition body fat levels are not maintained all year round. The picture bellow of professional bodybuilder, and now governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is not his typical state of leanness. The low body fat percentage exhibited in the photo would be pre competition, or for a photo shoot. A percentage this low isn’t realistic, or overly healthy.
For the average guy into health and fitness is hard to pinpoint an exact percentage. I know a guy who looks absolutely chiseled at 11% body fat, while other guys don’t look really cut and have a six pack until they get down to 6-8% body fat. Bodybuilders usually aren’t ready for competition until they get below 6%, and probably compete around 3%.
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 ripped and contest-ready: Everyone distributes their body fat differently and two people may look different at the same percentage.
The average guy would be best served if he aimed for the “lean” category. This is a realistic percentage to maintain year-round and an excellent fat loss goal. But for those guys who are really ambitious and dedicated, the “very lean category” can be achieved and maintained.
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.
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, on the beach, or in the bedroom. What really counts is how you look and even more importance, is whether or not you’re happy with the way you look and feel.
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.
Get more details at: Burn The Fat
Tom Venuto, author of
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle
Founder & CEO of
Burn The Fat Inner Circle