What is really the ideal body fat percentage?

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
@Anna C I will take your word for it. My experience, obviously none of it first-hand, comes from the world of distance runners who would become overly thin.

-S-
 

elli

More than 2500 posts
I agree, @elli, and have experienced it. And I promise I've never been "very thin, much thinner than most women would want to bother with." (Not to pick on you, Steve, but it is a misconception. It's often stress based, or... who knows.) Happy to discuss further via PM if anyone has questions or interest on this subject.
Hopefully, my PM landed?!
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
To follow up my original query... How accurate do people here think skinfold calipers are for measuring body fat %?

I had some arrive yesterday, due to the fact that a lot of people have told me they are the best home method for measuring BF%.

However... I'm not sure... Due to the fact that I measured myself at 8.5% (8-9mm of pinched fat as per the instructions). Trouble is, I just don't look that shredded right now! My abs are faintly there, and granted, I can't pinch much fat at all off any of me; legs, back, belly, etc. but I still just don't have that kind of Hollywood abs look that I thought single digit fat looked like... Unless I just have very flat abdominal muscles?! If that's even a thing...

Thoughts anyone?
 

wespom9

More than 500 posts
Certified Instructor
If you did it yourself, that would potentially increase the margin of error. Certain areas are extremely hard to do solo and you may not get the most accurate readings
 

Harry Westgate

More than 500 posts
@wespom9 the calipers I use are Accu-measure and the instructions just state to do the pinch test on the right side in the area between the 'love handle' and belly button (there's a pic with it) about an inch above the hip bone (this is the ONLY site of measurement - and is indeed my own 'fattest' area, adding to my surprise). I've repeated it a good few times and I'm 110% sure I'm following the instructions to the letter... Baring in mind that the instructions even say to do it on yourself.

There's then a chart that comes with it that indicates your age and millimetres pinched and what BF% these two figures indicate - so I'm 20, pinched 9mm, which = 8.5%).

Do some sources state to take pinches from multiple sites and then do some sort of calculation?

I'd also note that I expected to be lean, just not THAT lean... Maybe like 12%...
 

elli

More than 2500 posts
I gave up the whole caliper thing. I was obsessed by the results and had mixed feelings every time it was "measuring day", too much pressure, feeling like failing if too high...stupid!
It is good to have tendency, but not "true" numbers. IMHO
Measure circumfernce of e.g. arms, belly, chest...step on the scale every once in a while and look in the mirror/take pictures.
Why is the number so important to you?
 

wespom9

More than 500 posts
Certified Instructor
@wespom9
Do some sources state to take pinches from multiple sites and then do some sort of calculation?
Yes, most tests administered by some sort of exercise professional range from 3 up to 9 different sites. Here in Canada the standard is a 5 site, though our preferred test through the national governing body doesn't give an actual body fat % for whatever reason - they just classify as excellent, good, fair, poor, etc. I think the US uses the Jackson & Pollock (not related to the modernist haha) 5 or 7 site as their gold standard. I
 

Mike E

Triple-Digit Post Count
If you're lucky enough to be close to a bodpod test site you can get a far more accurate body comp test. With a skilled operator they rival the gold standard (underwater immersion) method. The NFL uses the bodpod to measure body comp for athletes in the combine.
Disclaimer: I worked for them years ago, on their infant body composition device.
 

Elise Stevenson

Double-Digit Post Count
Ideal body fat percentage is different for man to women. 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.
 

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ShawnM

More than 2500 posts
I can't really speak as to my ideal body fat percentage. One thing I have noticed in the last ten years since leaving powerlifting is that I tend to perform and feel better at a body weight of 225-230. I am walking around right now at 245 and my joints bother me and I just feel heavy. On the opposite side after my first deployment to sunny Iraq I went from 225 down to 212 and was emaciated and weak as all get out. Two weeks after getting stateside I was back around 225 and moving and feeling a lot better.

Not really a body fat percentage, just my ideal weight.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
I find that when I'm training regularly and as I should be, my body fat percentage feels like it's lower - my weight might stay the same but I feel more muscular, and my closes fit better.

The percentage number also is influenced by age.

-S-
 

ShawnM

More than 2500 posts
@Steve Freides- I will agree to that statement you made. As long as I am hitting my weekly training session goals and hitting my dietary goals I feel lighter and leaner, no matter what a scale says.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
When I was in my mid 20s and really training the bodybuilding ideal my average was about 7% at a guess, that's what it was measured at when I was taking a month off to give my shoulder a break. I'm certain it was lower when I was cycling into a high rep phase - even my lower abs were vascular.

I don't think that's a realistic % to maintain on an active person, 12-15% is probably a lot better for overall health for either sex. A lot will depend on skeletal health, especially as we age. A difference of 10 lbs off of an average frame will lighten the load on knees and lower back, and that's on an already lean individual.

Likewise, folks with heavier skeletons seem capable of comfortably carrying extra weight, especially if they are on the shorter end of the spectrum. Personally I'd think average 20% max if a person is very active and the % should decline with age, not go up. Imagine handing a 70 or 80 something a 15 - 20lb pack and they have to wear it all day. Will make a huge difference to take it off.

Currently I just make sure I don't have to buy larger pants - if the waist on my pants is roomy and a little tight through the thigh I know I'm keeping my body composition in a good place.
 

natewhite39

More than 500 posts
Certified Instructor
The majority of my students are in the "general population" category and my approach for coaching the people that have "body comp" goals are as follows :

A) Blood test results (Fasting glucose / HDL / LDL / Liver / Thyroid / Vitamin D) + List of current medications

B) Height to waistline ratio baseline (waistline should be less than or exactly half of their height in inches)

C) 3 day food log (trends / habits)

D) Discuss their current "relationship" with food. Stress based? Pleasure based? Also, how they were raised and which foods they ate and had access to as a child. Do they know how to cook?

E) Record current weight / body comp. Take photos if desired.

*All of these steps are designed to not only gather hard data, but rather get to the root of the current behaviors that are driving their "relationship with food." Until I am able to tap into those emotions and habits, real body comp changes that last will not likely occur.
 

Antti

More than 2500 posts
I can't remember the specifics, but I've understood that the median age goes higher if you have a bit higher fat% when you're older. In essence, when you're past 60, the ones with a little bit of extra fat generally live longer than the slimmer ones. Excessively overweight people are naturally a whole another case.
 
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