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What is YOUR, Not THE, Ideal Body Composition?

Scroll through any social media outlet and search for #workout, or essentially any fitness related term. Chances are your search is gonna yield some sort of shirtless this, half naked that, and tons of models who are magazine cover ready.

What Body Fat Percentage Should I Be To See Abs?

Guys, this look is pretty desirable, no? I mean, all men would probably kill to look like this, wouldn’t they? Guess that means this body composition is ideal, right?

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Same goes for the ladies right? I mean, come on! Look at that toned body! Beach ready all year long, baby!

Those bodies were probably between 9-12% body fat for the guy, and 19-22% for the woman. And while these percentages certainly fall within what’s considered healthy by a vast majority of medical and health professionals, it doesn’t make it necessarily ideal for everyone. But let’s talk about these ‘healthy ranges’ a bit more.

For women, anything north of 32-35% body fat is pretty much the cutoff point at which health concerns start to become an issue. These concerns range from heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, extra stress on joints… you get the point. Nothing that you’d exactly want to deal with.

Here’s a look at some healthy ranges for women based on age. If you’re lower than these, no worries. That just means you’re leaner than the average person.

20 – 39 years old: 21 – 32% body fat

40 – 59 years old: 23 – 33% body fat

60+ years old: 24 – 35% body fat

For the fellas, your cutoff point for putting yourself at risk for poor health is a bit lower, right around 21-24%. Sorry guys, but you don’t need extra fat to help birth children, so your numbers will always be lower. Here’s a look at some ideal numbers for males.

20 – 39 years old: 8-19% body fat

40 – 59 years old: 11 – 21% body fat

60+ years old: 13 – 24% body fat

Obviously, the lower your body fat percentage, the leaner and more shredded you’re going to look, but you typically won’t start to notice any appreciable changes in your appearance until you hit the 15% for men and 25% for women. By “appreciable changes”, we’re referring to the coveted six pack starting to take shape, perhaps your quads look a bit more defined, and your biceps bulge a bit more. This doesn’t mean you can’t notice changes at higher percentages than this. Dropping to 27% from 32% will of course result in noticeable changes, but that “toned” appearance typically won’t appear until a bit lower.

STRENGTH FIGHTER™: Evaluate Men and Women Body Fat Levels

Now of course, aesthetics aren’t everything when it comes to your health. But let’s be real here for a second… it plays a part for a lot of us.

With lower body fat percentages come increased levels of confidence, perhaps increased happiness, a decrease in social anxiety, and a whole host of beneficial mental and emotional changes. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting these things! They’re just as important to overall quality of life as definitive health markers, like blood pressure, are. Plus, you’ll experience less cravings, have higher levels of energy, and develop awesome habits for the long term.

But in order to achieve what we’ll deem “desirable” percentages (< 15% for males, < 25% for females), you’ll absolutely need to implement some habit changes, as well as sacrifice certain aspects of life you enjoy. In other words, be prepared to meal prep on Sundays, skip Taco Tuesdays, say goodbye to red wine with dinner every night, avoid late nights with friends on the weekend, eat lots of veggies, and swap Netflix binges with strength training sessions.

Uneasy embarrassed reactions GIF - Find on GIFER

…do what now? via GIFER

Speaking as a fitness professional, we’re all for this lifestyle!

But are you?

You see, there is no reason to murder yourself for a six pack if it means you hate your life. If you find yourself feeling that the tradeoffs for looking good seem to be robbing you of simply enjoying life, you’ll need to ask yourself…

“Is being as lean as I want even worth it?”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying burgers, drinking with friends, or partaking in one of life’s many luxuries and indulgences. But if you’re not ready and willing to make some changes and sacrifices, just be equally accepting of the fact that atheistically you might not resemble Hugh Jackman during his Wolverine days. And that’s OK!

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You have to find your middle ground between how good you want to look, what habits and choices you’re willing to change or sacrifice, and your overall happiness when it comes to your lifestyle.

Once you’ve done this, you’ve identified your ideal body fat. And there’s no correct answer here. Hell, if you’re happy as a clam at 42% body fat, we’re happy for you too! It’s your life! Live it how you want!

Not sure where you wanna be and how it’ll match up to your ideal lifestyle? Let us give you an idea.

Men: greater than 20% / Women: greater then 30%

  1. requires little thought or effort to maintain

  2. higher risks for health concerns

  3. lower energy levels

  4. you’ll look good

  5. eat more processed foods, less whole foods

  6. don’t worry about portion sizes

  7. don’t worry if you don’t sleep well

  8. ignore stress management

  9. minimal exercise

Men: 15-20% / Women: 25-30%

  1. higher energy levels

  2. exercise required is easy and enjoyable (3-5x per week)

  3. requires some thought and planning

  4. you’ll look good, but not quite good enough to see a ton of muscle definition

  5. include protein and fibrous veggies in 30-50% of your meals

  6. drink fewer calorie containing drinks without reducing drastically

  7. eat fewer processed carbs without reducing drastically

Men: 13-15% / Women: 23-25%

  1. higher energy levels

  2. better overall health

  3. daily exercise of 30-45 minutes

  4. 1-2 higher intensity exercise sessions per week (break a sweat)

  5. prioritize protein and fibrous veggies at 50-70% of your meals

  6. fairly easy to maintain once good habits are established

  7. probably able to reduce needs for medications at this point

  8. requires more attention to meal planning and sleep

  9. you’ll start to notice more muscle definition and achieve that ‘beach body’

  10. minimum 7 hours of sleep per night

  11. 3-5 caloric beverages per week

  12. 3-5 desserts or processed carbs per week

Men: 10-12% / Women: 20-22%

  1. you look great

  2. higher energy levels

  3. better overall health

  4. eat slower and until satisfied (not full) at 90% of meals

  5. somewhat easy to maintain once good habits are established

  6. daily exercise of 45-60 minutes

  7. 3-4 higher intensity exercise sessions (break a sweat)

  8. prioritize protein and fibrous veggies at every meal

  9. minimum 7 hours sleep, ideally 8 per night

  10. manage stress on a daily basis

  11. 1-2 caloric beverages per week

  12. 1-2 processed carbs or desserts per week

Men: 6-9% / Women: 16-19%

  1. you look magazine cover ready

  2. overall health is good

  3. higher energy levels

  4. eat slower and until satisfied (not full) at 95% of meals

  5. may have to sacrifice certain aspects of social life

  6. noticeable increase time commitment to exercise

  7. might struggle in social situations where you can’t control food options

  8. might have to sacrifice certain hobbies in place of fitness

  9. daily exercise of 60-75 minutes

  10. minimum 8 hours sleep per night, 9 ideally

  11. 4-5 higher intensity exercise sessions per week (break a sweat)

  12. prioritize protein and fibrous veggies at every meal

  13. manage stress daily

  14. may have to start implementing calorie/carb cycling

  15. 1 caloric beverage every 10 days

  16. 1 dessert or processed carbs every 10 days

Men: <6% / Women: <15%

  1. you look like a literal superhero

  2. it’s all pride at this point

  3. restaurants are basically now illegal to you

  4. social life? you mean exercising with friends?

  5. you’re exercising all the time, multiple times per day

  6. hope you have a food scale because your calories will need to be precisely measured

  7. alcohol? you better be cleaning a wound

  8. dessert? never heard of it

  9. not sustainable

So where do you fall? Where’s your sweet spot between an ideal lifestyle, health, and how you wanna look? There’s no correct answer here. Just consider the following points when you’re trying to figure this out.

  1. At the end of the day, ask yourself this question: “Am I happy?” If the answer is no, you’ve got some reevaluating to do.

  2. Happiness is cool and all, but just be aware that health risks do start to be become a concern at certain body fat percentages. Ignoring this is irresponsible.

  3. Looking good takes work. Don’t complain about not looking a certain way if you’re not prepared to put in the necessary work.

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