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How to Measure and Improve Your Body Composition

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How to Measure and Improve Your Body Composition

If you want to know what body composition is and how to measure and improve it, you want to read this article.

 

Hi, I’m Mike. This is me:

I’m 6’2, 190 pounds, and ~8% body fat. And according to a standard body mass index (BMI) calculation, I’m overweight.

🙁

If I want to be in the “normal” range, I need to lose 10 pounds…and that would still put me in the fatter end of normal.

Well, as you can see, body mass index (BMI) is useful for analyzing populations but not so great for analyzing individuals. And especially individuals with more muscle than normal.

And this is why you, someone looking to get fitter, shouldn’t pay attention to your BMI but your body composition instead.

And in this article, we’re going to break down what body composition is, how to measure it, and finally how to improve it.

What Is Body Composition?

body composition benefits

Many people mistake body composition for body fat percentage or BMI but they’re completely different.

BMI is calculated from your height and weight–it’s your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared.

For example, here’s how I calculate mine:

  1. 190 (pounds ) x 0.45 = 85.5 (kilograms)
  2. 74 (inches) x 0.025 = 1.85 (meters)
  3. 1.85 x 1.85 = 3.4225
  4. 85.5 / 3.4225 = 24.98 (BMI)

And here’s how BMI values are correlated with body weight status:

Underweight = <18.5

Normal weight = 18.5–24.9

Overweight = 25–29.9

Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

As you can see, according to the BMI, I’m as good as overweight.

Body composition, on the other hand, is looking at what your body is actually made of.

When you step on a scale, your weight is a reflection of the amount of skeletal muscle, fat, bones, organs, blood, water, and several other more minor components in your body. There are varying amounts of these things from person to person.

Skeletal muscle usually ranges between 30 and 50% of total weight. Fat can be under 10% of body weight (very lean) or as high as 40 to 50% (morbidly obese). The brain weighs a few pounds, bones are generally about 15% of total body weight, skin weighs about 6 pounds, blood is around 7% of body weight, and so forth.

Now, there are several models of determining body composition, but the one most relevant to our needs splits the body into two components:

  • Fat mass. This is simply all of the fat in your body.
  • Fat-free mass. This is everything that isn’t fat: muscle, bone, blood, organs, water, glycogen, and the rest. This is often abbreviated as FFM.

This simple model of body composition allows you to better analyze what happens to your body when you diet or exercise.

For example, if your weight goes down but fat-free mass remains the same, you’ve lost fat and not muscle. Hooray!

If, however, you make the common mistakes of severely restricting calories, doing too much cardio, and eating too little protein, you’ll lose weight but it will be a combination of fat mass and fat-free mass.

This is how people wind up “skinny fat.” Doh!

And when it comes to gaining weight, the goal is to gain muscle and not fat.

Practically speaking, you have to accept some fat gain if you want to maximize muscle growth, but if your fat mass is rising faster than your fat-free mass, you’re eating too much.

And the only way to know this is to keep an eye on your body composition.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How to Measure Body Composition

body composition test

Now that you know what body composition is, let’s talk about measuring/calculating it.

The easiest way to go about measuring your body composition is to first measure your body fat percentage. This allows you to determine your total fat mass and thus your fat-free mass.

This sounds easy enough but can actually be fairly tricky, mainly because of the inaccuracy of common methods.

Let’s take a look at each.

Body Composition Scales & Handheld Devices

body composition scale

Body composition scales like this one from Tanita and various handheld devices are popular but also highly unreliable.

These instruments use a method called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to measure your body fat percentage.

This involves passing a light electrical current through your body and measuring resistance to it. Muscle, which is over 70% water, conducts electricity well whereas fat, which holds much less water, doesn’t.

There are several problems with BIA, though.

The methodology is inherently handicapped.

Electricity will take the path of least resistance through your body. That means it will avoid fat stores for less resistant tissues. (If someone has a large amount of subcutaneous fat, for example, the current will pass through internal tissues instead.)

Furthermore, many two-electrode devices, like popular scales and handhelds, miss entire parts of your body. Foot-to-foot devices miss the entire torso and handhelds miss the lower half. As you can imagine, this further hurts accuracy.

Another methodological problem with BIA is the readings are equation-based predictions, which can be way off.

When a manufacturer develops a BIA device, they measure the body fat percentage of a large group of people using another method like hydrostatic weighing.

They then test the same people with their BIA device, compare the readings, and develop an equation to predict results based on height, weight, gender, and other variables.

The purpose of the equation is to predict what your body fat percentage would be if you were measured using the “gold standard” method to calibrate the device.

This sounds good in theory but what if the benchmark method is wrong?

Well, that’s often the case.

Hyrdrostatic weighing is the most common method used for guideline measurements and research shows it can be off by as much as 6% due to various factors like ethnicity, body weight, and hydration status.

(And as a note, when I refer to error rates throughout the article, I’m talking in absolute, not relative, terms. In this case, that means someone at 10% body fat might register at 16% when measured with hydrostatic weighing.)

As you can imagine, when you calibrate inherently flawed BIA devices on faulty hydrostatic measurements, the whole method becomes more or less useless.

Testing conditions can dramatically influence readings.

If you’re dehydrated when you test, the increased electrical resistance will result in falsely high body fat levels.

If you measure yourself shortly after eating, your body fat will register lower than usual. In one study, fluctuations due to eating were up to 4.2%.

Exercising also greatly skews BIA measurements. Research shows that the body’s resistance to electrical current is lower after exercise, which leads to an overestimation of fat-free mass and underestimate of fat mass. In one study, this post-exercise reduction in bioimpedance resulted in a fat-free mass reading that was 25 pounds too high.

It’s for these reasons that the researchers have said that consumer-grade BIA devices aren’t reliable for individual readings but can be useful for tracking changes in body composition over time.

That is, they may not give the right readings but, over time and many readings, will be fairly consistent in their inaccuracy. This, then, gives you an idea of how your body composition is changing.

I disagree.

BIA is just too all over the place to place any faith in it, even if you try to control for factors like hydration, food, and exercise.

Scientists aren’t using scales bought at Target.

The handicaps of BIA apply to high-end BIA devices, and the gadgets sold to consumers are even less accurate. (They tend to underreport body fat levels.)

The bottom line is BIA is far too inaccurate to be useful in measuring body composition.

Body Fat Calipers & Skinfold Testing

why is body composition important

Skinfold testing involves using calipers to measure the thickness of your skin at various points on your body.

The measurements are added together and plugged into an equation that approximates how much of your body is fat-free mass. Another equation is applied to determine body fat percentage.

As you can already tell, there are quite a few ways this can get screwy.

User error is a major issue here. Grab too little skin/fat and you’ll get a falsely low reading. Grab too aggressively and it’ll be falsely high. The equations used to turn skin thickness readings into a body fat percentage are also subject to error.

These deficiencies aren’t just theoretical, either.

In one study, skinfold testing underreported body fat percentage by an average of 6%. Individual discrepancies were worse, ranging from measurements that were 10% higher than reality to 15% lower.

In another study, some skinfold measurements were as much as 5% lower than actual and 3% higher. Similar individual error rates were seen in this study conducted with bodybuilders.

Despite their drawbacks, calipers can be quite useful in measuring and tracking changes in body composition, which is something we’ll talk more about in a minute.

Pictures and the Mirror

body mass index

By its very nature, the look of various body fat percentages varies widely depending on how much muscle someone has.

For instance, a 160-pound guy at 10% body fat has 16 pounds of fat, and a 190-pound guy at 10% has only 3 pounds more fat but 27 pounds more fat-free mass (and a large percentage of this would be lean mass).

As you can imagine, these are dramatically different looks. And here’s a perfect visual of this:

lean body mass calculator

Both of these guys are around 10% body fat but the guy on the left has quite a bit more muscle, giving him a dramatically different look.

That said, you can guesstimate body fat percentage with decent accuracy by just comparing your body to the following images.

body composition chart

body composition chart female

As you can see, the “six pack” starts to show around 10% in men and 18% in women.

Ab/core vascularity starts to appear around 8% in men and 15% in women.

And the paper-thin, “grainy” skin look requires 6% body fat or less in men and 13% or less in women (and, I might add, isn’t healthy to maintain for long periods of time).

Taking regular pictures in good lighting won’t help you measure your body composition but is a great, low-tech way of monitoring changes in it.

Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)

body mass index test

DEXA involves a full X-ray of your body to measure levels of fat, bone, and all other fat-free mass. Each of these substances absorb x-rays in different ways, which allows them to be isolated and quantified.

Although DEXA may sound like an infallible way to determine your body fat percentage, it’s not.

Many bodybuilders have learned this through personal experimentation. Despite being in contest shape (body fat levels so low that going any lower will land them in the hospital), some guys will DEXA at anywhere from 6 to 8% body fat.

There are several reasons for this.

  • Results can differ between machines, both from the same and different manufacturers.
  • Algorithms used by software to calculate body composition based on readings can cause variations in outputs.
  • The type of X-ray used (fan or pencil beam) informs the results.
  • Like BIA, hydration status also greatly affects DEXA results. Slight changes in hydration levels of lean mass can greatly affect body fat percentage calculations.
  • DEXA’s accuracy is also affected by gender, body size, total fat mass, and even disease state.

So those are the problems. How significantly do they affect accuracy, though?

Well, two studies found that individual error rates using DEXA were as high as 4%. That is, you could DEXA scan at 8% but really be 12%. Or you could DEXA scan at 12%, go and reduce your body fat percentage by 4%, and show no change at a re-scan.

In another study, individual error rates were even higher–8 to 10%–and in this study, DEXA over-estimated decreases in body fat and under-estimated increases.

As you can see, despite its high reputation among some fitness folk, DEXA just isn’t accurate enough for tracking changes in body composition. 

The Bod Pod

body composition test bod pod

The Bod Pod is a machine that works much like hydrostatic weighing but uses air instead of water.

The machine measures the amount of air your body displaces inside a chamber and uses equations to determine body density and composition.

You already know that hydrostatic weighing can be very inaccurate, but unfortunately for the Bod Pod, it can be even more so. In one study, individual error rates were as high as 15% and other studies showed individual error rates ranging from 5 to 6%.

One of the reasons that the Bod Pod is generally less accurate than hydrostatic weighing is its results are affected by more variables like facial hair, moisture, body temperature, and even the tightness of the clothing worn.

I can personally attest to the rather shocking readings that can come from the Bod Pod.

I’ve worked with quite a few people whose body fat percentages regularly Bod Pod tested 5 to 10% higher than they really were (you don’t need more than your eyeballs to see that a guy around 10% body fat is most definitely not around 20%).

Like everything else discussed so far, the Bod Pod is too inaccurate in measuring body composition to be relied upon.

What Is the Most Accurate Way to Measure Body Fat, Then?

how to measure body composition

The only way to measure your body composition with 100% accuracy would be to remove all your fat, muscle, bones, and organs and weigh them. And I doubt you care enough to volunteer for that.

Everything else is a prediction and as you’ve seen, some methods of prediction are better than others but none even come close to absolute accuracy for all people.

If you’ve been paying attention, though, you’re probably wondering what methods scientists were using to determine the relative accuracy and inaccuracy of these methods. That is, what were they comparing BIA, DEXA, Bod Pod, hydrostatic weighing, and skinfold results against to see how well they work?

What’s the “gold standard”?

Well, it’s a method known as a 4-compartment analysis that involves using several techniques to separate the body into four “buckets”:

  • Fat mass
  • Bone
  • Water
  • Muscle tissue

Hyrostatic weighing is used to measure body density, total body water is measured through deuterium dilution, and total bone mass is determined by DEXA scan. All of this data is then fed into equations that give you a consistently accurate measurement of body composition.

The problem with this method of determining body composition is obvious: you need access to a team of scientists.

What, then, is the best and most convenient way to measure and track body composition?

The Best Way to Measure and Track Body Composition

body composition exercises

While a 4-compartment method is the most accurate and thus theoretically the best, it’s not practical unless you have ready access to everything needed.

For the rest of us, I recommend a much simpler solution: use calipers, a scale, a measuring tape, and the mirror.

Weigh yourself daily and calculate an average every 7 to 10 days.

Your weight can fluctuate on a daily basis due to things like water and glycogen storage and bowel movements (or the lack thereof), so watching and fretting over your weight on a daily basis can quickly become a neurosis.

This is why some people weigh themselves infrequently–once every 2 to 4 weeks–which is fine, but if you want to really keep an eye on things, I recommend weekly averages.

Doing it is easy: every day, first thing in the morning, after the bathroom and before eating or drinking anything, note your naked weight down. Then, every 7 to 10 days, add them all up and divide by the number of days and voila, you’re done.

The changes in that average over time will tell you what’s really happening with your weight outside of the temporary fluctuations that having nothing to do with gaining or losing fat or muscle.

Take weekly caliper measurements.

Extrapolating body fat percentage from caliper readings is dubious but the actual readings themselves are very useful.

If your skin is getting thicker over time, you’re gaining fat. If it’s getting thinner, you’re losing fat.

Also, unlike BIA, which is inconsistently inaccurate, with a little practice, skinfold testing can be consistently semi-accurate. That is, the body fat percentages you calculate may be slightly off but they will be consistently off (1 to 2% too low or high, for instance).

Here’s the caliper I use:

body-composition-test-caliper

One of the things I like about this caliper is it’s a one-site testing method, which means you can do it yourself.

I was skeptical of its accuracy at first, of course, but was surprised to find it just as accurate or more accurate than several multiple-point methods I’ve tried.

Here’s how to use it:

Again, you don’t have to even bother with the body fat percentage calculation but it does seem to be fairly accurate (within 1 to 2% if used correctly).

Take weekly waist measurements.

The size of your waist, when measured at the navel, is a reliable indicator of fatness. If your waist is shrinking over time, you’re losing fat. If it’s growing, you’re gaining.

This is why I recommend you measure it weekly and record your measurements. Nothing fancy is needed here–just a good ol’ measuring tape.

Take weekly pictures.

What you see in the mirror is a reliable indicator of how your body composition is changing.

Take weekly front, back, and side pictures in good front-on lighting and, over time, you’ll clearly see what’s changing (and what’s not). And remember that if you’re getting leaner in the mirror, you’re losing fat, regardless of what the scale might show.

The Bottom Line on Measuring Body Composition

As you can see, determining your exact body fat percentage can be very tricky if not impossible. You’re going to have to settle for a guesstimated range.

That said, you can track changes in your body composition very accurately, which is what matters most.

How Do You Improve Body Composition?

health benefits of body composition

Now that you understand what body composition is and how to measure it, let’s talk improving it.

You can improve your body composition in two ways:

  1. Build muscle
  2. Lose fat (and not muscle)

These two goals summarize everything we’re looking to achieve with our bodies. Whatever look you want, it’s going to require building a certain amount of muscle and having a certain amount of body fat. (Yes, that applies to women as much as men.)

That said, you can only build so much muscle before you reach your genetic potential and body fat levels can only go so low before health is compromised.

Check out this article to learn more about natural muscle growth potentials and in terms of body fat percentages, here are some workable guidelines:

CLASSIFICATION

MEN

WOMEN

Stage Ready Bodybuilder

3 – 5%

6 – 8%

Natural “Off-Season” Bodybuilder

10 – 12%

18 – 20%

Maintainable With Strict Diet

~8%

~15%

“Fit”

9 – 12%

16 – 19%

Average

11 – 18%

21 – 28%

The first thing you need to know is you’re not going to get to “stage-ready” levels of body fat naturally without screwing up your body.

If you’re a man, your testosterone is likely to plummet to near-castrate levels. If you’re a woman, you’re probably going to lose your period (which can have serious long-term health consequences).

Your metabolism, immune system, and thyroid and growth hormone levels are going to be suppressed, and your workouts are going to suck, you’re probably going to deal with constant fatigue, and your mood is going to be depressed.

You know those guys and gals you follow on Instagram that stay absolutely shredded year round and prattle on incessantly about their #dedication to “crushing” workouts?

Well, they wouldn’t be able to do it without steroids.

It is possible, however, to stay very lean year round (~8% in men and ~15% in women) if you’re willing to stay strict on your diet.

That doesn’t mean dedicating your life to “eating clean” but it does mean watching your numbers every day and keeping your “cheat meals” under control.

I can say from personal experience maintaining ~8% for about a year now that, as time goes on, it gets easier and easier. This is likely due to adaptations related to the body’s “set point.”

The Bottom Line on Body Composition

body composition exercises benefits

Too many mainstream diet and fitness “gurus”–and too many people in general–are far too preoccupied with weight. Losing weight, gaining weight, maintaining weight, and so forth.

Here’s the thing though:

You can lose weight without losing fat and gain weight without gaining muscle, and neither of these things are going to bring you closer to the body you really want.

Thinking in terms of body composition is much more useful.

You don’t want to just lose or gain weight–you want to lose fat and gain muscle. And weight is only one indicator of how well you’re doing this.

 

What’s your take on body composition? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

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    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

    • Hi Mike! I just signed up for a custom meal plan today and I am very excited to get started. When I filled out my BF I used the tape measure method and it said I was at 26% which I find pretty hard to believe….. thoughts? Pic included. Thank you!

      • Great! We’ll take good care of you.

        Yeah I would guess about 23%. The 3/4 post makes it harder to tell.

        • Thank you so much! I was leaner last year but I seem to bump up quickly even when a couple pounds are put on…been a struggle! I am really petite (5’1) and 2-3lbs shows up either way so easily. Looking forward to seeing what you want me to do! 🙂

          • YW!

            Yup, the smaller you are the easier weight shows, but the easier it is to get lean. 🙂

            LMK what you think of the meal plan when you get it.

          • Can’t ant wait ! Been reading TLS and your blog too o

          • Cool you’re reading TLS and are keeping up with the blog.

            LMK what you think of the book when you’re done!

  • Steven Scott

    It helps to remember that you don’t really need to know your EXACT fat percentage and weight. I find that my measurement imprecision doesn’t have much effect on my calculated diet macros, so as long as I’m close enough to get the job done, I’m okay with it. I did buy a real scale, though.

    • Definitely true. You don’t need to have it the exact %, but it’s great for tracking progress that can’t be measured on the scale–like building muscle and losing fat at the same time.

  • Nara

    I like the new GE Inbody machines the best. They get rid of a lot of the issues with cheaper BIA machines:

    http://www3.gehealthcare.com.sg/en-gb/products/categories/metabolic_health/dsm_bioelectrical_impedance_analysis/inbody_720

    • Even fancier BIA machines like this can be wildly inaccurate for the reasons given in the article.

  • INOSSEP

    what your opinion about this article Mike ? https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/gain-35lbs-in-6-weeks-naturally
    he claim that he gain 35lbs in 6 weeks naturally

  • Alex Wunder

    Hey Mike!

    I was thinking about switching my HIIT sessions to walking around my neighborhood for the remainder of my reverse diet, which I have a few more weeks of. There is only so much left of summer in Michigan before it starts to get cold and I want to enjoy the outdoors.

    I will be replacing (one 15 minute HIIT) and (two 20 minute HIIT) sessions with 45-60 minute walks.

    I understand the drawbacks that come along with not doing HIIT:

    -more time for less effect
    -no after-burn calories
    -possibility of less fat loss

    I am satisfied with how much weight I have lost and anymore would be like a consolation prize. So i have decided I am fine with letting myself rest from the HIIT for a few weeks.

    I will be taking HMB before any/all of these walks to avoid muscle breakdown because I will likely be in a fasted state while doing them.

    My questions regarding this:

    1. Is HIIT only more effective than walking, in terms of burning fat, because it takes less time and because of the after-burn calories? Or are there other reasons?

    2. Could my walks be as effective in terms of burning fat as HIIT if they burn the same amount of calories (after-burn HIIT calories included)?

    3. Will I suffer muscle breakdown if I am using HMB beforehand? I know you said anymore than two hours of cardio a week is cause for muscle breakdown and I wanted to know if this applied. I will also be lifting an hour a day monday-friday.

    4. Is it true that walking at a slow-moderate pace is actually good for fat loss? I heard that it draws more from your fat storages than your carb storages making it ideal.

    5. If I lift beforehand, for an hour, and then go on one of these 45-60 minute walks will the HMB I took before lifting, of 2-3 grams, be enough to inhibit any muscle loss?

    6. (random question) Do you think whole-grain bread is too low of a GI carb for my post workout meal? Do you think I should just ditch the health benefits of the whole grain and go to white bread because its GI is slightly higher? (may be splitting hairs again)

    Thanks for the help! As you can see I am growing lazy!

  • Rikke N

    Thanks for the article, very informative! Do you know the accuracy of the so called “Inbody” scales where you both stand on a platform and hold some handles at the same time? I had a testing done on such a scale, and here in Denmark, a lot of “experts” say this is a very accurate way to measure body composition and almost as accurate as hydrostatic weighing. The thing is, however, my result said about 25 % body fat and I know it’s hard for you to say anything about my exact result, but a very experienced personal trainer at my gym said I was probably more around 18 % and that it is often more accurate to look at body fat charts like the ones you have included in this article. I look pretty lean and have very defined “upper abs”, can see my serratus clearly and have well-defined obliques. What do you think?

    • YW!

      Yeah those are BIA devices and they can be VERY inaccurate.

      Post a pic and I’ll tell you what I think?

      • Rikke Nørgaard Sørensen

        Thanks so much! Yeah, and of course the ones who use them say they are accurate because then people will pay a lot of money to find out their “accurate” Body fat %.
        It’s evening here in Denmark now, so I will snap a picture tomorrow to get natural lighting 🙂

      • Rikke Nørgaard Sørensen

        Ok, so I know this is a super crappy photo (although it is morning now, it was a bit dark in my room 🙂 )
        But I hope it is not impossible to guesstimate my body fat %
        Have a great day!

        • You’re very lean. I would guess around 17/18%. Great job!

          • Rikke Nørgaard Sørensen

            Wow, thank you so much, I also thought the Inbody was quite off from where I thought I was at. Again, thanks, you help a lot of people out – actually, what got me into more serious lifting was your book “Thinner, Leaner, Stronger” 🙂

          • YW. Happy to do it. 🙂

          • Katie Thomas

            You look amazing Rikke!!! I’m so inspired!

          • Rikke Nørgaard Sørensen

            Thank you very much! That’s so nice of you 🙂

  • Ashley

    Hey! I’m trying to lose fat right now. I’ve been lifting heavy weights (compound movements) 3 times a week and doing about 30 mins of moderate cardio 3 times a week also. I have an average muscular body now, at about 25% body fat. My muscles are growing from lifting weights, but I’m at a point where Im feeling fluffy, because I have fat on top of the muscle. I’ve adjusted my macros and have been following iifym for the past 3 weeks, and lost about 1 lb a week.

    I’m thinking maybe I should add a day of cardio and go down to 2 days of lifting? However, I’ve read on your page that lifting weights helps with fat loss more than cardio. I’m super confused!

    Thanks for all your post and podcast! I’ve learned a lot from you the past year!

    • Good job on the weight you’ve lost so far.

      I wouldn’t reduce the weightlifting. If you want, you can add a session of cardio. However, the goal is to lose 1-2 pounds a week–not more. So, you’re doing well!

      YW for everything. Happy to do it. 🙂

  • TD

    The visual body fat percentage guide you provided is great. I saved it so I can reference it for future use. Was surprised to see the body fat percentage I’m currently estimated to be at was considered “average” here as opposed to other charts I’ve seen where it’s categorized as “fit”. Agree about the photos showing progress when sometimes it might not be otherwise as noticeable.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.

      I think age is more a matter of perception than anything else. We “expect” older people to be fatter but nothing major has to change in terms of body composition if you take care of your body.

  • anku

    Is it possible to lose weight and not muscle by strict healthy diet and light physical activity?.I weigh 62 KGS and m 25 yr female.advised by doc not to weight lift and strenuous workout.due to some health issues.

    • For the most part, yes. There may be some muscle loss, but if done properly it should be minimal, and it’ll come back as soon as you start eating more again.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Brian Natumanya

    That brings me to the question how do i know the percentage of fat lost and muscle gained or vise-versa..As u always determine progress by knowing pounds of muscle of fat gained,..was hoping this article was going to help answer this,….or may be its some where in the article and i missed it.

  • Jay

    Hi Mike! I’m wondering if girls are suppose to mesure their waist at the same level (belly button) than guys?

  • TheRightThing

    I just called my local university to see about hydrostatic weighing. The session is $40. I have the same fat caliper that you (Mike) recommend, and am now unsure if the hydrostatic session would be worth the money.

    • Yeah, there’s no need to do it. If you know how to use the caliper, you’ll get accurate enough results to track progress.

  • frametheory

    Hey Mike great article. Good tip on on getting the average weight.

    Happy to report that my bulk is going well so far. After 2 weeks, I see noticeable results in the mirror. Everythings popping out more. Im sticking to my macros with a cheat meal once a week. My weight gain is steady. Im getting good steady gains in the gym, And body fat has not risen at all. Least not yet.

    • Thanks man. NP!

      Great to hear you’re seeing results! Nothing better than gaining weight without fat.

      Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • John Doe

    11 – 18% average, Mike? CDC estimated average bodyfat for US male @ 25%!

    • Haha good point. The “average” I was thinking of was “average looking.” All this weightlifting stuff goes to my head. 😉

      • John Doe

        I hear you! For curiosity sake, want to take a stab at my BF% in that pic? That was right at the start of my cut (January). Had no calipers or anything back then. . .

        • I would guess around 20%.

          • John Doe

            At 5’6, I was 165 in that pic (January) with 20% BF = 132 lean mass.. In another pic (July) you guessed I was 12-14% at 143lb = 124.5 lean mass…

            Is it likely that you lose that much lean mass during a cut? Can’t all be water right? I have to say, I don’t think it’s muscle loss as I’ve been measuring my biceps (mostly) – and I’ve lost only 0.5″ cold flexed (easily attributable to fat going away). Don’t think my legs atrophied either…

            (For another laugh at widely disparate numbers… *today* I’m 136.5 lbs… 2 kinds calipers both put me at 6.2 – 7.2% and BodPod put me at 19%… LOL). I suspect I’m actually 10 – 12%.

          • You don’t. You lose water and glycogen, which you think is lean mass.

            If you lose a ton of strength while cutting that’s how you know you’ve actually lost muscle…

          • John Doe

            So we can attribute that extra loss to water/glycogen, specifically? (Looks like ~8lbs worth?)

            My strength has actually *increased* on many lifts since January … mostly back close to my personal records from when I lifted seriously 6-7 years ago (college).

          • Yep.

            Awesome to hear on the strength increase. You have nothing to worry about.

  • Juan Khawly

    Hi Mike, I’m following your book BLS. I started today after digesting all the content in your book. I’m 94Kg and 1.84m and using your formula about 27% fat percentage. Besides I’ve trained in the past (nothing serious) I consider myself a newbie since I have years without training. So my short term goal it’s to grow muscle and reduce fat (taking advantage of the newbie gains).

    I started a cutting diet and calculated my macro using 1.2/1/0.2 . Now that I designed this plan I read again an it says that if you are more than 25% you should use 0.8/0.6/0.3.

    So, Did I design correctly my diet using 1.2/1/0.2 or I should go to 0.8/0.6/0.3?? The difference in calories is from 2196 to 1720. And looks like 1720 is not good for me since my calculated BMR is 1836 and my TDEE 2754. I’m confused !!

    • Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it. Anything you could do to spread the word would rock too! 🙂

      Cool on your stats and let’s keep it simple:

      200 pro
      200 carb
      50 fat

      (Per day)

  • Katie Thomas

    Just curious — if a female has all/most of her body fat in her bootay but a totally flat stomach – how would the caliper method work? I have a tiny bottom so that’s not me…I gain in my tummy and the backs of my arms (ugh) so the calipers will be perfect. But I do envy that a woman can have an ass the size of Texas and as long as her stomach is flat her figure is enviable.

    • Good question.

      Some people hold their fat in very unusual ways and calipering isn’t going to be as accurate. That’s why I recommend you don’t get too hung up on bf % and work with measurements. So long as your waist is shrinking, for example, you’re losing fat.

      • Katie Thomas

        I ordered the calipers you recommend so will totes use them and it is fun to have a number for goal mastery. Your program IS WORKING FOR ME! I’m down 4# in 21 days and tried on all my clothes today and everything is loose in the waist! It is SO AMAZING to be doing something that I trust entirely. That takes away any desire to cheat. I always cheated before because I never believed what I was doing was working. You are a Godsend.

        • Great!

          That’s awesome! Great job! Keep it up!

          Yeah nothing is more motivating than results. 🙂

      • Nart T.

        So how would you ago about having some sort of idea about that BF % after all then? I’m mainly asking for the purpose of ending/starting a cut/bulk.

        My GF is also doing the BLS protocol (or should I say TLS), and she is going through a cut a the moment which does show steady progress (decrease in waist measurement), but the caliper measurement has been more or less the same for a few weeks now. I should also say the her BF is primarily concentrated around the waist.

        Would you recommend a multiple-point caliper measurement, and if so, which one?

  • GT

    Hi Mike,
    Your articles on training and diet has been a revelation after years of misguided advice from so called experts. I just stumbled across your site by accident and have read a lot of the material. I like how it’s all backed up factually and easy to follow.

    I’m currently doing the 5 day weights/3-5 HIIT routine and have noticed changes in a month (see pic). I’m about 150 pounds and stick to the
    40%p/40%c/20%f split to make up my 2000 cals a day, which is a 20% daily deficit. Was just wondering if I keep this rolling, with a bit of IF and referring, should I expect to reach single % figures as I have no idea what BF I’d be other than it’s been a pretty noticeable change. I’d like to hit about 7-8% if at all possible and then reverse up to maintenance and see how I feel as I’m nearly 50 and want to stay pretty light and lean for now… as I enjoy surfing with my kids among other sports.

    BTW the crossfit stuff never gets old those links are hilarious and funny as f because they are bang on the money for a lot of the kippers I’ve come across.

    Great stuff
    Cheers

    • Damn dude you’re killing it! Great job!

      IMO you’re already at single digits. I would guess 8 to 9%. I think you could benefit from more ab/core development, that’s all.

      What are you doing for abs and core currently?

      BTW you might like this:

      https://legionathletics.com/fitness-at-any-age/

      • GT

        Thanks Mike,

        Just read the article on how age relates to training and will definitely take into account recovery and deload weeks.

        With abs I definitely agree I could do with more development/definition, particularly lower abs… even though my skin is getting pretty papery (for want of a better word). I’ve followed the best exercises you recommend 3 times a week but I’m guessing I should start doing more of them as weighted exercise.

        Any extra advice on that aspect would be welcome.

        BTW Got the book and since I’ve had a few comments from friends of my vintage, down here in Australia, I’ve been recommending they also give it a try.
        Thanks again

        • Glad you liked it.

          Yeah I think it’s time to start doing more weighted ab work. If I were you I’d do 6 sets of weighted 3 x per week and drop everything else.

          Weight cable crunches and hanging leg raises would probably be my choice.

          Thanks for the support man. You rock. 🙂

  • GT

    Apologies that was supposed to say refeed not referring. Cheers

  • Mike Michalski

    Just read some of your articles and they are great. I enjoy working out like a hobby. Once you start you always want to keep it going because you feel and look better. Great info that you provide. Thanks

  • Frenkk11

    Hi Mike,

    I really love your articles and podcasts especially the science-based information you give on nutrition and training. Last week I did an inbody measurement and it said 13% bodyfat, but could you guestimate please?

    Im currently bulking. Thanks for your stuff on compound exercises it helped me a lot!

    Kind regards

  • dave

    Hi mike! I just bought ur book bls and im loving it so far. Im 17 years old and 172 lbs 5’10”. I was wondering what my body fat percentage was. Tnx

    • dave

      Also, what should my macros be? Tnx..dave.

    • Thanks Dave!

      Hard to say but I’d guess around 25%.

  • Esther Mozo

    Thanks a lot, Mike, for another great and useful article!

  • Raj Malhotra

    Hello Mike. You have been really helpful to the entire health freak community. You reply to everybody’s comment. Hats off to you for all that dedication. I have some pictures of mine. please help me guess my body fat percentage. 🙂 How long do you think it will take for me to develop abs. I am eating vegetables, very less chicken, no red meat, fruits, less sugar and almost negligible processed foods. I am working out regularly. I do body weight exercises along with some abs exercises excluding crunches. I also do squats but no weight lifting. Please help. I would appreciate if you could suggest some workouts also. Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Hey man I would guess about 15% and check this out:

      https://legionathletics.com/skinny-fat/

      • Raj Malhotra

        Thanks for this nice article Mike. I had already gone through this article. your articles are very detailed and descriptive. Good job. So, you are actually suggesting me to lift weights. lol. The thing is that I start having back pain. I do the warm up exercises including push ups and squats. but still it always affect me. That is why i dont lift weights. I have a 2 kilo dumb bell. I use it sometimes. I have recently started my workouts after a very long time. I used to weigh around 93 kilos. I stopped eating my high fat diet and junk. now i just eat normal veggies, fruits and meat. but because my bone structure is heavy, i am still around 80 kilos. so i can lift weights and be bigger in size. what i dont want is to have the same weight even if it is muscle. This is the second reason for me to opt for just body weight exercises. Kindly suggest. thanks 🙂

  • Aikas

    Mike, I’ve accidentally watched Scott Herman’s video about a new revolutionary product – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5BB6pubJZI – I’ve checked their website and it seems pretty legit but the price is putting me off buying it.. You can check it out.
    LMK what you think.

  • Barb

    HI Mike, I can’t thank you ENOUGH for the fat percentage photos WOW my scale is way off I don’t look anything like the 30 percent body fat photo, THANKS a million again, YOU ROCK

    • My pleasure! Yup, those scales can be painfully off. Thanks for the support. 🙂

  • Jeff

    Hi mike, I been cutting for 12 weeks lost about 11lbs. I’m at 150lbs right now and people keep saying I’m to skinny. I do feel like I lost a lot of weight specially in my face I would like to start bulking soon. What do you think my body fat at this time 13%? Thanks. I did buy your bls book helps a lot.

  • Lisa

    Hi Mike
    I’ve been reading lots of your articles and your book and so much of what you say dispels a lot of the myths I’ve based my journey on. My situation: Several years ago I lost 100lbs and am now 5’4″, 105lbs but still 20% BF. I would like to be nearer to 15% and started lifting much heavier per your instruction but my weight has gone up 4lbs and I am looking thicker through the middle though definitely much stronger than before (which I appreciate). I keep to 1500 cal a day with a strong emphasis on protein. Any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong? Thanks in advance

    • Glad you’ve been reading my books and articles!

      Unfortunately, a lot of people including myself have fallen for those myths during their fitness journeys. Happy to dispel them. 🙂

      Great job on the weight you lost!

      To help you continue losing weight, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/not-losing-weight/

      LMK what you think!

      My pleasure!

  • Katie

    Hey Mike!!

    I was just wondering how I find out what numbers my protein intake, carbs, and fat be on?? Is there a place I can work it out or? Thanks!!

  • Alex A

    Hi Mike

    I just took a a body comp test using an inbody machine (claims to be 98% accurate).

    Height – 5ft 10
    Weight – 83,5kg
    Skeletal Muscle Mass: 40.6kg
    Body Fat Mass 13.6kg
    Percentage Body Fat 16.2%

    Now If I follow your 5 day programme (85% 1RM) AM and 2-3 25 minute HIIT sessions PM and my diet is fairly on point what could I achieve realistically/ambitiously in 12 weeks? Sadly I’m not new to weightlifting so cannot get newbie gains 🙁

    Is it unrealistic to expect a Percentage Body Fat of 13% (3.2% drop) and Body Fat Mass of 11.6Kg (2kg drop)

    As always thanks for your excellent articles and contributions and HNY!

    Regards
    Alex

    • Cool! Unfortunately, those can be pretty inaccurate… Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/body-composition/

      In 12 weeks you should definitely be able to lose 3.2% BF assuming you’re doing it right (lifting heavy, keeping your protein intake high and sticking to a 20-25% deficit).

      The goal is to lose 1-2 pounds a week so adjust intake accordingly.

      My pleasure! Happy New Year to you as well. 🙂

  • Franken Steine

    This article is a huge help on tracking my progress, thanks for the info.

    I’m wondering if the leaner you get, the more calories you need? That’s what it looks like according to your calculator. But if you adjust according to weight then you’ll be decreasing your intake every week, which I’m not going to lie sounds like it would suck. I workout 5 times a week and eat 1120 calories, I would hate to drop below 1000.

    • My pleasure Franken!

      Yep, if you’re only adjusting the weight and keep the BF% the same, you would be losing muscle (which burns cals) and not fat. So, it’d make sense that it decreases your intake.

      The goal isn’t just losing weight, it’s improving your overall body composition.

      Hope that makes sense. LMK what you think.

      • Franken Steine

        Ya it makes sense. My weight has remained the same for a few weeks now, I truly hope it’s because I’ve gained muscle and not fat. I had a cheat meal over the weekend. How much fat is too much for a cheat meal?

        • It is possible. To help track your progress, instead of tracking your weight, let’s track your BF%:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/body-composition/

          There isn’t an exact number but the lower you keep the fat, the better.

          • Franken Steine

            Ok, so you think I shouldn’t take a weekly average in weight?

            Well I devoured a couple donuts and a muffin and ended the day at 80 grams of fat and 144 grams of carbs, do you think that’s a safe limit?

          • You can continue weighing yourself weekly if you’d like, but if you’re building muscle and losing fat, the scale won’t be a good indicator of actual progress.

            That’s a lot of fat. Definitely wouldn’t recommend more than that.

            Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

          • Franken Steine

            Alright I’ll stick to tape measurements and calipers.

            I probably enjoyed it a bit too much. I’ll make sure to cut back on the fat.

            Thanks for all your help man.

          • It depends how hard I’m going to cheat. If I am going into a large surplus, I’d prefer to keep it under 100g for the day.

          • Franken Steine

            What about if you’re going into a regular surplus of 10-15%, how much fat would you limit yourself to?

          • Well a regular surplus of 10 to 15% would be bulking, and in that case, I would keep my fat to about 0.3 grams per pound.

          • Franken Steine

            My mistake, I meant how much fat would you consume on a regular cheat where you end the day in a 10-15% surplus. I’m finding all the meals I want to cheat with to be high carb but also has fat. I can’t seem to cut it out unless I just eat a baked potato or pancakes.

          • As I said earlier:

            “It depends how hard I’m going to cheat. If I am going into a large surplus, I’d prefer to keep it under 100g for the day.”

          • Franken Steine

            Oh ok, I think I misunderstood you. Sorry to bug you about this man, it’s just a few months ago I slipped and went on a cookie and cake binge for awhile. Now that I’m getting back into this lifestyle, I’m trying to do things right and not take any chances.

          • No worries! I completely understand. 🙂

  • Hi mike

    I’ve measured my BF to be about 15.2 but I’m not sure. Could you take a look at my pics and see what you think. I’ve been cutting for at least 4 or more months now and want to get down to at least 12% bf then start to slowly bulk. Do you think I need to start a bulk now or keep going down to 12% bf?

    • I’d say you’re about 15% BF.

      Let’s continue cutting to 10-12% BF. Then you can bulk and focus on building muscle.

      Talk soon!

      • Thanks dude appreciate that.

        • Welcome!

          • Hi mike, I was able to get down to 12.7bf. After more than 7 months cutting I just couldn’t do it anymore lol, so I’ve already started increasing calories.

            I’m following your reverse dieting advice which previously I hadn’t known about it.
            When I was still at over 20% bf, the thought of trying to get down to 12.7bf seemed so overwhelming(my 11yr old jus helped me spell overwhelming, haha).

            All your advice has helped so much dude.
            Being able to eat a little more feels so good!

          • Great job! Sounds good.

            Glad he was there for you. 🙂

            Happy to have helped! Yep, gotta love reverse dieting!

            Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • Oscar

    Hello Michael, first of all, let me thank you for last year’s help to gain muscle and strength. I bought your BLS book and followed it for about 8 months. I noticed the changes right away.
    Unfortunately my schedule changed and I moved to a different city so I just started back up after about 5 months of not working out.
    I gained fat and lost muscle. I’m currently around 22% body fat. From reading some articles on your website. It shows that I should be able to lose fat and build muscle pretty easily when I start back up due to “newbie fat” and “muscle memory.” And so far, it is working out.
    Work out routine is BLS 3 day/week program plus, I might start cardio on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
    Do you agree with what I am starting back with? Or do you think I should simply cut first and build muscle after I’m at 10-12% body fat?

    • Hey Oscar! My pleasure!

      Thanks for reading my book and writing! Glad you noticed results quickly!

      Sorry to hear about the 5 month break with moving and all. Let’s get back on track.

      Yep, you’ll be able to build muscle while losing fat for sure. Cardio will help too!

      I agree with what you’re doing, but to build muscle and lose fat, you have to diet for fat loss anyways. Check this out:

      https://legionathletics.com/body-recomposition/

      I recommend you cut to 10-12% BF and then move the focus to build muscle.

      Thoughts?

  • amos

    I’m 18 yrs old (115 lbs/174 cm) and according to the method you used on your video it stated I’m 6.2% BF but using the calculator on http://scoobysworkshop.com/body-fat-calculator/ which is basically the Jackson-Pollock 3-Skinfold-Method, it stated that I’m at 3.65% BF. I’m confused on the most suitable method I should use as BF measurement is vital when it comes to measuring you kcal requirement. I heard that Jackson-Pollock 3-Skinfold-Method is fairly accurate but my BF% couldn’t possibly be that low. Well, I do find myself easily depleted and sluggish when I wake up in the morning each time I accidentally ate a below 2400-2300 kcal for a few days (I’m currently eating at 2600-2700kcal to gain mass). What do you think my BF% is visually and which method should I use? Thanks

    • Hey man!

      You’re lean but you’d be dead if you were actually that lean.

      I would guess around 7%.

  • Gary

    Is the calculations for carbs fats protein always done on lean body weight mass or just total body weight?

    • It’s done on total body weight unless you’re 25% BF+ (30% BF+ for women). Then it’s based off LBM.

  • Alex Grundland

    Hey Mike,

    Wanted to see what body fat % you think I am, i attached 2 photos one im not pushing out my abs the other i am, idont know if your supposed to push abs out jut let the gut hang so i sent both!

    • Hey Alex. Thanks for the pics! I’d say you’re about 10% BF.

  • TylerL

    Hey Mike,
    Calculating body fat % is so frustrating. Like when I am putting my stats into the tdee to find calories and it asks for percentage. It is always so hard to figure my body fat percentage. I have a caliper and it is a total pain to get an accurate reading. I recently asked you what my body fat percentage was and your estimate was 3 percentage points different from what I kept getting for my caliper reading. Is there a way to set certain goals for weight loss to get to a certain body fat percentage? For example, you said I was 15% at 183. I was in bulk mode, but now went into cut to get to 10%. Already have lost 4 lbs down to 179. Assuming I am only losing fat, is there a calculation I can use to know what my weight will be if I cut down to 10%. Will the number be around 174? Thanks.

    • I hear you Tyler. The caliper should be accurate within 1-2%, but it is subject to human error.

      Also, keep in mind that the number I estimate for your BF% is just an estimate based off the pics you provide.

      You can get a rough idea of how much you’ll weigh at your goal BF%, but it’s important to keep in mind that the first few pounds of weight loss will include a good amount of water and glycogen–not just fat. And if not done properly, you can lose muscle which doesn’t get you closer to your BF% goal:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-lose-body-fat/

      Let’s get down to 172-173, and see how you look.

      Thoughts?

      • TylerL

        I know what you mean by water and glycogen weight. There are some days I wake up and I am 2 pounds lighter. This is why I am taking an avg. every 7 days. My cut is going well. I am on your 5 day split doing 2 HIIT a week. I can see my body changing before my eyes.

        I don’t think I am losing much muscle being at a moderate deficit. I also don’t think I am losing much strength on my lifts. We will see as I lose more weight.

        I lift fasted and consume 3g HMB, 8g cit-malate, and 4g beta pre-workout and the usual 40 to 50g protein with 5g creatine post. Just got your pre-workoout stack and excited to try. I will shoot for those numbers. Thanks Mike, really enjoying your program.

        • Smart move. Glad the cut is going well!

          Great to hear you’re maintaining muscle well. Keep this in mind:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-lose-body-fat/

          Cool on the fasted training and the supps you take before and after. Make sure you have carbs post-workout as well.

          LMK how you like my products. 🙂

          Welcome! Happy to hear it! Talk soon.

  • Patrick B

    Hi Mike,

    You’re website is awesome, I really enjoy how you back up your facts with empirical research and data. I’ve got a quick question for you — I’m really looking to bulk-up and am wondering how much BF% you think I have? I know you said it’s smartest to drop down to about 10-12% and then start bulking for a number of different reasons.

    I’m 6’0, 157 lbs right now. Let’s say you tell me I’m about 14-15%, and I need to drop a little bit more before the bulk. Once I hit the right BF% range (and say I’m around 150 lbs.), is the best strategy to bulk up quickly to like 175 lbs? Or, is the choice of weight decided by me? I’m just confused… and I’m really looking forward to bulking-up by adding a calorie surplus, gaining my weight to 175 lbs (by doing heavy compound lifting and a healthy diet), and then of course starting to trim down once I achieve a good weight… is this okay to start now at my current build?

    • Thanks, Patrick! Glad you’re enjoying it!

      I’d say you’re about 15-16% BF. So, before bulking, I recommend you do the cut to 10-12% BF first. Here’s why:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

      Once you’re down to that BF% range, I recommend you clean bulk gaining 1/2-1 pound a week until you reach the muscle mass you want to have or until you reach 15-17% BF. Then it’s time to cut again.

      Thoughts?

      • Patrick B

        Thanks for the reply! I completely agree with you. I feel I need to get a bit more leaner and have the ability to get to 10%-12% then build up after that. I’m glad I read your article first before going straight to bulking.

        I completely stopped the cardio 2 weeks ago, it was all I was doing. (Which I understand now, thanks to your other articles, why I was losing so much muscle because I was starving myself and not counting calories + doing too much cardio.)

        So, starting today I’m on a high-protein cut diet with a calorific deficit. My workout now contains the 5×5 Stronglifts routine, and maybe a little bit of cardio (maybe twice a week with only 15-30 mins)?

        What do you think of this plan?

        • Welcome! Glad we agree. 🙂

          Yep, that’s a bad combo for maintaining muscle, haha.

          Great to hear you’re lifting and keeping your protein intake high! That should do it. Totally fine on the cardio too.

          That all sounds great. LMK how it goes.

          Oh and keep this in mind during your weight loss journey:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/not-losing-weight/

          Talk soon!

  • Michael

    Hey Mike!
    I grew up as a heavy kid and have been a chronic dieter since the age of 12. I left high school in 2010 at 260 lbs, 6′ 3″ tall.

    I started Crossfit in 2011 and finally got my weight down to 200 lbs. However, to get to 200lbs I was only eating 2,000 calories a day. I plateaued for a few months and decided I needed a change.

    After reading a few of your articles I decided to give Crossfit a rest and started following 5/3/1. I also began to raise my calories for the first time ever. For the past 4-5 months I’ve been SLOWLY increasing my calories by 100 each week(Carbs & Fats). I got my calories up to 3,000 and only gained 5 lbs. All of my lifts have increased dramatically!
    Bench-170 to 200(New 1 Rep Max)
    Overhead-135 to 165
    Squat-275 to 315
    Deadlift-310 to 350

    However, it’s now March and my body fat % is still around 18-22%. Now that I’ve let my metabolism recover from years of chronic yo yo dieting, should I cut? I would really like to get to 12-13% body fat by June/July while preserving the muscle I’ve gained. I’m thinking 2,400 calories(210g-Protein, 65g-Fat,260g-Carb)

    Then after reaching my body fat goal reverse diet back up to 3,000 and bulk. Does this all sound correct?

    • Hey man! Thanks for all the info.

      Awesome job on the weight you lost doing CF.

      Good call on switching to the 5/3/1 program, and great job on the successful RD!

      Awesome on the strength gains too.

      Yep, that sounds like a great plan. Let’s do it. You can set up your cals/macros for cutting here:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      LMK how it goes.

  • Azucena Gallegos

    Quick question… I’m super new to weigh lifting and training. I’m 189 lb 32 yr old women and I have about 50 lb to lose 🙁 I’ve been reading ur articles … I just want to make sure I’m on the right track… I’ve been lifting 6 days a week alternating from legs to arm etc… And doing 20 min of running every day. Everyone is telling me that I first have to lose the weight before I start lifting…. So basically saying that I won’t lose the weight by lifting every day… That I should focus on cardio and after then the lifting…. What do u think? I’m so confused I’m getting so many different answers.

    • NP! Thanks for the info.

      You’re totally fine to start weightlifting. No need to wait. You can build muscle while losing fat at the same time if done properly:

      legionathletics.com/body-recomposition/

      For a good routine to follow, I recommend picking up my book for women, TLS:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/thinner-leaner-stronger/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Brandon Dedic

    Hey mike any idea on body fat %? Last year before I cared about calories I was easily eating 3000+ a day and now I’m eating around 2000 and look roughly the same. Just want to get to a point where I can relax on the diet and focus on building muscle

  • Brandon Dedic

    Hey mike what do you estimate my body fat to be? Really want to focus on building muscle and getting to eat more, tired of eating less.

    • Hey Brandon! I’d say you’re around 10-11% BF.

      I hear you, brother! Totally fine to start bulking now if you want. Make sure you RD first. 🙂

  • Vasco

    Hi Mike.

    I’m a guy who just discovered your articles and i have to say that they are amazing. I see now that i was doing a lot of things wrong. After read your article i see that i should do cutting to decrease my body fat percentage to 10%.

    What do you think is my body fat percentage?

    I have right now 72kg (160 lb) and my height is 5’7 feet (1,70m). Do decrease my body fat percentage to 10% how weigth shuold i loose?

    Thanks.

    • Hey hey! Welcome! Glad you’re enjoying them. 🙂

      Yep, exactly. I’d say you’re around 16% BF. Tough to tel with this pic though.

      How much weight you should lose to reach 10% BF depends on several things. Training, diet, genetics, etc. You’re just gonna have to track your BF% and continue cutting until you reach 10% BF.

      To give you an idea, when cutting properly, you should be losing 1-2 pounds a week and that should be mainly fat. There will be some weight loss due to water and glycogen.

      NP! Hope this helps!

  • Kristine

    Hi Mike,
    Great article! As always!
    I just did my Dexa Scan and MetaCheck(metabolic testing) and I am in a shock. Both of them have showed my Basal Metabolic Rate as 1470kcal (with 30 kcal difference, Dexa Scan 1496kcal) – higher than expected.

    I have been training moderate to high intensity (weights/cardio hiit) around 6 -7 hours per week and eating around 1400 kcal a day. And no weight/fat loss at all… Now I have been advised to increase my calories as this might be a reason why no progress re fat loss has been made…. can it be?
    As usually we tend to think -as less we eat as faster we lose :).
    Many Thanks!
    Female / 28y / 167cm / 68.5kg / 24% fat (as on the scan. Feels more).

  • spoonsandlicks

    Just bought your book! I’m 8 months postpartum and struggling with those last 10-15lbs. Feeling quite fluffy! haha. I’m considered an “older” mom so you could say I’m working with several factors but I’m optimistic.

    I will say it’s intimidating to eat this way since I’ve been a low-carb, IF type dieter. However, I’m enjoying my meals a lot more because it’s opened up my options. We are both chefs and are accustomed to weighing ingredients and decided to do it with our food. I created a spreadsheet like in your book and it’s amazing to see how much I’ve been under eating! I was at least 600 calories under and that was even wit a 20% deficit. It gives you a pretty good perspective and to not leave to “eyeballing” or to memory.

    I look forward to reporting back with our progress. Thank you!

  • carlanyc

    Just bought your book! I’m 8 months postpartum and struggling with those last 10-15lbs. Feeling quite fluffy! haha. I’m considered an “older” mom so you could say I’m working with several factors but I’m optimistic.

    I will say it’s intimidating to eat this way since I’ve been a low-carb, IF type dieter. However, I’m enjoying my meals a lot more because it’s opened up my options. We are both chefs and are accustomed to weighing ingredients and decided to do it with our food. I created a spreadsheet like in your book and it’s amazing to see how much I’ve been under eating! I was at least 600 calories under and that was even wit a 20% deficit. It gives you a pretty good perspective and to not leave to “eyeballing” or to memory.

    I look forward to reporting back with our progress. Thank you

  • Matt

    Hi Mike! My name’s Matt. This is my second time commenting on this article. I first commented about 2 months ago, and you gave me some good advice. You have been a huge inspiration so far, and I know I’m still a ways away from my goal… but, here is my progress after two months and the after pic of now. I did exactly as you said: compound lifting exercises, some HIIT cardio twice a week (not too much), and cleaned up my diet big time… focusing mainly on my protein intake, rarely doing cheat meals.

    I was able to gain some muscle mass and I even went from 156 lbs to now 150-151 lbs. I’m around 12% BF now, if my scale is correct (I know you say they can be off).

    Now, here’s my new question you. Everyone around me keeps telling me I now need to bulk, because I’m starting to look “too skinny” and anymore cutting will result in me looking unhealthy. Do you agree with this? I’m not sure if I should just keep cutting to 10-11% BF for a bit longer, or if you already think I’m there to start bulking?

    I’d love to hear your advice again. You’re such an awesome inspiration!!
    Matt

    • Hey Matt! Welcome back! Awesome job on the progress you’ve made. 🙂

      Good question! You may end up being thinner than you’d like temporarily, but it’s just part of the process. You want to get to 10% BF because it’ll allow you to bulk longer hence build more muscle.

      Let’s continue to 10% BF and then focus on building muscle. Sound good?

      Thanks for the kind words and support, man. Talk soon!

  • Jessica Richman

    Hi Mike 😀. Can you take a look at my pics and help me guess my bf%? I have done 5 different kinds of testing and gotten results anywhere from 19-26%. Trying to decide which is the most relistic so I can continue using that test as my point of reference. Also, once I started thinking in terms of bf instead of weight I set my goal around 17%. I sorta actually really like some of my bf and so does my boyfriend (we ❤️ boobies!) so some parts of the transformation are a little of a downer 😕. So taking into account the shrinkage thus far/what my bf% actually is right now could result in a potential reset on the bf% goal. So like I asked in the first place can you help me guesstimate and actually maybe an idea, based on my body type what a good bf% goal would be for me? I’m 35 yr old approximate stats- 5’2.5″ ft, 113 lb, bust 36 (32d/dd), waist 26.5, hips 36.5. Want to feel good in my bikini, but not set unrealistic goals.
    Thanks!

    • Hey Jessica! NP! I’d say you’re around 22-23% BF.

      Cool on the goal of getting to 17% BF!

      Some size loss in that area is expected, but as long as you’re not trying to get super lean, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 🙂

      First, I recommend getting to 20% BF. From there, you can decide what you want to do. Build more muscle, get leaner, etc.

      Welcome. Hope this helps! Talk soon.

  • Dan

    Hi Mike, also wanted an ‘independent’ check. I use calipers: 4pt is giving me 11-12%, 3pt is 8-9%, my visual guess is 10-11, but I might be biased. 54 y, 200lbs, 34 in waist.

  • Andy

    Hi Mike, I am 35 year old, 158 pounds (for past year now). I was 195lb and i came down to 155-158 lbs which is good weight loss, but now I as I said, I am stuck at this weight and also measurements for past year. In this year, I have done P90X, Insanity + P90X , T25 and Insanity Max 30. I am not losing weight or any measurements even after all these workouts. Attached is my current pic, can you advice on BF%, what do you think I am at. Calipers say 20-22% since year now 🙁 and also how to break this plateaue to reach 10% bf

  • Dan

    Hi Mike, I’m 24, 5’11 and 165lbs and hoping that you could please offer your 2 cents on my current BF%.
    I have gotten a variety of results from different measurement methods and am aware of the inaccuracies that they involve. I would estimate myself to be in the 16-18% range but would appreciate a more informed opinion please. Thank you for the informative articles and i have really enjoyed your youtube videos lately.

    • Hi Dan, from the photo I’d approximate that same range as well. Best advice is to get familiar with using calipers for consistent readings.

  • Kelster

    Hi Mike! I was wondering if you could help me with my BF%. I took this picture a few years ago. I got a better stomach leaning out but I lost a ton of muscle in my legs and arms. How do you keep great abs but also keep your arms and legs shredded at the same time?? I can never seem to do it! Right now I’m building muscle but am ready to lean out again and want to keep my arms. Any help would be great!

  • Adam R.

    Hello Mike, this is going to be long, and I apologize.

    I’m training my friend and her goal is to reach 160lbs. She started at 212lbs when we started 2 years ago and she got to 183lbs in a little over 3 months. We used to INSANITY for cardio and I’d make her lift moderate weight for 3 sets of 10-12, and she would eat a good amount of protein, vegetables, grains, and fruit daily. Us being college students and me being a student-athlete, I couldn’t really train her for a while and she lost motivation over time. Now that I have more free time I’m starting to get back into training her.

    Since last December she’s been varying from 204lbs-198lbs. Every week she’ll lose maybe a pound or 2 then gain it right back the next week. I talked to a trainer at our wellness and he said it’s probably because of her menstrual cycle, which she was on so I just went with that, but it still happens when she’s nowhere near her time of the month. She doesn’t eat bad that much, but I do believe she doesn’t eat as much as she should. I keep telling her to make a list of what she eats on a regular basis so we can go from there but she always forgets. What you think could be going on?

    Also, I made her do the 3-Day split workout that you made on this website and she’s been doing that since May. I was doing it with her but then my coach gave us our summer workout which is extremely ridiculous. I can post a picture of it if you want to see. We maxed out before and her Bench Press is 95lbs (which is lower than before. Her previous max was 110lbs), and her Squat max is 200lbs. I don’t believe that she’s hitting as much weight as she can when she works out, she progresses by 5lbs every week though. We’ll max out again to see if she’s gotten stronger at the end of this month.

    Sorry for the story and if this is too long, but now here are my questions. I bought Thinner Leaner Stronger, The Shredded Chef, and Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger. She doesn’t like most of the recipes in that book but I told her to stop being picky. I learned quite a bit and I like that info that I already knew was in here so that gave me a boost of confidence in my knowledge about this stuff since I want to be a personal trainer.

    1. The cutting diet and calorie calculations, When I did them the numbers just seem off. I don’t know if it’s because this was my first time doing it or if my calculations were wrong. Right now she’s 200lbs, 30% body fat (still don’t know if I measured that right) so for the amount of calories she burns a day, her LBM was (1-.30) * 200 and that equaled 63kg for her LBM. BMR = 370 + (21.6 * 63) = 1,730. Is that correct on how many calories she’s supposed to burn a daily with or without exercise?

    2. In the book it talked about multiplying your BMR times the amount of hours you exercise so I did 1,730 by 1.35 and got 2,335. Is that correct? Do I go by this for her daily calorie intake?

    3. For the cutting diet, you gave examples in the book but I’ve been trying to figure out how you got those specific calorie intake numbers. When I multiplied your examples by 5 I got a number close to the in the book so I’m assuming you based the calories off of 5 meals a day? When I calculated her cutting diet, .8 grams of protein by her weight = 160 grams, .6 of carbs by her weight = 120 grams, .3 of fats by her weight = 60 grams, added them all and multiplied by 5 gave me 1,700 calories. Is that correct? is that how many calories she can take in a day?

    4. Off-topic but I really can’t find answers to these online, but ever since I’ve been training her she’s been having friends wanting to workout but every single one was giving me rules like: “I don’t want to run”, “I don’t want to lift weights, but I want to do a boxing routine”, so then I ask them “in what universe do expect to lose weight then?”, they’ll get mad and don’t join, which gets to my friend because I know she really wants a gym partner. Should I give in to their demands or just leave them be?

    5. I have always believed that having a balanced relationship with the weight room and cardio is best for losing weight, and when my friend tells people what she does they look at her like she’s crazy and that they’ll never lift heavy weights. So my question is workouts like Zumba and other dance aerobics, people lose a good amount of weight from doing those classes, but is that not a good way to lose weight? I’m pretty sure it’s just the females around me but I’ve started to notice that females find lifting weights boring so they don’t do it, and they’ll go straight to a dance class.

    6. Is punishing her for missing workout or cardio days okay? She’s not really a busy person and she has plenty of time to get her workouts in before class and work. I ask this because she was eating a big bag of Skittles but didn’t get in any food that’s supposed to give her the nutrients she needs, which kind of got to me. So I made her bear crawl 8 times since it’s 8 letters in skittles and made her do different cardio exercises for 1:55 each since if you add each letter by the alphabet in seconds. She hasn’t touched sweets since then but she’s still missing days. skipped leg day last week to party I think. Was I going too far with it? Should I just not care when she shows she doesn’t care? I know these are probably opinionated but how would you handle that if this was your client?

    7. Last question, does she look like she has 30% body fat? By the pictures you posted she looks like the 27-29 range. Again, I know that this is long and if every question can’t be answered I at least want answers to my second paragraph, and questions 1-3.

    • Adam, this is better suited for email. Let’s talk there.
      mike at muscleforlife .com

  • C Rod

    Just wanted to say this is a fantastic article, with great explanation and realistic information. I’m skinny fat and am so frustrated with my slow body fat loss. This was a great way to see the science behind it and some starting points to get leaner. Also according to your pix on examples of body fat percentage, it really looks like the body comp scale at my gym is probably off. So again thanks for a great read. Greatly appreciated

  • Jacob Cody

    Hi Mike, great article! I’m 19 years old, around 205 lbs and I was just wondering if you could give your opinion on what my bf% is around. A year ago I was about 165 lbs and probably close to 8% bf (that was back when I ran 40-50 miles a week). Since then I have done workouts based largely around olympics lifts and increased a significant amount of strength (185lb bench to 245, 245 squat to 315, and 225 deadlift to 365). I’m debating between bulking for awhile longer or finally starting to cut down the weight again, and if I’d lose some strength if I did cut down. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ec69f0542650a53bf072c93a37b547d805e4dbd65ce6f31311bb5b1f5c0ede21.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/49752dc80bc7ab32708c66a97f95e11e015d8ac470f9943adf755786624b5716.jpg

  • Rowena

    Hi Mike.. Hope u can give me some clarifications.. Here is my current pic.. I only weigh 93 lbs, im 4ft 11 inch.. Whats my body fat% basing on this pic.? Should i still aim to lean out to help tone or decrease my fat stomach..??
    Or can i start bulking up to get muscles now..? I know when u start building muscle, theres always a fat gain too but i just dont want to increase my waist or gain more fat in my tummy area which is my main concern.
    Hoping for ur kind response

    • Hey Rowena!
      A little hard to tell from this photo, but looking in the low 20s. I recommend cutting more so that you trim stubborn fat from your midsection. That’ll put you in a great position to start bulking. As long as you follow protocol, you can keep fat gain to a minimum:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/bulking-up/

  • James

    When measuring waist, do you measure right at the navel? That is what I’ve been tracking for the last two years, but I have heard that you are supposed to do an inch above the navel instead. And I’ve seen both on this website…?

    • Yup, right at the navel. TBH, either way is fine to track progress as long as you’re consistent.

  • Jon

    Hey Mike,

    I’ve read some of your articles here and over at legion. I see that one can healthily and safely lose 1-3lbs (depending on composition) per week without compromising muscle. I take it that the majority, if not all of those 1-3lbs are fat lbs, correct?

    If so, I’m trying to figure out what that would translate in fat percentages per week/month. Not many talk about fat loss in percentages but the few articles I’ve come across mention that 1% of fat loss per month (yes, per month) is about right.

    If that’s the case, then someone needing to lose 10% of their total bf would need about 10 months to do so. Does that sound about right? Any thoughts on bf % loss per week/month?

    Thank you!

    • Hey Jon,

      Practically all of the 1-3lbs lost will be fat. If you’re eating enough protein, calories, and lifting heavy, you won’t lose muscle.

      The actual percentage depends on your body weight and how you’re training/cutting. Our clients can lose more than 1% a month. You can calculate your bf% loss/month based on your own stats and a rate of 1lbs/week lost.

  • Michael

    Hi Mike

    What are your thoughts on the fact that you can look so different, and especially body fat wise, from simply tensing for a photo, not to mention lighting and angles etc?

    Should all progress pics be tensed? Presumably they are all tensing in the guide photo in the article so you should do the same when making a comparison…?

    It’s clear that pretty much all the photos we see in the fitness industry are just not what the people actually look like. I’ve always thought it’s a real shame and a con that these photos involved unhealthy prepping, clever lighting/angles, tensing and having just got the pump on etc. Would be much more honest to take a normal photo and say this is what I look like normally…

    • Good questions!

      I’d say take progress pics flexed and unflexed. That will give you the most accurate picture of how your body is changing.

      And yes, pump, lighting, tanness, angles, and Photoshop make for some surprisingly good pictures, heh.

  • Taylor Kuzik

    I’m trying to reach that nice 8-10% BF range which is considered the beach body look. I don’t want to lose anymore body weight, just body fat. My waist is about 29-30″ based on the clothes I wear. Can fit into size 30 relaxed shorts, straight fit are too tight for me. Doing Athlean-X Inferno Size. I do have vascularity going on around the shoulders, arms, right pectoral (chest) and hip area. I do know that as your BF% decreases, you obtain vascularity. Does vascularity start appearing around 10-11%. I do make sure to eat plenty of protein, carbs and fats. To be honest, I can’t give up some of the guilty pleasure foods or drinks. It’s too hard.

  • Ronald Maghanoy

    is it possible to just use dumbbells and workout at home, and still gain good amount of muscles and lose that fat?

    • Working out with only dumbbells is a bit tough because you can’t squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press (and these are the most important exercises in any program, really).

      My first standard recommendation is to get a proper home setup (a power cage or multi-press rack with an Olympic bar and plates), or work out in a gym instead. Here are the products I like:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/recommendations/equipment/home-gym/

      That said, if neither are possible, you can focus on the dumbbell exercises given in the “approved exercises” section of the book. For instance, a chest day would look like this:

      Incline dumbbell press: warm up and 6 sets 4-6 reps
      Flat dumbbell press: 3-6 sets of 4-6 reps

      While that might seem redundant and inefficient, it’s actually a great chest workout. I did that for nearly 6 months a couple years ago and was amazed by the gains I was able to make.

      You can also add a couple exercises to make your legs day more challenging:

      Goblet squats are decent, albeit limited.

      One-legged squats are challenging even without weight.

      For your back, I recommend doing a lot of dumbbell rows and weighted wide-grip pull-ups.

      You also have the option of working in some modified body weight exercises, as discussed here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

      To lose fat, you need to be in a sufficient calorie deficit:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      I hope this helps and let me know what you think!

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