For most of us, when we walk into the gym, we have a specific goal in mind - a body type that we wish to resemble. It could have been a celebrity you saw in a magazine, an athlete that you saw competing in an international competition, or simply someone that you see in the gym each day, working hard on developing their own physique.

Most people, apart from those who are already competing in fitness, figure, or bodybuilding competitions, don't go in saying they want to be have 14.6% body fat. In fact, many don't even really know what 14.6% body fat would look like.

They may have a target weight in mind they'd like to reach, but it's really important that you realize that two people at 150 pounds can look entirely different. Using bodyweight as a measuring tool can provide you some reference, but it isn't the most ideal one to follow.

Knowing and understanding what different body fat percentages look like is going to help you better assess your progress. As you continually go about your cardio and weightlifting sessions, the goal is to either build muscle mass or drop fat mass (depending on your training method and calorie intake). It's not enough to see the scale move, you need to know which type of weight is being gained or lost.

The problem though is that many people don't have access to calipers—fancy equipment that will spit out your body fat percentage in a matter of minutes. By using pictures and descriptions though, you can place yourself fairly accurately with where you are now and where you would like to be.

Risky High Body Fat Category

When you're in the risky high body fat category (represented by over 30% body for males and over 40% body fat for females) you're going to see visible cellulite and excess fat all over the entire body. The body shape will look very round and often the body will bulge in certain places where the clothing is right around the skin. 

Before Their Transformations Tarek And Danielle Were At Unhealthy 36% And 45% Body Fat Respectively.

The Excess Fat Category

Those in the excess fat category have 21-30% body fat for males and 31-40% body fat for females and won't have quite the degree of excess weight as those in the risky category but will still look largely overweight. These people may carry a decent amount of muscle mass, but it is for the most part covered in a thick layer of body fat as well.

Before Their Transformations Mikael And Megan Were In Excess At 30% and 36% Body Fat Respectively.

The Moderately Lean Category

When you move into the moderately lean category (13-20% for males, 23-30% for females) you will start seeing some muscular shape and definition, but it will take on a softer appearance rather than being more solid. This is a healthy range to be in and you will help offset many diseases by staying within this range.

Before Their Transformations Gary And Frances Were Moderately Lean At 20% and 26% Body Fat Respectively.

The Lean Category

For those who want to take their body slightly further, you come to the lean category. This represents between 9-12% body fat for males or 19-22% body fat for females. At this point you will see clear muscle definition, often being able to clearly see where the muscle starts and ends.

There will be little fat to pinch on the body and it will be clearly obvious these individuals are exercising regularly and following a strict diet.

After Their Transformations Elwin And Michaella Were Both Lean At 10% and 20% Body Fat Respectively.

The Ultra Lean Category

Then you have the ultra lean category, represented by 5-8% body fat for males and 15-18% body fat for females. This is typically where fitness and bodybuilding competitors are coming in, so muscle definition will be at its highest.

Veins may start appearing at this stage and very little fat will be evident at all on the body. Note that females will not look as lean as males (as obvious by the difference in body fat percentages) but this is also because females will have more necessary body fat internally to help support their reproductive capabilities. It would be futile for a female to try and get to the same body fat level as a male as it is neither safe nor healthy.

After Their Transformations Anthony And Kailash Were Both Ultra Lean At 7% and 15% Body Fat Respectively.

Risky Stage

Finally there is the risky stage; less than 5% body fat for males and less than 15% body fat for females. At this point the individual is setting themselves up for a number of negative health consequences and could even risk death by staying at these extremely low levels for an extended period of time. In females, reproduction often ceases when body fat is at this level, setting you up for problems down the road.

 Before Their Transformations Mario And Julia Were At A Risky 5% and 1% Body Fat Respectively.


So keep these descriptions in your mind as you determine your health and fitness goals, comparing yourself to the ideal body image you're trying to obtain. It is possible for image variations at any given body fat percentage from person to person, so it will be best to use your own individual results while keeping general ranges in mind to give you something firm to work off of.

In the next segment of this article, we'll take a look at the workout programs recommended for each body fat category.

About the Author

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark is a freelance health and fitness writer located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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