Body Fat Percentages: What do they mean and is it important?

What does my Body fat percentage tell me? Should I take it for my client?


When a client tells you’re his/her goal is to track progress I believe in having as many baseline tests as possible. Assessments, BF%, weight, etc. This allows you to stay positive when a certain number of tests do not show progression there will be a higher chance a few will which in turn keeps a positive attitude toward continuing health and wellness related tasks with their trainer…you.

When first starting to train with clients they may ask you to take their body fat measurement. There are a handful of ways to do this but for the sake of time and likelihood of your equipment I will assume you are using a bioelectrical impedance machine.

The more variables your machine uses the more accurate it can be. In addition, understanding that it’s not about the initial accuracy as much as it is the differences up or down upon the next measurements. Even if the machine is off, let us say at 1.5 %, you can still measure your client’s progress from their initial measurement as the machine will be consistently off that same 1/5%.

Understanding body fat percentages

If I were to take two adult twins (male, female) who looked very similar physique wise, the difference in body fat % would be in the region of 6% -10%. So, a male with a great physique and very noticeable abdominal musculature at 8%, could look similar to a female at %14-%18. 


5-9% - This is the range of an athlete, fitness freak, or teenage male. At this BF% you can see abdominal musculature definition and the person would typically be visually more vascular throughout the entire body. However, someone with 4-6% is visually much different than someone with 9%.

10-14% - When a male breaks 14% body fat, upper abdominal definition and some external obliques can still be seen, but the definition is minimal and the lower half of the abdominals are typically not defined.

15-19% There is still faint definition here in certain men, but typically a smoother more filled out look with noticeable fat accumulation. Your average runner will have this body fat percentage often.

20-24% - Definition has now ceased. You are not meeting any criteria for health concerns, but this body type would no longer be considered athletic.

25-29% After 26% BF in Men, you can be considered Obese (32% for Women). Typically you have a "gut", and fat pockets start to hang over your hips.

30-34% - This is full blown obesity. Typically no muscle definition anywhere, and well overweight.
35-39% - At this point, your gate is abnormal from holding the excessive weight and your health is of concern.  


5-9% - Ripped. This is female elite body building level. Extremely vascular and complete abdominal definition.

10-14% - Very good definition. Something along the lines you would see from a model on the cover of Shape magazine. 

15-19% - Athletic build, with great shape and very little body fat. Definition along the lower abs starts to fade, but still distinct ab definition in the obliques. 

 20-24% -  Athletic build, with great shape and very little body fat. Abdominal muscles showing, and somewhat defined but obliques and hips typically not.

25-29%-  Very little in the way of excess fat, but a softer look with minimal definition ranging on the upper part of the abs. 

30-34% - Still in good shape, typically with curves, and muscle definition starts to fade although the stomach will typically still be flat at these percentages. 

35-39% - No real definition and noticeable fat deposits around the stomach, however not noticeable when lying down.

40- 45% - Considered visually out of shape, and excess stomach fat even while lying down.