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how to measure body fat percentageTrying to convince a woman not to obsess over the number on the scale is like pulling teeth.  Thanks to the media, it’s far too ingrained in our psyches.  It’s the way we’ve been taught to judge ourselves, our figures and progress in our weight loss efforts.  Even BMI measurement, the medical hallmark for whether we’re overweight or not, is based on weight.

We women tend use this number on the scale to doubt ourselves and our progress.  And when we don’t like the number we see, it’s often enough to make us feel depressed and demotivated…and it can even cause us to pick ourselves apart.

The truth is scale weight is totally flawed when it comes to judging fitness and progress!  It can’t tell you anything about how much of your weight is muscle vs. body fat or even water.  Worse yet, our scale weight changes on a daily and even hourly basis based on what we’ve eaten or drank (or as we all have experienced, the time of the month!)

At Athlean-XX for Women, we actually advocate AGAINST using the scale to judge progress because there are far better ways to do so, including body circumference measurements (that’s why we include that handy tape measure with our program), strength challenges and how your clothes are fitting. But for those of us following a strength training program to build some lean, sexy muscle, there is one more measurement that we can use to see progress in FAT LOSS (not weight loss)….body fat percentage.


How Can You “Measure” Body Fat Percentage?

There are a bunch of ways to measure body fat percentage…but some of them are pretty expensive and most of them inaccurate.  In fact, using several different methods, you may find that your body fat is different each time, as Athlean-XX for Women creator Jeff Cavaliere shows in this video he did for the guys on Athlean-X.

That’s why we’ve put together this series of images to show what different body fat percentages look like. You can use these photos to gauge where you’re at now, and create a goal for yourself to work toward.

It’s important to keep in mind that not every woman stores fat the same way (or in the same places!), so two bodies with the exact same body fat percentage could look pretty different. Fat distribution in women also changes as we age.  Finally, if you’ve ever heard guys talking about sub 7% body fat, remember that women naturally have and need more fat on their bodies than men.  For example the equivalent of a 6 – 7% body fat level in men is 15 – 17% in women.  If you’re interested in seeing men’s body fat percentage photos, you can check out that article in the link I just highlighted.

women body fat percentage

Body Fat Percentage: 10 – 12%

This body fat percentage in women is extremely low and is one that’s often sought by female bodybuilders for competition.  This is so hard to maintain that most female bodybuilders will actually have a higher level of body fat outside of competition season.  At this very low body fat level, women can begin to experience amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods). This body fat level is very difficult to attain and sustain and may be unhealthy, so this isn’t a recommended target range for most women.

At this body fat level not only can you see the separation of the individual muscles, but you can also clearly see the striations in the muscles and vascularity (veins sticking out).


Body Fat Percentage: 15 – 17% ATHLEAN RANGE

The 15 – 17% body fat range is a little more than a female bodybuilder has during competition season, and is more accessible for women who are extremely committed to nutrition and fitness. But it’s important to recognize that to attain and maintain this body fat percentage, it’s going to require incredible dedication and consistency to the right nutrition and fitness program and LOTS of HARD WORK!

In this body fat range, a women will have a visible six pack is visible and you can still see some muscle striations and veins, but less.  The 15 – 17% body fat range is achieved by many female fitness models in preparation for photo shoots.  At this range, hips, buttocks and thighs will look muscular and not as round.  Some women still do experience lack of menstrual periods in this range.


Body Fat Percentage: 18 – 20% ATHLEAN RANGE

The 18 – 20% body fat range is a more reasonable target range for women who are after that ‘athletic’ look because it’s easier to maintain than the higher levels.  This body fat range is the one that’s most associated with a killer bikini body! At 18 – 20%, you can still see strong ab muscles, but the six pack may not be as defined.  While there’s a small amount fat on the hips, thighs and bum it’s not very noticeable.  Many women reaching for higher levels of fitness prefer this look since it retains some curves.


Body Fat Percentage: 21 – 23%

This body fat range is generally considered ‘fit’ and many female athletes and most fit celebrities fall into this range.  At 21 – 23% body fat, you may see a small amount of ab definition, but definitely no six pack.  There will be slightly more curves in the legs and buttocks at this range than in the 18 – 20% range.


Body Fat Percentage: 24 – 26%

This body fat percentage is considered the low range of average for women in many body fat charts.  At this level a woman is generally considered to look slim, but not too skinny.  Curves in the hips, thighs and buttocks will be apparent at this range.


Body Fat Percentage: 27 – 29%

At this body fat range, fat begins to accumulate in the breasts, stomach, legs and bum.  If a woman has been exercising, you may be able to see some muscle definition in some areas, but you may also be able to pinch some fat in the abdominal area.


Body Fat Percentage: 30 – 35%

At the 30 – 35% the stomach, breasts, hips, thighs and butt will be rounder and curves will be more pronounced.  You will probably not see much muscle definition at this range.  This is considered the high range of average for women in many body fat charts.


Body Fat Percentage: 36 – 40%

At this range, the hips begin to become wider and the face and neck will become rounder.  At this range hip circumference is generally greater than 40 inches and waist is generally more than 32 inches.


Body Fat Percentage: 50 + %

The 50+ range is considered to be morbidly obese on most body weight charts.


Remember, it’s important to keep in mind that body fat percentages can look really different on different women – depending on height, age or the way fat is genetically distributed in your body.  But body fat percentage is a much more accurate way to gauge progress than the scale, because it takes into account any muscle you may be adding to your frame during your workouts.

Instead of shooting for a goal weight, try shooting for a goal body fat percentage.  Toss out the scale and use a tape measure (or your favorite pair of jeans) to judge month by month progress.  Not paying too much attention to the scale will help you stay motivated and keep spirits high as you progress toward your body makeover!

If you’re looking for the right fitness and nutrition program to get you into that leaner body fat range, check us out at Athlean-XX for Women.  Our nutrition plan is specifically designed to work with a woman’s metabolism, to give it a boost and keep it burning strong all day long.  Our fitness program will help you build sexy, lean muscle in just 30 minutes a day without overtraining or long drawn out cardio sessions.  You’ll be amazed to see what a healthy non-restrictive diet and 30 minute workouts can do for you in just 90 short days!

Come on over…join us on Team Athlean!