…So said Arnold Schwarzenegger, the most famous bodybuilder of all time. But what exactly do different body fat percentages look like? After reading this post, you can strike down those foolish enough to proclaim their ripped 5% body fat.
This article is meant to provide you with accurate, clinically-verified body fat percentage pictures in men and women.
There are many different body fat measurement methods.
In order to standardize this article, I only used DEXA pictures — pictures where the subject was verified to have had a DEXA scan done. Since starting my PhD, I’ve read around fifty lab studies comparing body fat measurement techniques, and decided that using DEXA-verified pictures only would make for the most reliable visual guide.
If you don’t agree with these measurements, get mad at the DEXA machine, not at me. If you want an example of how inaccurate other methods can be, check out this picture of Paleo guru Mark Sisson, who was measured at 16.9% bodyfat by hydrostatic weighing. I’ll update this post every month with new pictures — follow my RSS, facebook, or twitter to get the updates.
37.1% body fat
This guy looks quite a bit chubbier than average. But 37.1% body fat?!? Yeah, crazy. At this level of bodyfat, looks arguably take second place to health concerns. Fat loss efforts at this high bodyfat level will initially lead to reduced visceral fat (around the organs) and a healthier body. The next few pictures below him are of men and women with clinically verified body fat levels ranging from 20-30% down to sub-10%.
25.5% body fat
This guy kinda looks like a football player, maybe a linebacker. Not fat, not ripped. But still, his body is one quarter fat. Yet again, extremely easy to underestimate bodyfat just by eyeballing.
22.2% body fat
You would never guess that this guy is above 20% bodyfat. That’s probably why he looks so sad.
19.4% body fat
This woman’s picture should be enough to show you that women have much higher essential bodyfat levels then men.
17.5%, 21% body fat
This guy went from 21% body fat (on the right) to 17.5% body fat (on the left). It looks like he lost some chub in his gut. But other than that, it’s a pretty subtle difference. My theory is that the bodyfat differences look more apparent the lower you go. Going from 21% to 17.5% won’t seem as dramatic as going from 12.5% to 9%, which will gain you all kinds of abs and muscle striations.
17.5%, 14.8% body fat
This one is a real headscratcher. Bodybuilders use all kinds of terminology to indicate low body fat at different levels. Ripped, cut, sliced, shredded, julienned. (I just made that last one up). But I would definitely say the picture on the right shows a guy who is fairly ripped. Except he’s at 14.8% body fat! Lesson: the mirror is worth 1000x more than what a machine can tell you about your body.
13.7% body fat
Check out this older dude. He lost a bunch of weight, and kept right on going straight to a legit six pack. Very cool. If you browse his website, you’ll see that he got down to 10% or under. Also take note: vascularity (having visible veins) is correlated with low body fat, but not totally. You can have a six pack and no veins, or have a gut and lots of veins. The latter happens in those who perform manual labor quite often.
12.5% body fat
Even though I spent most of my twenties trying to attain the bodybuilder physique, I was still aware of how weird it was to get a tan (no matter how dark you are naturally!), shave your body, oil yourself up, and pose on brightly lit stages in skimpy undies. But don’t judge this dude, it’s just part of the (very strange) game.
9.6% body fat
This is what I call the “Fight Club” physique. Nothing crazy, just lean and healthy. The thread that this guy started shows that he got here from 16.4% body fat. Not bad! If you need some inspiration, here you go. Hard work pays off.
7.0% body fat
Does this guy look very different than those in the previous tab? No. But his body fat is way lower. Go figure. I’m guessing he has less fat in his legs, but that’s just a guess.
6.4% body fat
This guy is preparing for a bodybuilding contest. Natural bodybuilding contests feature guys who look like this, not guys who are 300 pounds of muscle, which is only possible with the finest anabolic steroids available. Having gone to regular gyms, bodybuilding gyms, and powerlifting gyms, I’ve noticed something: Only in bodybuilding gyms do you get guys making bedroom eyes to the bathroom mirror.
So…have you had your body fat measured? Any surprises? If you’ve had a DEXA scan, send me a message to be included in the next update. Remember, you don’t need to be neurotic to achieve low body fat levels…you just have to be very very consistent. Or be willing to bend the truth.