According the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) they have come up with a very simple body fat percentage chart that outlines from the essential body fat needed to survive to what is classified as obese. You should be able to use this body fat percentage chart to find your ideal body fat percentage based on your gender and age.
Note: You may have heard terms like the following: Lean, ripped, shredded, contest shape, competition shape. If so, those terms generally refer to the category listed above as underfat. For example, if you are a male, who’s 25 years old, with significant muscle mass at 6%… not only are you lean, you are probably ripped, shredded and huge and possibly standing on stage in contest shape.
Body Fat Tips:
In the past few years, I’ve received many questions (mostly from males) asking if they should bulk or cut first. I use this chart as a reference in conjuction with their overall goals. I prefer to use my current body fat as a health gauge vs. my height vs. weight. If you are a tall skinny person with a rather unusual higher than normal percentage of body fat, you’d be very unwise to start bulking up and adding more body fat without first knowing the reasons why you might be in your particular situation. Using body fat as a measurement vs. other visual aids is more accurate, safer and will help monitor your overall muscle gains or fat loss.
* If you are a male or a female who’s looking to step on stage or just wants to look good for summer, then take a quick body fat percentage check. Using that, you can then determine your best option if it’s to cut or bulk.
* If you are at the top end of healthy or considered to be obese by body fat percentage standards, focus on burning the fat. Your goal should be to get healthy first and then adjust as necessary. If you are already at the top end of healthy and you want to “bulk up,” you’ll get stronger but you probably will add more fat to your body composition making you more at risk.
* Take a body fat measurement weekly or monthly to get a continual status update of your progress. When you start a new program you should take a new measurement for a baseline.
* Don’t let a body fat measurement control your life! It’s just one of many indicators of progress and/or health. A body fat caliper can be quite accurate with practice but seek medical advice in conjunction with your own findings.
What do you recommend as the best body fat percentage measure? I know that the water displacement ones are supposed to be the most accurate but that isn't very practical to do weekly or monthly. Are there any accurate at-home ones?
@Amy - I recommend just an Accu-Measure body fat caliper. Cheap, easy to use, and comes with instructions. Beats out those high tech gadgets every single time. You can do a 1 site pinch test to a 7 site pinch test.
The Hydrostatic testing method is indeed the gold standard of body composition. But it's not a weekly deal. The above option can be done weekly and with practice, you can get quite good at it. Plus if it's off by a bit +/-2%, chances are it will be higher than you actually are!
If you do the 1-site test which most people tend to do.
The Accu-Measure is a very good accurate at-home option and is very affordable. Of course, you can find those calipers in a wide range and some very professional that will break the bank!
They do come with easy to follow instructions AND a chart to show your body composition.
Take it with a grain of salt until you get really good at it and maybe take some multi-site measurements.