Forget About Body Fat Percentage (Maybe)

In the fitness world there is an obsession with knowing one’s body fat percentage or BF %. Of course, knowing your numbers in any aspect of life is certainly better than blindly walking through the world with your head buried in the sand. However, I’m going to comment on what I believe is an unnecessary fixation on the BF% number. First, most of what follows will be a commentary on athletes. If you do not train in the gym towards a goal, then yes, you should probably take a keen interest in what your body fat percentage is. Moreover, if you are sedentary and do not exercise, or you do but still have a large amount of body fat around your midsection, it’s likely that you have an unhealthy amount of visceral fat around your organs, which is very dangerous. If you need a kick in the pants to get up off the couch and get moving, go test your BF % and work to decrease it. Good. I’m glad that’s out of the way. Now we can move on.

Also, there is value in knowing what your lean body mass is. If you are eating one gram of protein and carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight, you’re likely taking in too many calories. A better formula would be to eat based on what your lean body mass is (total weight minus body fat). So, if I weight 180 pounds, but my lean body mass is 165 pounds, I should be taking in nutrients based on 165 pounds. This is especially true if fat loss is your goal.

Okay, so you’ve gotten through the first part of this and you’re thinking, “Sean, I do train hard and I’m an athlete. Don’t I need to know my BF %?” My answer to that is no. Let me explain. As a trainer and health club owner, I see too many people become distracted by obtaining a lower BF % and I believe this is the wrong goal. For most cross fit athletes, MMA fighters and other professional sports, the amount of body fat one has is nearly irrelevant. What matters more is performance and the ability to produce on command. For this goal, you need to have a little body fat for the body to tap into for energy. If, on the other hand, an athlete becomes obsessed with some abstraction like BF%, his or her ability to perform will be hindered by an unneeded distraction about knowing a piece of information that will not help them.

It should also be noted that body types range widely from person to person. Some folks might walk around at 10% body fat and looked cut and jacked out of their mind simply because they hold fat in different places. I know guys with 15% body fat with incredible abs. The same goes for women. So, if your goal is purely aesthetic, and you train hard and are healthy, the mirror is a much better guide than a BF measurement. Again, some people are genetically predisposed to store more fat in their legs and glutes. Some people store it in their midsection. Where your body’s fat stores are has as much impact on how you look as your BF % does. Bottom line here, bodybuilders and physique competitors should let the mirror be their guide.

Another very important thing to remember about body fat testing is the inconsistency in which results occur. The method of testing–calipers, bioelectrical impedance, hydrostatic tanks–they all produce different results. Most bioelectrical impedance machines (the ones where you grab the metal parts and hold your arms out) are very unreliable and produce varying results hour to hour. This is especially true if you are well hydrated or have an increased intake in sodium. My wife and I competed in a bodybuilding and physique show and our coach, IFBB Pro Jon DeLaRosa (www.JonDelarosa.com), kept our sodium intake high throughout the entire contest prep. About three weeks into the prep, one of my employees at the gym wanted to test Holly’s body fat and the result from the machine was so ridiculous that it made me laugh. It didn’t make her laugh though. Despite having become significantly leaner, the machine had her at nearly 30 % body fat, reading as overweight/obese. I reassured her not to worry and explained how the reading was off. But, Holly was nearly de-railed by a piece of false information. She should have trusted the mirror and herself. Calipers and hydro tanks are more accurate, however, it’s worth repeating that your BF % may not have any relevance to you, depending on what your goals as an athlete are.

In closing, if you are an athlete, don’t focus on BF %. It’s a complete distraction to you and will hinder your ability to achieve your goals. If you are NOT an athlete and you know that you have a significant amount of fat to lose, or your gut is solid from too much visceral fat, then you should know your BF% number and work to decrease it via training hard and fueling your body with the proper nutrients based on your lean body mass, not your overall bodyweight. Again, the real takeaway here is that there is no cookie cutter approach or metric that can be applied to the whole population for anything in life. That includes ideal BF %, BMI, sodium intake, or anything else. Know thyself. Don’t be defined or distracted by a number!

In health,

Sean

10 Bests List (Fitness Edition)

Best Exercise for Quadricep Mass–Leg press. Many would say heavy squats, but I believe that the ability to change angles of your feet on the leg press allows for overall quad development and emphasis, rather than on the glutes. Those who I have seen that squat regularly appear to have overdeveloped glutes.

Best Fitness Accessory–VersaGrips. These grips are a great way to protect the hands and prevent calluses, but they are double as lifting straps that can help you use more weight than your normal grip would allow. They are very comfortable, can be used during the entire workout and help a great deal with back exercises. (Runner Up–Weight Lifting Belt)

Best Cardio Machine–Stepmill. Not only is the stepmill difficult, it can be used in a variety of ways to improve the calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Overall caloric expenditure on this machine is higher than most other pieces of cardio. (Runner Up–Jacobs Ladder)

Best Arm Mass Building Exercise– Close grip bench press/cheat curls with forced negatives. These two movements, one for tricep mass and one for bicep mass, respectively, will beef up your arms a great deal if performed correctly.

Best Abdominal Exercise–Hanging leg raise. Not only does this exercise give traction for the spine and stretch out the lower back, it also strengthens the entire core. This movement is also very applicable to sports. (Runner up–Planks)

Best Chest Exercise for Pectoral Development–Incline dumbbell press. Some would argue the incline barbell press is better for building strength and power. I agree. However, dumbbells can be used in a variety of ways and angles that allow for more pectoral activation and emphasis and less shoulder recruitment. The amount of gym-goers who have undergone shoulder surgery from barbell presses is endless. Keep that in mind. (Runner Up–Cable flyes)

Best Post-Workout Supplement–Whey protein isolate. Loaded with L-leucine and other essential amino acids, this supplement digests quickly and also has an effect on spiking insulin post workout, which aids massively in repairing muscle tissue. (Runner Up–Fermented Branch Chain Amino Acids, BCAA)

Best Pre-Workout Supplement–Caffeine with Creatine. One stimulates the central nervous system and allows for increases in endurance and strength. The other allows for extra water to enter muscle cells, resulting in increased endurance and causes an increase in protein synthesis, meaning your muscles grow.

Best Back Exercise—Pull-ups. Not only are they one of the hardest exercises, they also are one of the most applicable to sports and real life situations. If you only did pull-ups for back work, you could still achieve an impressive back.

Best Butt Exercise–Reverse hack squats. Doing squats on the hack squat (facing the pads) allows your body to drop back and keep the tension on the glutes as if you were sitting down in a chair. I like the hack squat because I find it to be somewhat more accessible for people than barbell squats. Also, it’s much easier to do partial reps on this machine and absolutely tear up your buns. (Runner Up–Deep barbell back squats)

 

BonusBest Time to Workout for Muscle Gains–Afternoon between 3-6pm (if you wake up around 6-9 am). The afternoon is when your core temperature is the highest and it’s likely your strength will be as well. (Runner up–first thing in the morning fasted-great for fast loss and boosting natural growth hormone)