What’s the Ideal Body Fat Percentage for Abs?

Body fat factsIn fitness circles, people have daily conversations about how to reduce your body fat and get six-pack abs. But what about the average person? If you’re looking for information on how body fat and fat distribution affects how visible your ab muscles are, we’ve got you covered. But before we talk about specific…

Published Categorized as Six Pack Abs Exercises

Body fat facts

In fitness circles, people have daily conversations about how to reduce your body fat and get six-pack abs. But what about the average person? If you’re looking for information on how body fat and fat distribution affects how visible your ab muscles are, we’ve got you covered.

But before we talk about specific body fat percentages, it’s important to define body fat. According to Elliott Upton, a senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, body fat, or adipose tissue, is a normal part of every human body.

“Mostly it serves to store and provide energy for metabolic processes for everything from your heart beating to your legs sprinting,” he says.

Upton says there are several different types of fat, including brown fat, beige fat, white fat, visceral fat, and subcutaneous fat. The type of fat that sits on the surface of the body is subcutaneous fat; that’s the fat you see in the mirror.

Here, we go over the body fat percentages from the low to high end, indicating the level you need for visible abs.

5 to 9 percent

Having body fat levels at this end of the scale puts you in the genetic elite, or competition bodybuilder level, says Upton. “This is essential body fat only leaving enough for you to survive,” he explains.

Plus, he says that a body fat level of 5 percent is incredibly hard to get down to, incredibly challenging to deal with, and not at all good for the body. “Visually you would see not only every muscle in your body, but also likely individual muscle strands in certain parts,” he adds.

If you’re closer to 9 percent, you will still be lean and have a visible six-pack.

10 to 14 percent

This range of body fat is still lean, which means your abs will be visible. But it’s also considered healthier and easier to obtain than the 5 to 9 percent range.

Certified personal trainer Steve Washuta says 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 to 19 percent

While still considered healthy, it’s less likely that you will see much muscle definition in this range. In fact, Upton says it’s unlikely that you’d see ab definition in this percentage.

20 to 24 percent

When you hit 20 to 24 percent body fat, there’s a good chance you will be soft around the middle. This means your abs will not be visible. Upton calls this the higher end of “average” for males.

25 to 29 percent

In this range of body fat, you will not see your abs at all. For men, this level is considered obese. Upton says aesthetics shouldn’t be your main concern. Rather, you need to be focusing on making lifestyle choices that will help you get back to a healthy body fat range.

30 to 34 percent

When you reach this level of body fat, outside interventions may be necessary. This is not typically considered an acceptable or healthy body fat for a male, and you’re not going to be seeing any muscle definition on your body.

35 to 39 percent

This is a warning sign for health complications. Upton says a body fat in this range makes you a prime candidate for diabetes and puts you at an elevated risk for heart disease further down the line.

5 to 9 percent

This is a very low, likely dangerous, body fat range for a female. Upon says that 8 to 10 percent body fat is essential for life. Will your abs be visible? Yes, they will. However, managing this level of leanness may compromise your health.

10 to 14 percent

If you’re aiming for low levels of body fat, this is about as low as you would want to go. “This would result in an extremely athletic physique, with great muscle definition, and visible abs if genetic muscle belly thickness is there,” explains Upton.

15 to 19 percent

Females at this level typically have an athletic build, with great shape and very little body fat. Washuta says that definition along the lower abs starts to fade, but there is still distinct ab definition in the obliques. If this is the level you’re aiming for, you will need to adhere to a strict diet and exercise plan.

20 to 24 percent

This is considered to be a low to low-average level of body fat. Muscle definition at this stage won’t be perfect, explains Upton, but your natural curves will very much be a part of your body.

“Health issues shouldn’t be a concern to most women here, but general physical activity would be advised to keep inflammation and risk of disease low and the build-up of visceral fat at bay,” he adds.

25 to 29 percent

When you reach 25 percent, your body may start to have a softer look. According to Upton, you still have very little in the way of excess fat, but your definition may be minimal.

Upton says this is on the higher side of what is considered to be “average,” according to most medical standards, and although not bad, it may be cause for attention and adjusting your activity levels and educating yourself on proper nutrition.

30 to 34 percent

This range of body fat indicates that you’re heading toward obesity. You will have no visible abdominal muscles at this level, and you may not feel great.

35 to 39 percent

This is a red flag for weight loss intervention. Like men in this range, Upton says a body fat percentage of 35 or more makes you a prime candidate for diabetes, and you have an elevated risk for heart disease in the future.

There are several ways you can measure your body fat. The most common ways to measures body fat are:

  • Skinfold calipers. These tools measure the thickness of your fat on various areas of the body.
  • Body circumference measurements. This involves measuring the circumference of various body parts, including the waist, arms, and legs.
  • Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). This method uses two X-rays to estimate your body fat composition.
  • Hydrostatic weighing. This is a form of underwater weighing that measures body composition based on the density of your body.
  • Air displacement plethysmography (Bod Pod). Like the water version above, this method calculates body composition and density using air.
  • Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). This device sends electrical currents through your body to determine how much is fat and how much is muscle.
  • Bioimpedance spectroscopy (BIS). This device uses electrical currents also, but with different technology and equations to calculate body fat.
  • Electrical impedance myography (EIM). Similar to the BIA and BIS, this device also sends electrical currents through the body, but in smaller areas.
  • 3-D body scanners. These imaging devices use infrared sensors to generate a model of your body. An equation then estimates body fat percentage based on your shape.
  • Multi-compartment models. This method uses several of the above techniques to split the body into several parts to calculate the body fat percentage of each area.

Most of these methods require a trained fitness professional to take the measurements, but there are a few ways you can track your body fat at home. Body circumference measurements and bioelectrical impedance, which is available on certain scales, are both methods you can do on your own.

How different bodies look at different body fat percentages varies widely. But these ranges can serve as a general guide when trying to understand how certain levels of leanness look when it comes to muscle definition.


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