Ask The Trainer #86 – Body Fat Testing Methods


I was wondering if you could give me some advice about body fat testing? I’ve been working on leaning out this summer and my abs are finally showing! I would like to take a shot at doing some fitness modeling if I can get in good enough shape. I want to get down to about 7 or 8% body fat by the end of the summer. What method of body fat testing do you suggest I use to measure my progress as I work towards my goal? I was considering buying one of those scales that test your body fat, but I’m not sure how good they are?



Hi, Tim. I’ve got to be honest, unless you’re looking for an intangible number just to for the sake of bragging rights, I personally think body fat testing a waste of time and money.

First of all, there isn’t a method of body fat testing that is 100% accurate. The only possible way to measure your body fat with flawless precision would be to strip off all of your fat, and then weigh it! I’m sure you don’t want to know THAT BAD!

All of the existing methods of body fat testing are nothing more than estimates that may or may not be in the ball park of what your true body fat percentage really is. This includes calipers, electrical impedance devices, hydrostatic weighing, or even those Bod Pods.

At the end of the day, your numerical body fat percentage is inconsequential. What should be important to you is the appearance of your physique. Most of us measure the conditioning of our bodies by equating them with terms that range from shredded to morbidly obese.

In the middle of the spectrum you, have the terms that range from: ripped— lean— fit—average— chunky— to obese. Overall, the best way to ascertain your body fat percentage is by simply paying close attention to how your body looks in the mirror and in pictures.

As a general rule of thumb, mid-to-high single digit body fat percentages, like where you want to be, would be considered ELITE conditioning. This is the type of physique you see on the front cover of a fitness magazine.

Chad Shaw

When your body fat percentage is this low, your abdominals will appear rock hard and deeply etched. Your obliques and serratus will be extremely sharp and chiseled. You’ll also notice impressive muscle separation throughout your arms, legs, and shoulders.

Your pecs will be solid and appear striated when you flex them. Your lower back will display a ‘Christmas tree’ shape when you flex your back muscles. And when you pump up, you will likely have very prominent veins popping out of your forearms, biceps, and maybe even your shoulders, chest, calves, or quads. This is the point where you’ll want to compete in a physique competition or book a professional physique photo shoot to get some killer photos to add to your portfolio!

Between 10-12 percent body fat, you will have some obvious abdominal muscle definition. You won’t have deeply etched, granite-like abs with vividly chiseled obliques and serratus muscles. But, you will likely have a 4 or 6 pack.

You will display some muscle separation in your arms, shoulders, and legs, but that separation will be a little on the blurry side. It won’t really give your physique that WOW factor. You might see some mild striations in your pecs when you flex them, but they won’t appear striated. When you flex your back, you will have the beginning formation of the Christmas tree in your low back.

Also, when you get a pump you will notice some vascularity in your arms, and maybe even in your shoulders or chest. It’s doubtful you will see too many veins popping out of your legs unless it’s in your calf muscles; unless you just happen to just be a genetically vascular individual.  This is the point where you don’t feel too self-conscious about taking your shirt off at the beach, but you’re not quite ready to hop up on stage or book a photo shoot quite yet.

To sum things up, the best way to realize your ideal body conditioning is to cultivate a very vivid picture in your mind of what you want your body to look like. Look through bodybuilding or fitness magazines, and find an image that best represents the conditioning you desire.

Most of all, be realistic. Don’t choose a picture of Mr. Olympia. Think more along the lines of fitness star Greg Plitt. Continue to work hard, tweaking your training regimen and diet as needed to propel you closer to your goal. Measure your progress simply by looking in the mirror and making note of improvements in detail as you see it.

Taking weekly progress photos can also be very helpful. Just be sure to take them in the same place and lighting so your progress photos are consistent.

As long as your training and diet are on point, you should definitely hit your goal!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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