What is the Ideal Body Fat to See Your Abs?

By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
www.BurnFatFitness.com

Measuring your body fat percentage is a valuable tool to chart your progress on your quest to get six pack abs. Hopefully most people realize by now that abdominal exercises don’t burn fat off your stomach. Abs are made in the kitchen, not just in the gym. No matter how much you work out, if you don’t eat right and achieve a calorie deficit, your abs will remain covered in a layer of adipose.

When the realization hits you that you must reduce your body fat percentage to see your abs, one of the biggest questions that pops into your mind is, “how low do I have to get my body fat percentage to see my abs?”  It’s a tough question and the answer may be different for men than women.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

First, get familiar with some benchmarks for body fat levels.

My Burn The Fat System has a body fat rating scale, which includes averages and my suggested optimal body fat percentages. This is my own chart, which I created with a combination of research literature and my own personal experience.

Burn The Fat Body fat rating scale:

WOMEN:

Competition Shape (“ripped”): 8-12%
Very Lean (excellent): < 15%
Lean (good): 16-20%
Satisfactory (fair): 21-25%
Improvement needed (poor): 26-30%
Major improvement needed (Very poor): 31-40%+

MEN:

Competition Shape (“ripped”): 3-6%
Very Lean (excellent): < 9%
Lean (good): 10-14%
Satisfactory (fair): 15-19%
Improvement needed (poor): 20-25%
Major improvement needed (Very poor): 26-30%+

Just a quick note: You’re not destined to get fatter as you get older, but in the general population (not fitness and bodybuilding folks), the average older person has more body fat.

What I did to accommodate this was to include a body fat range instead of one number, so younger people can use the low end of the range and older people can use the higher number.

Also, just so the average reader can keep things in perspective, single digit body fat for women and low single digits for men is far beyond lean – it’s RIPPED – and that’s usually solely the domain of competitive physique athletes.

Competition body fat levels were not meant to be maintained all year round. It’s not realistic and it may not be healthy, particularly for women.

For most women, 12% body fat or thereabouts is ripped, and for many, that’s contest ready (figure or fitness competition).

Just for comparison, I’ve done over 7,000 body fat tests during my career, and the lowest I have ever measured on a female was 8.9% (4-site skinfold method). She was a national-level figure competitor and she was shredded – full six pack of abs… “onion skin!”

However, I do know some women who get down to 11-13% body fat – by all standards extremely lean, complete with six pack abs – but oddly, they still had a few stubborn fat spots – usually the hips and lower body.

What about guys? Well, I know a guy who looks absolutely chiseled in his abs at 11% body fat, but other guys don’t look really cut in the abs until they get down to 6-8% body fat. Bodybuilders usually aren’t ready for competition until they get below 6%.

That’s the trouble with trying to pin down one specific body fat number as THE body fat level for seeing 6-pack abs (or being ripped and contest-ready): Everyone distributes their body fat differently and two people may look different at the same percentage.

The average guy or gal should probably aim for the “lean” category as a realistic year round goal, or if you’re really ambitious and dedicated, the “very lean category.”

You’ll probably have to hit the “very lean” category for six pack abs. However, the bottom line is that there’s no “perfect” body fat percentage where you’re assured of seeing your abs.

Besides, body fat is one of those numbers that gets fudged and exaggerated all the time. I hear reports of women with body fat between 4% and 8% and I usually dismiss it as error in measurement (or there’s some “assistance” involved).

Body fat testing, especially with skinfolds, is not an exact science. All body fat tests are estimations and there is always room for human error.

The low numbers are nice for bragging rights, but the judges don’t measure your body fat on stage. What counts is how you look and whether you’re happy with that (or whether the judges are happy with it, if you’re competing).

You can use my chart to help you set some initial goals, but for the most part, I recommend using body fat testing as a way of charting your progress over time to see if you’re improving rather than pursuing some holy grail number.

In my Burn The fat, Feed The Muscle program, you can learn more about how to measure your body fat – professionally or even by yourself in the privacy of your own home.

Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle explains why body mass index and height and weight charts are virtually worthless, and shows you how to track your body composition over time and “tweak” your nutrition and training according to your weekly results.

Get more details at: www.BurnFatFitness.com

Tom Venuto, author of
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle
www.BurnFatFitness.com

Founder & CEO of
Burn The Fat Inner Circle
www.BurnFatFitness.com/inner-circle

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a fat loss expert, lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, freelance writer, and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat-Burning Secrets of The World’s Best Bodybuilders & Fitness Models (e-book) which teaches you how to get lean without drugs or supplements using secrets of the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: www.BurnFatFitness.com or http://www.BurnFatFitness.com/inner-circle

 

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An Insanely Effective Type of Interval Training

By Tom Venuto
www.BurnFatFitness.com

High intensity interval training can be done in a variety of different ways. Here’s a wickedly-effective type of interval training: it requires no machines or fancy equipment, you can do it outside in the sunshine and fresh air, it develops killer conditioning, carves out legs like a sprinter, and burns calories at an accelerated rate…

In other articles about running/aerobics and high intensity interval training, as well as in my Fat loss books, I’ve written about how you can integrate both traditional steady state cardio as well as high intensity interval training into your training program for optimal body composition improvement, health and increased fitness – you don’t have to choose one form of cardio or the other. In fact, settling into dogmatic views about cardio will only limit you.

Traditional steady state cardio is pretty much self-explanatory and intuitive. But many people are still confused about the best way to do interval training.

An Insanely Effective Way To Do Interval Cardio

I’m not sure if there is a single best way to do intervals because there are so many choices and everyone is different in their goals, interests and personal preferences, so “best” is a relative thing. But let me give you one of my personal favorites that is breathtakingly effective:

Stair sprinting!

Your typical interval workout in the gym might be on a stationary cycle, treadmill or stairclimber with short 30-60 second bursts of high speed and/or resistance, followed by a 60-120 second period of low intensity recovery. That’s usually a 1:1 or 1:2 work to recovery interval. You then rinse and repeat for the desired number of intervals, usually between 6 and 12.

I sometimes have access to a great set of university stadium steps with a straight shot right up – 52 steps.

Sprinting it takes about 10 seconds or so, walking down about 30 seconds. Those are short intervals with a 1:3 work to recovery interval ratio. That wasn’t by design, it just happens to be how long it takes to run up and walk down that particular flight of stairs, but co-incidentally, that fits within common recommendations for short sprint-style intervals.

I make sure I’m warmed up first, I usually start with a couple flights up at a slow jog then a run, before sprinting, usually 10-12 rounds.

Even if you jog/run instead of sprint, (or pause briefly at the bottom of the stairs), when you do the math, you can figure that this usually doesn’t take more than 10-12 minutes.

Why do I like stadium step sprinting?

1. Stair sprinting is a time saver. Like other forms of interval training, it’s entirely possible to get as much if not more cardiovascular conditioning in 10-15 minutes than you’d get from a much longer session of slower cardio (depending on the intensity and effort levels).

2. Stair sprinting is engaging. Many people get bored doing long slow to medium intensity cardio sessions. This is a great way to break up the monotony of traditional cardio workouts. Even though it’s tough, it’s actually kind of fun.

3. Stair sprinting is incredible for leg development. As a bodybuilder, I like to look at all types of training not only in terms of conditioning, fat loss and health, but also whether they will add or detract from the physique. I find that brief but intense stair workouts are amazing for leg development – quads, hamstrings, glutes and even your calves. In fact, I started training on the stairs more than 20 years ago, and I always considered it as much if not more of a leg workout than anything else.

4. Stair sprinting can be done outside. If you have access to stadium steps, as opposed to just a stairwell, you can enjoy the sun and fresh air.

How to integrate stair running into your training program

If you’re an overachiever type, you might be tempted to do these sprint workouts in addition to your current strength training and cardio workload.

However, keep in mind that intensity and duration are inversely proportional. When you do high intensity cardio or all out sprints, you are condensing more work into less time. That means the best part is, you can do a brief but intense stair workout instead of one of your long cardio sessions rather than in addition to them.

Recommendation: Start with one session per week, then progress to two if you choose. You can do traditional cardio the other days of the week if you want or need additional calorie-burning. Lower intensity cardio in between weight training and interval workouts can also serve as active recovery.

Not everyone has access to a full flight of stadium steps, as you might find at a local University. Running flights of stairs in a high rise is another effective and no-cost way to train on stairs. Although you can’t truly sprint with twists and turns on each floor, you can jog/run.

No stairs? Hills will get the job done too and they may provide you with more flexibility in the length/duration of your intervals. I’ve found some big hills at just the right grade of incline that I can do 30-45 second runs up, with about 90-120 seconds walk down. Grassy hills are nice, when available, as they spare you some of the impact from running on the concrete.

Sprinting up stairs is not for everyone. If you have a history of health problems or orthopedic issues, check with your doctor before doing any kind of high intensity training and of course, don’t train through the pain of injury. If you are significantly overweight, it may be a challenge just to walk up stairs, let alone run up, not to mention it might create undue stress on your joints. But as you get lighter and fitter, it’s a challenge you might slowly work toward.

Be sure to build up gradually and adjust the workout based on your current health and fitness level. You could start with as few as 4-6 rounds and build up from there. You can also start with jogging up the stairs, then progress to running, then move to sprints. Be sure you are fully prepared and warmed up before attempting all out sprints as sprinting when unprepared is a notorious source of hamstring pulls.

Some coaches believe that running uphill is safer than sprinting flat surfaces. Writing for Staley Training.com, Coach Steven Morris says, “Another great reason to hill sprint: even an athlete with horrendous running form will be safe running hills. This is simply because the hill does NOT allow the athlete to over-stride nor does it allow them to reach top speed, both major factors in hamstring injuries.”

Stair sprinting is a perfect complement to the cardio portion in my Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle program. If you’re healthy and already fit, try this advanced interval workout and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Train hard and expect success!

Tom Venuto, author of
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle
www.BurnFatFitness.com

Founder & CEO of
Burn The Fat Inner Circle
http://www.BurnFatFitness.com/inner-circle

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism and burn stubborn body fat, find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat, plus get a free fat loss report and mini course by visiting Tom’s site at: www.BurnFatFitness.com

Everything You Need To Know About Loose Skin And Weight Loss

By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
www.burnfatfitness.com

I receive a lot of e-mail from people with loose skin or from overweight people who are concerned about having loose skin after they lose the weight. In fact, this is one of the biggest concerns and most frequently asked questions I receive from men and women who have a lot of weight to lose.

Just recently, I received this email from a reader of my syndicated “Ask Tom” fat loss column:

“Tom, I began a fat loss program using your Burn The Fat system and it worked so well I got down to 15 1/2 stones (from 19). However, this has caused me a problem: Excess abdominal skin. I didn’t crash lose this weight, it came off at the rate of about 2 lbs. per week just like you recommended. Now I’m unsure of whether to carry on, as my abdomen has quite a lot of excess skin – I feel like I’ve turned into a bloody Shar-Pei! Does everyone go through this? Will the skin tighten up? I was overweight for more than 12 years. Am I going to end up needing surgical skin removal? Can you offer me any advice? I’m a medical student in the UK and my colleagues seem determined to proffer surgery as the only option.”

There are 14 things you should know about loose skin after very large weight losses:

1. Skin is incredibly elastic. Your skin can stretch and expand or tighten and retract to a great degree. Look at what women go through during pregnancy. Some women do experience stretch marks after pregnancy, but obviously skin is remarkably elastic.

2. Elasticity of skin depends on both genetics and environment/lifestyle. Wrinkling and loss of elasticity is partly the consequence of aging (genetic factors) and also a result of environmental factors such as oxidative stress, excessive sun exposure, and nutritional deficiency. The environmental parts you can fix, the genetics and age part, you cannot. Advice: Get moving and change the things you have control over… Be realistic and don’t worry about those things you don’t have control over.

3. How much your skin returns to its former tautness depends partly on age. The older you get, the more an extremely large weight loss can leave loose skin that will not return to normal.

4. How long you carry extra weight may influence how much the skin will become taut after the weight loss: For example, compare a 9 month pregnancy with 9 years carrying 100 excess pounds.

5. How much weight was carried has a lot to do with how much the skin will resume a tight appearance. Your skin can only be stretched so much and be expected to “snap back” one hundred percent. With extreme obesity, the probability of there still being loose skin after weight loss is higher.

6. How fast the weight was gained also has a lot to do with how much the skin will resume a tight appearance. Your skin can only be stretched so quickly and be expected to “snap back.”

7. How fast weight is lost also has a lot to do with how much the skin will tighten up. Rapid weight loss doesn’t allow the skin time to slowly resume to normal. (This is yet another reason to lose fat slowly; 1-2 pounds per week, 3 pounds at the most if you have a lot of weight to lose, and even then, only if you are measuring body fat and you’re certain it’s fat you’re losing, not lean tissue).

8. There are exceptions to all of the above; For example, people who gained and then lost incredible amounts of weight quickly at age 50 or 60, and their skin returned 100% to normal.

9. Creams probably don’t work. There are many creams advertised as having the ability to restore the tightness of your skin. the late bodybuilding guru Dan duchaine used to recommend topical creams made with pycnogenol, which contain the antioxidant bioflavanoids called proanthocyanidins. But to the best of my knowledge, none of the topical creams are scientifically validated. I haven’t even heard much anecdotal evidence that they work — at least not permanently and measurably — and especially if you have a lot of loose skin. There are definitely some topicals that will pull water from under your skin, but remeber, that is temporary. Buyer should beware with topical products. (as an aside, Ive also heard anectodal reports that skin brushing was helpful, but again, I am not aware of any scientific evidence proving this is effective).

10. Nutrition has a lot to do with the health of your skin. Essential fatty acids in particular are very valuable for many reasons, and one of them is for the health of your skin. It would be worth taking an EFA supplement such as fish oil, flax oil or an oil blend like Udo’s choice. Antioxidants are also very important, so be sure to consume copious amounts of a variety of vegetables and fruits. Also pay very close attention to hydration. Drink approximately a gallon of water a day or a minimum of half your body weight in ounces. (By the way, whey protein is high in a powerful antioxidant called glutathione).

11. Exercise has a lot to do with how your skin appears after you lose body fat. If you use very low calorie diets, you are likely to lose lean body mass, and this is going to exacerbate the loose, hanging skin appearance. On the other hand, if you are exercising regularly and increasing lean body mass with weight training, you will be more likely to minimize the appearance of loose skin.

12. Get second opinions if you are considering surgery.If you’re considering surgical skin removal, consult a physician for advice because this is not a minor operation, but keep in mind that your plastic surgeon may be making his BMW payments with your abdominoplasty money. (Surgery might be recommended in situations where it’s not 100% necessary). Surgery should be left as the absolute final option in extreme cases.

13. Give your skin time. Your skin will definitely get tighter as your body fat gets lower. I’ve seen and heard of many cases where the skin gradually tightened up, at least partially, after a one or two year period where the weight loss was maintained and exercise continued.

14. Know your body fat percentage before even thinking about surgery. Loose skin is one thing, but still having a lot of body fat is another. Be honest with yourself and do that by taking your body fat measurement. This can be done with skinfold calipers or a variety of other devices (calipers might not be the best method if you have large folds of loose skin. Look into impedance analysis, underwater weighing, DEXA or Bod Pod).

Suppose for example, a man drops from 35% body fat all the way down to 20%. He should be congratulated, but I would tell him, “Don’t complain about loose skin yet, your body fat is still high. Press onward and keep getting leaner and be sure to focus on strength training to increase lean body mass as well.”

Average body fat for men is in the mid teens (16% or so). Average body fat for women is in the 20-25% range. Good body fat for men is 10-12%, and single digits is extremely lean. Men shouldn’t expect to look “ripped” with 100% tight skin on the abs unless they have single digit body fat. Women shouldn’t expect to have tight abdominal skin unless they are in the low to mid teens in body fat.

Except in extreme cases, you are actually unlikely to see someone with loose skin who has very low body fat and especially someone who has not just “lost weight” but has altered body composition by adding lean muscle as well. It’s quite remarkable how much your skin can tighten up once your body fat goes from “average” to “excellent” and even more so when lean body mass increase. Someone with legitimate single digit body fat and a ton of loose skin is a rare sight.

So the key to getting tighter skin is to improve your body composition (muscle to fat ratio), and lose more body fat, slowly and sensibly, up to the point where your body composition rating is BETTER than average (in the “good” to “great” category, not just “okay”). Only AFTER you reach your long term body fat percentage goal should you give thought to “excess skin removal.” At that point, admittedly, there are bound to be a few isolated cases where surgery is necessary if you can’t live with the amount of loose skin remaining.

However, unless you are really, really lean, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of what is loose skin, what is just remaining body fat and how much further the skin will tighten up when the rest of the fat is lost.

Need help getting rid of that last bit of body body fat? Click here to find out how to do it the natural way: www.burnfatfitness.com www.burnfatfitness.com

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer (CPT), certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS), and author of the #1 best-selling e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle.” Tom has written more than 200 articles and has been featured in print magazines such as IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise, as well as on hundreds of websites worldwide. For information on Tom’s Fat Loss program, visit: www.burnfatfitness.com