Last week we dug into understanding more about your weight. We learned that without the context body fat percentage provides, it’s very difficult to understand what your weight means when you stand on a scale and whether or not you should consider making changes to improve your body composition. This week will discuss the second reason it is important to know what your body fat percentage is.
#2 Helps You Decide on Your Fitness Goal
Understanding your body fat percentage helps you decide which of the two goals that reflect healthy body composition changes – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should be working on.
It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.
For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy
These ranges may vary depending on who your source is. The American College of Sports Medicine has ranges that may differ from the Mayo Clinic (more on that later in the next section)
Knowing where your body fat percentage falls in these ranges can be very helpful for you to decide how to improve your overall composition.
For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.
Now, while strength training can be healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on bulking up and developing huge muscles may not be the best method for improving the body composition of someone who is overweight. That’s because the diet that encourages muscle mass growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).
This person would benefit from a more conventional weight loss strategy. While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type, results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.
For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.
Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on strength training to build muscle, not losing fat.
The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle. While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat mass they carry.