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Maintainable BF Levels


What bf levels are pro & amateur bodybuilders usually at on competition day?

And reasonably what are year-round maintainable bodyfat levels for individuals that wantto remain lean e.g. 5-10 % bf?


hard to say, they don't wear shoes on stage


1) usually under 5%

2) ~10% if you keep your diet in check.... Actually you can maintain any bodyfat % if your diet is dialed in.. But most likely you will have a slight fat gain... If you did GOOD for a whole year, expect a 4 or 5% rise in bodyfat. Totally worth it tho.


That may be an unknown because I don't know if DEXA has ever been done on pro or amateur bodybuilders on contest day. Other methods would not give reliable figures. A commonly stated value anyway is 3% for pros. That I expect may come from literature figures defining essential bodyfat as 3%, as opposed to actual measurement.

Skinfolds would typically be less than 3 mm.

The Jackson-Pollock 7-point method would figure a 25-year old with skinfolds averaging for example 2.5 mm to be 1.0% bodyfat. That of course would not be right.

Working it backwards, skinfolds would have to average 4.1 mm to match up with 3% bodyfat. Skinfolds being that large for competition is not correct either.

As for what bodyfat percentage is sensibly maintainable -- not requiring undue caloric restriction, not causing any problems of any kind -- that varies considerably according to the individual.


WOW!! very informative post sir!

When I was under 4% bf (calculation), my skinfolds were measuring 4,5,6mm and still I was not at bodybuilder bf%.


I seem to remember Thibs saying he maintains around 8% bodyfat year round.


I might get flamed for this, but does anyone even want to walk around at <5% bodyfat all year long? I much prefer a lean 10% look that isn't so dry and grainy. I like bodybuilding competitions to see what these guys can accomplish but I think they look better in the offseason.


Interesting topic. I'm constantly wavering between how high I should let my bf levels get while I rebound from a show. Of course I have no intention to do a full scale body fat % be damned bulk, but I also realize that I can't restrict my cals in an effort to stay lean if I want to actually gain back some lbm.

Most of the Natty pros I talk to don't get much more than 20/25 lbs above their contest weights, and even then, they look damn lean compared to most of the gym rats who proclaim their "10% body fat" to anyone who will listen (more often than not, they're a hell of a lot closer to 15 or even 20%).

I'm up to 187 lbs now (170 on contest day), and despite sometimes thinking I'm just starting to get soft, I can still see my serrati when I flex them (which I couldn't when I weighed the same but was dieting down for the show). So even though the numbers went up, I'm certain my bf% is a hell of a lot lower. Are visible striations truly evidence of a certain bodyfat level? I don't think so. There will always be individuals who have 'thin skin', or are just leaner in certain bodyparts. My gauge will always be the mirror.



THere's no way I would want to walk around in my contest condition year round. I was constantly hungry, moody, very irritable, and always felt weak. It was a great experience, but I agree with the lean 10% range. It's attainable, and most people are staggeringly impressed by it whereas 5% is regarded as 'just gross' -lol



I think a problem here is that numbers are being used, but either out of nowhere or from methods that aren't accurate.

For example I've been 5.5% by 4-point skinfold many times as ordinary walking around condition and was not anything like super-ripped. Only very moderately ripped. By my use of those words anyway.

But that 5.5% number is IMO bullshit. I expect if DEXA were done the number would be quite substantially higher. But very few people have DEXA done on themselves.

In terms of what skinfolds say, I maintain under 8% but the fact is that in the high 7's (indicated) I have considerable fat to lose, like 2" in the waist to be in what I consider okay condition fat-wise or three inches to be say at the Bowflex-ad level of waist sharpness, which of course is not extremely ripped. So do I believe the high-7% figures? Nope. I use the measurements as a consistent and quantitative means of tracking but I think the only thing they tell the truth of, is skinfold thickness!

Knowing those thicknesses helps track results, but converting it to a supposed bf percentage is kind of bullshit, IMO. But it's what people do, so if you can't beat the system, join it, albeit with expressed reservations. At least that is my approach in this particular matter. (Not that I join all systems that can't be beat in terms of changing people's minds.)

I think the numbers most people have in their minds have poor relationship to reality. This largely is from skinfold and underwater weighing methods having poor relationship with reality. For example, when I was at UF, the professor who did the most work in that area said she'd measured many UF track athletes and it was not unusual for hydrostatic weighing to yield negative bodyfat percentages in their cases. Myself, I then tested at 6% hydrostatically when skinfold put me at 8% and at that time, common opinion probably would have also, as did the professor's eyeball opinion.


I agree with you here Bill. One of the young guns at my gym came up to me and told me he was at 6% by skinfold measurement, but it was nothing really impressive in terms of "rippedness"

In the end, like Stu said, it really is all about the mirror.


There are at least a dozen women at my gym who do, but I'm in Manhattan, so they're probably actresses or models.


they don't count.


Aren't girls naturally at a bf level higher than guys because of their, uh, boobies?


Fake boobies?


Real and fake alike, I'm pretty sure neither are made of muscle.


It is HIGHLY unlikely any woman who is not some extreme bodybuilder type in contest condition is anywhere near a true 5% body fat percentage. Most of them are in contest shape before they hit 10%.

This is yet another reason why these numbers don't mean shit....because everyone has their own perception of what that "number" looks like.


Everything comes back to boobies.

and yes, if you look at any BF% chart you'll see that women have a higher % then men. Boobies it is!


I knew it!


Just for kicks, what percentage would you estimate this guy at?