Setting realisitic goals/ women's BF levels

I’m about halfway through my diet cycle, and yesterday had my BF percentage measured hydrostatically. Taking a reasonable guess at my starting BF levels, I estimate I’ve gained about 7 pounds of LBM and lost about 42 pounds of fat. I’m certainly pleased.

Psychologically, though, I need to start setting some more specific goals. I’ve settled upon gaining another 9 pounds of LBM, and getting to 15% body fat. These are obviously open to revision, but I need something on which to focus.

So my questions are…
Is gaining another 9 pounds of LBM realistic for a woman with no particular propensity for mass? I’m already a little over 136 pounds LBM. How long can I count on “newbie gains?”

And while I have a good sense of what various BF levels look like on men, I’m less sure on women. Cass, Patricia–what are your levels? Someone like Madonna, or Britney Spears (I’m listing the first public midriffs that come to mind)–what are their levels?

Thanks for any input.


I have no input, just congratulations.


Excellent work gaining LBM and losing so much fat.

15% will look very good on most women. Especially when you have some LBM.
This all varies among personal preference of course.

I sure hope you’re the queen of understatement. That’s phenomenal! That would definitely be quite photo forum-worthy, if you were so inclined.

Good Job Lisa!!

You must be very pleased!

Wish I had an answer for you but am still figuring this all out for myself. Anxious to see what other replies you get.

Rock on to that goal!


Ahhhh, a bodyfat thread. (hehe) I’ll have to watch this one.

BTW, congratulations on some impressive results.

Congrats Lisa that is great! If you want 9lbs lean body mass+15% bf,then just make that your goal,and strive for it!! 15% on a woman will look great…and Jared is right i think it is time for you to post a picture…

I’ll take a shot at this one.

First, without knowing how tall you are, there’s no way to tell whether 136 pounds is good, bad or ugly. So how tall are you? And what’s your current bf%? :slight_smile:

Second, my very subjective, personal opinion on this one is that a BF% of around 18% or so makes most women look just great. Of course, it varies with the individual, but generally speaking, 15% would be what I’d try to get to for some types of female athletes, rather than a woman who just wants to “look good”. Given all the weight that you’ve lost (dang!), I’m assuming that you’re not an athlete per se. So maybe something a little higher than 15% might be in order.

Just my 2?.

Hey Ms. Simpson,

Congrationlations again on a wonderful job!

With regards to my bodyfat levels, just to appease a fellow t-friend, I’m sitting at about 10% bodyfat right not. I’m 5’4, 109lbs and I have small joints. So, you could say I’m a small girl with some muscle.

As you get leaner it’s going to get harder for you to put on more LBM, especially if you’re not consuming enough calories to support lean mass growth. You also may need to change your training style to meet these goals. Work with someone who can periodize your training and focus on any muscle imbalances you may have.

In my opinion, it’s easier to lose fat than it is to gain lean mass. But you seem to be on the right path.

As far as Britney Spears goes… I think Thunder should let us know what her bf level is. He has a really good eye for that.


Ignore my spelling… I typed that in a rush.

I think you’re much better off if you first focus on reaching one of your goals – either hitting your bodyfat goal or adding your nine pounds of muscle.

A lot of people theorize about gaining LBM and losing fat, but outside of beginners, those returning from a layoff, and those that are ‘enhanced’, it just doesn’t happen very often.

Simply losing fat without losing muscle is a hard thing to do; particularly the leaner you get. Nevermind actually gaining muscle at the same time.

Gaining muscle and losing fat have different requirements (hormones, nutrition, etc). Synthesizing new tissue requires energy and you have to get that from somewhere. Many will say that calories for muscle growth will come from the burning of fat, but it rarely happens this way, unless of course you’re ‘enhanced’.

I think you’ll reach your goals much faster if you focus 100% on one at a time.

Thank you so much for the replies and encouragement, everyone–it means a lot, as this is where I check in daily to keep my focus. Amazing how little support for this there is out there in the “real world.” Just yesterday one of my co-workers said she’d rather eat pretzels than protein when hungry because the protein had too many calories…sigh. I just kept eating my chicken breast.

As for the questions: I’m 5’8", and these BF levels are all hypothetical for me, as I’ve always been pudgy. My current BF level is 27.8%. When I get a goal number, it won’t be set in stone–if I’m happy at 20%, I may well stay there. I just need a focus. (That said, I wouldn’t mind looking like Cass, either!)

Vital beach question: At what point do women generally see abs?

I have taken your advice to heart on separating my goals, and just had a lenthy chat with my trainer. We’re going to continue correcting my imbalances, focusing on core work and working with the goal of fat loss. When I’m much closer to 20%, or wherever I look like it’s feasible, we’ll slowly up my calories and work for mass.

As for pictures: I promise, they’ll go up at 20% :slight_smile:

Many thanks again…


i’m not sure how much help i’ll be, becuase according to all my friends and everyone in the “real” world i’m skinny. but i didn’t use to feel skinny. i was a size 6-8, who knows what else i didn’t really measure. i just know i wasn’t as strong as I needed to be (volunteer firefighter) and some of my pants were tight. so, i started workign out (in march of this year) and now i’m a size 2-4 and i feel great. my body fat doesn’t seem to have changed much. i’m sure it has, but i still have the residual “woman” fat in the areas they test in, so i can’t really tell how much body fat i have. the skinfold test was 18% a couple months ago. but i do feel like my muscles are larger, and i know they are stronger now. i can’t see my abs, at least not the center ones. sometimes the side ones show :slight_smile:
send me a message if you have other questions. i’m 5’5" and 124lbs, 36-28-36. i feel like this is a personal ad or something LOL! let me know if i can help you. i wish i could gain that much LBM, i want to gain some. maybe you can help ME!

I’m going to agree with Thunder on this one. If I were advising you, I’d say lean out as much as you can first, then start a program for adding lean size.

Coming off contest-lean a couple of years ago, I tried to gain lean body mass without gaining any fat…and it just didn’t work. After about a year and a half, very little progress and stuck in a unbudging training plateau, I gave up and started concentrating on gaining size without worrying about a little additional fat. I basically added from 500 to 700 calories a day, still trying to keep the diet fairly clean. I gained about 10 lbs and went from 10% bf to 13%. I figure over the last 8 months I’ve added 6 lbs of LBM, but 4 lbs of fat. I always knew that in order to gain additional muscle you needed additional food, I just didn’t realize that the campaign for LBM was actually going to be more difficult for me than loosing fat (part of it was mindset). I happen to really like cardio and have had to cut down in order to get some additional muscle, but when/if I decide to loose some fat, I’ll pick up a couple additional cardio workouts a week, and decrease calories slowly until I find the correct combination for me.

At between 12 and 13% BF levels, I still have acceptable abs, but not the definition I used to. It’s actually OK, because basically I think I look better with more fat…my face looks fuller and younger, and I have a much less stringy look on the upperbody (when I’m lean I have a lot of veins showing). Best of all, I’m finally getting the kind of size I’ve been seeking on the thighs and my workout weights have really increased.

I hestiate to say it’s not possible to get lean and gain muscle at the same time; there’s always someone to prove me wrong. But, I think I learned from experience what everyone had been preaching to me for a long time…it’s about what you eat!!! as well as how you train.

how weird…i’m 5’8 and weigh around 160…i can almost totally see all abs except for the bottomish parts and wear around a size 6.
however…i have no clue what bf % is because i’m mostly fat around the hip area…
i would guess i’m around 20 - 21 % bf…but dunno. it is odd though, you just can’t really tell…i mean look at beyonce…you can totally see her abs but you can tell shes carrying a lot of fat in the bottom half, she looks great though…its hard to tell about abs on women since some tend to lean out through the middle first…
i have read though that they pop out around 15 - 18%

I have to say that I have never sat around to ruminate on what the BF% is of such female celebs as Madonna and Britney Spears. Why? They have absolutely nothing to do with my goals.

I would say to continually eat clean and train with intensity in the gym. Just remain physically active. It’s good to have goals, but don’t let the goals block out the greater picture.

You’ve done fantastic so far. Just keep up with what you’re doing.

As for losing BF and gaining LBM at the same time? IMO, it’s more optimal to gain LBM by eating enough and NOT dieting in any way to get lean at the same time. I probably really butchered that sentence; but you get the gist of my point.

However, back in late '97, I was a healthy 120lbs. Not incredibly lean, but not fat either. I began karate at that time. A short time later, kickboxing (not cardiokickoxing…the real stuff) and boxing as well. By April, I had broken through the 10%BF barrier and was a 8% (tested) and standing at a solid 128lbs. The only supps I had been taking were Vitamin C, B and multi vitamin/mineral and I was eating alot of food a day. I was training in karate/kickboxing/boxing 5-6 sessions a week and weight training only 2-3 days.

Maybe I’m a freak. I really don’t care. All I know is that if I can do it, anyone can.

If you can do it, no, that does not mean that anyone can. There are so many variables to this. I think I’ll start a post on this.

As an aside, I finally found my old stuff from school that talked about bodyfat. Essential fat (brain, spinal cord, etc) is considered to be 3% in males and around 9% in females. This is fat you can’t tap into. So, these are the baseline numbers for bodyfat in each gender. This isn’t to say anyone is lying about their bodyfat; just that the testing methods have inherent problems.

Thanks Seminole Chick, Rebecca, Luli, Patricia and Thunder–good stuff. Luli–you’re pretty much right where I’d like to be; thanks for listing your stats!

Thunder, that info on BF is very helpful. Do you think it would be fair to say that there’s a wider range of “looks” for women at a particular body fat percentage than there is for men?

I ask because in listing Britney Spears or Madonna it’s not that they figure into my goals per se, but to use them as a sort of measuring stick–like, that’s what X% looks like.

But if women are more variable then that, then 15% on Rebecca or Seminole Chick could look much different on them than on me? And do men see this same range of variation?

Ah, too much time thinking. Time to go to the gym. :slight_smile:


Seminole Chick: I’m probably not much help about gaining mass right now, as we’re working on a more Renegade-type program right now for fat loss: we have yet to do a more traditional mass program. I’m saving that for when I lean out more. So if you find stuff that’s working for you, I’d love to hear about it! Or perhaps we can go on a mass cycle together. :slight_smile:

“Congrationlations” lol!

As an addendum, the common essential fat figure in women is actually 9-12%. This is from 3% brain/spinal/etc (same as men) and anywhere from 6-9% sex-specific fat that women have. These figures are BEFORE subcutaneous fat is taken into consideration.

However, I would guess that fit/lean women would have less of the latter form of essential fat (ie. breast tissue) and therefor less total essential fat. However, it still wouldn’t approach that of a man at 3%. Even if we’re liberal and say only 4% sex-specific, that’s still 7% before subcutaneous fat is taken into consideration. A woman with 2-3% subcutaneous would look like Lenda Murray.

Lisa, I’d definitely say that different women can have different looks even at the same bodyfat percentage. While women generally have a certain type of fat distribution, it is still somewhat variable. 15% on one woman could look quite different than 15% on another based on regional fat storage.

I say shoot for a look and use your mirror. Who cares what your bodyfat percentage is. No one is going to ask, but they’ll see your kickin’ body and just know you’re in shape.