Let’s talk about body fat

There has been some discussion about body fat in relation to my post on fake male 10s on Tinder. Of course, in general, lower body fat will lead to better results with the ladies. That being said, I see three problems with guys discussing body fat percentages online:

1) Mental masturbation

What do I mean by that? Put simply, if you don’t fit on a single seat in a bus and go online to argue about optimum body fat percentage for men, you need to get your priorities straight. This is not unrelated to virgins discussing how to pick up women.

2) Obsession

Just as there are guys out there who are fat and love to speculate how great their life would be if their belly fat turned into a nice six-pack over night, there are guys who are in great shape and don’t seem to know when to stop. The best analogy may be anorectic girls. They start out wanting to be slim, but end up with serious health issues. If you work out, you probably have met guys with serious vanity issues. The problem is not that it’s bad to look great. Quite the contrary. However, diminishing returns are real. If you spend two hours in the gym six days a week — I met such a guy just recently — then maybe you’re not using your time in the smartest way possible.

Of course, if you are a professional body builder or a fitness model, then just keep doing what you are doing. But if you are Joe Regular with a workout fetish, then keep in mind that you can get largely identical results with less effort.

3) Ignoring the bigger issue: muscles

Frankly, low body fat itself doesn’t say much. It’s about how muscular you are, and how visible your muscles are. If you are slender, with 8% body fat and atrophied muscles, and arms like a girl, you’ll most certainly do a lot worse than someone else with a decent physique and 15% body fat.

In general, I don’t think low body fat percentages are such a big deal anyway. Cashing in on 8% vs 15% of body fat is only possible if you are in an environment where you can actually show off your body, for instance if you go to clubs or raves where plenty of guys dance half-naked and you are able to quickly establish that your physique is in the top 2%. This can get you attention fast. On the other hand, if this is not the case, then I am tempted to say that you’ll be just as well off with 20%, in most cases. The reason is that once your shirt goes off, in the bedroom, it’s a done deal anyway. For one-night stands, a great physique is a big plus. For relationships, it is an advantage, but a few percent more body fat than you’d like to have are not a deal breaker. In fact, in an environment in which you have to be fully clothed, you may have a much more commanding presence with 20% body fat than with 8%.

12 thoughts on “Let’s talk about body fat

  1. That’s a good summary. Or to put it another way

    Don’t allow goal hijacking

    Most guys go into the gym having good realistic goals. “I just want to put on decent muscle to look fit.” But then you start reading magazines or websites (looking for a workout) and are implanted with ever more additional goals.

    All of a sudden your initial (very smart) goals are not good enough. Now you have to have x pounds on the bench, you have to have xyz inches on abc muscle, and you must find the optimal exercise for the deltois.

    This is where people start losing out on the diminishing returns thing.

    Achieving 90/10 with your muscle mass (as related to getting laid more) is actually quite simple

    You just need to consistently go to the gym 3 times a week, 45 minute… Lifting more each time. Any popular workout plan is good. (not ideal, not perfect, good enough).

    – Be consistent for 1 year and you’ll achieve 80/20
    – Be consistent for 3 years and you’ll achieve 90/10

    After 3-4 years you’re entering diminishing returns land (when I say 3 years I’m assuming consistency and not fucking around).

    Body Fat is even simpler, just get to 15%, no need to complicate it further

    — You’re surpassing 90/10 after 15% bodyfat… deep into diminishing returns land…

    And even this might be considered “an overcomplication” to talk about numbers like this. You don’t have to be like “am I at 15% yet”… It’s not about the number… This is just the average point at which guys achieve a “flat belly”. No abs visible, but belly completely flat.

    As Aaron said, all of this assumes you have sufficient muscle mass. If you have a flat tummy (15%) and no muscle gains, then you will look skinny.

    But even then, science tells us that skinny guys get laid more than chubby guys.

    In terms of ranking its…

    1) Low fat, high muscle
    2) Low fat, low muscle
    3) High muscle, medium fat
    4a) High Muscle, high fat
    4a) Medium Muscle, Medium Fat
    5) Medium fat, low muscle (chubby)
    6) High fat (obese)

    In other words (if you’re 20+), you don’t have to wait to put on the muscle “first” and then lose the fat. (A common mistake, and one that I made myself). A muscle-free non-fat guy is more attractive than the “chubby but in the process of gaining muscle” look.

    1. In other words (if you’re 20+), you don’t have to wait to put on the muscle “first”

      That’s 20+ % bodyfat.

      Or even more simply… If you don’t have a flat stomach, you should do a caloric deficit. No need to wait to “put on a bunch of muscle first, then i’ll burn off the fat”.

      – As a beginner you can lose fat and build muscle at the same time.

      – But wait, you’re not a beginner and can’t lose fat/build muscle at the same time??

      Well same prescription, if you’re that point, this means you have enough muscle. Lose the fat.

  2. Hey Alek, a question for you (and anyone else with good knowledge of training):

    what do you think about bodyweight routines?

    I’m following this one:

    I know that weight lifting is better for faster hypertrophy, but I find it easier to stay consistent over a longer period of time with a routine like the one above.

    I’ve been following it for half a year. While my gains haven’t been amazing (keep in mind my diet wasn’t top notch either, especially in the bulk phase), my body shape did change for the better.

    1. I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga for over a decade, and pretty seriously. I gained visibly more muscle mass doing a simple weight lifting program consisting of compound exercises in the course of months. The problem is that you’re just spinning the wheels after a certain point with bodyweight exercises. Gurus like Mark Lauren suggest filling buckets with sand and whatnot, but why not just lift some good old old-fashioned weights?

    2. Hmm, I have no idea what Ashtanga yoga entails but I don’t think it’s comparable to the routine I linked above, or is it?

      I actually use some weights, specifically in the case of weighted dips and I would also add some to pullups if I was strong enough.

      Admittedly even the creators of this routine suggest doing squats and deadlifts for legs, but if I started going to the gym just for that, might as well switch to a normal weight lifting routine with some handstand practice on off days.

    3. Hey Alek, a question for you (and anyone else with good knowledge of training)

      I actually have no clue in training methodologies. I’m a complete ignoramus. I just go and pick my exercises randomly, and just lift more each time… that’s it.

      It’s ironic, because when new guys join the gym, they come to me and ask me for advice… And I’m like “dunno”. They assume (because of my size) that I must be knowledgeable in training.

      I’m one of the bigger guys in the gym (currently due to higher bodyfat, I look like a bouncer basically).

      But I haven’t the faintest clue with angle on which exercise does what. A kid that works there is 100x more knowledgeable than me. I’m much bigger than that kid. Heck, I ask him for advice. The reason I’m bigger? I’ve just lifted for more years.

      A friend of mine went to some fancy bodybuilder coach who got him to overcomplicate training to the point where it was like fucking brain surgery.

      I was like, dude just try my method. Write down how much you lift, and lift more each time. Do whatever exercise you feel like (on machines*, not free weights).

      After using my “method” he doubled progress. That’s double the progress over working with an expensive bodybuilder coach who over-complicated his training to where it felt like a dayjob.

      *- The reason I train on machines is because you don’t have to know jackshit. The machine makes it so that you’re “lifting correctly”. You don’t have to go through a course to learn how to do it correctly.

      I’m not a bodybuilder, i’m not gonna waste time learning about grips and angles and all that shit.

      I have more muscle than 99% of guys who’ve walked into a gym, despite not knowing shit about training. Why? Because 99% quit in 3 months. It’s that simple.

      So the perfect workout gives you xyz amount of muscle in 24 months, but the “unperfect one” gives it to you in 30 months? Is the difference worth overanalyzing and obsessing over training methodologies?

  3. Agreed. With free weights, progressive overload is a lot more straight forward as you can simply add more weight to the bar over time. In theory, you can apply progressive overload to body weight (not necessarily by just adding weight to the movements) to continue building muscle. However, this becomes far more difficult compared to say, bench pressing heavier weight. For example, advancing from pull ups to one arm pull ups takes an awful lot of time and consistent effort.

    The more hardcore, purist body weight advocates always allude to the physiques of gymnasts to highlight the potential of body weight training. What they fail to point out though is that the very advanced body weight movements gymnasts perform (the Olympic ring movements) take virtually years to master.

  4. @Alek

    I have more muscle than 99% of guys who’ve walked into a gym, despite not knowing shit about training. Why? Because 99% quit in 3 months. It’s that simple.

    So the perfect workout gives you xyz amount of muscle in 24 months, but the “unperfect one” gives it to you in 30 months? Is the difference worth overanalyzing and obsessing over training methodologies?

    Very true as with pickup, obsession and inane “techniques” are prevalent online .
    As with anything with life, time and practice gets results.

  5. As someone who has been as high as 25% and as low as 12%, 15% should be maximum body fat you should feel comfortable with.

    For me, 20% still means love handles and chubby cheeks. 15% means blurred abs and cheekbones. I also feel a lot better about myself.

    20% only works if you’re broad (lats and shoulders), and still have that v-line taper that is aesthetic.

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