There is a downright obsession with “six-pack abs” and low body fat in general in certain corners of the internet. When skimming certain forums, you could be forgiven for thinking that you accidentally arrived at a watering hole for gay men, such is the adoration (“miring”) many guys show for other guys with well-developed abs and big muscles.
Obviously, six-pack abs have benefits. Heck, I used to have one myself. When I was going out a lot, I would sometimes dance half-naked, or cover my upper body minimally with a scarf, or wear a dress jacket, and nothing underneath. This certainly gets you plenty of attention. However, if you are not in an environment in which you can show off your physique, effort spent on getting your body fat levels down to the single-digit percent range is a waste of time and energy. Depending on where you live, your options to parade your body around may indeed be rather limited. There aren’t so may clubs where male patrons wouldn’t get kicked out for showing a lot of skin, in Western countries you normally have to endure the four seasons, and if you don’t live close to a beach, then “getting shredded” just for a few weeks a year may not be worth it.
Please don’t get me wrong: I certainly don’t want to make a case for downing one can of soda after another and replacing your veggies with peanut butter sandwiches. Instead, the point is that if you’re at 12 to 15% body fat and lift, you’ll be fine. This is the case because you won’t run around flashing your abs. With your clothes on, you’ll look athletic, and when you get to play with some “tig ol’ bitties” in your bedroom, she won’t run off because you don’t have chiseled abs.
I’m 6’3″/1.90m. I used to be slender and toned: 160lbs/73kg, sub < 10 % body fat. As I recently learnt, fitness bros have a term for that. They call it “ottermode”. Walking around in a sleeveless shirt, this gets plenty of attention in the kind of night clubs I used to frequent. Plenty of people thought I was doing coke because of my low body fat and very prominent veins. The downside of that look is that if you wear regular clothes, you look pretty weak. Instead of being toned, the image you project is one of a frail guy. A guy in “ottermode” looks better naked than dressed in regular clothes. With most people, it’s the other way around.
I’ve systematically been working on putting on weight, both muscle and fat. Currently, I weigh around 190 lbs/86 kg. My body fat is in the 12 to 15% range. I’m by no means fat. You can still see parts of my rib cage through my skin. I no longer have visible six-pack abs, but you can still easily feel them. I’d say it’s a four-pack but you have to squint a little bit. Overall, though, my physical presence is markedly different as I look quite a bit bigger now. The other day some girl asked me whether I worked out, while I was walking around in a regular sweater. In my “ottermode” days, girls in clubs would have commented that I’m toned and sinewy, but more often than not the next question was whether I wanted to share some of my coke with them.
Other benefits of being in a less extreme range of body fat are that I freeze a lot less. (Winters in Northern Europe can be brutal!) I’m also tempted to say that my face looks better now, “healthier”, as my partner recently phrased it. Again, if you’re thinking I’m advocating the “dad bod” — think again! I’m absolutely not. Go lift some weights, guys, but don’t spend too much energy on getting into the sub-10% body fat category. Sure, if you live in a place where it’s summer all year round and you can pick up girls on the beach, go for it. If that’s not the case, then maybe focus your efforts on areas that give you a much better return on investment.