What Body Fat Level Is Needed To See Your Abs?

Tom Venuto
Written By: Tom Venuto
August 10th, 2012
Updated: October 28th, 2021
Categories: Articles Fat Loss
241.7K Reads
How low do you have to take your body fat levels to see visible abs? Tom Venuto tells you what constitutes lean, very lean and ripped.

Measuring your body fat percentage is a valuable tool to chart your progress on your quest to get six pack abs. Hopefully most people realize by now that abdominal exercises don’t burn fat off your stomach. Abs are made in the kitchen, not just in the gym. No matter how much you work out, if you don’t eat right and achieve a calorie deficit, your abs will remain covered in a layer of adipose.

When the realization hits you that you must reduce your body fat percentage to see your abs, one of the biggest questions that pops into your mind is, “how low do I have to get my body fat percentage to see my abs?” It’s a tough question and the answer may be different for men than women.

Here's what I'd recommend:

First, get familiar with some benchmarks for body fat levels. My Burn The Fat system has a body fat rating scale, which includes averages and my suggested optimal body fat percentages. This is my own chart, which I created with a combination of research literature and my own personal experience.

Burn The Fat Body Fat Rating Scale

Female Bodyfat Levels

  • Competition Shape ("ripped"): 8-12%
  • Very Lean (excellent): < 15%
  • Lean (good): 16-20%
  • Satisfactory (fair): 21-25%
  • Improvement needed (poor): 26-30%
  • Major improvement needed (Very poor): 31-40%+

Male Bodyfat Levels

  • Competition Shape ("ripped"): 3-6%
  • Very Lean (excellent): < 9%
  • Lean (good): 10-14%
  • Satisfactory (fair): 15-19%
  • Improvement needed (poor): 20-25%
  • Major improvement needed (Very poor): 26-30%+

Just a quick note: You're not destined to get fatter as you get older, but in the general population (not fitness and bodybuilding folks), the average older person has more body fat. What I did to accommodate this was to include a body fat range instead of one number, so younger people can use the low end of the range and older people can use the higher number.

Also, just so the average reader can keep things in perspective, single digit body fat for women and low single digits for men is far beyond lean - it's RIPPED - and that's usually solely the domain of competitive physique athletes. Competition body fat levels were not meant to be maintained all year round. It's not realistic and it may not be healthy, particularly for women.

For most women, 12% body fat or thereabouts is ripped, and for many, that's contest ready (figure or fitness competition).

Just for comparison, I've done over 7,000 body fat tests during my career, and the lowest I have ever measured on a female was 8.9% (4-site skinfold method). She was a national-level figure competitor and she was shredded - full six pack of abs... "onion skin!" However, I do know some women who get down to 11-13% body fat - by all standards extremely lean, complete with six pack abs - but oddly, they still had a few stubborn fat spots - usually the hips and lower body.

What about guys? Well, I know a guy who looks absolutely chiseled in his abs at 11% body fat, but other guys don't look really cut in the abs until they get down to 6-8% body fat. Bodybuilders usually aren’t ready for competition until they get below 6%.

That's the trouble with trying to pin down one specific body fat number as THE body fat level for seeing 6-pack abs (or being ripped and contest-ready): Everyone distributes their body fat differently and two people may look different at the same percentage. The average guy or gal should probably aim for the "lean" category as a realistic year round goal, or if you're really ambitious and dedicated, the "very lean category."

You'll probably have to hit the "very lean" category for six pack abs. However, the bottom line is that there's no "perfect" body fat percentage where you're assured of seeing your abs. Besides, body fat is one of those numbers that gets fudged and exaggerated all the time. I hear reports of women with body fat between 4% and 8% and I usually dismiss it as error in measurement (or there's some "assistance" involved).

Body fat testing, especially with skinfolds, is not an exact science. All body fat tests are estimations and there is always room for human error.

The low numbers are nice for bragging rights, but the judges don't measure your body fat on stage. What counts is how you look and whether you're happy with that (or whether the judges are happy with it, if you're competing).

You can use my chart to help you set some initial goals, but for the most part, I recommend using body fat testing as a way of charting your progress over time to see if you're improving rather than pursuing some holy grail number.

In my Burn The fat, Feed The Muscle program, you can learn more about how to measure your body fat - professionally or even by yourself in the privacy of your own home.

Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle explains why body mass index and height and weight charts are virtually worthless, and shows you how to track your body composition over time and "tweak" your nutrition and training according to your weekly results.

Posted on: Wed, 06/14/2017 - 16:16

Idk about you guys, I have visible abs (Clearly defined 4 pack, and outlined 6 pack) at 20%BF. My gut looks like the HGH gut. Not attractive, but still K.

Posted on: Mon, 03/24/2014 - 09:06

I am at about 15-17% and can almost see my abs..it's the stage before...you can see the blurry bumps popping out...line down the middle of the stomach..that's it..still quite podgy on the lower belly

Posted on: Sun, 12/09/2012 - 15:02

hi when u say between 1.1 and 1.4 protein for fatloss is this multiplied by weight in kg or lbs??

Rushank Shah
Posted on: Wed, 03/22/2023 - 09:20

Usually lbs...when calculating in terms of kgs the numbers go upto 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kg

handdicaped guy
Posted on: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 21:23

? from a handdcaped guy
Hi and Thank You for reading this.
First-I'm medically cleared to workout,I'm 50 years old 5'11" 188lbs,I was 250lbs lost 30lbs at 220lbs went down to to 188 looking to get to 165.
I have ceraballa ataxia I'm in a wheel chair but I can walk holding on to stuff.I w/o at home, had a p/t vist me 3x worked on exersizes I can do.I can only lift a max of 15-20lbs before I get the shanks and lose form.My Doc. is working on my CNS.
I'm trying to get an athletic look I want functionablity of my muscles.
I'm self motivated,been walking and lifting for over 15 years
I have used in the past drop-downs set,15 secsonds breaks betweem sets,german volume techique,trying to increase intensity to make up for my other weakness,HIIT,circuit training,and more stuff.
What should I do to achive my goals?what techniques should I be useing?I change my w/o every 2 weeks th shock my body.
Any idea's that can help me?

Posted on: Mon, 07/27/2015 - 09:55

Wow bro you are a massive inspiration. Considering your disability and your desire to stay fit that is amazing. Reading this inspired me not to be depressed because of my injuries. Thank you.

Posted on: Mon, 08/13/2012 - 17:01

Great article! Thanks (Link isn´t working)

Posted on: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 22:44

The Burn the fat link that you listed does not work. Please update the link, I would love the see the information and add to my knowledge. Thank you!

Posted on: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 10:14

Steve how are you, well i have i was in a good shape when i was doing excerise about 7 years ago i had good body with 69kgs weight and i was 22 years old but then i left bodybuilding and i dint go to gym for 7 years and in this time i gained lots of body fat and my weight touch 88kgs in 2011 when i decided that i am getting fat and i start dieting only dietiing no gym and i lost 5 kgs and came down to 83kgs and 3 months ago i join gym again and i lost 4 kgs and now i am 79 and gained the muscle biscept chect shoulder tricept every thing got muscles and got big again with less body fat but for my my goal was to go down to same 69kgs but rite now i think i cannot go back coz my body not only had fats but i have good amount of muscles and back then when i had 6kgs weight i was 22 years old and now i am 29 so what do you think can i go down to 69kgs and note my 4 packs already start showing with some fats on it .... please help me and i have orderd mgn pure whey isolte for weight loose and muscle gain

Posted on: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 07:59

Clean eating and short sessions of low intensity cardio got me down to 7%. I have a high metabolism rate, yours may be different.

Posted on: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 16:03

when I click on your burn the fat link, IE says 404 page not found

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 17:58

Trying to get that fixed ASAP.

Nic Biker
Posted on: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 14:41

Ragy, dude, for that you have to work on your abs, normal sit ups and other abdominal exercises. IF this doesnt help either, get yourself a healthier diet (more protein and magnesium), and repeat the process again. This should help

ragy azer
Posted on: Fri, 08/10/2012 - 18:18

i have %10 BF but still cannot see my abs what would u do advice me?

Posted on: Sat, 08/11/2012 - 15:11

eat clean and do high interval cardio

Posted on: Sun, 08/12/2012 - 03:37

do harder ab workouts.

Tally Youngblood
Posted on: Sun, 01/27/2013 - 01:58

I am the same way, I'm a girl though. :)