What Is a Normal Body Fat Percentage?

by Danny McLarty

You look down at your stomach and give it a pinch. You think to yourself, I wonder what my body fat percentage is, and I wonder if it’s normal. I can’t tell you how many body fat tests I’ve given to my clients over the years and the conversation starts out something like this:

Danny: “Mary, you’re body fat is at 21.7%.”

Mary, looking at me a little confused: “Okay. Is that normal?”

What is Normal Body Fat Percentage?
Normal is a very vague term, when talking about body fat percentages. “Normal” to a physique competitor 3 days out before her competition is a little different than the “normal” body fat percentage of a mostly sedentary individual. So as usual, the answer to this question is, IT DEPENDS.

I know, I know, that’s the easy way out, and you won’t let me off the hook that easy. Here’s how the American Council on Exercise (ACE) views body fat percentage norms.

ACE Body Fat % Norms
Description Women Men
Essential Fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Average 25-31% 18-24%
Obese 32% + 25%+

When I think of normal, I also think of the word “average.” So, if we’re going with average from the chart above, 25-31% is a normal body fat for females, and 18-24% is a normal body fat for males. Again, if you’re just a few days from stepping onto the stage in your posing trunks, this is NOT normal for YOU.

For the individual who has no aspirations of walking across the stage in their competition suit but wants to live a fit, healthy life, I think the “average” category from the chart above is a bit high. We as a nation are well overweight (over fat). For people who live the fit life, I think the “Fitness category” is considered normal (21-24% for females and 14-17% for males).

How Do You Figure Out Your Body Fat Percentage?
There are a number of ways to figure out your body fat percentage. A few of the more common options include:

No matter what method of body fat testing you choose, none of them are perfect. The key is to be consistent with your method so that you can establish a baseline. What you really want, is simply to have that number move in the right direction … down, down, down. If that’s the case, you know you’re on the right track.

See: How Much Will You Weigh At a Certain Body Fat Percentage?

What is Body Composition?


Body Composition: The makeup of the body in terms of the relative percentage of fat-free mass and body fat.

Lean Mass: Fat-free weight (muscle, bones, blood, organs, etc.)

Fat Mass: Body fat (adipose tissue)

Source: ACE Personal Trainer Manual

How To Calculate Fat Mass vs. Lean Mass
Once you know your body fat percentage, you can determine your body composition – how much fat you’re carrying vs. lean body mass. To find this, you multiply your weight X your body fat percentage. Let’s use an example of a female weighing 150 lbs at 30% body fat. In this case, 150 X .30 = 45, as in 45 pounds of fat mass. From there, you take 150 minus 45 and get 105, as in 105 pounds of lean mass.

If your goal is to lose body fat, you want to maintain as much lean body mass as possible while dropping fat. When our 150 pound female at 30% fat gets retested and is now 140 pounds at 26% body fat, here’s what we’re looking at…
140 X .26 = 36 pounds of fat mass. We once again take 140 minus 36 and come up 104 pounds of lean body mass.

So, our girl has gone from 105 pound of lean body mass and 45 pounds of fat mass, down to 104 pounds of lean body mass and 36 pounds of fat mass. That’s 9 pounds of fat loss… not bad! Oh, and don’t worry, when you lose a significant amount of weight, it is common that some of that weight is going to be lean body mass.

When it comes to body fat percentage, what’s normal for one person may not be normal for you. Once you know what’s normal for you, you can track your body fat percentage over time to reach that goal. Do your best to keep that number heading in the right direction and you’ll be looking at a leaner, healthier you!

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About the Author

Danny McLarty has been a Fitness and Performance Coach for over 10 years. He is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Danny believes there is no “magic trick” to improving your health and physique. Train, eat, sleep, and repeat. When he’s not training clients, he’s blogging on his website www.DannyMcLarty.com.