How to know your bodyfat percentage using the mirror as a skinny or skinny-fat guy

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Body-Fat Percentage

As a skinny guy, it can be hard to figure out what your body-fat percentage is. Imagine the average man. A DEXA scan measures him at 24% body fat. Then he sits in the BodPod, which puts him at 26%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident he’s between 24–26%.

Now you walk in, and DEXA puts you at 9%. Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. You may even want to gain a bit of fat. But when you step into the BodPod, it measures you at 22% body fat. That’s a bit high. You might want to lose some fat.

You’ve spent a few hundred dollars getting the two most accurate tests, and you don’t even know if you have too much or too little fat. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%!

So in this article, we cover why your body-fat percentage matters, how to measure it properly, and then run through some real-life examples (with pictures).

Cartoon illustration of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular.

How Lean is Too Lean?

The body-fat percentage range starts at around 8–12%, depending on the person (study). When you get leaner than your body wants to be, your fat cells get hungry, cortisol levels rise, and testosterone drops (study). That makes it harder to build muscle and easier to gain fat. This gets increasingly extreme as our body-fat percentage drops lower.

When a bodybuilder steps off the stage and starts eating a normal amount of food again, he’ll often gain 10–20 pounds of pure fat. That’s a good thing. His body needs fat more than it needs muscle. When his body is happy with his body-fat percentage, he can start building muscle again. Maybe that’s at 8%. Maybe it’s at 12%.

Fortunately, unless you’re a bodybuilder, you never need to get that lean. Muscles look good at very low body-fat percentages, but it often makes our face look gaunt. We get the “death face.” Our necks often start looking thin, too. That’s why most guys look better when they’re above 8–12% body fat.

How Fat is Too Fat?

There’s some debate about when fat starts to pose a risk to our health. People throw around is 20% as the cut-off point, but it’s a bit more nuanced. It depends on what type of fat we’re storing. The fat around our organs (visceral fat) has a bigger impact on our health than the fat right underneath our skin (subcutaneous fat).

Fortunately, if we measure our waist circumference, we can get a good idea of how much fat’s accumulating around our organs. The National Institutes of Health recommend keeping your waist circumference under 40 inches (reference). If you want to play it totally safe, you can keep your waist circumference under 36 inches.

Survey results showing the body-fat percentage most women found most attractive.

Most skinny are afraid of gaining fat because of how it looks, though. In that case, most guys look their best at around 10–15% body fat (reference). If you’re muscular, you might be able to pull off a body-fat percentage closer to 20%.

The final concern is how body fat affects muscle growth. There’s a myth among bodybuilders that getting too fat impairs muscle growth. That doesn’t seem to be true. It seems that the fatter someone is, the more easily they tend to lose fat, and the more leanly they tend to build muscle. We’ve written a full article breaking down that research.

So, if you’re skinny-fat, you don’t necessarily need to start by getting lean. You could also start by staying at the same body weight (body recomposition) or with a lean bulk. For more, we’ve got a full article for skinny-fat guys.

How to Estimate Your Body-Fat Percentage

We’ve already covered why DEXA scans and BodPods won’t work properly until you’ve already bulked up to a solid weight. Let’s go over some of the other common methods.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA scales)

Are bioelectrical impedance analysis scales (BIA) an accurate way of measuring body-fat percentage? No, BIA scalres are cheap and convenient—most modern bathroom scales have this feature—but they’re even less accurate than DEXA and BodPod. Again, they’re just not something designed for guys like us. They’re for tracking fat loss in overweight people, not muscle gain in skinny guys.

When I was bulking up from 130 to 170 pounds, my BIA scale started at 10% and climbed all the way to 20%. That made me anxious, but my abs looked the same as they always did. My waist circumference wasn’t exploding, either. Where was all the extra fat going?

Something strange happened when I made it up to 185 pounds. My BIA scale decided I had an “athletic” body composition, so it switched to a different algorithm. Instead of 20% body fat, it measured me at 8%. I was so frustrated that I got rid of the scale and bought a simpler, cheaper one that wouldn’t try to measure my body-fat percentage.

The Bodybuilder Method (Skinfold Calipers)

Skinfold callipers are the opposite of the Navy Method, good for aesthetics but not health. They can’t probe beneath your muscles, so they can’t tell you how much visceral fat you’re storing. But they can tell you how much fat is clouding your muscle definition.

Callipers are also difficult to master. There’s an art to getting precise measurements. Your first few months of using them may not be all that fruitful. Still, they’re affordable, you can use them from the comfort of your home, and they can work well if you’re willing to practice.

The Mirror Method

This is my preferred method of guesstimating body-fat percentage. It isn’t perfectly accurate, but it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t really matter if you’re 13% body fat or 15% body fat. Both of those body-fat percentages are healthy and look good. All that matters is whether you like how you look and whether you can gauge your progress (or lack thereof). The mirror method is quite good for that.

  • If you’re bulking: make sure you’re getting stronger every week. Every 4–8 weeks, measure your body parts (including your waist) and take some progress photos. When you compare your measurements and progress photos, you’ll get an idea of how much fat you’re gaining.
  • If you’re cutting: try to get stronger, or at least maintain most of your strength. Every 4–8 weeks, measure your body parts (including your waist) and take some progress photos. When you compare your measurements and progress photos, you’ll get an idea of how much fat you’re losing.

We help members with this as they go through our bulking program. There’s an art to it, but mostly it helps to get feedback from someone else. Some guys are overly hard on themselves. Others will happily bulk themselves into oblivion.

The Navy Method

The Navy Method uses your height and weight as a starting point, but the magic comes from factoring in your waist and neck circumferences. It sounds like it’s too easy, but it’s actually one of the more best ways to estimate your body fat percentage, especially if you lift weights. It’s quite a bit more accurate than the BIA scales most people use. It’s also very easy. All you need is a tape measure and this calculator.

Here’s how it works: Waist size is a good proxy for body fat levels, except for the fact that it gets bigger when you build bigger abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. That’s where the neck measurement comes in. Neck size is a good proxy for muscularity. Sort of. Body fat can also make your neck thicker. But if we compare it against your waist, it works quite well:

  • If your waist and neck are thin, you’re thin.
  • If your waist is thin but your neck is thick, you’re lean.
  • If your waist is thick but your neck is thin, you’re overweight.

Waist Circumference

Most people don’t need to know their body fat percentages; they just need to know whether they’re moving in the right direction and when it’s time to bulk or cut.

  • If your waist circumference is under 36 inches, you’re cleared to bulk.
  • If your waist circumference is 36 inches, it’s time to stop bulking.
  • If your waist circumference is over 36 inches, consider cutting.
  • If your waist circumference is over 40 inches, we recommend cutting.

How to Visually Estimate Your Body-Fat Percentage

To use the mirror, you need to know what different body-fat percentages look like. Unfortunately, most body-fat comparison charts make that hard for skinny guys. Here’s a good example of a chart that doesn’t help us. Unless you’re an intermediate lifter at 15% body fat, good luck finding yourself on the chart.

This chart is from Steve Kamb over at NerdFitness. I chose it because I like NerdFitness. Steve makes this same point in his article Everything You Need to Know About Body-Fat Percentage: muscle mass has a huge impact on how lean you look. I couldn’t agree with him more. Let me show you why.

Here are GK’s progress photos while doing The Bony to Beastly Program. He managed to stay at around 10% body fat the entire way through, but you can see he started with almost no muscle definition and finished looking totally chiselled. This has nothing to do with fat, everything to do with muscle.

When you get a chart with chaotic variance in muscle mass, it’s impossible to compare the body-fat percentages. We can see the differences in muscle definition, but it’s unclear whether those differences stem from muscle or fat.

There are other problems with this type of chart:

  • The guys have varying tans. How dark your skin is has a huge impact on how lean you look. That’s why the bodybuilder has such an exaggerated spray tan.
  • Some guys are oiled up. Again, this is a trick used to make guys look leaner.
  • Some guys pumped up their muscles for the photo. Another trick used to bring out vascularity and muscle definition, making guys look leaner.
  • They’re different guys. One guy might have proportionally bigger ab muscles, another might have different body fat storage patterns, some will have different amounts of visceral versus subcutaneous fat.
  • The lighting isn’t the same. Light is what casts shadows. Those shadows create muscle definition. If the light is changing, so will the shadows, and so will the muscle definition.

Here’s another example. You can see that Omar’s gained a ton of size in his chest, traps, shoulders, and arms, but is he leaner? It’s hard to tell when the lighting is so different.

As a rule of thumb, overhead lighting makes guys look leaner than ambient lighting. That’s why you probably look leaner in your bathroom mirror than on the beach (depending on the weather).

It’s even harder for so-called “ectomorphs.” Almost all of the charts are packed full of overweight and muscular guys. Where are all the skinny guys?

A Better Approach to Body-Fat Charts

I drew up some illustrations. I kept all of the variables constant: the same amount of muscle mass, the same lighting, the same poses, and the same bone structures. All that’s changing is the body fat percentage.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ll give you some milestones to look for. If you can see your upper abs, you’re likely under 15%. If you can see all your abs, you’re probably under 12%. These are helpful milestones. They also give you something to track as you’re bulking, cutting, or recomping.

We’ve got two charts:

  1. A naturally skinny guy who’s still thin.
  2. A naturally skinny guy who’s bulked up.

Here’s how you use the body-fat percentage charts:

  1. Find a mirror.
  2. Turn on some flattering overhead lighting (bathrooms work well).
  3. Flex your butt to rotate your hips into a neutral position.
  4. Flex your abs.
  5. Compare your abs and muscle definition to these charts

The Skinny Body-Fat Chart

Here’s what 9–20% body fat looks like on the typical skinny guy:

The Buff Body-Fat Chart

Here’s what 9–20% body fat looks like on a skinny guy after he’s bulked up:

Real-Life Body-Fat Percentage Examples

Very Lean Body-Fat Percentages

Let’s review some bulking transformations of guys doing our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. I’ll estimate what their body-fat percentages are both before and after. Remember that estimates don’t need to be perfect, just close enough, just useful.

Here’s an example of bulking at a very lean body-fat percentage. Eddi is bulking up for his sixtieth birthday. It’s one of the transformations I like to send to 40-year-olds when they tell me they’re too old to bulk. I think he’s starting at around 8% and finishing closer to 10%.

Here’s another lean body-fat percentage. Jon went from around 7% up to what looks more like 10%.

Here’s Nick starting at around 8% body fat. He’s quite lean after gaining 27 pounds, but I’d guess he’s climbed up to around 12% by the end.

Here’s Albert starting and finishing at around 10%. You can see that his muscle definition goes way up as he bulks, even though he’s at around the same body-fat percentage.

Lean Body-Fat Percentages

Here’s me at 11% as measured by DEXA scan and 10% as measured by BodPod. Note that I’ve bulked up to a bodyweight of 185 (BMI of 24). I’m heavy enough for these methods to be fairly accurate.

You can see that I’m not as lean as most of the transformations above. I’m more similar to the body-fat percentages you’ll see below.

Lucas gained a bunch of muscle definition as he bulked up. He bulked slowly, steadily, and very leanly. He’s around 11% body fat before and after. Very similar to me.

Here’s Ash gaining a couple of percentage points as he bulks, winding up looking better for it. Looks like around 10% to start, more like 13% at the end. Notice how aggressively he was bulking. Hard to keep your gains totally lean when you’re gaining 2.7 pounds per week.

Patrick was around 11% starting out and around 16% at the end. This is a huge amount of muscle gain. He was able to keep his gains quite lean, given that he gained 40 pounds. I was impressed.

Normal Body-Fat Percentages

JoeBrusk was probably at around 15% at the beginning. After some body recomposition, he finished at around 10%.

John L started out at around 14%. He finished at around 15%. Impressive results given how muscular he started and how quickly he was gaining weight.

Here’s Hugo starting and around 11% and finishing at around 14%. What’s cool about this one is that he’s gained so much muscle that he’s got better muscle definition at a slightly higher body-fat percentage.

Josua is at around 17% body fat both before and after bulking, going from looking fit to looking quite athletic.

Here’s me cutting from 200lbs down to 180lbs. I started the cut at around 20% body fat and finished at around 10%.

Klaus started at around 20% body fat. He did a bulk and a cut, finishing 22 pounds heavier at 8–10% body fat. Notice how much broader his shoulders have gotten and how much smaller his waist circumference is.

The End

Alright, that it’s for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. It kicks off with a series about skinny genetics, how to eat and train for muscle growth, how to improve your appearance, and how to improve your health.

Photo showing the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program for Skinny and Skinny-Fat Guys

If you want a full bulking program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want an intermediate bulking routine, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program.

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's a Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC), has gained seventy pounds, and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in fine arts, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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60 Comments

  1. NickA on November 23, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Great article guys. This is a solid guide for people to decide how far to take their bulking/cutting cycles. I’m in a bulk right now and feeling fat, so this makes me feel a tad better about my ever-growing gut. I thought I was somewhere around 17-19%BF but based on the article, maybe more like 15%. Let the permabulk continue!

    • Shane Duquette on November 23, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Glad you dug it, NickA! Always good to hear from you, man 🙂

      • Roz on January 31, 2018 at 10:34 pm

        Hey Shane , just found your site and have been reading through some of the articles this morning. Really love the site . 🙂

        I just have a question though as I am thinking about signing up for your workout program being a fellow Ectomorph who has struggled gaining weight for the past few years .

        1). I am about 198cm and 85kg however I would really like to put on some size as I am pretty skinny looking dude . Is it realistic for someone my height to put on some quality mass and sustain it realistically long term .

        • Shane Duquette on February 2, 2018 at 9:53 pm

          Hey Roz, glad you’ve been loving the site, man!

          Check out this illustration we made of the three body types. The ectomorph is the tall, thin body type. So while being 198cm is extremely rare in the general population, since we cater to the rare type of guys who are naturally thinner, we’ve got quite a few members around your height. Even the three of us are a good few inches taller than average. Jared is 183cm, I’m 188cm, and Marco is 193cm. So we assume an epic wingspan when teaching the bench press, and we assume that you’ve got quite a long spine to stabilize when teaching the deadlift. You’ll do great… although—fair warning—you’re going to have an even funner time fitting into airplane seats.

          Can someone your height put on quality mass? Absolutely. You’ll be able to gain far more weight given your height, but you’ll also need to gain more weight for those gains to show, so it’s both a blessing and a curse. You can see that with Patrick, who if I recall correctly is about your height.

          Can you sustain it? Yeah. That’s not the hard part. The bulking process can be hard. We’re going to do everything we can do to help you, but it can be hard. Maintaining your gains, though? A total breeze. You go back to eating in line with your appetite, you only need to eat about half as much protein, and you don’t need to exercise nearly as much (although we still recommend exercising/lifting for the health benefits). We had one member (Greg) just come back into the community after 6 years of being away. He hasn’t lifted weights or payed any attention to his diet, yet still maintained his gains. I wouldn’t recommend that approach… but maintaining your progress is really not anything to worry about.

          I hope you decide to join us!

  2. CT on November 24, 2017 at 2:52 am

    Hey man,
    Firstly can I just say I love this site and it’s great to see some bodyfat percentage charts showing naturally skinny dudes. So much of this info is for bulkier guys with shorter limbs and it’s just way too hard to compare.
    I have a few questions about this though:
    1) are all these shots taken on an empty stomach? And what’s the relative level of hydration? I’ve been bulking properly for the first time in my life really for the last couple of months and I thought I was developing a gut, but when I took a few days off eating like a horse my gut dropped away. Out of curiosity I measured it after big meal at the end of the day vs first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and there was over 3″ difference. That was enough to drop my bf% from 17 to 12 according to an online calculator. Obviously that’s bs but how does bloat factor into a visual assessment?
    2) I am a soccer player and my legs are relatively bulky with good muscle definition while my torso and arms are much less muscley. I’m figuring that bf% is important hormonally because of the ratio of fat to muscle, so if my legs are comparatively bigger how does that affect my assessment of my % when all the photos (all over the web, not just here) only show from the waist up? A guy with the same torso fat to muscle ratio but skinnier legs would have to have a worse bf% surely because his total muscle mass would be much less but his fat would be about the same (seeing as fat isn’t carried evenly across the body but instead is concentrated around the lower torso in guys).
    3) is vascularity a useful indicator? I’ve seen it discussed a lot in the endomorph/mesomorph world of regular bodybuilding websites but I don’t see it here.

    I want to know where I’m at bf-wise so I know when to start cutting. I’m enjoying putting on weight and filling out shirts more but I don’t want to wake up one day and find out it was all fat!

    Thanks in advance for your help 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on November 24, 2017 at 11:04 am

      Hey CT, thanks for the kind words, man!

      And congratulations on your gains 🙂

      That’s a great question.

      1. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend weighing yourself, measuring yourself and taking progress photos first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I’m guessing many of our members follow this advice… but I’m sure some don’t. I’m making my guesses based on the assumption that they’re measuring on a relatively empty stomach, though.

      2. As you mentioned, all of these male body fat comparison charts and photos focus on the stomach because that’s where men tend to store most of their fat. The whole reason why abs are so desirable on men is because when that area is lean, it indicates leanness elsewhere as well. So that’s the logic behind it, as you surmised.

      As for what to do when you have exceptionally muscular legs… I see the dilemma. A 150-pound guy with 15 pounds of fat has a body fat percentage of 10. If you were to gain 15 pounds of muscle in your legs without gaining any fat, you’d be a 165-pound guy with a body fat percentage of 9. So it will affect your overall body fat percentage, yes, and it won’t show up in your upper body.

      However, 15 extra pounds of muscle in your legs is a lot of muscle, and that’s just throwing off your body fat estimate by 1%. I wouldn’t even worry about it. If you do factor it in, you could instead bulk up until you appear to be around 16%.

      3. Vascularity is a useful indicator, sure, but it’s a lesser indicator compared to how much fat you have in your midsection. When you become vascular, that’s awesome, and it’s a great sign, but I would still guesstimate your body fat percentage primarily based on your stomach.

      I hope that helps!

  3. onesnowman on November 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    What body fat percentage do you think Cristiano Ronaldo is, Shane?

    • Shane Duquette on November 27, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Hey Onesnowman, glad to hear from you here, man!

      I’ve seen Cristiano Ronaldo looking between 8–12% body fat, depending on the day. He’s quite lean and not overly muscular, giving him a body composition that most ectomorphs could very realistically achieve 🙂

  4. ajay on November 27, 2017 at 12:38 am

    first i am sorry for posting it here .couldn’t find the appropriate place .does anyone here have experience with squatting and deadlifting 3 times or more per week (not in a single workout) .and what was the effect on them ?of course assuming sleep and nutrition being good

    • Shane Duquette on November 27, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      Hey Ajay, no problem.

      Check out this article on leg training:
      https://bonytobeastly.com/how-big-should-you-build-your-legs/

      If you still have any questions, you can repost this question there (or write up a new one).

      (We might delete this question because it has nothing to do with body fat percentage.)

  5. Adil on December 3, 2017 at 2:54 am

    Nice article once again, Shane!
    You must be putting in a lot of effort researching and maybe even more typing it down in a fun to read comprehensive format.

    I had a question. You might have already looked into it…
    In which order does an ectomorph body eat up its calorie store types in starvation (given that he is not lifting any weights) ?
    For example, I have some belly fat, I decide to get rid of it. So i continue eating a little bit less- generally.
    Would my body, to make up for the caloric deficit, consume that fat in the belly first?
    Or will it be any leftover glycogen in my muscles or would it go straight to my precious muscles and cause their atrophy first?

    Regards
    Adil

    • Shane Duquette on December 3, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Thanks, Adil!

      We’re lucky enough that there are a lot of great professional research analysts who publish research reviews, such as Alan Aragon’s Research Review, Stronger by Science’s M.A.S.S. and Strength & Conditioning Research. Dr. James Krieger used to have a great one as well. We read through all the research reviews each month, and that’s where we get a lot of this information. It’s also great that a lot of the most well-respected researchers write textbooks, such as Brad Schoenfeld’s Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy 🙂

      Sometimes, such as in our Ectomorph Aesthetics article, we’ll need to read through several dozen studies ourselves, but these guys are really making our job a lot easier 🙂

      Okay, on to your question. So if you were to really starve yourself over a long period of time, your body would break down everything. It would break down fat for energy and fatty acids, glycogen for energy as glucose, and muscle for energy and amino acids. You’d get smaller in every way. That’s one reason why starvation diets are so horrible for most people. But that’s an extreme case.

      If your calorie deficit is more modest, your body will have a certain amount of control over where it gets its energy from. If you’re sleeping well, you aren’t overly stressed, and you’re lifting weights, it will be more inclined to burn fat for energy. Your body considers the muscle necessary, since you require all of it for your consistent weightlifting routine, and since the situation is under control, it isn’t forced to break down any. Still, if you aren’t eating enough protein, it will need to break down muscle to get the amino acids it needs (for your hair, nails, etc).

      So if you’re sleeping well, not overly stressed, lifting weights and eating enough protein, that will cause your body to get the energy it needs exclusively from glycogen and fat, leaving your muscles entirely intact. This is what we call “cutting,” where we lose fat without losing muscle.

      Now let’s say that you aren’t doing those things. Then it will depend on your genetics and how lean you already are. An obese person will tend to lose mostly fat. A lean person will tend to lose mostly muscle. That’s why for the readers of this site, who don’t tend to have body fat percentages much over 20%, we never, ever recommend trying to lose weight unless they’re lifting weights and eating enough protein. Otherwise, they’ll lose mostly muscle.

      I hope that answers your question!

      • Jan Kokes on August 11, 2021 at 3:57 am

        Hi, from my personal experience: Working out while starving has its own risks and benefits. One huge benefit is that the body eats cholesterol from within its veins. Great, it could save billions of lives. But, it doesn’t do so slowly. It releases chunks which can kill you. I had about 10 blood clots before they stopped releasing, probably because there aren’t any more left. Second benefit may be, in theory, that if you can’t get the muscles to grow, yet you are forcing them to become stronger, you are effectively training your nerves.

  6. Adil on December 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Of course, by “research” I meant extensive browsing and studying the actual research.
    But the fact remains that as much as these researchers have made the job easier for you, you guys have made it even easier for us.
    And on top of all that you have made it commonly practically applicably doable.

    So to summarise, will the following be correct…?
    1- Prolonged Starvation:
    Fat = Glycogen = Muscle catabolism

    2- Moderate Starvation (whilst good sleep, mood and weightlifting)
    Fat = Glycogen > Muscle catabolism

    Optimal Diet (whilst good sleep, mood and weightlifting)
    Fat and Glycogen catabolism only (muscle protein is spared)

    Any more relevant scenarios?

    I wish I had you as a study partner at medical college and I wish they laid more emphasis on these details while teaching us Metabolism there.

    • Shane Duquette on December 4, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Yes, that’s the general idea. Genetics and circumstance will always play a role, but in general you’ve got it exactly right 🙂

      Regarding medical school, one problem with autodidacts, like myself, is that we often get our specialized knowledge without being forced to learn the foundational knowledge that underpins it all… which makes it hard to understand how everything fits together. (This is why we have Marco, who DOES have that extensive formal education in this field.) So while you may wish that your education covered more of this stuff, I wish my own education had more emphasis on the foundational knowledge—biology, organic chemistry, anatomy, metabolism, etc—in addition to this more specialized knowledge 😛

      • Adil on December 5, 2017 at 2:14 am

        Yup, life is too short to get everything in and even
        shorter to make all of it come together this way.

  7. Damien on December 4, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Thanks for the article Shane. Good day to you all guys.

    • Shane Duquette on December 4, 2017 at 11:40 am

      My pleasure, Damien. Glad you dug it 🙂

  8. Krsiak Daniel on December 7, 2017 at 3:16 am

    Great article Shane 🙂

    You have typo there, search for: “around around”

    • Shane Duquette on December 7, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Fixed! Thanks, DanielK 🙂

  9. Jason on December 26, 2017 at 2:21 am

    So, as a skinny fat ecto should cut down to 15% bf at minimum before bulking? However won’t this lead to stalled lifts(except beginner gains) throughout the duration of the cut? As a skinny fat ecto whose startling lifts are low is it alright to do so?

    • Shane Duquette on December 26, 2017 at 11:04 am

      Cutting down to under 15% would definitely help break the skinny-fat cycle of gaining fat and muscle, then losing fat and muscle, then gaining fat and muscle, etc. Once you get under 15% body fat, it will allow you to build muscle more leanly. So if you’ve been struggling with being skinny-fat, I’d definitely recommend beginning with a cut 🙂

      Can that lead to a stall in your strength gains? Yes. You should try your hardest to gain strength while cutting, but it’s difficult. You’re right—most of your strength gains will come from improving your technique and learning to use your muscles better, not from new muscle mass helping you to lift heavier weights. You’ll make far better strength gains when you switch to gaining weight again, as you’ll be rapidly building muscle again.

      If your starting lifts are low, though, then you might be the exception to the rule. You might be able to build muscle while cutting, and you can probably make good improvements in your technique and coordination as well. I would expect to see your lifts get quite a lot better even while cutting (assuming you’re cutting properly).

      I hope that helps, and good luck, Jason! 🙂

      • Jason on December 26, 2017 at 11:47 am

        I get it now. Thanks!

  10. Patrick on May 11, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Hey guys, loving this website. It feels great to be represented =) Sorry to be this guy but I’m stuck on whether or not I should start bulking or continue cutting. I am at 176 lbs with a tiny gut, my upperbody tells me to eat but my lower body is looking extra thicc. Thanks in advance and sorry for the bother!

    • Shane Duquette on May 12, 2018 at 11:27 am

      If you’ve got a gut, then you’ve got to cut.

      Well, you don’t have to, but you probably should. You’ll achieve your end goal more quickly and look better while you do it 🙂

      Just make sure to lift weights and eat plenty of program while cutting so that if anything you build muscle in your upper body as your weight drops.

  11. MB on September 16, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    Hello Shane,

    What are your thoughts of being under 10% bodyfat? There are some sites mentioning a male looking the best at about 8-10%. For example Greg O’ Gallagher according to his DEXA scans usually stays at 6-8% bodyfat. He also mentions about him looking better and having a chiseled face at that range in comparison to being 13%. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/63/4c/41/634c41e287f3d61a854248fc443b3cff.png

    What category would Greg O’Gallagher fall? Strong? or Jacked? considering he is about 5’10” around 180 pounds and very lean. According to women, would he be considered “Extremely Attractive” (Strong)? or “Attractive” (Jacked)?

    Do you have any record of your measurements before and after the cut? 200 to 180 Shane?(e.g.) Waist size, Shoulder & Arm size? How much did they change after the cut?

    Regards,

    MB

  12. […] Bony to Beastly แปลและเรียบเรียง: พาที […]

  13. Anthony on March 8, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    Another trick: Notice how JoeBrusk is more tan in his second picture, and he’s package is poking out. His body position is different to achieve this effect, but the subliminal message? Start working out and you’ll grow an inch or two.

    This is similar to the “before” and “after” ads for other health products, eg in the before, the model is always making a “this is f—ing humiliating” face, and in the after photo, they are always smiling.

    But in this case, the big beaming smile is coming from his boxer briefs.

    Also: good article. I used to be a skinny guy who carried a pudgy belly but no muscle tone, now I’m a formerly skinny guy who still has no muscle tone but has too big a belly to call myself skinny. Probably a 30-40% ectomorph. But that’s solid advice about scales and other methods being misleading. Will definitely read up on cutting.

  14. Jack on June 9, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Shane,

    Great article as always. Currently 6’1″ 168 lbs, but guessing I’m hovering somewhere between 18-20% BF% so going to cut and try to get under 15% before I bulk.

    I’m nervous about losing some of the muscle mass I’ve worked so hard to build so I intend to keep lifting in addition to cardio activity. I currently do 5×8 for sets and reps of just about all the major lifts three times a week. I’m wondering if I should adjust the frequency or quantity of reps and sets based on the cutting goal?

    As for the dietary part, I’m guessing I should be eating quite a bit of protein as well as nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits as opposed to carb heavy things currently but please feel free to set me straight!

  15. Tom on July 18, 2019 at 9:50 am

    This is interesting information for a non-ectomorph, too. I cut from 36% to 16% (scan, Navy, caliper) over 16 months. I initially lost 30 pounds in the first 6 months. Then put it all back on as lean mass. I’m doing HIIT and heavy barbell work only 3x per week. Really only about 3 hours of work. I’m also taking saunas and swimming a few laps on the off days for a little additional engine work. My strength and muscle gains after going below 20% have been pretty crazy. However, a flatter looking stomach would be good. I don’t really know how to target visceral fat. I haven’t really changed my diet. Your being an autodidact on this exact thing, I’d imagine you have a little advice for losing visceral fat, even for a non-ectomorph. Ideally I’d be 12-15% with a flat stomach and down 30lbs. Would look better and would make running and pull-ups easier.

    • Shane Duquette, BDes on July 18, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      Congrats on the successful cut, Tom. 36% down to 16% while adding 30 pounds of lean mass is absolutely badass. You must have completely transformed your physique. Amazing.

      Regarding visceral fat, that’s a totally rad question. You’re right, that’s not my area of expertise… but I asked Eric Trexler, PhD, from over at Stronger by Science, and he said: “I could see value in trying to avoid excessive addition of new visceral fat while bulking (largely by staying active and keeping an eye on maintaining reasonable saturated fat and fructose intakes), but I don’t know how you could effectively lose visceral fat rather than subcutaneous in a magnitude large enough to have meaningful health applications … the preferred strategy is just to lose fat, and the specific locations will level themselves out.”

      Greg Nuckols, MA, added: “I’d need to dig for the citations, but I’m pretty sure exercise with weight loss vs. diet alone causes greater preferential loss of visceral fat since it’s better vascularized and more labile (so more likely to be liberated and oxidized during and after exercise). There are even some studies showing notable visceral fat reductions with no weight loss or minimal weight loss for that reason. So you don’t need to do anything special – just make sure you’re exercising.”

      To get to the root of your question, though, men store the bulk of their subcutaneous fat over their abs, and they store the bulk of their visceral fat under their abs. More visceral fat would mean a bigger, harder belly. More subcutaneous fat would mean a bigger, flabbier belly. Prioritizing the visceral fat would be better for your health, but I don’t think it would do a better job of flattening out your stomach. For the goal of flattening out your stomach, lowering your overall body-fat percentage would get you the best bang for your buck. And, at least for healthy men, the gut, and specifically the fat over the lower abs, is usually the last place to go.

      It sounds like you’re losing fat overall, lifting weights, and doing HIIT, so you’re already doing all the right things. Just gotta drive it a little lower 🙂

      I really hope that helps. And good luck!

      • Tom on July 18, 2019 at 6:39 pm

        Your article brought up some really interesting points about how some body fat measuring methods, like the Navy, might not be great for people built like me. I lost a bunch of fat but also built muscle all over, including the waist area. I’ll have to dig more into the methods, including the mirror method. The Navy method does show higher than the other methods.

        Thanks for following up with the other experts, too. I like the advice to stick with the HIIT and weights and watch the saturated fat and fructose intake. Basically, reel in the diet and keep doing what I’m doing. Stick with it and let the chips fall where they fall.

        Yes– thankfully my body is responding to the HIIT and weights and my physique has changed a lot for the better. My body is waking up…

  16. […] Here’s our article about how to estimate your body-fat by looking at your stomach […]

  17. […] morning quite a bit lighter. Guys normally don’t mind how they look in this state, since it makes them look leaner, but it can freak us skinny guys out because of the weight loss. Fortunately, the alcohol […]

  18. […] Second, we live in a three-dimensional world where our overall upper-body width and size is considered. In addition to bulking up our shoulders, we can also change the shape of our bodies by building up bigger chests and upper backs, and also making sure that our waists are lean. […]

  19. […] happy with my physique. It’s not because I was getting fat, either. I was under 10% body fat (estimated in the mirror). And I didn’t have the problem of having flat skinny abs, either. I had great ab […]

  20. […] from genetics to daily activity levels to how well you sleep. If you naturally have a higher body-fat percentage, adding in some cardio (or just moving more in general) is often a good way for skinny-fat guys to […]

  21. How to Bulk Up a Bony Upper Back | Bony to Beastly on September 22, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    […] are big and strong. After all, skinny guys often have skinny abs as well. That’s why even at low body-fat percentages, we often don’t have visible abs. In fact, it’s common for skinny guys to think that […]

  22. How to Build a More Attractive Physique: Infographic on September 22, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    […] Next, cut your body-fat percentage to 15% or lower. […]

  23. Bony to Beastly—The Skinny Struggle is Real on September 22, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    […] basically means that our bodies would rather burn off energy as heat or movement than store it as body fat. A study looking into metabolisms found that most people burned 3% more calories sitting in a chair […]

  24. […] is to eat lots of nutritious bulking foods with lots of good nutrients in them and maintain a healthy body-fat percentage (not really much concern there for us skinny guys) for a steady stream of willpower and energy […]

  25. Marc on December 15, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Hi,

    My body doesn’t really look like any of these. I’m very skinny and can see my ribs, but I have a bit of a belly, so does that mean i’m above 15% body fat?

  26. AJ on February 3, 2020 at 4:02 am

    “When you’re over 15% body fat, your inflated muscle cells start to interfere with your overall insulin sensitivity”.

    Wait… Don’t you mean inflated FAT cells?

    • Shane Duquette on February 8, 2020 at 7:26 am

      Oops, yes, thank you for catching that. Fixed 🙂

  27. Alex on February 10, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Hey Shane, great article! Now that I’ve read I’m still a bit unsure which route to take. I’m a beginner at 5’8 and I weigh 138 lbs at 16% bodyfat. I really don’t know if I should be cutting down to 15 and below or should I be lean bulking? I know there is recomp but I remember you saying it’s an extremely slow process.

    • Shane Duquette on February 12, 2020 at 10:19 am

      Hey Alex, good question. As a beginner, you can build some muscle even as you cut down to under 15%. I think that would be a good first step. There’s really no right or wrong answer, though. If you’re more excited about the idea of getting bigger and stronger than you are about getting leaner, you could start with a slow bulk and then worry about your body-fat percentage later. But as a general rule of thumb, cutting down often works well for skinny-fat beginners because they build some muscle as they do it 🙂

  28. […] weight: the ideal rate of weight gain depends on how skinny you are, how new to lifting you are, how lean you are, and how aggressive you want to be with your bulk. But the important thing is that you can at least […]

  29. Steve on April 18, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Hi Shane, thanks for this article, it was a joy to read!

    I am 134 ibs at 5’8 and hold very little muscle mass. I like to think i’m a beginner. I carry a most of my fat around the lower back/glute/thigh and chest area, judging by the pictures i believe i’m around 15-16% BF. To be honest, I prefer the route of cutting then bulking as I am conscious about fat levels and looking more “disproportionate” as my lower body is bigger than my upper. I have a few questions:

    How long/what weight should I cut before starting the lean bulk?

    Due to the gyms being closed, will body weight exercises (and some weights such as weighted pull ups & dips) be a good enough substitute for hypertrophy training?

    Finally, I do enjoy doing 5k runs/playing football. The program i am following prefers to not change my calorie intake according to exercise, should I be as i’m already quiet skinny/light?

    Thanks Shane, definitely lifted my spirits

    • Shane Duquette on April 19, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Hey Steve, thank you! 🙂

      If you’re only 15–16% then you don’t really need to cut much before you start bulking. Maybe aim to lose ten pounds over the next ten weeks and then reassess. To do that, you need a calorie deficit of around 500 calories per day, and you’ll know you’re in that deficit when you’re losing around a pound per week. So, no, you don’t necessarily need to adjust your calorie intake based on cardio or sports, but you do need to adjust your calorie intake based on whether you’re losing weight or not. Whenever your weight loss stalls, maybe drop another 200 or so calories lower. (How precise you want to be with calorie counting/tracking is up to you. And keep in mind that aggressive weight loss can suppress the immune system.)

      It’s possible to maintain and even gain muscle with bodyweight training. For instance, push-ups will give your chest a similar growth stimulus to the bench press. You just need to make sure that you take your sets close to muscular failure, especially as the rep ranges get higher. However, some muscle groups are easier to train than others. Bodyweight leg exercises tend to be a bit harder to bulk with. The back can be hard, too, if you don’t have a pull-up bar (although you can do inverted rows underneath a table).

      Finally, even if you do lose muscle in some areas (such as your legs and spinal erectors), it’s not the end of the world. Your muscles will deflate a bit, but it’s very easy to regain that size and strength once you get back to proper training. I wouldn’t let that worry hold you back 🙂

  30. Raja K on May 1, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Excellent article. I have a question or two, actually 🙂

    I am 5’9, 1 50 lb, 175cm 37YO. Skinny Fat obviously. My BF is approx 15% ish (based on the pictures). Started weight lifting + severe diet 4 months ago. Brought down my weight from 170LB to 150Lb in first 8 weeks. And been hitting gym regularly (4-5 times a week) plus regular cardio (twice a week, 5 to 6km uphill walk, or 15-20 mins HIT sprints).

    For last 6-7 weeks my weight loss has stalled at around 150LB. I did increase my calories a few weeks ago from 1300 to 1700. However, I am confused by this situation. Given the amount of exercise I am doing (weights + cardio) I should still be in a huge caloric deficit and my weight should drop. But it’s not happening. So it means either I am gaining muscle (I mean I can see some progress month over month changes as the body gets leaner, but it’s not evident enough that I can look at myself and say yes I am gaining muscle), Or i am not losing Fat at all.

    In my situation, even though I am lifting weights, should my weight drop given I am in a caloric deficit? or is it possible that I am gaining more muscle (but due to amount of BF it’s not evident/ obvious)

    Finally, would you recommend I start bulking or keep the “cut” going until my lower belly fat and some lower chest fat get get reduced.

    Thank you

    • Shane Duquette on May 1, 2020 at 12:22 pm

      Hey Raja, congrats on the lifting, fat loss, and cardio! That sounds like a totally killer routine. No wonder it’s working so well 🙂

      Our metabolisms adapt to how much food eating making our calorie goals a moving target. If you’re losing weight, you’re in a deficit. If you aren’t, you aren’t. Since you aren’t losing weight, that shows that you aren’t in a deficit. If you want to get back into a calorie deficit, you need to drop your calorie intake lower. To do that, I’d trim off 200 calories.

      Your other question is whether you’re experiencing body composition instead of fat loss. If you’re getting stronger in the gym and your weight is holding steady, you probably are. But I wouldn’t expect to see any differences in the mirror from one month to the next. That would be more of a difference that you’d notice over many months or perhaps even years. Body recomposition can certainly happen, but it tends to be fairly slow. For quicker results, it’s usually better to be in a calorie surplus (for faster muscle gain) or a calorie deficit (for faster fat loss).

      These two questions also raise another point: calorie deficits are about weight loss, not fat loss. If you aren’t losing weight, you aren’t in a calorie deficit, regardless of whether you’re losing fat (or muscle) or not. And even if you aren’t in a deficit, as mentioned above, it’s still possible to slowly lose fat (if you’re also gaining muscle). But it’s slow. If you want quicker results, better to get back into a calorie deficit.

      As for whether to bulk or cut, that’s totally up to you! I normally like to cut down to around 10–12% before bulking, but that’s really a matter of personal preference. I think 15% is a reasonably place to start a bulk from. Just maybe consider stopping before you reach 20% (at which point some negative health effects may start to occur).

      I hope that helps, good luck, and congrats on the progress you’ve already made!

      • Raja K on May 1, 2020 at 1:55 pm

        Hi Shane. Thank you for your insightful and detailed reply. Very helpful.

        A couple of follow up questions:

        1) my gym strength is steadily increasing. While the waist has reduced and body is getting leaner (but the scale remains unchanged). Does it mean my body is going through a recomp? And if so when I gain muscle should my weight increase or decrease when I’m in a caloric deficit?

        I guess with my increased activity net calories (eaten vs burned) has gone up, but I’m not losing weight. So could it be that I’m gaining muscle which is stalling the weight loss.

        2) any guidance on macro split for skinny fat body type. In your experience should I do carb cycling. Or a balanced carb vs fats diet (I tend to keep 1g per lb body fat)

        Thanks again

        • Shane Duquette on May 1, 2020 at 4:43 pm

          My pleasure, man!

          1) If you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means that you’re burning more tissue for fuel than you’re building, causing weight loss. You’re not losing weight, so any fat you’re losing is being offset by the muscle that you’re building. That’s not a bad thing. Losing fat and building muscle is great. You’ll lose fat more quickly if you drop into a calorie deficit, but progress is progress. I don’t see any problem with continuing on with what you’re doing 🙂

          2) You might like our skinny-fat article. To answer your question, though, you don’t need to worry too much about carbs and fats, especially while cutting. Loosely aiming for balance is good. The most important thing is eating enough protein—around a gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day. (150g per day for you.) Carb cycling doesn’t hurt, though. You can do it if you prefer it. It may even slightly help. But it’s not a major factor. I don’t think you’d notice a difference in terms of results.

  31. Greg Gore on May 11, 2020 at 5:44 am

    In regards to your picture of “Taylor B”

    “He’s gaining over a pound per week but he’s hardly gaining any fat.”

    I laughed out loud when I read that. Do you really think that people can gain 20+ lbs of muscle in 5-6 months?
    He’s absolutely gaining a lot of fat. Surely you know better. You mention several time how guys can gain 1lb of muscle per week.

    Other than that, great info. As a skinny guy who went from 150lbs to 200lbs at 6’4, I like most of what you have to say.

    • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2020 at 7:23 am

      Hey Greg, glad you’re liking the site, and congrats on the gains! 🙂

      Yeah, I know it’s a bit of an outlier opinion, but I do genuinely believe that skinny guys can gain 20+ pounds in 5–6 months. I watched my roommate gain over twenty pounds during his first month of bulking. We see members gain remarkable amounts of muscle all the time. I’ve done it myself more than once. I gained my first twenty pounds in three months, took a break, and then I gained the next twenty pounds in another three months. That took me from 130 to 170 pounds at 6’2. Now, obviously, not all weight gain is muscle. Some of that weight is fat, some is other tissue. But sometimes there’s “hardly any” fat. In my case, my body-fat percentage didn’t visibly rise. I’ve also done dreamer bulks where my body-fat percentage skyrocketed, mind you.

      I’m not saying everyone can do it, especially if they aren’t skinny and especially if they’ve already succeeded at gaining muscle in the past. But a lot of skinny guys can. I really do believe that. I’ve seen it too many times to doubt it, including with myself, including with my roommate, and including with hundreds of online clients.

      I realize it can seem contentious and lack context, though, so I’ve gone into depth in our articles on newbie gains and rate of muscle gain for skinny guys.

  32. Dino Aungpe on May 13, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    I have ectomorphic structure long legs short torso narrows should thin wrists and ankles at 5’10 i was 125lb when graduating high school But luckily me and my crew of friends all got into bodybuilding hardcore early 90s. I started putting on 30 pounds a year eventually started to look kind of normal when I was 160-180lbs then I got up to 230lb from when I first started 4 years ago, some enhancements of course Finally I looked jacked. I always had a goal of bulking never wanted to be lean, probably my years of suffering being so freakin skinny Now over the years I trimmed it back a notch I’m at 195lbs. Nowadays I want to be muscular w/lots of energy What drew me to you article today was although I’m about 17 to 19% body fat my abs are not really visible as they should be & I noticed my abs are very thinly muscled so I’m going to be training them with weighted crunches to build up my upper ribs and start trimming down so I can actually see them. Now I want to encourage anyone who is as skinny I was don’t lose hope you got to buckle down, learn all you can about eating and training, be really seriously dedicated and you’ll get there

    • Alejandro on May 16, 2020 at 7:34 am

      Great article and web page, best content I’ve seen yet for us skinnies.

      When assessing body fat with the mirror, should you have your abs relaxed or contracted as if to recieve a punch? I find quite a difference in the estimation. I’d say relaxed but would like to have your view.

      • Shane Duquette on May 16, 2020 at 10:19 am

        Thank you, Alejandro! That means a lot 🙂

        I’d say flexed. That’s true when taking measurements, too. Measure your biceps when flexed (although not pumped). Measure your waist at the narrowest point. As a general rule, judge yourself at your best.

  33. Steve Prevost on August 18, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    So… it would seem that you’re only looking at torsos? Legs do not “count”? i.e. Wanting aesthetics… but not necessarily function? What is your sport?

    • Shane Duquette on August 19, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      Hey Steve, good question!

      We store fat everywhere: our arms, torsos, necks, faces, and, of course, as you noted, our legs. Thing is, most men store most of their fat in their waists. I think that’s why abs are so coveted. A guy who has abs is almost always reasonably lean elsewhere. As a result, one of the best ways to guesstimate body-fat percentage is to look at the abs. If we were talking about women, that would change. Women store proportionally more fat in their hips and thighs, so we’d be looking at the lower body.

      If you’re asking about my personal goals and lifestyle, I’m a writer and illustrator who enjoys reading, drawing, playing video games, and hanging out with my wife and kid. I don’t play any sports or watch any sports or really know anything about sports at all. I do lift weights, though, and I like being good at it. And I like looking good, too! But that’s not a huge priority for me these days. I care more about being strong and healthy. And I’m already happy with how I look.

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