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

Did you know that being skinny means you can’t use the normal way of measuring your body-fat percentage? Or that being just a little bit too skinny-fat might sabotage your ability to build muscle leanly? Or that most body-fat percentage charts are ruined by a fatal flaw?

In this article, we cover why your body-fat percentage matters even as an ectomorph, how to measure it properly, and then we’ll run through some real-life examples (with pictures) so that you’ll know exactly what to do next.

But first, let me show you just how ridiculous this can be for skinny guys. Let’s take a totally average guy in this study. He goes to get a DEXA scan, and he’s told that he has a body-fat percentage of 20%. Then he goes to sit in the BodPod, which puts him at 22%. A bit of a discrepancy, but he can be reasonably confident that he’s between 20–22%. Moreover, both of those body-fat percentages have the same implication for his health and appearance: he’s a decently healthy guy who looks a bit out of shape.

The overweight guy goes in next. DEXA puts him at 34%. BodPod puts him at 32%. Now it’s DEXA that’s estimating high, but the discrepancy is still just 2%. Again, not a big difference at all. He’s overweight either way.

Now you walk in. DEXA puts you at 9%. Amazing! Not only are you lean enough to bulk aggressively, but you’re also leaner than most professional athletes. Next, you get your BodPod done. It tells you you’re 16% body fat…

Huh? 16% is a high enough body-fat percentage that you shouldn’t even be bulking at all yet. You should be cutting.

You’ve spent a few hundred dollars and an entire day getting two of the most accurate body-fat percentage tests in the world, and you can’t even tell if you should start bulking or not. For guys who are underweight, DEXA and BodPod can be off by up to 13%. Totally useless.

So what should you do?

…and wait a second. Why shouldn’t you bulk if you’re 16% body fat?

Why 15% body fat marks a turning point

When we’re under 10% body fat, our deflated fat cells are hungry, making it hard to bulk leanly, and if we focus on trying to stay at very low body-fat percentages, we’ll build muscle very slowly. If we’re lucky, we’ll gain a pound every month, and even then, only half of it will be muscle. This gets more and more extreme as our body-fat percentage gets lower, so building muscle at 9% is a lot easier than building muscle at 5%.

For example, when a bodybuilder steps off the stage and gets back to eating a regular amount, he’ll often gain 10–20 pounds of pure fat. And that’s actually a good thing. His body needs fat far more than it needs muscle at this point. Then when he gets closer to 10% body fat, he can start bulking properly again.

Also keep in mind that if we cut down to under 10%, it tends to make our faces look worse. Muscles look good when we’re lean, but we don’t have many muscles on our face, so at low body-fat percentages, our faces can start to look bony.

When we’re over 15% body fat, some experts believe that our inflated fat cells can start to interfere with your overall insulin sensitivity. If that’s true, then even a great weightlifting routine wouldn’t be able to get our muscle fibres quite as insulin sensitive, and even a good muscle-building diet wouldn’t be able to spark quite as much muscle-protein synthesis.

On the other, most research looking into the hormonal effects of various body-fat percentages only tends to notice an effect when guys get over 20% body fat. So it could be that these changes don’t really start to manifest at 15%. Even so, this effect gets more pronounced as our body-fat percentages get higher, so bulking at 17% is certainly a lot easier than bulking at 30%.

This may be why so many skinny-fat guys are unable to bulk leanly. When we gain weight, it seems to be mostly fat. So we cut away the fat until we’re back down to 20%, and then we try bulking up again, and again we just get fatter. So we give up, thinking that our genetics suck.

Our genetics don’t suck, though. We’re just not lean enough to bulk properly. We should be reducing our body-fat percentages a bit before trying to bulk up. Here’s how that works: what to do if you’re tired of being skinny-fat.

Note: being over 15% body fat doesn’t mean we’re fat. The average healthy guy has 20% body fat. It just so happens that when we’re trying to build muscle, it may be better to be on the leaner side of healthy.

When we’re in that golden zone of 10–15% body fat, our fat cells are satiated enough that our insulin sensitivity drops. But they aren’t so full that they start messing with our hormones, either. They’re neutral. So when we start following a good bulking program, the insulin sensitivity in our muscle cells will skyrocket. If we feed ourselves a good muscle-building diet, then our muscle fibres will grow and our fat cells will not (or at least not as much).

For example, here’s Taylor gaining 20 pounds while staying between 10–15% body fat.

He’s gaining over a pound per week but he’s hardly gaining any fat. And he’s just doing three workouts per week, each lasting about an hour. No crazy supplements or anything wild, just a solid science-based approach to building muscle.

This is why it’s so important to be able to guesstimate our body-fat percentages. It doesn’t matter if we’re a few points off, but we need to know whether our body-fat percentages are in the cutting or bulking range.

Getting under 15% body fat is important visually as well. That’s when we start to look like we’re in good shape. It’s not enough to impress other men, but it’s when we start to look optimally attractive to women.

Some women do prefer chiseled abs, but the research pretty clearly shows that most guys have fairly optimal attractiveness by the time they get down to 15% body fat. This will not only give us great muscle definition, but it will also make our faces look lean and healthy.

The other thing to keep in mind about our abs is that we don’t just need to cut down to a low body-fat percentage, we also need to bulk up our abs. Most overweight people naturally have bigger muscles, including their ab muscles. For them, getting lean will yield great ab definition. However, for us naturally skinny guys, our abs are often skinny. We need to bulk them up in order to see them properly. So getting overly lean before bulking up our abs often doesn’t work very well.

Still, if you’re much over 15% body fat, the quickest way to make yourself more attractive is to trim off a few body-fat percentage points. This is true even for skinny guys. If you haven’t built much muscle yet, a good muscle-building program combined with a good cutting diet should allow you to gain a few pounds of muscle even while you lose fat.

Then when you get down to 10–15% body fat, the best way to become more attractive is to focus on building muscle—on bulking up. And since your muscle cells will be more insulin sensitive, you’ll be able to build muscle more leanly (examples coming).

This is all to say that we need a fairly precise way to determine whether we’re under 15% body fat or not.

How to figure out 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.

What about bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) scales? They’re 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.

To give you an example of how bad BIA scales can be, when I was bulking up from 130 to 170 pounds, it told me that my body-fat percentage had climbed from 10% up to 20%. This made me sad, but I tried my best to ignore it because my abs looked the same as they always did.

Then something strange happened when I made it up to 185 pounds. It determined that I had an “athletic” body composition, so it switched to using a different algorithm. Instead of 20% body fat, it started saying I was 8.5% body fat.

The Navy’s measuring tape method? Again, this way of measuring body-fat percentage used to determine whether a guy is overweight or not. Plus, it reads muscle gain the same as it reads fat gain. Bigger ab and lower back muscles will increase your waist measurement, after all.

How about skin fold calipers? Skin fold calipers require a decent amount of training to use properly. Otherwise, they don’t measure body-fat percentage well enough to be that helpful. Still, they’re affordable, you can use them from the comfort of your own home, and they can work well if you can learn to have a skillful hand. Not bad at all, and the best method so far.

That brings us to:

The mirror method. Assuming you already have a mirror, this method is free. It’s also easy. And so long as you’re between 9–15% body fat, it’s actually quite accurate. Unlike the other methods, this is a method that works better the more muscle definition you have. So it works well when you’re thin, and then even better as you gain muscle.

Moreover, if you’re over 15% body fat, you know you should be cutting anyway. So even when the mirror is inaccurate, it’s still accurate enough to tell you that you should be cutting.

Now, you might be thinking, if you’re cutting, won’t you want to track your body-fat percentage to make sure that it’s going down? Actually, no. There are better ways to track your cutting progress.

After all, you should always be following a good weightlifting program while cutting. Obese guys will lose mostly fat when they lose weight, but us naturally skinny guys / ectomorphs are more prone to losing muscle. Since we don’t have any muscle to spare, lifting weights while losing weight is mandatory.

So, since we’re lifting weights anyway, you can just make sure that you aren’t getting weaker. If you’re maintaining or gaining strength, you aren’t losing muscle.

To track how much fat you’re losing, you should weigh yourself each week while cutting. If you aren’t losing 1–2 pounds each week, you need to adjust your calorie deficit. This is how you ensure that you’re steadily losing fat.

So all you need to do while cutting is monitor your strength in the gym, monitor your weight on the scale, and then check how you’re looking in the mirror.

This means that even while cutting, the mirror works pretty well as your primary way of tracking your body-fat percentage.

…But in order to use the mirror, you need to know what you look like at different body-fat percentages.

In theory, that’s easy enough. You can just look up a photo of people at various body-fat percentages. Problem is, most of those comparisons are useless for us ectomorphs.

Here’s a good example of a chart that doesn’t help us:

This Nerd Fitness chart is actually a whole lot better than most, but I chose it because I like Nerd Fitness, and because Steve Kamb 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’s GK’s progress over the course of The Bony to Beastly Program. He managed to stay at around 10% body fat the entire way through, but you can see that he started the program with almost no muscle definition, and finished the program looking totally chiseled. This has nothing to do with fat, everything to do with muscle.

So when you get a chart with random variance in muscle mass, it’s impossible to compare body-fat percentage. We can see someone’s muscle definition changing, yes, but we have no way to tell whether that’s due to varying degrees of muscle mass or body 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.

Moreover, the lighting isn’t the same. For an example of why that matters so much, take a look at Omar’s progress pictures. Like GK, he’s at roughly 10% body fat before and after bulking up.

On the left, he’s at the beach and there’s a lot of ambient lighting. He has abs, but you can only just barely see them. On the right, you can see that he’s gained a ton of size in his chest, traps, shoulders and arms, but is he also leaner? It’s impossible to tell because the lighting is so different.

Generally, overhead lighting will make you look more muscular than ambient lighting. This is why you probably look leaner in your bathroom mirror than you do on the beach (depending on the weather).

It’s even harder for us ectomorphs because so few examples show us skinny guys at varying body-fat percentages.

So we’ve got two charts:

  1. An ectomorph who hasn’t bulked up yet.
  2. An ectomorph who’s successfully built a good amount of muscle mass.

And we’ve used illustrations so that we can keep all the variables constant except for body fat.

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 abs and your butt (to rotate your hips into a decent position)
  4. Compare your abs and muscle definition to these charts

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

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

Real-life body-fat percentage examples

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 here (BMI of 24) so I’m heavy enough for these methods to be fairly accurate.

Here’s what that looks like in video, and with less flattering lighting. As you can see, I look the most like the 12% illustration shown above.

If you want to see what that ideal 10–15% range looks like, here are some bulking transformations of guys doing our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. I’ll also give some examples of guys bulking at slightly under 10%, or slightly over 15%. That should give you a good idea of what it looks like to have a body-fat percentage that’s ideal for bulking.

I’ll give my guesses for what their body-fat percentages are both before and after, but keep in mind that the big distinction we’re trying to make is whether they’re lean enough to be bulking.

Here’s a great example of bulking at a very lean body-fat percentage. EddiB is only just halfway through the program now, and he’s still going strong, but so far it looks like his body-fat percentage is ever-so-slowly climbing up from around 7% as he goes.

What’s great about this is that even if he gains a few more pounds of fat as he continues bulking, he should be able to finish his bulk at an ideally lean body-fat percentage.

Here’s a good example of starting at a very lean body-fat percentage. JonKyp went from something like 7% up to what looks more like 10%. This is a good example of faces looking great at around 10% body fat.

Here’s Nick starting at what must be around 8% body fat. He’s quite lean after gaining 27 pounds, but I’d guess he’s climbed up to around 11% 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 probably gained something like 2.5 pounds of fat to maintain his body-fat percentage at 10%.

Lucas gained a bunch of muscle definition as he bulked up, but he’s probably at around 12% both before and after. He’s still at the lower end of the range, so he could just keep right on bulking without any issue.

Here’s Ash gaining a couple percentage points as he bulks, but winding up looking better for it. Looks like around 10% to start, more like 13% at the end.

I’m guessing Patrick was around 11% starting out and around 15% at the end of his 40-pound bulk. At this point, he might want to cut off a few pounds before bulking up more, but he wouldn’t have to—he’s still just barely lean enough at the end.

Here’s JoeBrusk, who started with way more muscle. He was probably at around 15% at the beginning (which is lean enough to look optimally attractive to women), but after some body recomposition, he finished at around 10% (which is lean enough to look impressively badass to other dudes).

John L started out with a good amount of muscle, and at around 14%, I’d guess. He finished at around 15%, I’d say, given that his muscles have about the same amount of definition despite being quite a big larger.

Here’s Hugo starting and around 11% and finishing at around 14%. What’s cool about this one is that he’s gained such an incredible amount of muscle that he’s got way better muscle definition despite being a few body-fat percentage points higher.

Here’s a good example of bulking up at the upper limit of that ideal bulking range. I’m thinking Josua is flirting with 16–17%. This has him starting off with little definition, but finishing looking like some sort of professional football player.

I normally use my 130–185lbs bulking transformation, but here’s me at 200lbs cutting down to 180lbs. I started the cut at around 20% body fat and finished at around 10%.

Klaus is a good example of someone who came in at around 20% body fat. He was able to transform his physique by alternating between cutting and bulking, finishing 22 pounds heavier at around 9–10% body fat. What’s so amazing about this is how radically his overall body shape has changed. He’s got a pronounced v-taper by the end of it.

So what now?

If you’re under 15% body fat, the best way to improve your physique is to bulk up, and the good news is that you should be able to build muscle quite quickly. A beginner can gain 1–2 pounds per week, eventually slowing down to gain around 0.5–1 pound per week. You can expect to gain at least 20 pounds in 3–5 months.

If you’re over 15% body fat, the best way to improve your physique is to cut. If you’re still fairly skinny, you should be able to build a decent amount of muscle even while losing weight overall. Over the course of the next 3 months you could expect to lose 20 pounds of fat while gaining a few pounds of muscle. That will already have a dramatic impact on your physique, and then when you transition to bulking, you should be able to gain around a pound of muscle per week. If you started at 20% body fat, after 8 months (3 months cutting + 5 months bulking) you could expect to be at around 12% body fat with around 20 extra pounds of muscle on your frame.

Figuring out your body-fat percentage is fairly simple, but staying lean while bulking requires a great system, as does cutting. If you want more guidance on how to do that properly, we can walk you through everything with The Bony to Beastly program.

Shane Duquette, BDes, is a writer and illustrator with a degree in design from York University. He co-founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he specializes in helping skinny people bulk up.

More about Shane here.

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  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:

      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?


    • 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!

  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%.

    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?



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  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…

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


    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 🙂

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