Normal Measurements for Body Fat and Muscle

Skinfold measurements with calipers are one way to estimate body fat.
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Although you need some fat on your body, you don't want it hanging over the top of your pants. Calling them "love handles" doesn't make it cute. It's important to understand what is a healthy, and normal, amount of fat vs. excessive body fat. Currently over 64 percent of adult women are overweight or obese, according to the Weight-control Information Network. Understanding the norms for body fat vs. lean mass can help you stay healthy and avoid the muffin top.

Body Fat Norms

The American College of Sports Medicine advises that women with a body fat percentage of 20 to 32 are considered healthy. That's a pretty big range and averages women of all ages. If you're between 20 and 29, your body fat should be between 12 and 24 percent. If you're between 30 and 39, aim to keep your body fat between 14 and 25 percent. Do not go below about 12 to 14 percent body fat, as it can alter your hormones and even affect your menstrual cycle.

Measuring Body Fat

When you get your body fat measured, it is an estimate of how much of your body is fat and how much is lean tissue. Lean tissue is everything other than fat, including muscle. Underwater weighing is considered one of the best methods for measuring body fat, but it is not available at most fitness facilities. It requires a specialized scale and tub in order to literally take your weight underwater. There is also bioelectrical impedance, which is not a very accurate method because factors such as dehydration can drastically affect your results.One common and fairly accurate method is skinfold measurements. This involves pinching and measuring different areas of your body and putting these measurements into an equation to estimate body fat percentage. This can be done by most certified fitness professionals.

Monitoring Your Body Fat

Often women use a scale as a method of determining how much fat they have on their bodies. However, because the scale measures everything, it is not a true indicator of body fat. The truth is that muscle weighs more than fat, so if you are fit, the number on the scale may be higher than you think it should be. If you want to monitor your progress at home, use circumference measurements or just go by how your clothes fit. You can chart your progress and then follow up with a fitness professional to do a more accurate measurement.


Changing the amount of fat and muscle on your body requires diet and exercise. Tougher still, it requires time and consistency. Don't expect to see big changes each week but, instead, look for positive changes over time. To lower your body fat, engage in cardio three to five days per week for at least 30 minutes. Keep your intensity moderate to high to burn more calories and fat from your body. Increase your muscle tissue, or lean mass, by performing resistance exercise two to three days per week. Choose an exercise for each major muscle group and do one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes lean sources of protein, heart healthy unsaturated fats and whole grains. Avoid overeating heavy, processed and fried foods to keep your body fat down.

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