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What percentage fat before I see my abs?

DEXA see my abs

One of the questions we get asked very often (by men) following a DEXA scan is: “what percentage body fat do I have to be before I see my abs?”

One of the commonest rule-of-thumb responses is ten percent. But like a lot of stuff to do with the body, it depends.

Look at this scan report for Dave, who has put on both fat and muscle in 12 weeks and now stands at 17.6% fat. Moreover, he is 17.5% fat in the trunk and 20% in the belly (android) region. But the photos above show he has respectable (certainly noticeable) abs at the front despite being able to pinch at least an inch at the side.

Compare that to Peter, whose DEXA fat percentages are just 14.4%, 13.1% (trunk) and 16.1% (belly) and whose abs remain elusive (sorry, we didn’t take a photo).

Dave says he’s just blessed with good, thick abs and works them hard by adding weights to exercises such as hanging leg lifts and incline crunches. He’s not in the camp that believes abs don’t need their own workout; he will usually train them hard twice a week.

A quick look at the pair’s respective lean mass index (lean mass divided by height-squared in the Lean Indices table on the first page of each report) shows up significant lean mass/muscle differences: 23.6 for Dave, 21.5 for Peter. That 2.1 is a big difference for an index where 19.5 is average and 25 is steroid territory.

Further, relying on body fat percentage doesn’t really make much sense because it’s just an average over your entire body. You might carry your fat atypically. And you can have a low percentage (or proportion) of fat but still be carrying a lot of it in terms of kilos. That’s what the DEXA’s fat mass index and regional data will make clear.

So it seems that to see your abs you need one or more of: a low FMI, low percentage fat in the abs, high lean mass index, a good abs routine and genetic luck!

To understand how your own fat and muscle is distributed and what you can do (if anything) to get closer to washboard territory, book your first Baseline DEXA scan with consultation and all will become clear. As many of Bodyscan’s reviews say, you’re likely to get much, much more from the experience than you were expecting. We have two easy-to-reach clinics in London, in Marylebone and the City. All our bookings are taken online.