A while back I got a DEXA scan done to find out exactly how much fat I was carrying.
The results put me at 8.5% body fat – leaner than 99% of the general population, and probably leaner than 95% of fitness people. Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly NOT the leanest guy in the world. But I’ve learned a thing or two about getting down to single-digit body fat. So without further ado, here are 8 things I learned on my way to 8% body fat.
Before I jump into the 8 lessons, I want to answer one of the most common questions I receive about calculating body fat percentage. Yes, getting a DEXA scan is the “gold standard” for determining your body fat percentage.
But finding a spot near you that offers DEXA body fat scans can be difficult.
Check out DexaScan.com for a searchable database of Dexa Scan locations near you.
#1) Ab Exercises Are A Waste Of Time
I recently tore a rib muscle during a heavy set of overhead presses. A torn rib muscle is a particularly frustrating injury. Not only is strenuous exercise out of the questions, but laughing, breathing and even laying on the couch caused serious pain for quite a few weeks.
Needless to say say, sit-ups, crunches or any type of ab exercise had to be put on the shelf while I healed. But I kept a close watch on my diet and actually managed to lose a few pounds of fat during the ordeal. The result? I lost fat off my stomach and my abs got sharper and better defined – even though I wasn’t doing any sit-ups, crunches or cardio.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think you should completely ignore your abs just as I don’t think you should purposefully ignore any muscle group. But most people obsess over ab exercises in the hopes of one day getting six-pack abs. And the truth is you’re better off focusing on fat loss via caloric deficit rather than searching for a magical ab exercise.
#2) The Tape Measure Is More Useful Than The Scale
I can’t tell you how much you should weigh to get six-pack abs. But I can tell you what your waist should measure. When measured around the belly button, standing relaxed, most guys will need to have a waist measurement of 32 inches or less to have six-pack abs. A freakishly tall man might be able to get six-pack abs with a 33 or even a 34 inch waist, but most people of average height will need to bring the waist size down to 32 inches or less to get six-pack abs.
#3) Low-Level Motion is massively under-rated.
When it comes to losing fat everybody talks about diet and formal exercise. But almost nobody talks about the massive benefits of low-level motion. The more you move, the more you encourage the mitochondria in your cells to burn energy.
Sure, you can lose weight by eating less and exercising a few times a week. But you’ll be amazed at how much faster the weight just flies off when you make simple adjustments such as walking more often or doing any low-level activity that prevents you from sitting for long periods of time.
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#4) Abstinence Is Easier Than Moderation
In theory, “all things in moderation” is a good philosophy for diet, fitness and weight loss. In reality, we all suck at moderation. Having one beer, one cookie, or one handful of potato chips is fine… in theory. In reality, one beer turns into six just as one cookie turns into 50.
For that reason, it is usually more practical to simply swear off whatever is holding you back (alcohol, carbs, etc) for a short period of time rather than trying to to achieve success via moderation.
#5) You should lose fat quickly to outsmart your body
When it comes to fat loss, slow and steady sucks. That’s because your body is amazingly efficient and seems to find a way to overcome your “little improvements.” Take the idea that you can lose weight by simply replacing a 200 calorie snack with a 100 calorie snack. In theory, this should work. But in practice, you’ll most likely end up taking an extra bite somewhere else during the day, or moving slightly less than usual and burning fewer calories. In other words, your body will find a way to compensate and maintain your weight.
Better to go all-out for a few weeks and knock out the excess fat in one fell swoop.
#6) Ignore The Mirror
Most days, you won’t see much change in the mirror. Quite often, you will actually look WORSE than you did once you started your fat loss journey. Muscles will appear flat, and if you’re drinking extra water and eating more fiber your belly might appear bigger than it was when you started.
Don’t let the mirror mess with your mind. Stay the course. You might up up hating what you see in the mirror for 25 days in a row and then all of sudden find yourself looking lean & shredded on day 26.
#7) Sleep Will Suffer
The better you can sleep… and the longer you can sleep each night… the easier your weight loss will be. Unfortunately, dieting makes sleep difficult. That’s a sad fact but there’s no way around it. Carbs and alcohol are great for inducing sleep but if you want to lose weight you’ll need to minimize consumption of those items and unfortunately that means sleep suffers too.
Deal with it. Commit to get lean – even if that means suffering through some sleepless nights – and stay the course until you reach your goal.
#8) Hunger Is The Tool That Transforms
Most diet books try to sell you on the idea that you can lose weight without feeling hunger. And maybe you can if your goal is to go from 50% body fat to 40% body fat. But if you’re trying to get down to single-digit body fat levels, you are going to need to figure out how to deal with hunger.
Because hunger is the tool that transforms. When you feel hungry your body is finally getting a chance to tap into your stored body fat. And if you immediately stuff your face every time you feel a twinge of hunger, you’ll never get lean.
Hunger is a normal physiological response, but the way we approach the feeling of hunger doesn’t make much sense. Think of it this way:
What happens when a baby needs to poop or pee? Simple. The baby does so immediately without second thought. As the child gets older, he or she learns that just because he or she feels the need to use the bathroom, there is no need to immediately evacuate the bowels. As adults, we may feel the need to go to the bathroom but we can recognize the sensation and still control ourselves until it is convenient to go.
And yet, we seem completely unable to do the same with hunger. Just like the need to use the bathroom, we should be able to recognize the feeling of hunger but be able to wait until it is convenient to eat. If we get hungry at 4pm, we should be able to recognize the feeling and start making plans to consume a healthy meal within the foreseeable future. But instead we find ourselves drag-racing into the nearest fast food restaurant at 4:02pm. Because the feeling of hunger is so foreign to us as a society, we immediately give in to the sensation just as a baby immediately shits it’s diaper whenever the need arises.
Ok, weird example but the principle holds true: To get to single digit body fat, you must learn (re-learn?) how to deal with hunger.
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