If you’re like a lot of dudes, your goal for the coming year is “to lose weight.”

Really though, you don’t want to lose weight, you want to lose fat. And this distinction matters because it relates to how you’re going to measure progress towards your goal. 

The most common way to measure fat loss is with a garden variety bathroom scale. But the number on a scale represents your overall body weight, which includes not only your fat, but also your muscles, bones, organs, and lots and lots of water.

Because a scale doesn’t only measure fat gain/loss, it doesn’t always give you an accurate picture of your progress. You may be feeling and looking trimmer, but find that you’ve gained a couple pounds when you hop on the scale. So have you gained fat, or does this added weight represent a gain in muscle or water? 

After a weekend of eating salty restaurant food, you can put on a few pounds of impermanent water weight that you’ll shed in a matter of days.

If you’ve been putting on muscle, which is heavier than fat, it’s possible to look like you’ve lost weight while actually gaining it.

Given these fluctuations and inaccuracies, it’s useful to move beyond the standard scale and isolate and track the measurement of your body fat percentage alone. Below we’ll give you the rundown on the different methods that can be used to do so.

What Should My Body Fat Percentage Be?

Before we get into how to measure your body fat percentage, let’s talk about the number you should be aiming for. You’ll find different charts out there giving you breakdowns of healthy-to-unhealthy body fat percentages. Here’s the body fat percentage chart from the American Council on Exercise:

DescriptionBody fat % (women)Body fat % (men)Athletes14%–20%6%–13%Fitness21%–24%14%–17%Acceptable25%–31%18%–24%Obesity>32%>25%

These are, of course, just general recommendations. The big takeaway is that if you’re a dude and your body fat percentage is greater than 24%, you should probably work on losing some body fat. For insight on how to lose weight, I’d recommend the following AoM articles and podcasts:

The Groundhog Day Diet: Why I Eat the Same Thing Every DayHow to Eat What You Want and Still Lose WeightEverything You Need to Know About Diet and Fat LossHow to Lose Weight, and Keep It Off ForeverDiet and Nutrition Advice From the Doctor of Gains

If you’re not above 24%, I’d say it’s up to you and your personal goals/desires/commitment-level as to where you’d like your body fat to be. Take it from someone who attempted to reduce his body fat to the 6%-13% range: it’s hard. You’ll be hungry. You’ll be cranky. You’ll be distracted at work. Your performance in the gym will suffer (contrary to popular belief, you can’t get both ripped and strong at the same time). I aborted that mission about a month into it. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a bodybuilder who aims to get down to just “essential body fat” which is like 3%-5%. There’s a reason they only go that low for competitions and don’t look like that the rest of the year. It’s not healthy or sustainable.

Since that experiment in trying to look shredded, I’ve decided to keep my body fat percentage in the 15-17% range. Sure, I don’t look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, but I feel good and am happy with how I look. It