Muscular or Low Body Fat

Posted: June 20, 2014 in General Fitness, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I saw something recently talking about very muscular body types, and I realized the person seemed to actually mean low body fat (and muscular) body types. At the same time I realized that we often talk about these things as if they are the same and I know I have before too.

But the truth is, they aren’t. Being very muscular doesn’t always mean having a very low body fat percentage. And I think this is important to keep in mind for a few reasons. One of which being that when we conflate these two things the result is dismissing the muscle mass of those who aren’t very lean. When we see a person who looks larger sized, we don’t think of them as muscular. To the extreme this can lead some to outright denying that such a person has much muscle mass. I remember reading an anecdote on a fat acceptance blog from a fat woman who was going through a fitness test and did not get any credit for ab exercises she did because the person administering the test said she couldn’t feel her abs under her abdominal fat and thus couldn’t verify she was engaging them in the movements. I wish I could properly source who this anecdote came from but it was years ago and at the time didn’t seem something worth bookmarking.

The truth is that you can have a lot of muscle and still have body fat over it. When someone uses a descriptive of someone as very muscular I think a lot of folks think of bodybuilder physiques. Yet, at least from what I understand of bodybuilding, even bodybuilders don’t look like that most of the time- bodybuilders typically get down to a very low body fat percentage for their competitions and do significant “cutting” before the competition. When in between competitions they frequently, from my understanding, do not maintain such low body fat percentages. A competitive bodybuilder probably still looks fairly lean and muscular between competitions, but not the extreme of what is seen in competition.

And when you start talking about folks who are not bodybuilders, many people can have lots of strength and muscle and not fit the idea of what we think of as a muscular look because they still have more body fat over that.

Spending a deal of time on a fitness based social media website, fitocracy, I see folks posting on there often about cutting and getting body fat down, particularly in order to get those visible abs. This requires specific weight loss effort beyond strength training because building muscle in and of itself does not get most people down to very low body fat levels.

Also keeping in mind that bodybuilding is about physique. When you start looking at competitive powerlifters or strongmen/strongwomen you still see a lot more variety in what competitors body’s look like than with bodybuilder competitions because those competitions  are not based around appearance.

Googling for strongmen photos brought up dudes like this:

And in my googlings web results brought up people all over various forums asking why stongmen don’t look “muscly” but just big or even fat.

And here, fyi, is a strongwoman from google results:

Well, they don’t look “muscly” the way bodybuilders do because strongmen competitions are not physique competitions like bodybuilder and so the training and diets for each are going to be different. These competitors are without a doubt very strong, requiring a lot of muscle, yet they don’t fit the common image of what we think of as a very muscular person looking like, because we conflate that with very low body fat, and perhaps even more specifically with bodybuilder physiques.


  1. […] is sexy” because it ignores strong women who are not conventionally attractive and thin, and a post on the difference between “muscular” vs low body fat. Looking at the athletes mentioned in those posts and you will see that fit and athletic bodies do […]

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