Leanness Defined

I’m the rare individual who believes the obesity rates in America are overstated. We aren’t as fat and unhealthy as the government numbers suggest. They are using the BMI, which in my opinion is a near worthless metric. I’ve discussed this before. Today I want to cover the other end of the spectrum: leanness.

What does it mean to be lean? The best definition and labeling system I have read comes from the article Shredded in 6 Days by Christian Thibaudeau and Chris Shugart. In this article the authors lay down 4 levels of leanness along with photos. Here are the 4 levels.

  • Level 1 – Flat stomach with no ab definition.
  • Level 2 – Level 1 + some upper ab definition.
  • Level 3 – Level 2 + lower ab definition.
  • Level 4 – Level 3 with deep cuts and “dry” (no water weight)

The article explains that Level 4 is for competing bodybuilders to get stage ready. It probably has little merit for everyone else. It is also geared toward men. Most women don’t look good at very low levels of body fat. Since this article is written for bodybuilders and not the average person, I’m going to add a new Level.

  • Level 0 – You are mostly lean, but your abs aren’t quite flat.

Many people who think of themselves as lean are at Level 0. And that is perfectly fine, especially for females. In the next post, I am going to start a discussion on moving up the Leanness Levels.


Add yours

  1. i am about level 2 according to the picture but with less mucscle. level 1 picture appears soft to me. can’t imagine what 0 or lower will look like.

    btw, i trained in 24 degrees today and it felt great. it is amazing how i can tolerate cold so much better than most people since upping my exposure.

  2. @Chuck – Do you feel that cold weather training has made you leaner? I can’t tell how much of a role it has had in my fat loss.

  3. i doubt i have become leaner due to cold exposure. i have been doing it in the shower for about a year. just a few minutes cold then back to hot, rinse and repeat (pun intended). recently i have done almost full body submersion in my tub and it is way more intense. i have only trained in the cold once. i have created a hobo gym in my garage that i intend to train in all year round. today was my first session in cold.

    being in football a lot of my life i always had this mentality that i had to keep my weight up. i still have that. there is something subconcious about 170 that i want to stay above it. being below it make me feel like a pu$$y. so i eat like crazy to try to keep my weight up. but i still stay lean.

    in the end, i am not sure i am getting enough cold exposure to affect my body composition. i will say i am as lean as i have ever been yet i can tolerate cold a lot better. i was out walking around in breezing mid 20s weather with sweat pants and a sweat shirt on and was perfectly comfortable.

  4. @chuck – It sounds like you could handle more carbs if your goal is to increase your weight. I was just reading how Sumo wrestlers eat a low fat, high carb diet to get their weight up. It is ironic that most people consider that to be a leaning diet.

  5. can’t get anything by you. yes, i have actually upped my carb intake in the last month or so. mostly in the form of fruits, yams, and squashes. i don’t want to gain weight to sacrifice leannes. i do want to gain muscle mass. i tweeked my back a while ago and am struggling to get back to training hard. but i am training. i also wonder if the low carb is is effecting muscle hydration in a negative way.

  6. @Chuck – I am experimenting now with doing slow negatives (4 seconds) on machines with very heavy weights. It lets me work out at a higher intensity in a way that gets around injuries. One exercise I am playing with is the leg press using a single leg.

    I use a Seasonal Approach where I focus on fat loss in the winter and muscle gains in the summer. Lower carbs and more sleep when there is less daylight (repair mode) and higher carbs and more activity when the days are long (growth mode).

  7. i know that machines are probably safer in the long run. I am just not ready to accept that reality. It is so glitter gym ;). I have spent time creating “the non-gym” in my garage. i have an 80 pound sand bag, gymnastic rings, pull up handles, a 30 pd. kb, and a 60 pd. kb. there is a myriad of things i can do there and at 37 i feel i can still do things this way. i also have a $9 per month membership at ballys where i can do the machine stuff.

    i do like your philosophy of weight fluctuations. seems like a natural way the body would want to ebb and flow.

  8. @Chuck – Your home gym sounds awesome. I miss having one.

    I’m split on the machines vs free weights debate. Free weights are what I enjoy and what keeps me coming back to the gym. However, I totally understand the argument that ectomorphs can do better on arm and leg specific movements using machines.

  9. i was thinking about this as i drove. why am i compelled to continue on free weights? i have been competitive in sports all my life. something about free weights gets my competitive juices flowing. you do not have to be a physics major to figure out how much weight you really lifted. put 300 pounds on your shoulders, squat down and stand up. pretty easy to appreciate that accomplishment.

    when i do go to my glitter i have been doing some finishing exercises on machines further tension my muscles. this is something that has only been recent.

    btw, your blog is newish to me. i have been reading the likes of MDA and Free the Animal for 4 years. Wish I discovered you back then. You have some unique perspectives even compared to those sites. Interesting thing I don’t read about is sunglasses. I used to be blinded by sunlight but recently decided to try without sunglasses for a while. I acclimated quickly. I wonder if this will help my eyesight later in life.

  10. @Chuck – Thanks for the kind words. I think there is a trend in the paleo movement to over complicate things. I believe in the Minimal Effort approach. The least amount of effort to achieve a goal is the most sustainable.

    I think you are right about sunglasses. I never owned a pair while living in Florida or San Diego. Nora Gedgaudas wrote Primal Body, Primal Mind. In that book I recall her saying to avoid sunscreen and sunglasses. Allow the body the chance to adapt and it will

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