Whether it’s your favorite actor who jacked up for a role or the bodybuilding enthusiast in your local gym, everyone wants to look shredded. However, one’s body fat percentage plays a huge role in how aesthetic their physique looks. It doesn’t matter how hard you train, your abs will remain invisible unless your body fat percentage gets around 15%.

The chiseled bodybuilders who compete on the Olympia stage are nearer to 5% than 15%. Yet, people who dipped below 10% body fat will often tell how bad things got. From Mr. Olympia winners to famous fitness influencers, the internet is filled with accounts of bodybuilding enthusiasts who got shredded. One thing all of them have in common is how they lost strength.

Why bodybuilding pros and enthusiasts love bulking


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There is a good reason why every professional bodybuilder or even actor who gets shredded bulks up first. Higher body fat percentages are synonymous with strength. However, it’s far more nuanced than you’d think. Reigning World’s Strongest and Arnold Strongman Classic champion Mitchell Hooper recently tackled the subject of body fat and strength.

Hooper spoke from personal experience and looked at studies that compared strength and body fat levels. As a strongman, Hooper himself carries over 20% body fat. However, the champion strongman also competed in bodybuilding and recounted the strength difference he felt. During his bodybuilding phase, the 6’3″ strength athlete weighed 195 lbs.

The now 320 lbs strongman said he could only bench press two plates when he got shredded with 4% body fat. However, now he has no issues pressing over double that weight. So why does body fat play such a huge role? Well, according to the 28-year-old champion strongman, it doesn’t. The fact that people with higher body fat also have higher muscle mass is making all the difference.

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While it’s every bodybuilder’s dream to perpetually lose fat while building muscle, that’s not how the human body works. While it is possible, cutting inevitably results in fat and muscle loss. Hence, lower body fat also equates to lower muscle mass and weaker lifts. Yet there is also an upper limit to how much body fat is beneficial for strength.

The negative effects of severely low body fat

In his video, the strongman champion explained how fat acts as a cushion for the joint during a lift. So if a person has a greater level of cushioning in their joints, they’ll be able to push harder. However, too much fat cushioning around the joints can decrease the range of motion and create extra pressure around the joints leading to strength loss.

Yet, the additional effects of severely low body fat percentage are far-reaching. In 2022, Science-based bodybuilder and YouTuber Jeff Nippard broke down the “ugly truth” behind getting shredded. Nippard looked at studies and shared his personal experience, just like Hooper. He mentioned the results of the study on a natural bodybuilder who went from 14.8 to 4.5% body fat.

The study documented the adverse effects of getting shredded and how it affected far more than just strength and performance in the gym. Besides strength, the first thing to take a massive hit was the bodybuilder’s hormone levels. While he had 992 ng/dl testosterone before the prep, at 4.5%, the natural bodybuilder’s testosterone was at a “clinically low” 227 ng/dl.

The hunger hormone ghrelin increased, and so did the stress hormone cortisol. Such a low body fat percentage also affected mood. Besides feeling low, his mood fluctuations also increased by 617% percent. Another YouTuber from the Goal Guys channel battled similar mood swings while attempting to get under 10% body fat.

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Nippard highlighted that studies on women have also found similar side effects. According to Jeff Nippard, people who get too shredded or stay shredded year-round struggle to make progress in the gym. This is why bodybuilders bulk to get stronger, gain both muscle and fat and then try to cut while preserving as much muscle mass as possible.


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Is there a sweet spot for body fat percentage?

After looking at the results of studies and personal anecdotes, it’s safe to say that higher body fat equates to better strength in the gym. However, there is a sweet spot, and going too far below or above that range severely affects performance in the gym. Nippard said this was the dual set point theory, and it’s the human body’s way of staying in optimal body fat range.


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While getting too shredded tanks your strength, putting on too much weight will do the same. “I know people… When they got really fat, dirty bulking, they couldn’t even do high rep squats and leg presses anymore,” said exercise scientist Dr. Mike Israetel in a recent video.

There is indeed a sweet stop between muscle mass and body fat and how it affects your strength. Hence, it’s best to stay at a healthy range depending on your goals. While you may not look like the next Mr. Olympia, it’s a far safer approach.