LLeanness is the optimal percentage of fat to muscle. There are three categories of people who epitomize leanness: athletes, dancers, and bodybuilders. Athletes and dancers become lean to improve their performance. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, become lean to improve their appearance. Essentially, a bodybuilding competition is a beauty pageant. Since life is about doing things, most people prefer to become lean by following the nutritional practices of athletes and dancers, rather than those of bodybuilders. Athletes, dancers, and bodybuilders all aim to increase the size of their muscles, but athletes and dancers become strong, fast, and agile by aiming for an optimally efficient muscle size, whereas bodybuilders become weak, slow, and awkward by aiming for ever-bigger muscles, which become increasingly inefficient.

The Standard of Leanness

In Olympic weightlifting competition, it is important to be as lean as possible. As we said earlier, fat does not lift; muscle does. Jerzy competes in the 136-pound weight class. For the eight weeks that he prepares for the competition, he eats one-third fewer calories every day (1,000 instead of 1,500) so that the other third (500 calories) comes from burning his own body fat. In this way, he loses 1% of his body fat each week—without any loss of muscle size or strength. When he weighs in two hours before the event, as is required in competitions, he has no more than 2 percent body fat.

Does he maintain that percentage of body fat in the off-season? Absolutely not. It would be unrealistic to stay at that percentage all year round, and unhealthy, because he would be vulnerable to the flu, colds, and other illnesses. As soon as the competition is over, he starts to regain all that body fat, at the same rate of 1% per week, by eating one-third more calories than usual every day (2,000 instead of 1,500) until he returns to his off-season body weight. At that point, he resumes his normal nutritious diet (1,500 calories per day), treating himself occasionally to a dessert or an alcoholic beverage.

Jerzy feels the most balanced at 10 percent body fat, not the 2 percent at which he competes (Figure 2.14, left), and Aniela feels the most balanced at 13 percent body fat, not the 7 percent at which she competes (Figure 2.14, right).

At those higher percentages, we feel relaxed, strong, and happy. Therefore, we decided that 10 percent should be the leanness standard for men, and 13 percent for women, since they naturally carry between 3 and 4 percent more fat than men.

Most of our female clients, from teenagers to seniors, are 35% to 45% fat when they first come to us. Many of them have the preconception that women should be no less than 20% body fat, and they cannot envision themselves below that, even though they have the example of Aniela before their eyes. They assume that Aniela stays like this to compete, and they can never have a figure like hers.

Fifteen years ago, we discovered that many of our female clients would get down to 20% body fat and then go off on their own to maintain that level. However, some months later, they would return with 25% to 30% body fat. We came to realize that being average, which is 20% body fat, doesn’t motivate women to maintain that level. If they achieve excellence, on the other hand, they have something to fight for. The problem was, we didn’t know how to persuade them to be excellent.

One day, one of our clients, Mary, arrived at our studio, full of anger and self-righteousness. “You are wrong,” she said to Jerzy, “that I should be thirteen percent body fat. I looked it up on the Internet, and it said that I shouldn’t be less than twenty percent. I’ll show you. Where’s your computer?”

Since she was so upset, Jerzy took her to his computer, where she quickly called up the site she had visited at home. Jerzy looked it over.

“So,” she said, looking triumphant. “You see? You were wrong!”

“Alright,” Jerzy said, “what do you want to do now?”

“I want to stop at twenty percent.”

“And you’re satisfied with that?”


Jerzy thought for a moment, and then he said, “Alright, let’s look at your progress.” He opened Mary’s file on the computer screen, and went to her pictures, which showed her at 41%, 33%, 27%, and 20% body fat over a period of six months (see Figure 2.15 [need image]).

“You’ve come a long way,” Jerzy said. Then, filling the screen with the 20% image, he asked, “Do you like your body?” She studied the picture for a good thirty seconds in silence. Then she turned to Jerzy and said softly, “I have to admit I don’t.” Three months later, when she was down to 13% body fat, she brought a new bathing suit to the photo session to show off her Happy Body.

Degrees of Leanness

Poor: 22%+ 26%+
Fair: 17%-19% 22%-25%
Good: 14%-16% 18%-21%
Very Good: 11%-13% 14%-17%
Excellent: 10% 13%

Years ago, some of our clients achieved the recommended Standard of Leanness, but still did not like the way they looked, seeing themselves as either too stocky or too bony. The first type would say something like, “I’m lean, but I look like a truck driver.” The other kind might say, “I look anorexic.” From these experiences, we realized that we had not taken into account in our measurements the relationship between weight and height.

One day, as Aniela was arriving at the house of a client in Santa Monica, a woman approached her and said, “Hi, I’m Jackie. I’m sorry to bother you, but I live next door, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve been watching you for months, and I’d like to tell you that I’ve tried everything to have a body like yours. Are you a dancer?”

“Hi, Jackie, I’m Aniela. No, I’m not a dancer, I’m a weightlifter.”

She was surprised, but nevertheless, she said, “I do yoga, pilates, jogging, lifting weights, and all kinds of diets. I’ve even had a personal trainer for years. But at five-foot-five and ninety-nine pounds, I still feel fat. I’m tired most of the time, and my body is sore and weak. What am I doing wrong?”

“You feel flabby,” Aniela said, “because you have too much fat, and you feel weak because you don’t have enough muscle. You’re two inches taller than I am, but weigh thirteen pounds less. So, for your height, you are actually too thin. To get the right proportions, you need to lose some fat and gain some muscle, and weigh more than you do now overall.”

“I can’t believe you’re thirteen pounds heavier than I am! How can that be?”

“Because muscle is denser than fat and heavier by volume. So, having more muscle makes you look slimmer. Don’t worry about gaining weight overall, because you could be ten pounds heavier and look slimmer.”

“Can you help me to do that?”

“I would be delighted.”

After that experience, we both had many encounters like that in all kinds of social situations and came to realize that we should calculate ideal weight based on a person’s height, using the proportions of Jerzy’s body for men and of Aniela’s body for women. Once we had that insight, it became easy for us to estimate whether a client should lose or gain muscle or fat and exactly how much of each.

For example, a woman who is 5’3” tall, weighs 145 pounds, and has 25% body fat would be overweight but not obese. She is carrying 36.25 pounds of fat. The rest of her, 108.75 pounds, is lean mass. According to The Happy Body standard, she should weigh 113 pounds and be 13% body fat (14.69 pounds of fat and 98.31 pounds of lean mass). She should therefore lose 21.56 pounds of fat and lose 10.44 pounds of lean mass.

To take another example, a woman who is 5’3” tall, weighs 105 pounds, and has 35% body fat would be obese but underweight. She is carrying 36.75 pounds of fat. The rest of her, 68.25 pounds, is lean mass. According to The Happy Body standard, she should weigh 113 pounds and be 13% body fat (14.69 pounds of fat and 98.31 pounds of lean mass). She should therefore lose 22.06 pounds of fat and gain 30.06 pounds of muscle. Although she will gain 8 pounds overall, her body will be much leaner than before and look slender.