When I started my fitness journey back in 2015 I had the skinny fat physique. I had fat covering my abs and hips making them appear wide, while I also had narrow shoulders with low levels of muscle mass. First I thought that in order to fix this problem I simply had to do a lot of cardio and that should melt the fat away… So, what happened?
Should You Do Cardio If You’re Skinny Fat? No, you shouldn’t focus on doing cardio if you’re skinny fat. As a skinny fat individual it’s much more effective to focus on heavy weight lifting and proper dieting in order to lose body fat and build muscle.
The truth is that cardio is a very ineffective way to get a ripped physique, especially if you start out skinny fat. In this post I’m going to cover why this is, what you should do instead, and also give you some guidelines on what kind and amount of cardio that might be worth doing.
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Why Cardio Is Ineffective For Fat Loss
If your goal is to get lean and muscular you don’t need to do any cardio. Yep you heard that right. The only really effective fat loss “tools” you have available is your diet and strength training.
Here’s what I mean:
If you run for 50 minutes at a decent pace, you’ll typically burn around 500-700 calories depending on how fast you run. That’s the equivalent of 2 snickers bars which contains around 500 calories. In other words, you’ll be running for 50 minutes to burn off 2 snickers bars.
Not only that, running for 50 minutes also spikes appetite, which means you’ll have to use a ton more will power to stay in a calorie deficit. In fact, research have shown that people who think they can lose fat by just doing cardio actually end up fatter than when they began.
There’s also the time aspect. Most of us are busy and don’t have all days to do cardio since we also have to do resistance training, which is way more important since muscle burns fat at rest, and is also the tissue that makes up a ripped looking physique.
For these reasons cardio is a very ineffective way to achieve a calorie deficit required to lose fat.
Why Cardio Is Ineffective For Muscle Growth
Not only is cardio ineffective for fat loss, it’s also ineffective for muscle growth, and this is especially true for skinny fat guys.
The problem that most of us skinny fat individual has is this: Hardgainer when it comes to building muscle, but easygainer when it comes to gaining fat.
The way that cardio makes it harder for us to build muscle is by further messing with out ability to put on muscle, something that’s already hard for us from the very beginning. This is true because endurance training interferes with strength and muscle growth.
Not only that, by doing a ton of cardio a lot of the additional calories that you eat when trying to build muscle will go towards fat storage. This is true because the increased stress levels from cardio can lead to fat storage, mostly around the midsection.
For these reasons, the standard weight loss prescription of 1 to 2 hours of cardio 4-6 days per week is far from a good idea. Both when you’re in a calorie deficit trying to lose fat or surplus trying to gain muscle.
Why You Should Focus On Weightlifting Not Cardio
Since cardio will affect strength and muscle growth negatively, while also increasing your stress levels risking fat storage around the midsection, a much better way to go about getting a ripped physique is to focus on lifting heavy weights and let the diet take care of your fat loss or muscle growth goals.
Weightlifting And Fat Loss
Even though a heavy weightlifting session may not burn quite as many calories as a high-intensity cardio session would, it still burns quite a bit more than what many people think (and definitely enough to noticeably speed up fat loss).
Not only that, intense weightlifting also leads to the “afterburn effect” or “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) as it’s called in science, which is an increased rate of oxygen uptake that occurs after exercise and results in additional calories burned after the workout is over.
In fact, a single weightlifting session can elevate your metabolic rate for several days.
Furthermore, resistance training is the only way to preserve maximal amounts of muscle while you’re losing body fat. You don’t want to simply lose weight, you want to lose fat and keep or even build muscle, right?
By mitigating cardio and focusing on weightlifting while eating at a slight calorie deficit you should be able to lose little-to-no muscle and strength while you’re getting leaner over time.
Weightlifting And Muscle Growth
Skinny fat individuals must focus on building up a decent amount of muscle mass, especially using key exercises to build up the right proportions, and this will be achieved by getting stronger in the gym, aka progressive overload.
As I wrote earlier, too much cardio training interferes negatively with strength and muscle growth, and this is detrimental for us skinny fat individuals.
Is Cardio Completely Useless?
So, reading this you probably think that I never do cardio and wouldn’t recommend it at all, but that’s not true. Cardio is actually good when done at the right time and for the right amount.
If you’re after fat loss, cardio can actually help you burn more fat, but only after you got your weight lifting and diet in check, and also after you’ve ensured that you’re not doing too much cardio. Also it seems that some cardio can be beneficial when you’re bulking to put on muscle as well.
What About Cardio For Health?
Yes you need to do cardio to stay healthy, but the amount you need is easily achievable without spending time doing a ton of cardio in the gym or outside.
All the cardio you need to stay healthy is a brisk walk that raises your heart rate a bit each day, and since you have to go places anyway, consider taking a walk or the bicycle instead of your car, bus or train when going places.
I like to call this “lifestyle cardio”, and it’s very effective for promoting health and actually improves fat loss a bit since you bump up your daily activity without really thinking too much about it.
What I usually do is whenever I can get somewhere that takes me within half an hour of walking, I either walk or take my bike while listening to a podcast or an audio book. The way I see this is that I get fresh air, sun and learn new stuff on the way (it’s actually been shown that your ability to learn are enhanced when you move regularly.)
How To Do Cardio As a Skinny Fat Individual
The proper way to do cardio for a skinny fat individual is to keep individual sessions and total weekly amount as short and low as possible. You just want to do enough cardio to keep the fat burning going and no more.
So, with all of this said, here are my cardio recommendations for a skinny fat individual:
- Do “lifestyle” cardio like walking, cycling etc. This is low intensity cardio, that doesn’t activate endurance pathways nor does it steal from recovery, while it at the same time help burn more calories. This is also great for health, in fact, it’s been shown that you should walk at least 10.000 steps per day to stay healthy.
- Do 1 max 2 sessions of HIIT or alike. I recommend 8-12 minute intervals. Cardio workouts like this is very similar to pump training with weights, and it promotes muscle growth. However, doing to much of it and you will overtax your capacity to recovery.
Should skinny fat do HIIT? As I wrote above, doing 1-2 sessions of HIIT per week is fine as long as your sessions aren’t lasting for to long. Do 20 minutes per session max or you will affect your strength training recovery negatively. Not only that, you might also put a lot of unnecessary stress on your body which can lead to fat storage around your midsection.
How do you reverse skinny fat? The best way to get rid of the skinny fat physique is to first set up a good strength training program that emphasizes a few key exercises like weighted pull-ups, incline bench press and lateral raises. Once you have that covered focus on the diet to either lose body fat if you’re on the fatter side of skinny fat, or focus on muscle growth if you’re on the skinnier side of skinny fat.
If you want to learn more about getting rid of the skinny fat physique then check out these posts next:
- How to Go From Skinny Fat to Ripped: My Transformation
- How To Stop Being Skinny Fat – The 3 Step Formula To Get Lean And Muscular