Being skinny fat is definitely the most confusing starting point of them all.
I mean, an overweight individual can mainly focus on fat loss to get a ripped body, while a skinny individual can mainly focus on building muscle to get a ripped body.
But what about if you’re stuck somewhere in the middle, if you have the skinny fat physique?
Well, to solve this problem, let’s first define what skinny fat is and what causes it:
What is Skinny Fat & What Causes it?
Skinny fat can be described as the physique where you look skinny or average with a shirt on but soft and fluffy with a shirt off, just like this:
Classic characteristics of the skinny fat physique are:
- Fat covering the abs and hips
- A hint of man boobs
- A hip dominant skeleton with narrow shoulders.
- A normal body fat percentage.
- A lack of muscle mass and definition.
Now, there are two main reasons why some of us end up with the skinny fat physique.
The first reason is genetics and the second reason is a poor fitness plan.
Let’s look at these one by one:
Genetics & Skinny Fat
When it comes to genetics the main disadvantages that a skinny fat individual has is a hip dominant skeleton with narrow shoulders:
Now, you can’t do much about your genetics, they are what they are. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t build an outstanding physique and neither should it stop you from doing so.
In fact, there are many guys with skinny fat genetics who have gone out and built a downright sexy looking physique. Here’s a few examples:
*Nate from Iron and Tweed went from skinny fat to ripped. You can read his story here.
*Another great skinny fat transformation by Oskar from skinnyfattransformation.com
If they can do it, so can you!
Which brings us to the fitness plan.
The Poor Fitness Plan & Skinny Fat
One of the biggest reason why people get stuck with the skinny fat physique and even make it more dominant is because they focus too much on weight loss instead of improving body composition.
To get rid of skinny fat you must focus on improving your muscle to fat ratio and focus less on what is happening with your body weight. When you have too much fat compared to muscle mass that is when you end up looking skinny fat.
When you have decent levels of muscle mass you can still look good at a higher body fat percentage than those with less muscle. Here’s an example of this:
So, the skinny fat physique is not necessarily an overweight one, but one that lacks muscle mass.
Okay, now that we know what skinny fat is and what causes the problem, let’s look at the solution.
The Skinny Fat Solution
There are three things you must do correctly with your fitness plan if you want to go from skinny fat to lean and muscular, and these are:
- Focus on resistance training
- Setting up your diet properly
- Not overdoing cardio
Skinny Fat Solution #1 – Focus on Resistance Training
As you know, the major problem with the skinny fat physique is a lack of muscle mass, so focusing on building muscle is key. Now, the only thing that signals muscle growth is resistance training.
In fact, neglecting proper resistance training is THE biggest mistake that people with the skinny fat physique makes.
Now, even if you currently are lifting weights, you could potentially be making one of the following mistakes:
Training Mistake #1 – Not Focusing on Getting Stronger Overtime.
If you are not getting stronger in the gym overtime you send no signals to your body that it needs more muscle mass.
This is a big mistake! Muscle only grows for two reasons:
- To get stronger
- To get more endurable
If you don’t do your best to either get your muscle stronger or more durable, you won’t build any new muscle mass, and you will more or less be stuck with the skinny fat physique no matter what you do with your diet or cardio.
How to Fix This Mistake:
To fix this mistake, make sure that your training program is based on the scientific principle of progressive overload.
This principle states that in order to get stronger and more muscular you must consistently disrupt your physiological homeostasis with methods specific to that goal.
Essentially what this means is that you MUST try your best to consistently increase the amount of weight or the amount of reps that you do on your lifts over the course of your weeks, months and years in the gym.
Here’s a video covering what progressive overload is more in depth, and also how to do it:
The good news is that progressive overload happen very quickly in the beginning and you will see great results if you haven’t trained in this way before.
Another important thing to mention regarding progression, is that you stick to the same training program for multiple months to allow for progressive overload to do it’s work. If you consistently jump from program to program you will miss out on a lot of growth.
Training Mistake #2 – Performing Mainly High Rep Pump Training
Most skinny fat beginners believe that to build big arms, or a big back, or a big chest, they just have to focus on those muscle groups by doing high rep pump training with isolation exercises. But unfortunately, that won’t work very well.
I mean have you ever seen someone with huge 18-inch arms that has a small upper body? Someone who looks like this:
I guess not, right?
Everything is big on the guy with 18-inch arms. His back, chest, shoulders and even legs are going to be very well developed. He will look something like this:
How to Fix This Mistake:
So, to fix this mistake and ensure that you grow optimally, spend most of your time and effort on lifting in the 4-12 rep range with big compound lifts such as: Squats, bench presses, overhead presses, deadlifts, pull-ups and rows.
Training in this rep range on these kind of exercises is the most effective way to build muscle, especially if you are skinny fat and in the beginning of your training journey.
Training Mistake #3 – Staying in The Gym For Far to Long
Most skinny fat individuals can’t handle stress well, by staying in the gym for to long and doing tons of work your stress levels will go through the roof. This will further help promote the skinny fat look by causing bad recovery leading to unwanted fat gain and muscle loss.
In fact, research shows that excessive stress causes fat gain mostly around the midsection, which is the exact place skinny fat individuals tend to store most of their body fat in the first place.
How to Fix This Mistake:
To fix this mistake your goal should be to get in the gym, lift heavy for progressive overload for a few sets per muscle group and then get out of the gym as soon as possible. Focus on minimalistic training above unnecessary junk work!
Doing this will ensure good recovery and reduce unnecessary stress build up.
Bonus Tip: Use Key Exercises
Allocate more of your work towards doing key exercises that will bring up the most important muscle groups for aesthetics.
If you have the common characteristic of the skinny fat physique, which is a skeleton with wide hips combined with narrow shoulders, then it makes sense to focus on exercises that will correct this imbalance.
To combat a poor hip to shoulder ratio, it’s vital that you develop your lats and shoulders for upper body width, your upper chest to create that squared looking masculine chest, and arms to put the finishing touch on your physique.
To develop these muscles I recommend that you put emphasis on these three exercises in your program:
- Weighted pull-ups
- Incline bench press
- Lateral raises
These exercises will ensure that you build great aesthetic proportions that effectively counteracts a poor hip to shoulder ratio.
Skinny Fat Solution #2 – Setting up Your Diet Properly
I’m sure you’ve heard the following adage:
“You can’t out train a bad diet”
Well, it’s true. A bad diet will cripple the potency of even the most optimal training program, especially if you are skinny fat.
With that said, let’s look at the most common mistakes:
Dieting Mistake #1 – Eating extremely low calories
One of the biggest dieting mistakes people with the skinny fat physique makes, is eating extremely low calories.
Now, I’m sure you know that you must eat fewer calories than what you burn in order to lose body fat. However, if you restrict your calories too much then you will bump into reduced training performance, muscle loss, ill-being and other stress related problems.
How to Fix This Mistake:
In a 2014 meta-analysis by Helms et al. they found that caloric intake should be set at a level that results in body weight losses of approximately 0.5 to 1% per week to maximize muscle retention.
So, if your body weight is 80 kilograms or 175 pounds you shouldn’t lose body weight faster than 0.4-0.8 kilograms or 0.8-1.6 pounds per week.
If you decide to lose body weight faster than this by severely restricting your calories then you are at a very high risk of causing a dramatic drop in metabolism which prevents further fat loss.
This means that even though your body weight might go down, so does your muscle mass, causing you to keep the skinny fat physique, but at a lower body weight.
If you think that this has happened to you, where you have been “crash dieting” on very low calories, then DON’T reduce your calories further. You need to take some time to reverse diet yourself back to maintenance calories in order to recover your “crashed” metabolism.
This is done by adding in 150 daily calories extra per week until you reach your maintenance. During this time you should focus on gaining strength in the gym which in almost all cases leads to body recomposition.
Dieting Mistake #2 – Keeping protein too low
Another common mistake is eating too little protein. A low protein intake especially in combination with a low calorie intake will lead to muscle loss. This has been supported in the literature multiple times.
How to Fix This Mistake:
In the same study by Helms et al. that we just looked at, they saw that within the recommended caloric intake, most people will respond best to consuming 1.9 to 2.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day, or 0.85 to 1.2 grams of protein per lb of body weight per day.
So, going with the same example with a body weight of 80 kilograms or 175 pounds, you should ideally eat somewhere between 150-200 grams of protein per day. Within this range the leaner you become the more protein you need.
Skinny Fat Solution #3 – Not Overdoing Cardio
Another big mistake that causes people to end up with the skinny fat physique is doing excessive cardio, specifically steady state cardio.
Multiple studies such as this one by Hansen et al. and this one by Akimoto et al. show that excessive steady state cardio will interfere with strength and muscle growth.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any cardio, it just means that overdoing it can definitely promote that skinny fat physique.
How to Fix This Mistake:
To fix this problem you need to cut down your cardio to a reasonable amount. Now it’s nearly impossible to give an exact recommendation for how much cardio you should do as it is highly individual.
But, according to Eric Helms a good rule of thumb when it comes to the amount of cardio to do when cutting are:
- Half the time you spend lifting weights per week.
So, if you spend 60 minutes 3 times per week lifting, which is the amount of weight training I recommend that most skinny fat beginner to intermediate trainees do for fat loss, then you should be able to safely get away with around 90 minutes of cardio per week.
So to summarize the article, what you want to do to get rid of the skinny fat physique is the following:
- Stick to a well set up weightlifting program and focus on getting stronger every week, preferably on a few key exercises.
- Set up a moderate calorie deficit that causes you to lose 0-5-1% of your body weight per week. If you have a “crashed metabolism” reverse diet to maintenance first.
- Cut down your cardio if it’s excessive and focus more on resistance training.
Thanks for reading I hope you liked the article and found it valuable.
Now, before you go, I just want to say that I created a free PDF guide that goes through step by step what you need to do if you’re skinny fat, it also includes a training routine perfect for getting rid of the skinny fat physique. You can get the guide for free here!