What’s The Best Training Program For Skinny Fat Guys?


Being skinny fat sucks. You look skinny or normal with a shirt on but fat with a shirt of, and what’s worse is that the skinny fat physique just seems impossible to get rid of.

No matter how much time you spend in the gym, how many hours of cardio you do, and how well you watch your diet, you still seem to be stuck with it.

You know what, I’ve been there and know how you feel, and I’ve also been fortunate to be able to break free from the skinny fat physique. In this post I’m going to explain what I learned when it comes to the training part that allowed me to break out of this damned “curse”.

So, what did I learn? What’s the best training program for skinny fat guys? The best way to train as a skinny fat guy is to focus on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio. If you can do this then you’re on your way to be successful.

Way to many skinny fat guys take the wrong approach by either listening to training advice created for skinny guys or for fat guys. But the turth is that this advice don’t work for us skinny fat guys, simply because our genetics are different. In this post I’m going to explain exactly how you should train to stop being skinny fat and by the end I’ll give you a sample routine that’s perfect for beginner to novice skinny fat individuals.

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What Makes up a Good Training Program to Get Rid of Skinny Fat?

Just as I stated earlier, the best training program that’ll help you get rid of the skinny fat physique is one that’s minimalistic in nature and compiled of these 4 things:

  1. Lifting heavy weights using low to moderate volume
  2. Focusing on a few key exercises
  3. Not staying in the gym for too long
  4. Avoiding excessive amounts of cardio

Let’s look closer at these one by one:

1. Lifting heavy weights using low to moderate volume

Training with heavy weights, for fewer reps and using low to moderate volume is perhaps one of the most important things a skinny fat guy should pay attention to. The reason for this is that us skinny fat guys can’t take to much training volume (amount of training), especially not in the beginning. And there are two reasons for this:

The first reason is that the majority of skinny fat individuals don’t handle stress well, which is one of the reasons we end up skinny fat in the first place. Stress has been linked to enhanced fat storage around the midsection which is the main problem a skinny fat individual has.

Training with heavy weights and low reps as opposed to light weights and high reps leads to lower amounts of training volume and instead higher amounts of training intenisty, which won’t stress the body as much, while still providing a great stimulus for muscle growth.

The second reason is that higher volumes caused by lifting lighter weights for more reps leads to increased appetite, which makes it very difficult stay lean. This is especially true for us skinny fat guys who usually have good appetites while also storing body fat more easily.

2. Focusing on a few key exercises

One common characteristic of a skinny fat guy is wide hips and waist combined with narrow shoulders. I can remember that this is what I disliked the most about my physique when I just started lifting:


But fortunately by focusing on a few key exercises you can improve your physique immensely even if you start out with wide hips and narrow shoulders. This is what I did and now I look more like this:


So, which exercises should you focus on? Well, to combat the natural shape of the skinny fat, it’s vital to develop your:

  • Lats and shoulders – to develop upper body width
  • Upper chest – to create that squared looking masculine chest
  • Arms – to complete the upper body look

To develop these muscles I recommend that you focus on these two exercises the most:

1. Weighted Pull-ups to get a Wide Upper Body

If I would have to choose ONE exercise only, it would definitely be the weighted pull-up. The pull-up is extremely effective at building a wide back, muscular biceps and forearms. Additionally, heavy pull-ups with a high frequency also builds your rear shoulder, which contributes to that 3D shoulder look.


Weighted pull-ups helped me build this back.

Lat pull downs and rows don’t even come close to the effectiveness of weighted pull-ups. With pull­‐ups you can’t cheat and use momentum or a swing like you can with rows and pull downs. In addition, pull-­ups are a closed chain exercise whereas lat pull down and rows are open chain exercises. What this means is that with pull-­ups your hands are fixed to the bar while your body is moving through space. Closed chain movements have greater overall muscle recruitment and lead to better muscle and strength gains from my experience.

The back is the most underrated muscle group because the lats specifically are the largest muscle group on your entire upper body. When you develop them to their potential, you make yourself appear wide from both the back and front. This is very important for us skinny fat guys, since upper body width is what we’re lacking the most.

2. Incline Bench Press to Create That Square Looking Chest

My next go to exercise is definitely the incline bench press. There’s nothing wrong with the regular (flat bench) barbell bench press. It’s a terrific exercise for building the whole pectoral region when done properly.

With that said, skinny fat guys will benefit a lot more from the incline version, since it develops the upper pecs better. Most skinny fat guys have crappy chest genetics. The upper chest is almost non-existent while the lower chest is either soft or overdeveloped. This gives a feminine appearance to the chest rather than a full masculine chest.

Therefore, the “trick” is to focus exclusively on training the upper chest. By doing so you will improve your chest proportions greatly!

Furthermore, the incline bench press also recruits the triceps and front shoulders heavily. So by getting strong on the incline bench press not only will you see a massive improvement in your chest, but also your arm and shoulder size.

When it comes to arm size the belief is that biceps is the main contributor, but the fact is that your triceps actually make up 2/3 of your arm size, so well developed triceps is actually more important for overall arm size.

When it comes to shoulder development, the barbell incline bench press hits your front delts just as effectively as shoulder presses do, so usually I’m leaving shoulder presses out so they’re not getting overtrained.

When you combine the incline bench press with weighted pull-ups, you have the perfect combination of upper body exercises because you’re increasing your shoulder measurement, maximizing arm size and sculpting the chest the right way. These two exercises train all the most important muscle groups for skinny-fat guys:

  • Weighted Pull-up: Lats, upper back, biceps.
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press: Upper chest, shoulders, triceps.

3. Lateral Raises to Target Your Medial Delts for Maximum Width

The lateral raises is the final most important exercise for anyone looking to build an aesthetic looking masculine physique, but especially for us skinny fat guys.

Well developed medial delts provides a lot of additional width to your appearance and it also completes the full 3D look of having thee three heads completely developed.

I always include lateral raises into my workout programs. The medial head of the deltoid never gets fully worked with any other exercise, not even shoulder presses. For this reason the medial head will lag behind your overall growth, and therefore lateral raises should be incorporated to ensure even muscle growth.


Here’s my results putting focus on these exercises mentioned above for about 3 years. I went from having somewhat of a pear shape to a great V-taper with a large shoulder-to-waist ratio.

Now, there are more filler exercises that’s a good idea to have in a training program, this list is just the exercises that’s best to focus on if you want to get rid of the skinny fat physique. I’ll have a good sample routine for you at the end of this post.

3. Not staying in the gym for too long

This one is important for us skinny fat guys. Just as I talked about earlier we can’t handle too much stress, so our goal should be to get in the gym, lift heavy things for a few sets and then get out of the gym as quickly as possible.

By staying in the gym for too long and doing tons of pump work your stress levels will go through the roof. What this does is further promotes the skinny fat look by causing bad recovery and unwanted fat storage, mostly around the midsection. So try your best to be effective with your time in the gym as this will help you build that lean and muscular physique.

4. Avoiding excessive amounts of cardio

Even though cardio is healthy to heart and lungs, doing excessive amounts of cardio will be negative for you. This is true first and foremost because of stress. Cardio is very stressful to the body and will cause the same problems for us skinny fat guys as described above.

Second, cardio will greatly reduce your recovery capacity. This means that your lifting progress will likely take a hit since your body is working hard to recover the system from the cardio, neglecting the lifting. Excessive cardio also leads to worse strength training performance directly, which reduces muscle growth. These are things you don’t want to happen, especially not as a skinny fat guy.

If you’re going to do cardio I recommend that you do the following:

Cardio Recommendations:

  • 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 per week. 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 too much of it and you will overtax your capacity to recovery.

Here’s a Great Skinny Fat Workout Plan

This workout plan is inspired from the workout plan outlined in the ShredSmart Program.

Monday – Upper Body – Chest Emphasis

  • Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Cable Rows – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

Wednesday – Lower Body

  • Barbell Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Leg Press – 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Seated Calf Raises – 5 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Hanging Knee/Leg Raises – 5 sets x max

Friday – Upper Body – Back & Shoulder Emphasis

  • Weighted Pull Ups – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Cable Rows  – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Spider Curls – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

*Don’t have access to a gym? Don’t worry, using bodyweight training is a terrific way to pack on tons of lean muscle if done right. You can read more about bodyweight training here.

Related Questions

How do you reverse skinny fat? To reverse the skinny fat physique and get lean and muscular, first and foremost follow the information provided in this article regarding training. Second, I recommend that you set up your diet correctly.

The first thing to do is focus on eating at least 80 % wholesome nutrient dense foods. Once that’s covered focus on cutting by being in a slight calorie deficit if you’re a bit on the fatter side of skinny fat, and focus on lean-bulking by being in a very slight calorie surplus if you’re on the skinnier side of skinny fat. If you want more guidance on this make sure you read these articles next:

Should I bulk and cut as skinny fat? It’s not necessary to bulk and cut as a skinny fat guy, you can just eat at maintenance and focus hard on getting stronger while eating mostly clean foods. However this approach is VERY slow and it won’t allow you to indulge in foods that you like every now and then to the same extent as if you’re cutting and bulking. Make sure you read these articles if you’re interested in the benefits of bulking and cutting:

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

52 thoughts on “What’s The Best Training Program For Skinny Fat Guys?

  1. Hi. Is it enough to train 3 times a week? How about if I make 5 times a week. I’ve been hitting the gym for 1 year, there is improvement of my physique, but the belly fat is still there.

    1. How often you train is less important than the overall training volume you do in a week. This means that often times training more frequently, like 5 times per week, leads to too much training being done making it harder for you to recover. That’s why I usually recommend that people train less often (like 3 times per week) but train very hard/heavy during these workouts.

    1. Not necessarily. Skinny fat has less to do with body weight and more to do with body fat distribution and skeleton genetics.

  2. Hi Niklas,

    What is your advise on food intakes for skinny fats?
    Also what would be the goal for us? Bulk or Cut?

    1. Hey Nick,

      For food intake 80/20 rule. 80% wholesome nutrient dense foods and 20% whatever you like foods. Regarding bulking or cutting, most often I recommend skinny fat guys to cut first using a moderate calorie deficit until they’re down to ~10% body fat. Then slowly bulk up to ~15% body fat. You can check out this post for more info on this Nick: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/bulk-or-cut

      1. Thanks for the quick response!
        I must say i have 18-20% body fat with a minimal. So you do suggest that i need to focus on weight loss until i reached around 10% body fat? Does it kinda contradict your advise on this page that the “”The best way to train as a skinny fat guy is to focus on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio. If you can do this then you’re on your way to be successful.””

        1. No that advice still applies, in fact following that advice during a cutting phase is likely the best thing you can do to see great results.

          Fat loss is mostly about diet, which means being in a moderate calorie deficit and eating enough protein. Once you have that covered then by focusing on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio you will be able to build a bit of muscle even while you’re cutting, at least for the first few months. The key for effective fat loss is to do less training (volume) but with heavier weights and closer to failure (intensity).

  3. Hey man, I’ve been searching for a workout plan all-day and this one seems to look good. I would like to know If i should start this workout with my nutrition on maintenance calories (whilst meeting my daily protein intake) for a few months until my body fat reaches around 10% as you said and then build muscle…im slightly confused. Cheers!

    1. Hey Shane,

      Glad that you seem to like the workout plan, I certainly do so myself 🙂

      Yes either at maintenance or at a slight calorie deficit. The slight deficit way will get you there quicker while the maintenane calorie way will get you there slower, but isntead be more sustainable. But definitely get your body fat down to 10% before you start lean-bulking! Good luck with your transformation.

    2. Hello,
      I train in martial arts five days a week. This includes Brazilian jujitsu kickboxing and wrestling. This requires alot of cardio because grappling uses all the muscles and endurance. Kickboxing requires cardiovascular endurance as well.
      I lift weights fives days a weeks as well. I do my mains lifts three of those days. And two of of those days I hit the same muscle groups since I was told hitting the same muscles twice was the best for muscle mass..

      I feel like I’m over training.. But it feels weird to not lift five days a week. Lol… What do you recommend I do? I don’t wanna lose muscle or lose strength..hence why I feel obligated to go to the gym twice a week..

      1. Hey Shane,

        You’re definitely training a lot. Do you feel that you are losing muscle mass and/or strength? If not then you are probably fine and used to the high workload you do.

        If however you are plateaued in your strength/muscle growth or especially if you are losing strength and muscle then I would recommend that you lay up your training in another way. Such as 2 full body strength sessions per week, or 3-4 upper/lwoer splits per week. This way you will still hit your muscle groups twice per week (which is optimal) but still get room for more recovery in between your sessions. To learn more about various splits, read this post: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/full-body-or-split-for-bulking

  4. Aye dude. I ‘ve been following another workout plan of yours that has weighted chin-ups at the gym. However, I can’t seem to get up even one chin-up even unweighted. Should I just keep trying to do it and/or just go up as high as I can go or should I do something else? Thanks for reading

    1. Hey,

      If you can’t yet do pull-ups then I recommend that you either do negatives only. I.e you jump or climb up and place yourself at the top of the pull-up and then slowly lower yourself down and do this for as many reps as you can. Or you start out with lat pulldowns and work your way up in weight until you can do pull-ups 🙂

    1. Hey Harry,

      Protein shakes can be good if you don’t get enough protein from your diet. I recommend including protein shakes if you can’t get 1.8-2 grams of protein per kg of body weight (0.8-0.9 g per lb of body weight) 🙂

  5. Hi Niklas,
    I’m a skinny fat too! For 18 years of my life i didn’t go to a gym, but now i got changed. So im 177cm and 73kg. I’ve been working out for almost 4 months but i just got stronger I dont really feel anything happening in terms of physique. For the first month i didnt use any supplements. For the 2nd and 3rd month i got whey protein isolate form gnc and a multivitamin. Now that its my 4th month of working out i got suggestions to buy a creatine and a mass gainer and bulk up. Im more fatty than being lean. I didnt really do cardio. I wanted to know what should i do now? I bought mutant mass gainer and a allmax creatine. Also my diet is very bad since i live in a homestay, and i cant change it, id love to hear from you cause everyone says something but i wanted to ask a pro

    1. Hey Al,

      Awesome to hear that you started working out. Regarding your strength gains but lack of physique gains, that is usually an effect of your nervous system and skill becoming better at your lifts before your body starts building more muscle mass. I’m sure as you continue getting stronger now that your physique will start to catch up. And another important thing here is to make sure that you eat enough for muscle growth to take place.

      For most beginner skinny fat individuals I recommend that they start with a cutting phase for the first 8-12 weeks so they can lose some unwanted fat, while at the same time working on improving their nervous system recrutiment and build skill with the lifts. Then once that’s done I recommend changing to a lean-bulk and start packing on a ton of muscle for 8-12 months. This is typically how I work with my clients as well if they are fairly new to lifting.

  6. Hi Nick, thanks for sharing the workout plan. I see that these workouts focus more on the the upper part of the body. Do you have a workout plan for abs and lower back(for skinny fat body type).

    1. Hey, abs and lower back will get good training from the compound lifts included. But if you want to do more add in a few sets of leg raises or cable crunches and back extensions on one or two of your workouts!

      1. Standing calf raises in smith machine or with one foot at a time holding a dumbbell if your gym doesn’t have smith 🙂

  7. Hi Niklas,

    Do you have a alternative exercise for the ones you mentioned which only includes dumbel only? I do not have access to the gym

    1. If you don’t have access to a gym I think that the best thing to do is focus exclusively on body weight exercises. You can check out this post: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/get-ripped-using-bodyweight

    2. Thanks for the routine!
      Can you please recommend substitute exercises for doing this routine at home with a pull up bar and dumbbells?

      1. Hey, glad you liked it! Yea check out this article: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/get-ripped-using-bodyweight

  8. Hi Niklas,
    Thank you for all this information. I’ve been going to the gym for almost 2 years but without any physique results. I was feeling very frustrated I hope to get some results by following the routine. For how many months should I use that routine? Do you any diet routine you can recommend? Thanks bro.

    1. Hey, I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t seen much progress over your years. You should follow the routine for as long as you are making good strength gains on it. Once gains stop incoming you are ready for another routine! Let me know if you need further help 🙂

  9. Hey, Nik a few questions. My gym’s leg press machine is busted, what’s a good alternative? Also should I lean bulk or cut? I’m 5’8 at 140 lbs but around 14-15% bodyfat. Much appreciated

    1. Hey Alejandro, go for lunges or bulgarian split squats instead of leg press 🙂

      Regarding your diet question, I would go on a very slight cut/body recomp protocol if I were in your shoes at 140 lbs and 14-15% bf. Just set your calories to lose weight very slowly, while focusing on getting stronger in the gym and eating about 1-1.5 g per lb of bodyweight per day of protein.

  10. Hey Niklas you said to do HIIT training 1x, or 2x max a week. Should we do that after a workout or do HIIT training not on workout days?


    1. Most optimal is to do cardio on a seperate day. If You can’t do that, then doing cardio after your strength training is the best option. The reason for this is that if you do cardio before your strength training you will perform worse and get less strength and muscle gains.

  11. I have dislocated my shoulder recently and am skinny fat. What exercises can i do to compensate for pull ups?

  12. Hello Niklas,

    I’m also a skinny fat guy. 6’1 & 195 lbs. I work a very sedentary job (12 hours at a desk) and it’s a swing shift too. Every year around this time, I start a routine but never stick to it. I think I honestly hate working out in a gym around others.

    Anyway, I’m ready to give your program a shot and definitely like the idea of short gym trips (get in and get out). I know my diet needs some work and herein lies the question. Would the keto diet work well with your program and give me the results I’m after?


    1. Glad you decide to try out the program! Regarding the keto diet, I’ve never been a big fan of it since I believe it’s to hard building a lifestyle around that diet. I mean, it sucks to not be able to eat carbs ever again hehe. For this reason I always find myself falling of the waggon eventually when I’m following a restrictive diet. In my opinion it’s much better to find ways to eat less food each day but not necessarily remove any specific kind of foods.

      Also, carbs is a great macronutrient for workout performance, and especially strength training, so I would not go keto on the program. But, it’s up to you, if you find yourself being able to stick to keto, then go! 🙂

  13. If I do this like you said 3x per week, how long should it take to get “shredded”, when taking like 85 g of protein daily for a 6’2 male with 174 pounds ? thanks

    1. Hey George, how long it takes you depends a lot on your starting point and also on other factors happening along the way. But here’s a good article where I try to break this down: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/how-long-to-get-ripped

      Also, regarding your protein intake, you should eat 1x your body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 174 lbs you should eat around 170 grams of protein per day if your goal is to lose body fat 🙂

  14. Hi Niklas,
    How many pounds should we lift in our exercises? For example at the bench press ..? Should we lift the maximum of our capacity?


    1. Lift close to your capacity. Leave about 1-2 reps in the tank on each set. I.e. you should feel that you’re able to do 1 or 2 reps more.

  15. Hey, need some help… been training 5×5 for while now and always been a skinny guy. height 5,3 feet and weighed 59kg. started to see some real good gains but felt like i need to bulk more. so i went on a surplus of calories and in 4 weeks weight was from 59kg to 65kg. saw that all weight i had gained (whilst strength training and hardly any cardio) has been allocated to my waistline. Hence the lovehandles and fat gut. also upper body muscle has reduced drastically. I feel depressed now and dont know what to do. Please advise..

    1. Go back to eating like you did before and continue train hard. This will most likely lead to you using your body fat to fuel your muscle and strength gaining processes 🙂

  16. What are the body composition numbers to determine if I’m skinny fat? Always struggled to put on weight and work out a lot but just not seeing results. 5’8” and 140 lbs.

  17. Hey Niklas,

    For the “Upper Body- Back and Shoulder Emphasis” day, do you use the same weight for the Incline Barbell Bench Press as you do on the “Chest Emphasis” day? I ask this because there is a difference in the rep scheme for that lift.

    Also I work out at home and I only have access to a barbell and dumbbells with a power rack with a pull-up bar. No machines or cables. What’s a good alternative for cable rows? Much appreciated!

  18. Hi, I am 26 years old, male, 5ft 7inches, and 60-61kgs in weight. Currently, dance is a side hustle for me, and I work a 10 am to 8pm desk job. But I love dance, and want to make dancing my full time career. I am stuck with skinny fat condition, basically I have never lifted weights in my life,never been to a gym, but done lots of dancing, so I have been skinny my whole life. Since 1 year, I had a sedentary lifestyle, which caused fat accumulation around my belly, waist and love handles. Also, I lack stamina, so I cannot dance like I used to. I understand, skinny fat guys should avoid cardio, but I cannot skip dance at all, I seriously want to make it my profession. That being said, I also want to have an athletic personality. I dont want a bulky muscular body, like a professional body builder, just an athletic muscular body. Please advise how should I target such a body, along with dancing everyday for 1 to 1.5 hours,6 days a week. Also, I cannot compromise on flexibility as a dancer. Please advise, I really don’t know the approach. I want to know every single thing, how many calories per day, how much protein, what exercises to do. Additionally, due to lockdown all gyms are closed, so if you could please tell me how to perform the exercisee at home without dumbells or any equipments. Thanks

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