You didn’t workout hard enough (or at all) and you ate like shit for a long ass time – that’s how you ended up here. Don’t make excuses about poor genetics… blah blah blah.
You’re skinny-fat – fix it.
Contrary to popular belief, your BMI has little to do with whether you are skinny-fat or not. Being in the normal range of BMI is a poor measure of strength, body fat, or general health for that matter. Do not use this. You know better.
|BMI doesn't mean much. Use it carefully.|
Some people are under the illusion that they aren’t skinny-fat at all. Let’s clarify.
"How do you know if you’re skinny-fat?"
|Skinny-Fat: You may appear skinny, but|
your body-fat percentage says otherwise.
How do we define what skinny-fat really is? It can be described in a few different ways and everyone has their own definition. The best way I like to describe it is someone who lacks strength (read: under-muscled) and has a high body-fat percentage.
To be more specific, you may be skinny-fat if you are above 15% body fat / 25% for women.
This can be generally characterized as the “rectangle” or “pear” body shape (in most cases). And are most commonly of the ectomorph somatotype.
In regards to strength, I personally like to use the chin-up or push-up as a strength gauge. There is a good reason for this. Untrained or under-trained men and women generally lack the coordination or experience to safely do complex movements like the bench press, squat or deadlift. Also, people genetically differ in capabilities with these movements. In my experience, the chin-up and push-up can be universally done by most trainees – men and women alike; poor form on chin-ups or push-ups is not as dangerous. You can generally gauge strength level by how many and how well chin-ups or push-ups are performed.
I generally look for:
- 5-8 chin-ups in trained men or 1-3 chin-ups in untrained men, and
- 5-8 push-ups in trained women or 1-3 push-ups in untrained women.
This is a guideline and isn’t written in stone. If a guy can do 5 chin-ups but isn’t doing a full range of motion that’s a fail for me… likewise, for women, if they can manage 5 push-ups but their hips are almost touching the floor – that also is a fail. Be smart, use these guidelines with discretion!
This is my definition – people have their own. If you’re stronger than this then you’re probably not skinny-fat… just fat. Don’t associate fat with obese – fat just means you have more fat on you than you ideally should. Keep in mind, 15% is a very healthy level body fat percentage and you should look just fine if you possess adequate strength and muscle. Though, for athletes, bodybuilders, and even some fitness enthusiasts, this is generally never ‘good enough’.
|One of the best and easiest ways to|
assess body-fat percentage is with
the use of body-fat calipers.
As for body-fat – not everyone has access to DEXA, MRI, or the like – have no fear, we can use calipers for this. NOT “the mirror” or “my scale that measures body-fat”. Don’t be ignorant. I know people who refuse to invest in $4 calipers because they *just know* that they’re around 12% but have no hint of abs in the mirror.
$4 Calipers vs $60 BodyFat Scale… hmmmm, tough choice!
Don’t get me started – pinch the fat, tubby.
And it may be a huge blow to your ego but invest in callipers and determine your real body-fat percentage. But once you know it you’ll be better equipped to train appropriately.
Here are some common skinny-fat issues and the approach to remedy the skinny-fat physique…
Results take time.
Skinny-fat trainees (especially the untrained) tend to feel that their results should be immediate and dramatic. They blame genetics and cheat-days; sometimes even other people when they don’t get the results they want to see right away. Then they get de-motivated.
Don’t do this – stay motivated. Just because the guy you follow on the internet got ripped in 8 weeks doesn’t mean you will too. Work at your own pace and your own experience level.
I always recommend on taking before and after pictures and measurements to stay motivated – especially if you’re new to training (< 1 year). In fact, for women, I insist they do so since body changes occur much slower in women than men; generally speaking. Women are also more sensitive to readings on a scale than things like waist circumference or body-fat percentage.
Bottom line - pictures help.
This means not training at all or training ineffectively for your goals.
This could mean jumping on the treadmill for an hour and calling it a day because you read that ‘light cardio burns fat like crack’. Or doing that workout you read about in a bodybuilding magazine ‘whenever you get the time’. Sorry - that shit doesn’t fly.
Undertraining is not only doing too little exercise but it could also mean doing exercise that is ineffective for your goals.
Don’t be a sissy and train consistently. Women: this goes for you too.
|Don't let me catch you with 2 lb pink dumbbells.|
ladies, this goes for you too.
This is the other side of the coin. Exercising too often or frequently doing exercise that is extremely taxing to the CNS (without proper recovery). A true state of overtraining is honestly pretty hard to achieve.
Like doing power training 6 days a week.
Or a full-body high-rep / high-volume “pump” routine 5 days a week.
I don’t care what your diet is like – you will get nothing but injuries from this type of routine. It is not sustainable unless you are on some serious juice.
Stop it. You’ve heard it before – you grow when you rest. This goes for fat loss too – fat loss is insignificant during exercise itself; how you fuel your recovery time is really what counts.
3-4 non-consecutive (if possible) days per week in the gym with a good lifting routine is all anyone will need. That is not to say that you cannot play sports do some other physical activity in your spare time on rest-days – of course you can! But eat well and allow enough time for recovery before going hard again. This may mean taking a day off from lifting heavy if you had a tough soccer game that left you sore.
|Get used to looking at these.|
Count calories. There’s no way around it. I’ve worked with people who refuse to count calories because they *just know* that they’re getting their protein / carbs / fat (read: lazy).
“I slam, like, mad protein shakes, bro!” is not an answer to “How much protein are you getting?” These types of trainees are nightmares to work with.
Oh – you didn’t realize that the frozen burger patties you were eating had carbs??? (usually a ‘What the fuck?’ moment)…
YEA… that’s because they’re full of filler.
This is by far the most frustrating part dealing with these kinds of people. They don’t listen and they’re lazy.
Calculate it – if you’ve never done it before then I guarantee you’re wrong about everything you believe you’re eating. Keep a food diary for a week and you’ll see how bad you’re fucking up. No guesstimating. Get your lazy ass to read the nutrition facts - write that shit down.
Once you become seasoned at calorie counting you can become pretty good at estimating the macronutrient content of most foods. A good way to always know what you’re getting in terms of macronutrient and calories is to focus on single-ingredient foods such as: chicken, beef, fish, broccoli, rice, potatoes, etc. Not things like: meatloaf, tuna salad, pizza, quesadillas, cake, cookies, anything deep-fried, etc. Leigh Peele’s Fat Loss Troubleshoot gives some great examples of when calorie counting goes wrong and how accuracy is important especially when attempting fat loss.
The best physiques in the world were not made by guessing calories.
Skinny-fat people are the worst offenders when it comes to excessive cardio. Either they’ve heard that cardio is a must for burning fat. Or they feel like their fat loss isn’t fast enough and they need to add cardio to the regimen.
I’ll admit - I used to be guilty of this myself.
The key here is not to do excessive cardio (unless you actually enjoy it), but to build muscle which will help burn fat faster while keeping you looking great. In fact, cardio becomes more effective at burning fat when you have more muscle on your frame.
Keep in mind - it is 110% possible to get absolutely shredded without any cardio at all. There is a time and place for cardiovascular conditioning. However, as a skinny-fat individual, it should not be your primary concern – keep it to a minimum.
If you are looking for conditioning or looking to get your heart-rate up why not try high-rep barbell lifts to finish off a session. Ever done high-rep power cleans, squats, or snatches?? …Try it and compare the feeling to HIIT cardio or a set of burpees, for example. Even a solid set of kettlebell swings will do it for you.
Most skinny-fat guys I deal with want “jacked arms” and “ripped abs”. Guys look up routines of professional bodybuilders and pump away at ‘light’ weights.
Most skinny-fat women I deal with want “a firm ass” and “a flat stomach”. So they hop on the elliptical because it ‘works your booty’ and ‘burns fat’ at the same time – or better yet – Zumba! All because they don’t want ‘bulky man muscles’.
|Oh no! Look at Francine Sablan's|
"bulky man muscles" from weightlifting!
*facepalm x 2*
Get your ass to the power rack – men and ladies! I’ve personally seen ladies put some men at the gym to serious shame on deadlifts.
Compound movements. Heavy weight. Good form. These should be of primary concern – we are looking to add muscle in the most efficient manner (i.e. most muscle in the least time). These are also the things that will boost metabolic rate and aid in fat loss while keeping you sexy.
|Supplements should replace|
whole food meals.
Don’t rely on supplements for performance. The only supplements that work for most people are protein powders, multivitamins, fish oil, BCAAs and creatine. That is all.
You do not need fat burners, pre-workout boosters, weight-gainers, meal-replacements, test-boosters, nutrient partitioners, etc.
Use supplements as just that – a SUPPLEMENT to your diet. They should not replace whole food meals!!
In my experience:
- Diet contributes about 70-80% to your results
- Training contributes about 20-30% to your results
- Supplements contribute about 0-10% to your results
Lesson: don’t waste your money – the best supplements tend to be the least expensive (e.g. creatine). People are always looking for the *next best thing*; don’t be fooled by clever marketing. Do your research if you do choose to take a supplement.
|You don't want a training partner|
#8 No Training Partner
Get a training partner. They don’t have to be doing the same program as you; though, it does help if they have the same or similar goals. They’re just there as someone who you can go to the gym with and from whom you can get the occasional spot. Being accountable to a good gym-buddy will provide motivation to workout when you least feel like it.
Don’t pick a judgmental or egotistical gym buddy.
Skinny-fat trainees are notorious for wanting to expedite their progress. They are known for not sticking to a particular program for an extended period of time. If you have chosen a training and diet program… stick to it - at least for the recommended time-frame.
Don’t switch to the next greatest program when it comes along.
Don’t attempt programs beyond the scope of your understanding.
Do research on a program before starting it.
Have the discipline to adhere to the program you have chosen.
Every trainer you meet will have a different protocol in addressing the skinny-fat client. Keep in mind that there is no single solution to the problem.
Skinny-fat trainees carry a large amount of fat and a small amount of muscle. Cutting can be a great start. However, attempting a cut with a slow or broken metabolism is a painstaking process that usually results in a weaker, more miserable trainee in the end – who, by the way, is probably still under-muscled. Cutting is fucking painfully difficult without a decent amount of muscle mass to aid in fat burning.
Cutting with a daily deficit can be beneficial above 15%bf / 25%bf. It has been shown that excess body-fat is disadvantageous to muscle gain. However, cutting fat to reveal a scrawny physique is probably not the best of ideas. I first focus on getting clients to the 15%bf / 25%bf with a cutting strategy (outlined later in this article).
The idea behind bulking a skinny-fat trainee is to increase the amount of muscle mass that he or she carries. This theoretically helps with subsequent fat loss by increasing the fat burning potential. A great theory which may work for some, but the science behind it may lead us to believe that it is a sub-optimal process. As mentioned in the previous option, extra body-fat hampers muscle gains.
|When skinny-fat people bulk - it's usually dirty.|
Further to the hormonal set backs that occur when carrying extra body-fat, there is also the issue of adipocyte hypertrophy and adipocyte hyperplasia. To simplify, adipocyte hypertrophy refers to the increase in the size of a fat cell; whereas, adipocyte hyperplasia refers to the differentiation of new adipocytes.
Adipocyte hypertrophy occurs when we consume a daily surplus of calories for an extended period of time – no way around it. This makes us fatter. Simple enough. Just diet to shrink them down right??
But what about adipocyte hyperplasia? This means we are creating new fat cells. Why is that so bad, you ask? Well, fat cells are on you for life – more or less. They can shrink and grow in size but they never really leave your body – shitty, I know.
We don’t want to increase body-fat on a skinny-fat trainee because having a high body-fat content is sub-optimal for gaining muscle and perpetuates leptin resistance.
This idea comes from the Leangains methodology which involves intermittent fasting. But do keep in mind that this strategy can be employed even if you do not practice any kind of fasting.
The idea behind recomposition is to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. Yes – it is possible. No – I’m not making it up. Yes – I’ve tried it. And, yes – it works.
The method itself involves carbohydrate cycling in conjunction with calorie cycling. It poses some key benefits that were issues cutting and bulking:
- Eating higher calories during training days ensures muscle gain or muscle retention
- Eating lower calories on rest days ensures fat loss
- Acute training day high-carbohydrate consumption ensures a leptin boost to help subsequent fat loss on rest days
- Acute rest day high-fat consumption ensures optimal hormone production.
Martin Berkhan of Leangains recommends eating 20% above maintenance on workout days and 20% below maintenance on rest days as a standard starting point. The skinny-fat trainee (above 15%bf men, 25%bf women) can really afford a much larger deficit on rest-days to expedite fat loss while maintaining or gaining muscle with ease. Depending on training level the calories on training days can be adjusted accordingly. Someone with more muscle would obviously need more calories in conjunction with training.
Trainees above 18%bf-men / 28%bf-women can afford to be in a daily deficit until the 15%/25%bf level is reached (with periodic refeeds). Some will inevitably disagree with me calling this a recomposition. This would technically be classified as “cut” since there is a net loss of weight – but the potential of adding muscle on this “modified-cut” is high, especially for the untrained, so it is still be classified as a recomposition in my opinion. But names, in the end, mean nothing – it’s the results that matter.
Here are the guidelines I use for the Skinny-Fat Annihilation Protocol (percentages are in reference to calculated maintenance values):
12-14%M / 22-24%W
15-18%M / 25-28%W
Once per 7 days
19%+M / 29%+W
-50%M / -30%W
Once per 10 days
For women, you will notice the deficit is not as deep on rest days – this is to ensure that there is and adequate intake of protein during these days. If a skinny-fat female trainee (or some smaller men) with 30%bf and a maintenance value of 1,900kcal were to cut rest-day calories by 50% it would result in having to eat fewer than 1,000kcal per day which I would not recommend for either sex. Protein and fat intake become difficult to maintain at this level. I usually recommend staying at 1,200-1,500kCal as the minimum.
Refeeds should involve eating above maintenance, minimizing fat intake, and maximizing carbohydrate intake. As a rule of thumb, stick to starchy carbohydrates before having sugary treats. For example, fill up on bread, pasta, rice, or cereal before having the low-fat ice-cream, donuts, etc.
|Don't make the scale your only measure of|
Use this as a guideline but evaluate your progress weekly and make adjustments as required. This may mean a smaller/bigger deficit, a bigger refeed, different training setup, etc.
The things you include in your weekly evaluation are (in order of most-to-least important):
- Body-fat percentage,
- Measurements, and
Don’t be in a hurry to make changes that don’t need to be made. If your strength is good and your body-fat is going down consistently then don’t change anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
For answers to more specific questions or something I have not covered that is of interest to you, comment on this post, tweet or email me.