Since you’re reading this post, you’ve essentially told me that don’t have enough muscle to look “lean” even though you’re skinny (good example on below):
This is called the Skinny Fat Physique and it’s very common among many men and women.
It’s a very common situation for most people.
Fortunately, your goal is simple: lose fat and gain muscle.
The Skinny Fat Physique is common, yes, but it’s fixable.
That’s the good news.
Other good news: It doesn’t require any radical changes.
No, you don’t have bad genetics and you’re not SOL.
You just need to change a couple things here and there.
This quick guide will set you on the right path.
If you follow this guide, you can transform your skinny fat physique into a lean, muscular one:
So first, let’s go over the principles, and what you need to get started.
We’re going to cover everything in this post: calories, macros, skinny fat workout plan, and cardio routine.
As you’ll see in a second, there’s two paths you can go down!
The Hierarchy of Weight Loss and Fat Loss
As you can see from the pyramid above, your calories and macronutrients are MOST important.
Lifting weights are important, but it won’t matter unless your calories and macronutrients are in place.
After lifting comes cardio.
Cardio is not necessary to get the body you desire.
In fact, for you, since you’re in the skinny fat phase, you shouldn’t be doing much cardio at all. However, you shouldn’t get rid of cardio altogether either.
Cardio enables you to stay conditioned which is important for your health.
After cardio is meal timing and how many meals to eat, along with micronutrients and other minutiae.
Then, finally, watching motivational videos and other little things to keep you going. As you can see, it won’t get you very far on its own.
Remember this hierarchy whenever you seem stuck. If something isn’t in the right order, everything falls apart.
We’re going to go over most of the hierarchy in more detail to give you a better overview of how to get rid of the skinny fat physique. First up is your calories and macronutrients.
How To Get Rid of the Skinny Fat Physique – 2 Paths!
Skinny Fat Calories For Option 1 – Cutting First
If you have more fat to lose than muscle (think Russel Brand in the picture from the intro), you’re going to want to cut first.
While you could bulk (be in a caloric surplus) first, you might put on a bit more fat than you would like and this would cause you to have to cut for an extended period of time in the future.
We don’t want that.
The less time you’re in a caloric deficit, the better.
If you have no prior lifting experience or you haven’t worked out in a long time (1-2 years minimum) you can actually lose fat and build muscle at the same time.
In fact, it’s the only situation where you can lose fat and build muscle.
If you’re in this situation, you can get away with option 2 below (bulking first).
This first option (cutting first), is if you maybe already have some lifting experience but you have a bit more fat to lose than you like.
If you go to option 2, the process of losing that fat will be slower, but you can build muscle faster.
It’s ultimately up to you, but if you don’t care about losing fat fast, go with option 2 and build some quality muscle.
Again, only do this if you have no lifting experience or you haven’t worked out in a long time.
To really change your body, you need to gain muscle, which happens during a bulk.
But first, we need to get rid of the fat to REVEAL that muscle in the first place.
So, to cut, Your first step is to calculate your Caloric Deficit (the calories required to eat to lose weight):
If you want a more detailed explanation of calories for weight loss, watch this video of mine above.
Alternatively, you could use our IIFYM calculator.
1. Multiply your body weight by 11. For example:155 lbs x 11 = 1705 Calories
This means that you would eat 1705 calories per day to lose weight.
Your next step is to calculate your Maintenance Calories (the calories required to eat to maintain the weight you’re at currently):
2. Multiply your current body weight by 15. For example:155 lbs x 15 = 2325 calories
Once per week, you want to have something called a Refeed day. This is where you eat at maintenance calories (2325 for example) and to make sure a majority of them come from carbohydrates.
This is 1) better than having a cheat meal and 2) helps you stick to your diet better throughout the weeks.
Do not freak out if you gain a bit of weight after a Refeed day. Its just water weight from the carbohydrates and the increase in calories in general.
Your weight will go back to normal after a day or two. There’s a bit more behind Refeed days, but this should cover it for now.
Your calories, over time, will need adjusting for different reasons. I have an article on how to judge and track weight loss progress here so make sure to check that out.
Option 1: If you need to cut first checkout this program:
Skinny Fat Calories For Option 2 – Bulking First
If you don’t have much fat to lose, but you also don’t have much muscle (see picture below), then you want to bulk first.
If you look like this right now, then you want to bulk first. You don’t have much fat to lose so packing on muscle should be your first priority.
So, to bulk, your first step is to calculate your Maintenance Calories (the calories required to eat to maintain the weight you’re at currently):
We will do this down below but if you want a rough estimate, multiply your bodyweight by 15.
This isn’t an EXACT number.
In a second, we will use a calculator to make a bit more accurate, but it’s a good place to start so you notice the difference.
Do this for your own weight and write it down. You’re going to need it in a second.
You’re going to eat that around this amount of calories every day except for training days.
As you’ll see in a second, you’re only going to be training 3x per week in the gym with weights (which we’ll go over later).
On these 3 days out of the week, you’re going to be eating 300-400 calories above your maintenance calories you just calculated.
For example: 2325 calories + 300 calories = 2625 training day calories
Your plan of action is to gain weight slowly while putting on lean muscle.
What you DON’T want to do is eat a ridiculous amount of calories and gain a whole bunch of fat.
Now that we have your calories set up, we need to figure out your macronutrients, which are equally as important.
Option 2: If you need to Lean Bulk first:
Macronutrients For The Skinny Fat Physique
I’ve written an entire book on macronutrients and how to track them, so I won’t go over everything here, however, you must know that your macronutrient “split” is essential when it comes to body composition (how you end up looking).
Sure you can eat the number of calories I assigned above, but, the weight you lose may come from lean muscle and not fat.
This is how you end up “skinny fat”:
This is where macronutrients come into play and why they’re so important.
Calories are made up of 3 macronutrients.
Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates.
Let’s go over your “macro split.”
Let’s start with protein. Protein, especially for you and your case, is going to be extremely important to track because you want to keep the muscle you already have.
To keep this simple, multiply your body weight (in lbs) by 1. That’s how much protein you should eat.
155 lbs x 1 = 155 grams of protein per day
The next couple of steps require some other calculations. To make this step easier, use our Macros Calculator here.
You can use this one here too also:
You will calculate your macros for whichever option you chose first (training days and rest day macros for bulking OR normal dieting days for cutting).
Go to the link above and enter your calories in the first input field.
Afterwards, the calculator will tell you what to do.
A sample “meal 1” could be:
- 7 of Chicken Breast (roughly 45 grams of protein)
- 14 oz of Sweet Potatoes (roughly 79g of carbs and 6g of protein)
- 240 of Stir Fry Kirkland Vegetables (roughly 18 g of carbs & 3g of protein)
- 1 tbsp of Olive Oil (roughly 14 grams of fat)
You would need a food scale for weighing everything out (I use this one) and some measuring cups for oils and other things.
You would also need an app like MyFitnessPal to scan barcode nutrition labels and make this process a whole lot easier.
The book goes over the entire “Macronutrient Tracking” part of fat loss and takes it to the next level with tips and tricks, meal plans, fast-food guides, and a whole lot more.
If you’re interested in checking it out, you can do so by clicking here.
That’s it for now on calories and macros.
I cannot stress enough how important this section is.
If you do not follow the caloric and macronutrient recommendations, you will fail to obtain your goal, I promise you that.
Remember the hierarchy.
If this part doesn’t work, everything else falls apart.
The Skinny Fat Workout Routine – Why You Must Strength Train
Three Days Per Week
That’s all you need for now. Could you do more? Yeah.
But, I want to make this guide as accessible as possible. Therefore 3 days is all I will assign (hit me up in the comments if you have/want a ⅘ day workout split).
Don’t think that the workouts will be easy.
You’re going to make the MOST out of these 3 days to ensure you get the body you want.
There are going to be 8-Weeks of workouts that you can follow.
The organization of these workouts are in the schedule below.
Day 1 can be Monday or whatever day works best for you.
Here’s the schedule:
As you can see, the schedule is very simple.
I want you to do 2-3 cardio sessions per week if you’re cutting (see day 2/4/6).
If you’re bulking, do 1-2 sessions per week just to keep your cardiovascular health up. More on this later.
The workouts themselves should only take 45-60 minutes.
Here’s a Video Exercise Library to help you with how to perform the exercises, which we’re about to go over right now.
All workouts follow a Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) Style.
If a certain exercise does not have “RPT” next to it, then it will just be a straight-set (SS) which just means to keep the same weight for all sets.
This will all make sense in a second.
• Barbell Overhead Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
• DB Incline Bench Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
• Triceps DB Kickback: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS
• DB Lateral Raises: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS
• Deadlifts: 3 sets/6-8 reps/3-4min rest/RPT (-10%)
• Row Variation (see notes): 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
• Chin Ups (see notes): 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
• Hammer Curls: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/SS
• Squats: 3 sets/6-8 reps/3-4min rest/RPT (-10%)
• DB RDLs: 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
• DB Forward Lunges: 3 sets/8-10 reps each leg/2-3min rest/SS
• Calf Raises (seated or standing): 3 sets/8-10 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)
Workout Notes – Very Important:
- What RPT and the Percentages Mean
Everywhere an exercise says “RPT” it means that your first set should be the heaviest and decrease as the sets go on.
For example, in Workout A, the second exercise says: “DB Incline Bench Press: 3 sets/6-8 reps/2-3min rest/RPT (-5%)”
Here’s how this would look:1st set: 70 lbs – 6 reps 2nd set: 65 lbs – 7 reps 3rd set: 60 lbs – 8 reps
As you can see, the weight decreases by after the 1st set, and again after the 2nd set.
This is called Reverse Pyramid Training (one form of it at least).
Each time you decrease the weight, you want to get 1, maybe 2, more reps than the previous set.
The weight will not always decrease exactly by 5%.
In the example above, if you do the math, set 2 should be 66.5 lbs. However, no gym I know of has 66.5 lb dumbbells.
For that reason, on any exercise that requires DBs, just go 5 or 10 lbs lighter depending on how heavy your first set was.
The image below demonstrates how each set should look. I have put how much of a percentage decrease (5 or 10%) next to each exercise.
Depending on how much weight you use, this could be anywhere from a 5 lb decrease to 50 lb decrease so just open the calculator on your phone and subtract the weight you used in your first set and subtract 5 or 10% from it to get your next weight.
- Row Variation Notes:
There are so many great “row” exercises so I will leave this up to your personal preference.
I would usually recommend the seal row but not many gyms have a high enough bench to perform this.
Therefore, you could choose from a 1-arm DB row, bent-over DB row, cable row, barbell row, etc.
I personally love the barbell row.
Make sure to check the exercise video library for demonstrations and proper form.
- Chin-Up Notes:
I put chin-ups as an exercise because that is the ultimate goal in the end. For you to be able to do multiple chin-ups.
Chin-ups, and especially weighted chin-ups, are the ultimate sign of physical fitness.
However, you probably aren’t strong enough (yet) to do chin-ups or at least the amount prescribed, so please do assisted band pull-ups, or the lat pull-down instead for now.
After 4-weeks of doing these assistance exercises, see where you are with chin-ups.
Tips for Progressing on Chin-Ups
Extra Tip: If you want to speed up your progress with chin-ups, do some every-day.
Do 5 jumping (negative) chin-ups 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, and night).
Jumping (negative) chin-ups are where you jump up to the top of the chin-up movement and slowly go down.
This will get you used to the movement and you will be able to do chin-ups in no time.
Once those 5 jumping chin-ups become easy. Start trying normal chin-ups.
You’ll be amazed at how fast you progress.
As someone who couldn’t even do 1 before (see my progression here), I know what it takes.
Obviously, you can’t be at the gym 3 times per day so I highly recommend you get a doorway chin-up bar for your home.
- General Workout Notes:
Do NOT use light weights and just try and hit the rep ranges given.
For example, when you’re doing squats and you’re on your last few reps, those reps should be hard! They should not feel easy.
Lift heavy enough to where you could not get another rep with proper form.
If it says 6-8 reps, you should not be able to get a 9th rep with proper form with the weight you are using.
If it says 8-10 reps, you should not be able to get a 11th rep with proper form with the weight you are using.
Please don’t go light on the weights.
If you were to do a bunch of sets and reps of certain exercises, you would be targeting something called Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy (hypertrophy means muscle growth).
This type of muscle growth increases the fluid in the muscle making it bigger and puffier, but NOT necessarily stronger. Not what you’re going for right?
Of course not.
You want to get stronger and leaner right? If you answered yes, here’s what you want to do.
To get that body you desire, you must strength train and add size to the right areas by targeting Myofibrillar Hypertrophy.
This type of muscle growth is what you want! It increases the density of the muscle and makes it stronger, without making it much bigger (like the man in the picture to the left).
To stimulate this type of muscle growth, you want to lift heavy.
The more and heavier you lift over time (progressive overload) the more muscular you’re going to look.
That’s why you must challenge yourself in the weight room.
Lift heavy (safely, of course) and challenge yourself and you will get the body you desire.
With that out of the way, let’s now move onto to cardio.
The Cardio Routine – HIIT & LISS
- Notes on HIIT
You may have noticed that there is 1 High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session a week.
Although it says to do it on day 6 (Saturday for example), you can do it on any day if you desire, however, just make sure its after or apart from your weight lifting.
As far as what to do for your HIIT session, I recommend 30 minutes of either sprinting, cycling, rowing, or some form of body-weight HIIT.
I won’t go over everything about HIIT here because I’ve written a huge article about it already. You can check that out here.
That article has other forms of HIIT you can do like on the stair machine, hill sprints, jump rope, etc., so make sure to check it out if you have questions.
- Notes on LISS
There’s 1 Low-Intensity, Steady-State (LISS) session per week that is mandatory on “Day 2.”
On “Day 4” it says “L or Rest.”
This means you can either rest or do an extra LISS session (which I only recommend ifyou’re not losing weight as quickly as you would like when cutting).
Do the cardio between workout days or right after your lifting workout.
A sample LISS workout would be 45min on the StairMaster or walking on a incline on a treadmill machine at a low speed.
You don’t want to go too slow where its super easy but you also don’t want to go too fast either.
Somewhere between “Wow, this is going to suck for a bit” and “I could do this for 45 minutes.” You’ll know when you’ve found that speed.
Aim to burn a bunch of calories with this cardio session and listen to an audiobook or watch YouTube/Netflix during.
Use LISS to burn extra calories without messing up your recovery. This is why HIIT is on the weekend with an extra day of rest before hitting the gym again.
- Notes on “Walk”
“Walk” means don’t sit at home all day.
Be active. Move. Go on a hike. Do something.
Burn calories and don’t sit at home all day. The more active you are, the easier this whole process will be for you.
Higher activity = Higher calorie burn = faster weight loss.
If you want to get technical, go on a 1.5 to 2 hour walk and listen to an audiobook.
Enjoy nature and have some fun dammit 😀
- Notes on Cardio in General
Remember that hierarchy we talked about earlier? Remember where cardio landed? It was not as important as your overall caloric and macronutrient intake.
Lifting came after and then came cardio.
If you have to miss a cardio session due to X reason, that’s fine. Just don’t miss a lifting session and stick to your calories and macronutrients.
Cardio is just for increasing your caloric deficit and of course, heart and lung health. Don’t dismiss it but don’t make it the focus of your fitness journey.
Conclusion (An All-in-One Solution)
We’ve come to the end of your guide.
I hope this has helped you realized what you need to do and how you need to do it.
However, if you want an all-in-one solution, I’d recommend one of the following programs:
Option 1: If you need to cut first:
Option 2: If you need to Lean Bulk first:
Either way, I hope this article has helped.
I will gladly try and clarify something in the guide.
Before you do email me, however, please check out my website to see if I have not already written about the topic, which you can do by clicking here.
Also, here some other articles and pages of mine that may help you along your fitness journey:
- IIFYM Guide [Calculator and Examples Inside]
- Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
- My Favorite Fitness Resources and Accessories
- My If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) Book
Also, here are some of my social media platforms that I post on regularly. Come by and say hi!
Thanks again for going through the guide and I hope to talk to you soon.
– Christian Pinedo
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