So, you’re definitely not fat. You’ve had the same pair of jeans for three years now, and they still fit. But you’re also certainly not ripped. You can’t really see your abs, and you definitely don’t look like the guys on Instagram.
Diagnosis – Skinny fat (P.S. I am not a doctor, sorry, mom & dad).
How does someone even become skinny fat, and more importantly, how do you stop being skinny fat and get ripped?
Table of Contents
- What Does Skinny Fat Even Mean?!?
- Step 1 – Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity
- Step 2 – Get Under That Bar
- Step 3 – Change Your Diet
- How to Get Ripped from Skinny Fat Conclusion
What Does Skinny Fat Even Mean?!?
Skinny fat sounds a bit preposterous – how can one be skinny and fat at the same time? You’re either one or the other, surely. Well, not so fast there Mr. or Ms. Thesaurus.
While it certainly isn’t a term you’ll find in the Journal of Medicine, there is a rather simple explanation of what it means:
Skinny fat is simply someone who has very little muscle mass but has slightly more fat mass. This makes them look unconditioned.
So, you’re just lacking some muscle mass (with a relatively skinny physique) and carrying around too much fat. Seems simple, right? I mean, those are only two things you need to solve. And while the process is unbelievably simple, it can be particular.
How Did You Wind Up Skinny Fat?
Let’s first discuss how someone actually becomes skinny fat. This isn’t something that happens overnight, after all, and will usually occur over the course of several months.
Remember high school biology when you learned about human evolution and how we hunted wooly mammoths?
Those guys used a ton of muscle mass because they needed it. They were on their feet all the time, hunting, scavenging, and being lean, mean, hunting machines. You and I are not hunters. We have pizza delivery.
Thus, having a large amount of muscle mass (or even just some) has become a luxury. In 2016 the WHO estimated that more than 650 million adults were already obese, and that number is still rising!
Ask any professional bodybuilder, and they’ll agree that building muscle mass takes a hell of a long time. So, the reason why people become “skinny fat” is because the body has no reason to have a decent amount of muscle mass – they are there, just very small.
Couple that with a diet that isn’t geared towards health and optimized for muscle gain, and you end up with someone who is most likely insulin-resistant, unfit, lacks core strength, and has more than 18% and 25% body fat (male and female, respectively).
So, now that I’ve been a little mean and bruised some egos, I’m going to help you actually get out of this. We’re going to split this up into four steps.
Step one is definitely optional. However, there are a lot of studies showing insulin-resistant individuals suffer from fat gain easily.
Step 1 – Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity
Again, this step is not 100% necessary, but it can help. You don’t need to spend any additional time doing this; you can actually do this while starting with step 2.
Insulin sensitivity can be described as the body’s ability to utilize insulin for the purpose of shuttling carbohydrates into muscle tissue and not be used to turn them into fat.
In normal human speech, if you’re insulin-resistant, there’s a greater chance of building fat or having trouble losing fat. Insulin resistance is the term used to describe pre-diabetics, and some scientists argue it could lead to some inflammation and a decrease in life quality as well.
Improving your insulin resistance is actually really simple. In fact, the best things you can do are decrease the amount of fat mass you currently have and increase the amount of lean muscle mass you carry.
But what else can you do? Being more insulin sensitive will make the whole process easier, after all.
Well, there are a few things you can do (that actually have scientific backing, besides training), such as:
- Including a decent amount of fiber in your diet (>30 grams per day) has been shown to lower insulin resistance.
- Sleeping more than 8 hours a night has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity.
- Keeping your cholesterol in check (high HDL, low LDL) can help increase insulin sensitivity.
- Certain supplements like chromium, cinnamon, and alpha-lipoic acid could help you in improving your insulin sensitivity. Of course, not nearly as much as exercise.
So, by sleeping enough, having a fiber-rich diet, managing cholesterol, and possibly using some natural supplements, you could make this whole process a whole lot easier.
Speaking of which, let’s get you in the gym.
Step 2 – Get Under That Bar
A barbell, not a bar filled with beer, please.
It won’t come as any surprise that to get ripped, you gotta train, and you gotta train really stupid hard. Does that mean you have to rip 800lbs off the floor like Ronnie Coleman? If you can, I’m not gonna stop you, but it certainly isn’t necessary.
See, overall strength doesn’t equate to muscle size. The main driving factor behind building muscle is mechanical tension or time under significant tension.
Anyone can do 100 reps with an empty bar and say, “I did a lot of time under tension,” but not a single second was actually challenging. This is why you need to find a balance between volume and load.
Volume is simply the number of sets you do per session or per week, whereas load can be described as the weight on the bar. Finding that balance is key to building the most amount of muscle.
But how do you even find that “perfect amount of volume?” Unfortunately, there is no mathematical explanation, equation, calculator, or anything in between. There’s only trial and error here.
How do you even begin to find this number? Simple. You dive right in.
Best Training Tips for Skinny Fat Folks
The easiest way to begin training is with either the full-body or push-pull-legs (PPL) split. As the name suggests, the full-body split requires you to train every muscle in the body, whereas PPL is more focused on certain muscle groups.
Here is an example of how a full-body workout can look
|Muscle(s) Worked||Movement||Sets & Reps|
|Chest (Shoulders and Triceps)||Incline dumbbell press||2 x 6 – 12|
|Shoulders||Dumbbell lateral raises||3 x 6 – 15|
|Lats (Biceps)||Pullups||2 x 6 – 12|
|Upper Back (Biceps)||Chest supported upper back row||2 x 6 – 12|
|Glutes (Lower back)||Barbell RDL||3 x 6 – 15|
|Quads||Leg Extension||2 x 6 – 12|
When you’re completely new to training, you needn’t focus so much on specific muscles (isolation), and you should rather be focusing on movement patterns.
Training full-body three times per week will be more than enough for a newbie. However, I personally prefer the seven times across two weeks. This means one day on, one day off.
It would also be wise to have two different workouts, each still targeting all the muscles and alternating between those two. By doing this, you have the greatest opportunity to practice something called progressive overload.
What Is Progressive Overload & How Do You Apply It?
Progressive overload is the term used to describe giving the muscles a reason to adopt – a reason to grow.
Unlike my childhood, we need to create an environment where the muscle is forced to grow but also give it room to adapt.
How do we practice progressive overload, then?
- More load: You might have noticed “personal bests” or “PBs” being thrown around on Instagram. The body will respond to a novel stimulus, so adding more weight to the bar (while maintaining good form) will certainly force it to grow.
- More volume: More volume is a way to progress. However, because you’ll be in a calorie deficit, I wouldn’t advise this due to recovery, which will be unable to keep up.
- Slower eccentrics: While this is a way to make movements harder, the evidence of this positively supporting muscle growth is lacking.
The easiest (and best way, if you ask me) to force the muscle to adapt and keep on growing is by getting stronger. This will not only burn a ton of calories (dieting is better for weight loss), but you’ll build a deck of muscle mass, and that in and of itself will also burn more calories.
Plus, it looks really good.
Aim to get stronger over the period of 3 – 6 months, as that is how long this whole process of skinny fat to rip will typically take.
How to Choose Movements in the Gym
Before we move on – one last thing! Tips on choosing the right movements to do in the gym!
- Stability: Movements that feel completely unstable might not be the best option as they increase the risk of injury. For that reason, as a beginner, it is okay to start with a leg press or a smith machine squat rather than a free-bar squat, etc.
- Progression: Choosing movements you cannot progress on might not be a great idea since you’ll limit your ability to improve.
- Compatibility: If you’re tall or large, you might not always fit in machines. In general, you might not always feel the appropriate muscle working. If this is the case, maybe that machine or movement might not be for you.
Cardio is important, yes. Start off with about 10 – 15 minutes per day and increase as necessary. This won’t magically burn calories, but it certainly will help create a bigger deficit. I prefer low-intensity cardio, but the choice is up to you in the end.
Now that you know how to train, let’s look at what should be in your post-workout shake.
Step 3 – Change Your Diet
We’ve spoken a little bit about diet in step 1, but now we have to look at the deeper details. The things that matter, the things that are going to get in inside out peeled.
The first thing you need to know is that according to the laws of thermodynamics, it’s technically not possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. The former requires a calorie deficit, while the latter requires a surplus of calories.
But what those old bald physics geezers don’t know is that the body is a peculiar thing, and metabolic changes are more significant than the change I have after a breakup.
Body Recomposition: What Is It?
We know from hundreds and thousands of people who have done it that a recomposition is indeed possible. This can be described as someone who has lost fat and gained muscle at the same time…
How is that even possible?!
- The person is a complete novice: When you’re so new to training and dieting, your body will actually use the calories you create by being in a deficit as the calories needed to build muscle – or so it’s hypothesized.
- The person is making a comeback: When you take a considerable amount of time off from training, you can react the same as the novice, in that your calorie deficit will feed the calorie surplus.
So you (yes, you, reader) have the ability to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Firstly, you gotta train. If you skipped step 2, go back and read it.
What Should You Eat?
Welcome back; so much has happened! I found this study showing that even when you over-consume protein (by a large amount, mind you), you won’t build fat. What a perfect segway into the point of calories.
Yes, calories matter, but they are not the only thing that matters. Where you get those calories matters greatly. Not all macros are created equally. So, after you have calculated your calorie deficit, you need to split your calories into the respective macro groups.
Protein is the only macro that will actually build lean muscle mass and is probably the most important macro of them all, especially to someone who’s exercising regularly. Aim to get around 1g per pound of body weight.
Fats play a vital role in cell metabolism, hormones, inflammation, and other bodily functions. You need at least 0.3g per pound of body weight.
The rest of your calories can be used on carbohydrates. Just make sure they are healthy carbohydrate options, such as whole grains, rice, fruits, and vegetables.
That really is as simple as dieting is. You can discuss food options back and forth with different people. But the truth is, if a food digests well and isn’t loaded with added sugars or trans fats, you’re probably good.
Here is a little cheat sheet of some of the foods we find most often in successful diets:
|Lean Meats||Oily Fish||Whole Grains|
|Protein Powders||Olive Oil||Vegetables|
|Vegan Protein Options||Nuts||Brown Pasta|
|Seafood/Fish||Dairy||Whole Grain Bread|
Stick to foods that you can eat plenty of without getting bored, you feel satiated with, and that digest well. Try to skip the alcohol and processed foods, too.
Bonus tips, make sure you get plenty of fiber in your diet, and don’t be afraid of sugar-free soda. The former can actually keep you fuller for longer, while the latter can help fight off some of those nasty cravings we have so often.
How to Get Ripped from Skinny Fat Conclusion
The road from skinny to fat will always be a faced paced, explosive, and cinematically jaw-dropping sequence… Oh, wait, no, that’s a Michael Bay film.
The road to getting ripped is hard. It will be long, and for some, it might take several months. You have to be pretty damn committed and motivated to go through with it. That said, it could be one of the best and healthiest things you will ever do for your body and mind.
You will have to be on point with your training, dieting, and especially your recovery. If you fail to sleep more than 8 hours a night, you could end up overeating the next day due to stress and lack of energy. If you are too stressed, you won’t recover from training.
All things considered, there are only five things that you need to do:
- Eat sufficient amounts of high-quality protein and the correct amount of calories.
- Stay hydrated at all times (add electrolytes if needed).
- Get plenty of rest.
- Try and control your external stress factors as best you can.
- If you’re so inclined, use the correct supplements.
Those are really the only things you can control to make the most of your results in the gym. Once you feel you’re no longer losing fat, go through those. If all of those are correct or “yes,” then and only then is it time to drop calories.
You should be aiming to lose between 0.5 – 1.0% of body weight per week. More or less is not sustainable or simply not fun. Once your weight loss stops, lower your calories by 200 – 300, and continue like before. P.S. Those calories should come from carbs and fats, not protein.
This journey will be worth it. Take it from someone who has lost more than 70lbs in fat and gained about 25lbs of muscle back. It will be worth it.