Skinny Fat Workout

Skinny fat workout

Skinny fat people are suffering from being both too skinny (too little muscle mass) and having too high of a body fat percentage (too much fat.)

If you’re not totally sure if you’re skinny-fat, you can see our article on what a skinny-fat body is to see if you fit the description.

So what should skinny-fat people be doing in terms of a workout?

  • Resistance training—ideally the hypertrophy type. Hypertrophy means the growth of muscle, increasing its size. Your body adapts to the type of exercise you throw at it. If you want to jump higher, you jump. If you want to get stronger, you do strength training (low rep with heavy weights). If you want to get bigger and more muscular, you do hypertrophy training (more reps with moderate weights). This style of training will help skinny fat people build muscle mass and solve the “skinny” issue.
  • Walking outdoors (ditch the sunscreen/sunglasses). This will solve the stubborn belly-fat problem which many skinny-fat people suffer from—the dreaded skinny-fat pot belly. Walking more will also improve nutrient partitioning, helping more of the energy they eat to get used properly instead of being stored as fat. Being outdoors as you walk will improve their hormones from sunshine exposure. The sun activates POMC, a pre-cursor hormone that plays a role in metabolism and appetite. It’ll also lower blood pressure, cause the release of nitric oxide, and stimulates the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone that is correlated with testosterone, which helps to build muscle and stay lean.

Skinny-fat people will also need to do more than just work out. They’ll need to look at:

  • Diet. Many skinny-fat people are holding onto too much fat and will need to eat at a calorie deficit to burn the fat off. This is usually because skinny-fat people eat high energy-to-protein ratio foods (think of chips or fries.) This means that to get enough protein, they’ll eat too much energy, causing fat storage.
  • Lifestyle. Many skinny-fat people avoid the sun, or they sit (or stand still) too much. Even if you lift weights, and eat an all-clean diet, if you sit the rest of the day, your body won’t get the activity it needs to burn the stubborn-belly fat (which is different than regular subcutaneous fat.) 
  • Sleep. How long someone sleeps and their quality of sleep (being undisturbed) plays a huge role in building muscle and even burning fat. One of the more important hormones in health is melatonin. Melatonin plays a role in burning fat, and bright artificial light at night stops the stimulation of this hormone. (A National Institute of Health study found that those with a TV in their bedroom gained 5 pounds more in 6 months compared to those who didn’t.)

If you’d like to learn more about diet for the skinny-fat body type, see:


Working Out If You’re Skinny-Fat

Let’s take a deeper look at the two types of exercise that skinny-fat people ought to do.

Resistance training

Resistance training is stressing your muscles through resistance. The most popular way of doing this is lifting weights, but you can also use your body weight as resistance. You can also get creative at home by loading up a backpack with books to continue to challenge yourself.

Because skinny-fat people are skinny, they’re also pretty far away from their genetic potential in terms of a maximum amount of muscle. That means their body is eager to build muscle, and it won’t take much stimulus to grow. So many skinny-fat people could get started at home using their bodyweight. The downside to using bodyweight is that as you progressively get stronger, it’ll get harder to stress your muscles, so they may need to get very creative or graduate to weights soon after.

If you’re looking for a workout to do at home with no equipment, we have a free progressive 5-day no-equipment routine that lasts for 30 days. (Download: Men’s 30-day Workout PDF, Download: Women’s 30-day Workout PDF).

If you sign up below, we’ll email you the Google Spreadsheet version (allows you to fill it in, pick your favourite finisher exercises, etc.) and send along our favourite links demonstrating all the exercises.

You can still get great results, especially at first, even without equipment. For example, in this 2015 study, they found that the push-up generated built just as much muscle as the bench press as long as the reps to failure was the same (they tested 6 reps.) They made push-ups harder by using bands, but you can do this by loading up a backpack with books if you find yourself able to do more than 20 push-ups per set.

Push-Ups with Backpack

If you’re aiming to hit the gym or plan on building your own home gym with weights, your options will open up a lot more.

If you’re looking to lift weights, you don’t need to get a specific workout for skinny-fat people. But if you’re skinny-fat and evaluating options, I’d say to consider these points:

  • Choose a quality hypertrophy/bodybuilding style workout. Avoid strength training or general fitness (CrossFit, etc.). Many popular workouts are designed to build strength like Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. There’s nothing wrong with strength training if that’s what excites you. But the biggest issue skinny-fat people need to solve is a lack of muscle. So they ought to choose a muscle-building workout, otherwise known as hypertrophy or bodybuilding style workouts.
    • A hypertrophy workout would program in moderate rep ranges of 6–20 reps (neither too heavy nor too light) with the right amount of volume for growth. Occasionally you can dip to either side, say 4–40 reps. This is often why 8-15 reps are recommended for building muscle, as it’s right in the middle of the zone. (If you want to learn more about hypertrophy, check out this great article on Outlift.com)
    • Wait for your heart rate to slow down again after a set. This helps your body fully rest, which will allow you to get in more reps in the upcoming set, which leads to more muscle growth. A simple rule of thumb is to wait for 3–5 minutes after each compound lift before lifting again. (Isolation lifts like curls won’t need long to rest.)
    • Get close to failure. If you’re a total beginner, a useful exercise is to take some sets right to technical failure (don’t let your form crumble, but just unable to complete the rep) just to learn what it feels like to hit muscular failure. Getting close to failure is necessary for a stimulus to grow. Sometimes it’s not the best idea to go right to failure, but that mainly applies for heavier lifting. Higher-rep sets are best taken closer to failure.
    • Do compound lifts that stimulate the most overall muscle growth per set. This is where lifting weights can come in handy. Our favourites are classic chin-ups, barbell front squats, deadlifts, bench press, and standing dumbbell shoulder press. This may help calories go more towards muscle-building and less likely for fat gain.
  • Choose a high-frequency weight lifting workout like 5x a week. Many workouts aim to lift weights 3x a week. For skinny-fat people, working out 5 to 6 times a week will work better for them. The reason why is because skinny-fat people often have bad work capacity. That means splitting up the workload across more days will allow them to execute better rep-quality—leading to better muscle gains. Because the workload is spread out, your workouts will become half as long, making them feel a lot less burned out at the end of the workouts. The other reason higher frequency workouts would be better is because it improves nutrient partitioning of the food you eat. When you workout, your body will handle the calories better. If you only work out 3x a week, you will need to practice calorie cycling to match your workouts. The downside to higher frequency workouts is if you’re hitting the gym and need to get there, get changed, etc. twice as often. But if you’re working out at home, that won’t matter.
  • Choose a workout that includes some postural warm-up work suitable for skinny-fat people. Most skinny-fat people we’ve coached sit a lot and have rounded shoulders, forward head, and anterior pelvic tilt. Because of this, they have limited shoulder mobility and may need a bit of attention to get squatting and deadlifting well. Plus, sitting more will stretch our your abs more, making it harder for them to fire and activate. Many skinny-fat people have poor ab strength and will need to do some catching up in that department. So doing postural drills beforehand will help your body get into a stronger position, making your exercises reap the results you’re after. A few examples might be, for the anterior pelvic tilt, doing doing the 90/90 hip lift and deadbugs to work on the front core. For shoulder mobility, try the Back-to-Wall Shoulder flexion mobility exercise.

If you’re a man looking to lift weights, I’d recommend checking out our True Gains program. Two other great options to investigate are Bony to Beastly or Bony to Bombshell which is for women (Full disclosure: I co-founded both.)

Walking Outdoors

Walking outdoors is incredibly important for health, which will make sure your hormones are working properly, allowing your body to be strong and lean (the way it wants to be.) For example, low daily step count negatively impacts muscle-protein synthesis—the biological process of adding proteins to your muscle, a key part of building muscle. (2019 study, 2013 study)

Recent research shows that walking won’t help people lose weight. And that’s true that it won’t influence the scale much, as the total weight is mainly attributed to your diet and if you’re in a calorie surplus (weight gain) or a calorie deficit (weight-loss.)

But on the other hand, research has found that cardio work, including walking, can burn the bad type of fat (visceral and stubborn belly-fat) without even being in a calorie deficit. So you can stay the same weight while leaning out your belly just through a more low-intensity exercise like walking.

Walking contracts your muscles get blood flow and nutrients everywhere and releases antioxidants from your muscles and from your heart—healing the body.

How many steps should you aim for? Our definitions:

  • Sedentary: Under 7,500 steps
  • Lightly active: 7,500–10,000 steps
  • Active: 10,000–12,000 steps
  • Very active: 12,000+

Here’s the association between all-cause mortality rate and daily steps from a 2020 study:

Daily Step Count and Health 

Get a step-counter (pedometre), and I’d personally aim for doing 7,500 steps daily. Once that feels easy (it may take a month or two), then you can increase it up to 10,000 steps a day.

I’ve found that a 10-minute walk will rack up around 1000 steps. So if you’re living a sedentary life, you might be getting 4-5k right now in your daily life. It might mean that you’ll need to add a 25-minute walk to your life. Or a 15-minute walk in the morning and a 15-minute walk at sunset. On the notes of steps, I’ve found that pacing between my sets while lifting weights, will rack up 4000 steps as my workouts normally take 30-40 minutes. If it’s 8 pm and you need 1,000 steps, make a 10-minute phone call to a loved one and pace as you chat.

The good news is that walking will help to build up your cardiovascular foundation. Once taking a long walk is easy, that’s when you can gradually push yourself with brisk-walking or even a slight jog. Then your body will be a better position to experiment with HIIT (high-intensity interval training) as well.


A weekly sample set-up for a skinny-fat workout

  • Monday: Hypertrophy Workout #1, walk 7,500 steps
  • Tuesday: Hypertrophy Workout #2, walk 7,500 steps
  • Wednesday: Hypertrophy Workout #3, walk 7,500 steps
  • Thursday: Hypertrophy Workout #4, walk 7,500 steps
  • Friday: Hypertrophy Workout #5, walk 7,500 steps
  • Saturday: Rest, perhaps do a big walk during the day—7,500–10,000 steps
  • Sunday: Rest (don’t do anything that feels like it’s work)

Summary

We covered a lot of ground today, but we didn’t touch much on diet, sleep, or lifestyle factors, which are also incredibly important for defeating the skinny-fat body. But in terms of a skinny fat workout, it breaks down to:

  • Do resistance training
    • Choose a hypertrophy/bodybuilding style workout. This includes safe exercises (not Olympic lifts), rep ranges in the 6-20 rep range, and the right amount of volume (workload) for growth.
    • As a beginner, try experimenting with taking some sets right to failure to learn what it feels like. Some people may find out they’ve been holding back because working out can feel painful (at first.)
    • Experiment with working out more often (higher frequency), which makes your workouts shorter in duration. This improves results despite poor work capacity (better rep quality) and improves the nutrient partitioning of the food you’re eating every day.
    • Try some postural warm-ups to improve anterior pelvic tilt and bad shoulder mobility (if necessary, but we’ve found most skinny-fat people sit a lot—whether commuting or working a desk-job, etc.)
  • Walk outdoors in the sunshine
    • Aim for 7,500 daily steps as your first goal. Once that’s easy, try aiming for 10,000 steps. Walking will help to burn stubborn belly fat and the dangerous visceral fat—even without being in a calorie deficit.
True Gains Program

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