If you’re struggling to progress in your weight training as a skinny-fat individual, then this article is for you.

Progress in the gym can be tough. This is especially true if you’re of the skinny-fat type like I’ve always been.

While weight training is the key to transforming your body composition, it isn’t as easy as all these Instagram “naturals” want you to believe (they’re snakes).

Here’s the truth that you must first understand: Progressive Overload is the most important part of any weight lifting program. The routine you choose isn’t nearly as important.

As long as you are lifting weight that pushes your body to improve week after week (aka progress), then you’re on the right track.

Progressive overload is essential to building muscle, especially if you’re skinny-fat.

Without it, you’re just wasting your time – at least when it comes to getting stronger. This is because you need to place greater demands on your body if you want it to adapt and grow.

It’s no different from anything else, really; you can’t learn a new skill, get better at something, or grow in any other way unless you challenge yourself.

So how should you employ the concept of progressive overload when it comes to weight training?

There’s no one right answer to that.

On the contrary, several different methods will work, albeit some will work better than others for certain people.

You need to find what works best for you.

Common Methods of Progressive Overload for Skinny-Fat Individuals

Here’s a list in no particular order of some ways you can progress and force your body to build:

Increase the amount of weight you lift. For example, if you normally barbell shoulder press 95 pounds for 8 reps, increase that to 100 pounds next time you do the exercise.

Remember to not add too much weight or you won’t be able to lift it with correct form. This will increase your risk of injury and you’ll end up compensating with other muscles.

Form is key when adding weight. If you break form, the rep doesn’t count and you need to lower the weight in order to complete the reps with correct form.

Increase the number of reps. When you’re able to complete all of your reps with good form for a given exercise, you can add a rep or two instead of increasing the weight.

This is generally recommended for isolation exercises simply because some exercises are better suited for higher rep work like lateral raises, back extensions, leg extensions, pull-ups and so on.

It’s up to you if you want to increase weight or increase reps. You will hear different opinions everywhere. I suggest you stick to more weight for compound lifts and more reps for isolation work.

Increase the number of sets. Instead of hitting a muscle group for 12 total sets, increase this to 16. The more sets you do for a muscle group, the more work you’re giving your body.

This really depends on the amount of time you devote to the gym. The more time you have, the more sets you can do.

If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym, then you need to make all of your sets count. Stick to compound lifts in the 5-8 rep range.

Decrease the time you rest between sets. This is another way to progress that a lot of lifters don’t think about.

Instead of resting for 120 seconds between sets, try to rest for 90 seconds. You will find this shift in rest periods to be extremely difficult.

Don’t go too crazy on this. For heavy lifting, always rest for at least 120 seconds. Legs generally need more rest time than your upper body. I recommend resting for 3 minutes when working your legs.

But, I’ve known several people in great shape who only rest 30-60 seconds between sets. They love this style of training as it keeps them working constantly in the gym.

Expect to lower the amount of weight you normally lift if you want to go with short rest periods. It’s also good cardio as well!

Not all of these approaches are equally effective for everyone. It truly depends on your goals. You might want to try one for a while and then try another to see if it works better or worse for you.

What’s most important is that you stick with it.

Give at least 8 weeks to whatever progressive overload training you pick for a given exercise. You can’t progress correctly if you’re changing your routine every few weeks.

If you’re looking for someplace to start, here’s what I recommend…

Weight Lifting Progression Program for Skinny-Fat Individuals

As a guy who’s been skinny-fat his whole life, making noticeable progress from weight training has been a real struggle.

Specifically, getting really lean and building muscle that lasts. This is the hardest part for guys who are skinny-fat when it comes to lifting weights.

What I’ve learned over the years is that you need to keep the calories low while focusing on progressive overload. This is going to be different for every person.

But basically, you need to find how many calories you need to eat daily that allows you to progress without adding much fat to your body. I can write an entire article on this but that’s for another day.

But basically, do NOT dirty bulk. My bulking calories never go above 2200 to give you an idea of what I mean here. The leaner you are, the better. Try to get as lean as possible before you embark on this lean bulk.

Now if you’re going to make progress with weight training, you got to focus on consistency. You need a program – specific exercises with specific sets, reps, and weight, all of which are tailored to getting stronger for a long period of time.

Without a consistent plan and just doing whatever comes to mind is a recipe for not making any progress (at best) or hurting yourself (at worst). So don’t do that.

Here’s a basic protocol you can follow to make progress in the gym over a period of 3-4 months:

1) Pick a program that has a focus on both compound movements and isolation movements. Nothing too crazy. 12-15 sets total per workout is more than enough.

2) The goal is to increase the weight week after week for the compound movements. For barbell exercises, only increase the weight by 2.5 to 5 pounds total. Don’t try to go too heavy too fast. Dumbbells are harder to increase weight. Instead, increase by 1 rep.

3) Keep the sets and reps the same for compound movements. For isolation exercises, it’s better to increase reps than to increase weight. Heavy weight can wreck your joints when you’re doing isolation exercises. For example, it’s better to do 25 reps of light lateral raises than 8 reps of heavy.

4) Only increase the weight on your compound lifts when you’re able to complete all the reps with that specific weight with near-perfect form. If you have to break form to lift the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight by 10% and try again.

Repeat steps 1-4 continually.

Sample Skinny-Fat Weight Lifting Exercises

I’m not going to just let you off the hook without providing some exercises you can follow. Create a routine with these exercises for at least 12 weeks. If you are still making progress, then keep going. Progress is key!

30 degree Incline Bench Press: 3 sets x 5-7 reps
Chin-Ups: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
DB Lateral Raises: 4 sets x 12-25 reps
Trap Bar Deadlift: 3 sets x 4-5 reps
Box Jumps: 3 sets x 15 reps
Ring Tricep Dips: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
DB Shoulder Press: 3 sets x 6-8 reps
Overhead Barbell Military Press: 4 sets x 8-15 reps
Alternate Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets x 5 reps
Pull-Ups: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
DB Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets x 5-6 reps
DB Backward Lunges: 3 sets x 8-10 reps
Medicine Ball Push-Ups: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
One-Legged Leg Press: 3 sets x 5-8 reps
Bent Over DB Raises: 3 sets x 12-20 reps
Overhead Ring Tricep Extensions: 3 sets x 8-10 reps

Mix and match these exercises to create your own weekly routine. I’m allowing you to get creative here because the routine really won’t matter as long as you’re making progress week after week.

If you can do 3 sets of 7 reps for the incline bench press, then next time you do this exercise increase the weight by 5 pounds total.

That’s how you progress on the compound lifts. It’s much more important to progress on compound lifts than on the dumbbell exercises.

Shoulders are an exemption here. You want to hit the shoulders with higher reps because the lateral and rear deltoids are a smaller muscle. They aren’t big and massive like your chest or back. Plus, incline benching hits your front deltoids well enough.

I like to lift lighter weight on barbell overhead pressing. I save the heavy shoulder presses for dumbbells because it’s safer on your body. Plus as I said earlier, lighter weight is better for shoulders in general.

As for rest timers, the heavier the weight the more you rest. Think 2-3 minutes for compound exercises and 60 seconds max for high rep dumbbell exercises.

If you want me to build you a custom routine to follow for the next 3 months, contact me here and I’ll hook you up for a good price.

How Quickly Do You Need To Progress?

This is a question that has no right answer to it. Because I recommend people to start every new routine with lighter weight, you’ll most likely make progress every single week for the first 4-6 weeks.

As the weight gets heavier and heaver in your compound lifts, progress will eventually slow. This is why getting yourself a pair of 1.25 plates is great. You can then progress by 2.5 pounds instead of 5 pounds.

This is what you should do if you find yourself stalling when you move from 185 pounds to 190 for example.

When it comes to higher rep exercises, you won’t need to increase the weight that often. Instead, either add reps or decrease the rest time.

For example, for the dumbbell lateral raises, try resting for only 50 seconds between sets instead of 60 seconds. See how you do with that. Once you’re able to do all reps at 50 seconds, drop the rest time to 40 seconds.

More advanced lifters will struggle with progression. This is okay because it’s hard to progress from a 225 bench press to 230. Just keep at it. If you’re maintaining strength at 225, you’re already stronger than 99% of society. Good on you.

Diet will be key as I said earlier. This is the truth for skinny-fat individuals. I’ve learned the hard way that we cant dirty bulk with our body type. It all goes to our love handles and lower belly. Not a good look!

Therefore, eat around maintenance level calories for your bulk. If you’re progressing in the gym while not gaining or losing weight, you’re on the right track.

And again, make sure you don’t even think about eating 2,000+ calories until you can see all 6 of your abs. Getting this lean will be tough but it must be done.

What’s your experience with progressing in the gym as someone who’s skinny-fat? Share in the comments below.