Do you consider yourself to be skinny fat? Are you going back and forth between a bulk and a cut with hardly any results to show for it?
Have you been trying to build muscle and lose fat for years and years?
Well, that was me! For most of my life, I was the typical skinny-fat. I always weighed around 150-160, but never seemed to put on muscle — just fat.
And when I cut? It was as if all of my years of lifting was for nothing. There wasn’t a lot of muscle underneath my skinny-fat physique.
In my opinion, having the skinny-fat genetics is the worst type of body to have. Of course I’m biased since it’s what I had to deal with for several years.
In fact, it took me over 5 years of trial-and-error to figure out how to actually build my body and lose fat so I had something to show for it.
Enough of me. You’re most likely experiencing the same problem and I want to help you out. Let’s dive in.
Quick Primer On Bulking and Cutting
“Bulking” refers primarily to building muscle, while “cutting” refers primarily to losing body fat. As with most things in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do each.
When bulking, your goal should be to build muscle with as little fat gain as possible (in other words, not bulking when you’re already carrying a lot of body fat).
By contrast, someone who is cutting should aim to lose as much fat as possible without losing muscle in the process.
This is why having the skinny-fat body type is such a pain in the ass. Your body might only store fat in your belly and nowhere else. I’ve seen plenty of guys with very skinny arms and legs, but a belly that’s larger than most.
It’s a terrible problem to have, and solving it isn’t an easy task. Convincing a guy who is only 150 pounds to cut 15 pounds of body fat isn’t an easy task.
The truth to understand is that it all comes down to your natural genetic body type. As long as your genetics allow, you can switch between bulking and cutting as long as you please.
Some people have this easier than others. If you’re skinny-fat, you’ve been born with a bad hand. That’s just the truth. But, this isn’t the end of the world. You can still build muscle and get lean.
Build Muscle First? Or Burn Off The Fat?
A common argument people will make is that “skinny-fat people simply need to build more muscle. They only appear fat because they don’t have a lot of lean mass.”
While I do agree that you should definitely add more lean mass, this isn’t a simple answer to the problem.
Most people who are skinny-fat will take that advice and believe that they need to go on a bulk. You’ll believe that getting fatter is simply part of the muscle building process.
I think this advice is flawed because people who are skinny-fat already have issues with the way their body looks.
If you go on a bulk, your body is only going to look worse — even if you’re building muscle in the process.
A lot of your success in the gym will come from how you feel about the way you look. If you don’t like your appearance, it’s hard to feel motivated week after week to hit the weights.
So, should you bulk first or cut first? Well, I would suggest you approach this question from a different angle.
Try answering this question: how strong are you? Can you bench press your body weight for 10 reps? Can you perform a standing barbell shoulder press for 85% of your body weight?
If not, then you need to focus on getting your strength up. Make this your new goal going forward and your body will reward you with greater overall strength.
You see, the answer for someone who’s skinny-fat isn’t about whether you should go on a bulk or go on a cut. To approach your fitness goals in this way is too simple, and will only lead to failure.
Therefore, your goal going forward as someone who’s skinny-fat should be to up your levels of strength while reducing your body fat percentage. This is the goal.
Let’s quickly discuss the topic of body fat percentage. This is another area that people get too caught up in.
Figuring Out Your Body Fat Percentage
I’m assuming you’re of the skinny-fat type if you’re reading this article. As a result, you must approach fitness and body composition from a different direction.
While you may not appear fat at all in some areas of your body, your body fat percentage could be higher than you think.
Or, your body fat percentage might be in the low teens. And yet, you have belly fat that covers all of your abs. You can’t remember the last time you’ve seen your abdominals.
This is where it gets tough for the skinny-fat guy or girl. If you go on a bulk, you’re only going to get fatter. The areas on your body that are fat will continue to grow.
When you move into a cut, it’s going to take even longer to finally rid that area of your body of that fat. Not fun! This process can take many months.
This is why your overall body percentage doesn’t really matter if you’re skinny-fat. Either way, you’re going to need to cut weight eventually. Whether you choose to now or later is up to you.
Another important truth to think about is that people who are very overweight are more likely to store excess calories as fat than as muscle.
Obviously if you’re already fat, getting fatter might not be what you want to do looks-wise – even if you’re building muscle in the process. But, maybe you don’t care. In that case, feel free to bulk as long as you wish.
But, my philosophy is about improving your health. As a Lean Warrior, your goal is to get your body fat percentage into the single digits. You can’t do that when you’re bulking.
So, if you’re skinny-fat and decide to go on a bulking phase first, you’re going to get fatter, look worse, feel worse, and have that much more fat to lose when you decide to cut weight.
Bulking is a serious decision because you should ideally bulk for a minimum of 9 months.
As a natural, you won’t put on more than 1 pound of muscle per month. And, this rate is only if you’re doing everything right in the gym and in the kitchen.
So how fat is too fat? The general rule of thumb is that if you have 10-12 percent body fat or less if you’re a man, or 19-23 percent or less if you’re a woman, it’s ok to start with a bulking phase first.
Those percentages aren’t super-lean, but they’re lean enough that you can afford to add a little extra fat during a bulking phase without causing yourself problems.
Hw do you measure your body fat? Unfortunately, commercially available gadgets like scales that supposedly measure body fat aren’t that accurate. There are more accurate ways of doing it, such as with skin calipers or underwater weighing), but they typically require going to a health professional or a fitness lab.
And, those labs aren’t cheap. If you have the time and money for that, great. If not, there’s a cheaper and easier way: look at yourself in the mirror, sans clothes. Do an honest assessment.
As someone who’s of the skinny-fat type, I can guarantee that you don’t have a lot of lean muscle. Your strength isn’t even close to the levels that it could be.
Therefore, if you do decide to go on a bulk, make it your goal to get as strong as possible. Hit those overhead presses and front squats. Ignore bodybuilding routines and anything else that promises to “build muscle fast.”
Do You Feel That You’re Already Too Fat?
If you would rather get really lean while building more strength, then you’re speaking my language! You can definitely build strength and get a little bit of muscle growth while losing weight.
Dedicate the next 12 weeks to cutting back the calories. Eat a healthy diet that moderately reduces your calorie intake. You should be losing 1-2 pounds per week if you eat really clean.
After 12 weeks of dieting, I recommend that you bump up the calories for a few weeks. Spend these 3-4 weeks improving your strength as much as possible.
Your body will look bigger and fuller during this muscle building phase because you’ve been dieting for so long at this point.
However, even during your cutting phase, remember that weight training is essential for preserving the muscle you have. If you don’t lift weights, you will likely lose some mass during your cutting phase.
This is why you focus on strength building as a skinny-fat lifter. You don’t have the luxury of training with lighter weights in the gym. Get as strong as possible.
Once you’re able to overhead press the amount of weight as your lean body mass, you’ve reached a level of strength that very few ever accomplish.
It’s this level of strength that will build your body into the Warrior physique that all of us skinny-fat lifters want.
Are You Skinny Everywhere Except Your Belly?
This is the absolute worst situation to have, and something I have had to deal with my whole life. Not only do I get a fat belly, but my love handles like to protrude as well. Not a fun look!
In this case, you have two choices: you can either ignore it and go on a lean bulk for 9-12 months, or go on a 12-week cut and see what happens to your belly fat.
My personal opinion?
I say you give the 12-week cut a try. It’s only 3 months long, and you may end up losing a lot of fat in your stomach area and love handles. There’s really only one way to find out.
Going on a bulk is much riskier. As I’ve said, you need to bulk for at least 9 months to make it worth it.
Therefore, I believe it’s better to just get really lean and get into the single-digit body fat levels. Hopefully in 12 weeks of dieting, you’ll have burned off a lot of fat in your stomach area with abs to show.
The Bottom Line For Skinny-Fat People Who Want To Bulk Or Cut
Remember that the main goal to have is to develop your strength. That is number one. Most people who are skinny-fat simply don’t have a high level of strength.
Because your strength levels aren’t high, your body has never felt the need to develop the lean mass to support a high level of strength.
Therefore, make sure you’re following the principles of progressive overload. Keep getting stronger in key lifts such as the overhead press, bench press, pull-ups, and legs.
You don’t need to bulk to build strength. Eating maintenance level calories is more than enough. The last thing you want to do is add numbers to your body fat percentage.
As someone who has been skinny-fat my entire life, it wasn’t until I started focusing on my strength that the changes came. Once my body realized that it needed to be stronger, the lean gains started to come.
So, really think about your diet and exercise routine. You want to make sure that each workout is progressing, while at the same time eating enough calories to support strength gains.
Changing your body composition is a long-term process. Just keep shooting for higher strength numbers while keeping the calories under control.
Once you’re satisfied with your levels of strength, feel free to go into a caloric deficit for no more than 12 weeks and cut away some of the fat.]
What’s your experience with being skinny-fat? Have you been able to change your physique and get lean? Share in the comments below.