I've got a confession to make: I'm your prototypical skinny-fat ectomorph.
Tall. Narrow shoulders. Wide waist. It's the recipe needed to look thin while simultaneously sporting a muffin top. It's also the combination that gets called "lanky," a word I've grown to hate.
The truth is that I'm tired of seeing the skinny fats (as I like to call them) falling victim to advice given by the, "I've-been-lean-since-I-was-a-fetus" guys. The same guys that told me that I needed to shovel sustenance into my mouth without regard for body composition.
That might have worked for you, Mr. Lean, but it sure as hell didn't work for me.
Skinny fats can't play by the rules of the rest. With that in mind, here are 11 tips for the skinny fat ectomorph that wants to look good naked. Keep in mind that these are my personal reflections that worked for me, given my lackluster genetic makeup.
1. Stop Cutting and Bulking
Yes, traditional bulking allows you to gain more muscle when compared to the infamous "clean" bulk. But we skinny fats are terrible nutrient partitioners, so more of our excess calories are stored as fat, not used for muscle. This means that without performance enhancing substances, our cuts will be so long and intense that most of the muscular gains wither away.
We don't prosper in malnourished environments very well. Hell, we don't even prosper in nourished environments. Going through the whole bulking thing isn't worth the roller coaster of weight fluctuation and the filling (or perhaps creation) of fat cells.
Editor's note: You could also try Indigo-3G™ and take your nutrient partitioning capabilities to the next level.
2. Carb Cycle
There's nothing wrong with taking your time to add muscle – especially when trying to stave off fat accumulation – but the problem most have is that they eat like an emaciated Ethiopian. Maximizing muscular gain, while limiting fat gain, is about optimizing the body's hormonal profile at the right times.
For the natural trainee, this means cycling carbs according to training. I'm not going to go into detail as there are tons of articles devoted to this. Let's just say: more carbs, less fats, and enough protein on training days; less carbs, more fats, and more protein on rest days.
3. Get Lean, But Forget About Abs
One of the biggest rules I have for skinny fats is to lean out first and never go on a traditional cut ever again. This, of course, requires never getting so fat that you need to cut. Most skinny fats will operate best (as far as gaining muscle is concerned) just outside of the six-pack zone in 11-12% bodyfat (assuming 10% is six-pack level). This is lean enough to be considered lean and "fat" enough to gain muscle.
4. Don't Underestimate Bodyweight Training
It's common for trainees that want to build muscle to revolve around the barbell, as it's the most fabled piece of equipment. Squats, bench presses, deadlifts – ahh, smell the manliness. But don't neglect bodyweight training like push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, muscle-ups, and perhaps even some handstands, planche training, and front levers. Not only do these lifts keep your bodyweight in check (performance decreases if you're overly puffy), but they can build muscle and stave off body fat accumulation.
5. Don't Neglect Isolation, and Use Thick Bars
Compound lifts work better for just about everything. But without isolation movements, a skinny fat's arms will have about as much definition as a PVC pipe. Don't neglect direct arm work. You need it.
Our breed is known for having tiny wrists, which is why I also recommend using thick bars (or Fat Gripz) for all pressing and all biceps work. You can also throw in some thick bar pulling exercises for good measure. This will be the bane of your workout, but you'll see growth in your forearms, upper arms, and shoulders like never before.
6. Sprint, Carry
Don't worry about "conditioning" work to "burn calories." Become a short-term power machine. Run sprints, be it on a hill or a track, from 40-100 meters, but don't turn it into a high intensity interval feast. Sprint, walk back to the starting line, catch your wind, and then go again. Also, do farmer's walks, waiter walks, and carries. You'll know why soon.
7. Be Cautious of Max Effort Work
Skinny fats have terrible recovery capacity. Shorter, brick house powerlifters, with their shortened range of motions and supreme levers, can lift maximally with less trouble. Our lanky stature is inferior in this regard. Be mindful of the recovery process.
8. Be a Bodybuilder, Not a Powerlifter
Similar to above, skinny-fats won't thrive on minimalistic powerlifting routines. That's not to say you can't train in the lower (3-5) repetition ranges, or that all powerlifting routines are bad, but we're much more suited to higher repetition ranges, training at a lower percentage of our maximum, and using a little more volume.
9. Shoulders, Upper Chest, Lats, Upper Back
Skinny fats are pyramids: their waists are bigger than their shoulders. This needs to change. Focus on everything above the deltoid tuberosity – shoulders, upper chest, upper back, and neck. Also include lats in there, as wide wings make the waist look smaller.
A steady diet of chin-ups, incline pressing, dumbbell floor pressing, heavy lateral raises (with body English), overhead work, and rows with the elbows flared will do the trick. Oh yeah, remember when I told you to carry stuff? Farmer's walks are your new BFF.
10. Wave Your Repetitions
Skinny fats tend to need variation to kick start progress. This doesn't have to be complicated. One of the oldest methods of progression was to increase reps and not weight.
Let's say you're benching 225 and you can get four sets of six reps. All future workouts stay at 225 until you work up to four sets of twelve. Once you hit that, add 10-20 pounds to the bar and repeat the process.
This forces you to train with heavier weights and lower repetition ranges for a while, followed by a period of lighter weights and higher repetition ranges. Most everyone benefits from altering intensity and volume, so don't convince yourself that the end all of strength and size development is five reps.
11. Every. Damn. Day
I'm going to end on a crapshoot. Some skinny fats are soft because they're babied. From a biological standpoint, having muscle is an artifact of living a lifestyle that demands its creation. So it may be worthwhile to try training every day to provide a signal to the body that being a skinny fat just isn't going to cut it.
Something tells me that running a combination of Waterbury's PLP and Dan John's 40 Day Program could do wonders for anyone.
Skinny fat sucks. There's no denying it, sugar coating it, or trying to pretend it has any redeeming qualities. But it doesn't have to be a life sentence of avoiding public beaches and swimming with your shirt on. If you're tired of hiding love handles and having the hormonal profile of an ovulating woman, give these tips a try.