In my prior installment of the Skinny-Fat Beginner series I wrote about why soreness doesn’t matter and how to create a training routine that is optimal for you.
In this part I will explain why tracking your progress is crucial if you want to get the most out of your workouts:
3) Track Your Progress
After choosing and possibly tweaking the right program for you, it is time to get to work. A lot of people make one crucial mistake when they start training: they don’t track progress. If you don’t track your progress it will be difficult to move forward since you won’t know how much work you did last time.
Yesterday I had a great workout. I woke up early in the morning on a cloudy day in Providence where my girlfriend lives. The first thing I checked was my training log on my iPhone. I was looking for one of my recent workouts where I maxed out on close grip chin ups. After a while I found the workout, it said: 17. After seeing this number I visualized myself outdoing it. When I went to the park to train close grip chin ups I had one clear goal: do more than 17 close grip chin ups on my first set. It took me more than 8 months to go from 15 to 17 but during this workout I was so pumped from visualizing my training session the whole morning that I actually got to 19!
To make things better, I actually gained a bit too much weight during my holidays, so I was VERY pleased that I could progress on this exercise. Tracking my progress enabled me to progress. If I had not tracked my progress, I would not be pumped to train hard and push myself every single time I train.
When you log each workout in your phone or in a physical log book you can go into each workout with the mindset of doing more. By doing more, you will get stronger and your muscles will grow.
In contrast, if you keep doing the same workout without pushing yourself your body will not have a reason to grow. It doesn’t matter how good your training routine is if you don’t push yourself at the gym. Anyone can go to the gym and do the same weight over and over again. This might be good for an advanced guy that has trained for a long time and is trying to increase his workout frequency and NOT intensity or volume. However, a beginner needs to focus on getting stronger as often as possible.
When you log your workouts you should keep it simple. Choose 3-5 exercises that you want to get stronger on. Logging works best if you note down a small amount of exercises, since that will make you super focused on progressing on those.
Before you go to the gym you should already have written down the date, type of workout and exercise names in your log.
I use the notes app in my iPhone to log my workouts. Here’s an example of how I prepare my log in my iPhone:
Wed 24-07: Upper Body
- Close Grip Chin Ups (fill out with weight and reps here)
- Diamond Pushups (fill out with weight and reps here)
Also, I add notes to my log book. This is great, since you often learn important stuff at the gym but if you are like me you may forget it after you leave the gym. For example, if you experience joint pain from an exercise make sure to note it down so you avoid doing it the next time you train.
After having read this, I hope that you will track your progress during training but ALSO outside of training. This bring me to my next point: should you focus on losing fat or gaining muscle?
4) Gain Muscle or Lose Fat?
Depending on how severe your skinny-fatness is, you might decide to gain weight or lose fat.
In the majority of cases I recommend you to lose fat first. You will most likely become skinny as a result, but skinny is better than skinny-fat. Carrying a lot of fat is bad because it affects you negatively from a psychological perspective. No guy likes to wake up and see a soft chest and huge love handles in the mirror.
Also, your estrogen levels will be very high and estrogen is the female vitality hormone. With high estrogen levels you will gain a smaller amount of muscle relative to fat when you decide to gain weight. This is why you should get fairly lean before you focus on building muscle.
How do you know if you are lean enough to focus on building muscle? Body fat measurements are generally inaccurate and using the scale to weigh yourself and calculate your BMI is worse. The solution: use the mirror to decide yourself. There’s no opinion more important than your own.
Even though you focus on losing fat, you will be able to gain a small amount of muscle if you are a beginner and you are in a caloric deficit. I personally couldn’t gain muscle without being in a caloric surplus, however I know that a lot of other skinny-fat guys managed to gain muscle while being in a caloric deficit so it might just work for you. Losing fat is simple in comparison to gaining muscle: find ways to eat less.
Here are 3 simple techniques to get you started losing fat:
- Intermittent Fasting
- Only buy healthy foods. If you wake up at 4 AM in the morning and you are very hungry but you only have foods that must be cooked you will either go for a glass of water or go back to sleep. In comparison, if you have candy lying in your kitchen, chances are you will eat it.
- Eat the same foods everyday. If you eat the same foods everyday, you will get tired of them and eventually eat less. I don’t recommend you to do this in the long term, however it works VERY well if you have a lot of fat to lose and you have a huge appetite.
I used all 3 techniques during my 60 lbs fat loss. I still do intermittent fasting most of the time and I only buy healthy foods. When I’m out I eat whatever I want, but at home I’m eating healthy solid foods.
Ready to Gain Muscle?
If you decided to focus on gaining muscle, you need to distinguish between weight gain and muscle gain. Your body can only gain a limited amount of muscle – especially when you’re skinny-fat. Let’s say your body is limited to gain 2 lbs of muscle per month. 2 lbs is a very reasonable amount – that’s 24 lbs after 12 months of training. Just imagine 24 lbs of meat spread around your body.
Now imagine that you decide to gain weight faster. Instead of gaining 2 lbs a month you decide to gain 2 lbs a week (8 lbs a month). For a skinny-fat guy with a huge appetite this shouldn’t be difficult. If you keep gaining 2 lbs a week for 6 months you will gain 48 lbs. This is a lot of weight but the muscle gain will only make up for 12 of those 48 lbs since your body is limited to gain 2 lbs of muscle a month. In other words, you will gain way more fat than muscle by doing a traditional bodybuilding bulk.
Gaining 8 lbs a month is a typical example of a traditional bodybuilding bulk where you eat a lot. The 12 lbs of muscle you might gain in 6 months if you are training properly will be masked with 36 lbs of fat. Instead of looking skinny-fat you will now look fat. This is what happened to me when I decided to bulk up during my first year of training.
So when you gain all this weight, you will have to lose it afterwards. If we stick to the abovementioned example, you will have 36 lbs of fat to lose. Losing 36 lbs of fat can easily take 5 months or more. If you gained your weight slowly you would be able to focus on building muscle during those 5 months instead of losing fat.
Everybody has a different amount of muscle they can potentially gain. It all depends on genetics, training experience, current training routine, how hard you push yourself and how well you eat. My advice is to gain weight slowly. In the first few weeks you might gain a bit more since some of it will be water weight from an increased food intake, however after the initial first few weeks, shoot for gaining 2-4 lbs a month.
Hopefully those 2 pieces of advice will move you one step closer to achieving your goal.
Do you have any great advice for a skinny-fat beginner? Comment below and share your thoughts.