Why You Shouldn’t Lift Heavy Weights As A Skinny-Fat Beginner

Download my bodyweight program for skinny-fat guys (63-page PDF, free edition)

Chulalongkorn University Street Workout

I just wanted to make a quick statement:

The only way to transform is to lift heavy.

If you want any chance at building a physique, you must do your heavy squats, bench presses and deadlifts.

There simply is no other way to transform your body, so if you don’t like lifting heavy or you don’t have access to a squat rack, barbells and enough plates to give you a hernia, don’t even bother training.

OK, that was just a joke, although that joke is not far from some peoples’ reality.

I can’t believe the amount of times I’ve had skinny-fat guys tell me they did training routines similar to Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5, gained a ton of strength, yet made close to no changes to their physiques.

I was one of these guys not too long ago.

I thought that strength training was the one and only way to gain muscle if you’re skinny-fat.

I found out the hard way that this isn’t the case and now I’ll explain why.

Muscle growth occurs when you stimulate your muscles.

Your muscles are best stimulated when the following things are present:

  • Each set has a time-under-tension of 40-60 seconds.
  • Each rep takes about 5 seconds to perform (2 second positive rep phase, 3 second negative rep phase).
  • Each set is taken close to muscular failure, to complete muscular failure or beyond muscular failure. (This depends on how many sets you do and how often you train that muscle group).

From this basic knowledge we can derive that each set should consist of 8-12 reps that take about 5 seconds to complete to achieve a time-under-tension of 40-60 seconds.

Now contrast that with your typical “lift heavy program” where you do 5 reps.

When you lift heavy, there’s no way you’re going to do “perfect form” reps each time you train and chances are that you won’t reach a time-under-tension of 40 seconds.

In other words, lifting heavy weights in the 3-6 rep range is not optimal for muscle growth.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at two popular strength authors: Jason Blaha and Mark Rippetoe.

These two men are extremely strong and are among the best in the world at teaching you on how to gain strength, but they don’t have the physique to go for it.

Now contrast these two men with guys like Lazar Novovic and HIT Richards.

These two guys train 100% bodyweight training and have much more muscular and full looking physiques than the two strength authors.

Why?

Because bodyweight exercises don’t put anywhere near as much stress on the Central Nervous System as heavy barbell lifts, and that enables you to do more and more often.

me doing push ups

I used bodyweight exercises as staples to build a lean 200lbs physique

(The Central Nervous System takes a lot longer to recover than your muscles).

Therefore, bodyweight exercises can be trained more frequently, with a higher amount of reps, shorter rest time between sets and with a lot more sets.

These are all the conditions that you need to grow your muscles and get a full-looking physique.

Besides that, lifting heavy puts you at a much higher risk of getting injured compared to doing calisthenics, using machines and light-moderate weights.

This is especially true for those of you who are not used to train hard and often (most skinny-fat guys), and those of you who have poor genetics for training.

Besides that, if you’re a couch potato who has poor posture, poor mobility and you can’t do a good set of 12-15 pull ups, you have no reason to start doing heavy barbell squats and deadlifts.

What you need to do first is work on your posture, address basic mobility issues such as tight hips and hamstrings and master basic bodyweight exercises such as push ups and pull ups.

Be proud but stay hungry,
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer

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Comments

  1. Oskar

    I love your programme it is the only thing that gets my skinny fat body responding. The gains in the last 3 months are somewhat impressive,

    I do have some problems though

    I try not to push to complete failure I usually leave a rep left but I think I am overtraining , My sleep is bad after this workouts, even though I have only done 2 sets of 8 pull-ups and 2 sets between 20- 23 push ups. I usually leave one rep in the tank I train every other day with one day being cardio, so I only really train this program 3 days a week. i think I am overtraining. As I have a mild tingling sensation through the body for the next 36 hours

    Can this one rep to failure once a week cause me to over train, I never push myself until I can’t do anymore, I always back of a little

    I am a personal ego lifter even though I train by myself this is another reason I quit the gym, I think it is a more addiction to pushing my body to the max

    The thing is yesterday I hit 9 reps on pull-ups to 90- 95% failure as I want to hit 9 reps, but I think I am giving myself bad insomnia and hammering my cns, I am doing maybe 1 set a week to 95% failure, any advise pleas

    What about splitting my training to morning and night such as 1 set in the morning and 1 at night would this benefit the near failure training day?

    Dan

  2. I am a skinny fat ectomorph. My body tends t =o accumulate a lot of fat in my butt and thighs. I have wide hips. (Totally not cool cause I am a male). I was wondering whether should I start a Keto diet to lose fats and improve overall body composition? Please help.

  3. Hi Oskar, I’m finding myself in a situation similar to your own where I did plenty of stronglifts style training and improved strength and my weight went up, but I had nothing to show for it aesthetically. I can’t do a chin up or a diamond push up, I could probably knock out 20 standard push ups right now but because of a hip injury I haven’t been able to do any for a while because of the pain I get whenever I try to do some.

    Fortunately I’m about to get the injury fixed and I’m going to use yourself as a blueprint for my training. I’m 5’7, 180lbs, I plan on losing 40lbs first which I think I can do in 3 months, then I want to gain 21lbs of muscle so I round out at 161lbs.

    I especially like what you’ve said about diet and I just wanted to get your idea on this. I’ve always been a cereal or toast guy for breakfast, but the truth is I shouldn’t be going near wheat or oats as they play havoc with my stomach, so I’m going to be vigilante when it comes to that, so here was my general proposed meal plan.

    Breakfast:
    2x Bacon, 4x Sausage, 2x eggs, beans, tomatoes,

    Lunch:
    250g – 300g Chicken breast, likely with a mixture of rice, onions, peppers, mushrooms

    Dinner:
    Fish/Steak with potatoes and veg.

    I’ve already cut sugar out of my tea and got down to one tsp in coffee, so I’m confident that starting with negative chins, normal push ups, squats with my eighteen month old daughter on my shoulders, and a few very low weight arm and shoulder moves (curls, arnold press, tricep extension) and some sprint drills (I want to get back to playing football), that I can drop the weight within three months then concentrate on getting my pull ups and diamond push ups numbers to respectable heights.

    What do you think, any changes you might advise?

    Thanks,

    Brad

    • Oh and to add to that, those three meals will all be within 8 hours as I’ll be doing the 8 hours of eating, 16 hours of fasting deal.

      Cheers,

      Brad

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Hey Brad,

      Your diet looks solid.

      I would start out with that and adjust based on your body’s response.

      You want a diet that keeps bloating and other stomach problems to a minimum. Also, make sure to eat a lot of green vegetables, especially spinach.

  4. Hey Oskar I’m 15 and have been following your program for a few months now. I’ve gone from 20% body fat down to about 12-13% I can see my abs when I flex with decent lighting so I think I’m lean enough to go on a bulk. Also I’m 6ft 130 pounds which I think is almost to light, but the thing is I’m ready to do the bulk and the grey skull weight lifting routine which you recommended in a difrent article. My problem is that I can only do about 2 chin ups my push-ups are not bad I can do about 20 and maybe 5 diamonds I also do a lot of negative pull ups so I want to know if I can start lifting now while working on my body weight exercises or if I should just keep doing body weight till I can 15 chin ups. Thank you and sorry I’m a little off topic

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Hey Joe,

      First of all, big congrats on starting at such an early age and achieving those results. It makes me happy to hear that my advice has helped you make progress.

      How does it feel to finally see your abs?

      At this point, the best strategy is to focus 100% on the bodyweight exercises while maintaining your body-fat level.

      Once you reach 15 pull ups, you can progress directly into the Serge Nubret Pump Training linked below:

      http://skinnyfattransformation.com/serge-nubret-pump-training/

      The Serge Nubret Pump Training Program is the best free program I have for the Phase 2 of your transformation.

      The reasoning to why you should skip GreySkull is that I have changed my transformation strategy for my clients from 5 phases to just 2 phases.

      Phase 1: Shred fat and master bodyweight exercises.
      Phase 2: Gain muscle mass in the right places through high volume bodybuilding training.

      This has worked extremely well for clients such as Harshit Godha who completely transformed his body in 1 year:

      http://skinnyfattransformation.com/skinny-fat-to-summer-body/

      I wish you the best and keep me posted on your progress Joe.

      • Thanks Oskar I like the new training program much better and I’ll update you on my progress in about a year or two haha. I’ve got more motivation than ever before and I’m ready to work thank you so much for this site I’m finally feeling comfortable in my body and I’m excited to see where your advice and training can take me thanks again

  5. Hey oskar! Thanks so much for sharing all this knowledge man! I’ve been on your program for 4 months with FANTASTIC results! Cant wait to complete six months and send you my transformation. My question is: my gf hás been wanting to start your program, but give more focus to legs than to back/chest. Do you think skinnyfat women can get good results with your approach to exercise/diet?

    Much love from Brazil and a happy 2016.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Thanks Vinny, I definitely think so, I trained a woman with kids to get visible abs.

  6. Hey Oscar
    I have come across your blog very recently and its really interesting, so I was wondering if you can tell me where to start from and what to do step by step

    P.s. I guess my body shape is pretty much like yours when you started

    Thnx in advance

  7. Hello oskaar, I am a fan of your website,i had a question for you, for optimal bicep growth, what is the best way to work them? Close grip pulling? Or plain bicep curls, lets say i wanna make my biceps as big as possible within 60 days, should i focus on bicep curls or close grip pull ups?

    Also what would be the most effective high volume program for this goal?

    Thanks in advance.

  8. What’s your opinions on crossfit?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      I think it can be good conditioning for experienced lifters with a good strength base, but it’s not optimal for beginners.

  9. Hey,first of all thanks for being an inspiration for everyone here.
    I am 21 yrs old,my height is 5’10.5″ and my weight is 165pounds. I have a body shape just like you used to have when you started. And have bilateral gynecomastia although not very severe as I told my chest looks more or less like the yours used to look. I want to know till what extent can I shape my chest and make it look better and are there any chances of my chest getting worse If I follow your guidelines properly. I am ready to give my fullest to make the change happen.
    Thanks :)

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Your chest will get let’s say 60% better from following the tips here. If you want 100, you will have to add surgery. Does that make sense?

  10. Hey Oscar

    When do you know you’re ready to move unto phase 2 – muscle gain. I noticed I slimmed down my stomach but I still have some stubborn belly fat. Should I work hard to get rid of this belly fat then move unto the muscle gain stage or move straight away into the 2nd phase?

    Cheers,
    Joel

  11. Hello. I’m a fairly small guy, 165 cm, 60 kg, but with a very high body fat percentage (20% or even more), I did the Stronglifts 5×5 and really gained incredible amounts of strength (can’t deny that), but my physique hasn’t changed, or has gotten even worse. I could even send the pictures because I’m getting very desperate. What should I do?

  12. I do agree mostly with what you are saying. But to me its not so much a question of whether stronglifts, or calisthenics objectively is better than the other etc. in building size.

    Whilst you are right about guys like Mehdi and Mark Rippletoe etc., I personally do know people who became gained a lot of muscle and got ripped too. So for some body types it can do wonders. And also look at calisthenics gurus like Al Kavaldo who are not that big either.

    BUT!

    I agree that skinny fats get nothing out of stronglifts/starting strength. Calisthenics is definitely the way. Its the best way to wake up all your muscles correctly and getting the motor mechanics right.

    Question:
    Was it easy to correct your form on deadlifts when you returned to it after your bodyweight programme?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Shaun, do you think these people who gained a lot and muscle and got ripped on SL and SS would have gotten with practically any program out there? I’m asking this question, because it’s convenient to “support” the efficiency of a training program through select examples, but these select examples will rarely apply to most of us (especially not skinny-fat guys with sub-par genetics).

      Regarding calisthenics: You’re right about Al Kavadlo and the likes. I know a few of guys like this. They’re strong and lean, but don’t look that muscular. This is mostly due to goals and diet. Al Kavadlo and the guys I know who look like him, train to become better at calisthenics movement, rather than building a great physique. For them, adding extra mass is a bad thing, because it will make them heavier and slow them down.

      And yes, calisthenics has worked very well for my skinny-fat clients and many SFT-readers who never had success with programs such as SS and SL.

      Regarding deadlifts: I haven’t done deadlifts for ages and I don’t recall correcting my form after doing my BW training (it’s been a long time now, so my memory might be off).

  13. Do you think skinny fats should consume sugar & sweets? I’ve been reading your blog along with Anthony Mychal’s. Both of you share a lot of things in common, but Anthony doesn’t believe we should consume more than 20g of sugar or any at all (including fruits). However, I made an exception with pineapple each morning & I must say that I’m feeling better. Thanks for the advice. Also, my body has changed dramatically in a year. I was 5’7 & 180 pounds (mostly fat), but now I’m down to 152 pounds. I’m not yet on the solid base, but I’ll be there soon. Can’t wait to share my results.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Great to hear Sergio.

      I believe the answer to that depends on a lot.

      Everyone processes sugar differently, and the way you process sugar also changes along with your transformation.

      The better shape you are in and the more you train, the more sugar you can usually eat.

      I also believe that there’s a huge difference between sugar from fruit and candy you buy in 7-eleven.

      I can eat a big bowl of fruit after training and nothing happens. Now, if I eat a bunch of candy from 7-eleven, I tend to see growth in my love handles overnight.

  14. Hey Oscar! I have about 10lbs to lose im skinny fat. How should I go about cutting so I my testosterone and libido won’t fall. In other words, how can I diet and lose fat while keeping testosterone high. Thanks brother great website

  15. hello,

    I can do 8 chinups and 20 pushups but can’t do any pullups or diamond pushups.

    What is the best way to be able to do them? please help

  16. Shreyans mehta says:

    Hey i wanted to know how do i lose those love handles, i have already made some dietary changes but what kind of exercises should i do??Doing oblique exercises made me look more broad at the middle.So what should i do??

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Keep at the diet and you will get there. You won’t lose love handles through ab exercises.

  17. So ive been reading your articles and find them very useful. I do have a question though. I enjoy lifting weights and have packed on about 50 lbs over 6 years. buuuut i am still skinny fat. Atleast in my head.
    I have started throwing in more pullups and am in the military so do a fair number of pushups anyways. My question is. What is daily workouts like? how do you mix up your lifting and body weight training? do you do pullups and pushups every workout or just on chest and like back day for example? its really bothering me since implementing pullups. What do you recommend?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Hey Ricky, 50 pounds is a lot! I highly doubt you’re skinny-fat anymore.

      I will upload yesterdays training to my YouTube with commentary then you can see exactly how I mix bodyweight exercises with weights.

  18. Oskar,
    As a long time follower, I totally understand the importance of body weight training for beginners, but do you think body weight exercises are enough for people who have the lean base?

    Harshit

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Hey Harshit! :)

      Bodyweight exercises can be enough to gain muscle mass once you have the lean base. You just have to do them correctly: http://skinnyfattransformation.com/get-muscular-calisthenics/

      However, I believe that weight training is better to gain muscle mass if you’re at the lean base and you have mastered bodyweight exercises because you can do more exercises, change the weight easily and isolate certain muscles better.

  19. Very much agree with everything you’ve said. One of the things that SS and SL have going for them is that adding weight to these big movements each workout is very motivating. Aesthetic changes occur over a much longer period of time, so it’s easy to lose motivation if that is your only goal.

  20. Sorry you replied

  21. How to reach 20 push ups in a month beginning from 3?
    What should be the set/rep scheme?

  22. What would then be the best way to reach from 3 reps to 20 ?

  23. I definitely agree with possible injuries in 5×5 programs. I’m in my mid 20’s and did 5x5s + accessories for half a year. It helped me get stronger, but I injured my wrists while doing heavy bench presses, despite being careful with my form. Also, heavy squats don’t feel good for my knees either.
    Now I do all my workouts in sets of 8-12 which puts much less stress on my joints, and I noticed that I recover better and feel no discomfort at all. Granted, my 1RM’s went down due to the high rep training, but I think I have better muscle:fat gain ratio on caloric surplus diet with 8-12 reps. Not too sure about that yet though.
    Do you think that moderate weight training yields better muscle:fat ratio when “bulking”? Or do you think it’s more related to the degree of caloric surplus? The power lifters you used as examples are also known for eating a lot of food, and I doubt that they practiced “slow bulk” for physique.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      I’m certain that using light and moderate weight is better for muscle gains because you can do more reps and use longer time-under-tension.

  24. Is it possible to begin diamonds directly rather than normal push ups? I do not have access to a gym currently
    Would 5×5 push ups be good to increase the reps?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Don’t skip the progressions or you might get injured and that will put you out of training for a long time. If you can’t do 20 push ups take out a month or two to get there first.

  25. I have fat on lower chest.can you please tell me which excercise will reduce the fat on lower chest.

  26. Hey nice post man
    Up to 5 chin ups slow and controlled

    But can do only 3 push ups and then elbows began to hurt
    Think you can help?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      If your elbows hurt from push ups, try doing an incline chest press machine at the gym instead. It’s not worth continue with push ups and risking an injury.

  27. Well Stronglifts and Starting Strength are strength building programs not bodybuilding programs.
    Has anyone ever really said that you get great looking body with those programs?

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      I was recommended SS by the bodybuilding.com forums when I began training in February 2010 and my goal was to build a great body.

      Throughout the past 2 years, I have had +100 SFT fans email me they were recommended these programs to transform their skinny-fat body (and there are probably even more than that who haven’t said anything).

      You can find a lot of people stating that strength training programs are the “best way” to build a muscular physique and that bodybuilding training only works for enhanced lifters.

  28. Heya oskar
    I wanna know that what is your current workout schedule and how much weight do you use in the exercises that you do like shoulder press, rows, lateral raises, dumbbell presses, squats etc??
    Plz tell oskar…..

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      I will post a video of today’s upper body workout with commentary before Sunday this week. Here’s a preview I posted today: https://vimeo.com/144626178

      For standing shoulder presses, I can do about 70 KG / 155 LBS, otherwise I don’t know since I don’t lift heavy on any other exercises.

  29. Great post, Oskar. Moving one’s bodyweight through space is so effective. Despite being able to do only 7 chins and 15 diamond pushups, I am already noticing great changes in my physique. The ripped look is so easy to achieve with calisthenics.

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