Article last updated: March 2019 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Being skinny-fat means that you lack upper body muscle mass while having excess body-fat in the lower waist, chest and hips.
Compared to other guys, skinny-fat guys gain muscle mass at a much slower rate and we gain fat just by “looking at food”.
It’s not uncommon for skinny-fat guys to train for months or even DECADES without anything to show for it.
In my experience training over 100 men in my online coaching program, the skinny-fat body-type is BY FAR the hardest to transform and there’s a huge lack of quality training programs for our unique body-type.
I personally started out training skinny-fat.
At 6’2″ (190 CM) and 200 pounds bodyweight (90 KG), I couldn’t do a single push up and I couldn’t overhead press an empty barbell. (How embarassing!)
I had narrow shoulders, puffy nipples and my physique was soft all over.
At age 17, I had never had a girlfriend and that’s what ultimately lead me to get into bodybuilding.
I wanted to improve my life and I knew that in order to do that, I need to build a better body so I can become comfortable in my own skin.
As a result, I started training on a program called Starting Strength where I did heavy squats, bench presses, deadlifts, rows and presses 3 times per week.
I showed up to the gym every single time and put my 100% into each set.
In my first year of training I added a total of 500 pounds (227 KG) to my bench press, squat and deadlift max and I was proud of myself.
There was just one problem… I didn’t gain any visible muscles!
I got strong, but I didn’t improve my body-composition at all.
The photo below shows my first 2 years of “training progress”:
In the photo above you can see that I first bulked up and gained a lot of strength and body-weight.
After my bulk, I cut off the excess body-fat I had gained… Only to find out that I had gained almost no muscle mass.
So here I was on a high protein diet for 2 years and with a deadlift, squat and bench press total that was 500 pounds more than before, but my body still looked exactly the same!
At the time I thought that I’m a total non-responder to training and almost gave up on my physique goals.
But I decided to give training one more shot.
I switched my focus to doing a basic bodyweight training program that I could do for just 30 minutes per day at home, and to my surprise, I got better results.
My muscles started filling out in all the right places (the shoulders, upper chest, arms and lats) and I got visible abs for the first time in my life.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Here’s a photo of how I looked before focusing on bodyweight training (when I could do 0 chin ups and 0 diamond push ups):
And here’s a photo of how I looked when I could do 15 chin ups and 30 diamond push ups with perfect form:
Bodyweight training gave me much better results than heavy weight training ever did and I didn’t have any of the nagging joint pain that I always got when doing heavy deadlifts and squats.
At the time the after photo was taken, I was a lean 190-195 pounds at 6’2″ and I could do more than 15 chin ups with perfect form.
This was truly the first time in my life where I felt like I was in shape.
I felt strong, fast, light, energised and I always went into my training sessions fully recovered.
So, why does bodyweight training work so well for us skinny-fat guys?
The short answer is: SIGNALING.
When you become better at moving your body through space, you SIGNAL to the body it has to change.
Just imagine adding 1 rep to your chin up max for 15 weeks straight.
When you go from 0 to 15 chin ups, there’s no way your body will remain the same.
It has to adapt by adding muscle size and shedding fat:
Overall, bodyweight exercises represent the opposite of being skinny-fat.
The skinny-fat guy is soft, weak and under-muscled however to master bodyweight exercises you have to become the exact opposite: strong, lean and muscular.
Build Your Foundation With Bodyweight Exercises
By mastering these bodyweight exercises, you will build a solid foundation of strength and muscle mass that sets you up to make bigger gains in the future.
Your strength and muscle foundation is important because training is just like building a house:
When you have a strong foundation, everything else becomes so much easier.
You progress faster, muscle gains are easier to come by and you prevent serious injuries that can put you out of training.
Most guys at the gym lack a foundation on bodyweight exercises.
They may lift hundreds of pounds on the squat, bench press and deadlift but they can’t do a set of 20 clean chin ups or 100 bodyweight squats.
As a result, they end up paying for it later by getting a shoulder, back or knee injury that puts them completely out of the gym.
Overall, here are the top benefits of starting off with bodyweight exercises:
- The main bodyweight exercises are compound. This means they train several muscle groups at the same time so you get more bang-for-the-buck with each exercise.
- Bodyweight training is easy on your Central Nervous System. As a result, you can recover faster between training sessions, train more often and thereby build more muscle mass.
- Bodyweight training keeps you focused. When you train just a few basic compound exercises, you stay focused and get very strong on those key movements.
- Bodyweight training signals to your body that it has to transform. Just imagine going from 0 to 15 chin ups — there’s no way your body will remain the same!
- Bodyweight training can be done anywhere at anytime. You have no excuses to skip your training sessions when they can be done from the comfort of your home or while travelling.
- You can build 80% of your muscle mass with bodyweight exercises alone – even if you’re old or you have bad genetics for muscle building.
The starting goals I usually aim for with my Online Transformation Program Clients are 15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups and 100 bodyweight squats – all done in one set.
When you reach these numbers you will no longer appear skinny-fat and you’ll have better fitness levels than +95% of the population.
As mentioned earlier, I have over 100 success stories on my success stories page for proof that bodyweight training does in fact work for the skinny-fat body-type and these are just some of the success stories I have. (The page is now so big that I’m unable to edit it and put more success stories).
Depending on your starting point, these goals are usually reached within 3-12 months of good training.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer