Article last updated: June 2018 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Recently, a young guy named Harshit Godha emailed me to join my 1 year physique transformation program.
He wanted to build a summer body like the one pictured below, in just 50 days.
After making a comprehensive assessment of Harshit Godha’s physique, I told him that it will take about 6 months to achieve that kind of body.
Why 6 months? Because like most other indian guys, Harshit had a difficult starting point.
He had wide hips, narrow shoulders, undermuscled arms, puffy nipples and high body-fat levels.
In other words, he was skinny-fat.
Here’s how Harshit looked when he was skinny-fat:
After about 75 days on my transformation program, Harshit was happy and achieved the summer body he initially wanted:
And here’s his overall progress on my online transformation program:
I know that many of you reading this are in a similar position to that of Harshit: You are skinny-fat and you want to change, but you don’t know how.
In this article, I will explain exactly what it means to be skinny-fat and the 2 phases of a skinny-fat transformation that Harshit went through to build his summer body.
The 2 Phases Of A Skinny-Fat Transformation
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.
The strategy that Harshit used to transform from skinny-fat to ripped consists of 2 phases:
- Phase 1: Lose fat to get lean.
- Phase 2: Add Muscle Mass IN THE RIGHT PLACES while staying lean.
I will break down each phase below.
Phase 1: Lose Fat and Master Bodyweight Exercises
The goal of the fat loss phase is two-fold:
(1) “Reset” the body from years of bad eating habits, by eating a slight caloric deficit and thereby get to your “lean base”.
Important note: The body is better able to make lean gains when you’re at a healthy body-fat percentage because your nutrient partitioning is better, therefore you should always diet down before focusing on muscle gains.
(2) Build up basic strength on bodyweight exercises to prepare the body for more intense weight training programs.
I want to point out that phase 1 is not about getting shredded to the bone with ripped abs because this will make you lose lean muscle mass and slow down your metabolism.
Instead, Phase 1 is about achieving a healthy body-fat percentage that you can maintain without starving yourself and doing endless cardio.
The level of leanness that is healthy for a skinny-fat individual depends on how your body stores fat, metabolism and many other factors.
However, for most of you it will be somewhere between having a flat waist and a 4-pack in good lighting.
While achieving that “healthy” body-fat percentage you want to master 3 basic bodyweight exercises:
- Chin Ups.
- Diamond Push Ups.
- Bodyweight Squats.
These 3 exercises work all the muscles in your body:
- Chin Ups: Back, biceps, rear shoulders, forearms, abs.
- Diamond Push Ups: Upper chest, triceps, front shoulders, forearms, abs.
- Bodyweight Squats: Legs.
The main reason to why I like to use bodyweight training for Phase 1 is because it 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!
Using Harshit as an example, he went from 3 to 13 chin ups while losing most of the chub around his love handles, hips and lower chest.
Here’s how his body changed in the process:
This is the power of bodyweight exercises and signalling.
You can’t do 15 chin ups and remain skinny-fat but you have plenty of people lifting heavy weights who look fat and bulky.
In addition to signalling, there are 5 more reasons to why I recommend bodyweight training for Phase 1:
- 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 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 phase 1 goals we aim for are 15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups and 100 bodyweight squats with perfect form.
When you master these exercises while losing fat, your entire body will start working in a completely different way.
>> Your metabolism will speed up, so you will burn more fat at rest.
>> Your lower body mobility will improve after years of sitting.
>> You will learn how to move your body through space and feel “fit” for the first time in your life.
>> Hormonal imbalances such as low testosterone and high estrogen will improve so you can build muscle while staying lean.
If you’re skinny-fat and less than 30% body-fat, you can achieve 15 chin ups and a flat waist in less than 6 months.
A lot of people skip the basics and then they find themselves playing catch-up years later.
If you have bad genetics for bodybuilding and you’ve been sedentary your whole life, you need to put in 4-6 months to build the foundation that you’re missing.
There’s no way around it. You can do it now, or you can play catch up later. The choice is yours…
Phase 1 is similar to learning math. If you put in a lot of effort learning the basics, the more advanced stuff will be much easier and more enjoyable later on.
If you skip phase 1, you will find yourself playing catch up, get frustrated throughout your transformation and experience slow progress.
Here’s how Harshit felt after completing phase 1 of his transformation:
“I have seen a significant confidence boost in myself after losing fat, I refuse to stop there. I feel good about myself now, but I cannot even imagine how happy and confident I will be when I have the body I want. My obsession with working out has reached the level that if I don’t workout I feel guilty, and usually after my workouts I feel good. It’s a habit now.”
The quote above tells us two important things about his transformation:
- A simple fitness approach enabled Harshit to make fitness a habit rather than something he just does whenever he feels like it. (If he’s anything like me, he will now be in love with the gym for years and feel like something is missing if he doesn’t workout regularly).
- His strength gains and change in body composition have improved his confidence and he doesn’t want to stop here. He wants to go all the way and build a great body.
Phase 2: Build Muscle In The Right Places
“Oskar, I know the online transformation program isn’t up on the website yet, but you mentioned that male programs are ready. Would it be possible for me to enrol for it as soon as possible. I followed your advice for fat loss, got to a lean base, started from 3 chin ups, now I am at 13. But after the lean base, I think I am getting fat again and I don’t know what to do, should I cut back or keep on being in a caloric surplus?” – Harshit
After completing phase 1, Harshit was in a position that many skinny-fat guys find themselves in.
He had lost fat, but he didn’t know how to go about building muscle mass in the right places while staying lean.
Just like me, Harshit tried to figure this out himself, but ended up regaining a significant amount of fat, and that’s why he hired me as his online personal trainer.
I’ve been through it all myself and failed at making lean muscle gains for years, so I’ve pretty much exhausted all methods that do not work.
I won’t bother explaining what doesn’t work, because there’s already too much of that out there.
So, if you want to know what works, you first have to ask yourself a crucial question:
What kind of physique do YOU want?
You see… Some guys want bigger legs, some want wider shoulders, some want big arms and some want it all.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what other people want.
Just because someone likes having huge legs and squats 3 days a week doesn’t mean it’s right for YOU and YOUR goals.
If you don’t know where to get started, achieving the V-taper is a good place to get started.
Most guys want to get a better V-taper: shoulders that look wide compared to the waist.
That’s a great goal to have because endless studies show that the shoulder-to-waist ratio is the #1 most important indicator of your sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex….
And let’s be honest: most guys workout to look better naked and to be more attractive.
In contrast, most women want a bigger butt, a defined waist and defined legs.
And again, there’s nothing wrong with having a goal like that.
If you’re proud of your defined arms and you want to focus on sculpting your legs, why waste energy training arms (except for the bare minimum needed to maintain good strength)?
Therefore, one of the questions in my client assessment form is about defining your ideal physique, and based on your answer we discuss where we want to prioritise muscle gains and then I start building a program that will achieve that goal.
One thing most trainers don’t tell you is that we all have limited time and energy to train and there’s only so much muscle mass your body can support naturally.
Knowing that you have limited energy and time to train and a limited amount of muscle mass you can carry, it makes no sense to train muscle groups you’re pleased with any more than the minimum required to maintain them.
You want to spend your limited energy wisely and put it towards the muscle groups that are most important to you.
Harshit wanted: 1) a better shoulder-to-waist ratio, 2) bigger arms and 3) abs. In that order.
Therefore for Harshit we used Priority Training which has been used by world class fitness models such as Ulisses Jr. for over 15 years.
The first program I wrote for him, focuses on building the perfect shoulder-to-waist ratio (1.618).
1.618 is known as the “golden ratio” of aesthetics (this ratio applies to graphic design, architecture, sculptures and even your body).
When your shoulders are 1.618 times as wide as your waist, you will look well-proportioned and maximise your physical attractiveness.
In just 10 Weeks on the program, Harshit has improved his shoulder-to-waist ratio dramatically:
To achieve this progress, Harshit has taken a lot of initiative himself.
Originally, I put Harshit on an “easier” routine, but he took initiative and told me it was too easy for him.
So we increased his gym time to 6 days per week for about 90 minutes each day.
And he didn’t waste his time on the phone during those 90 minutes.
He followed a high volume bodybuilding program with short rest periods between sets.
By putting in all this hard work, he was able to simultaneously lose fat and build muscle mass in the right places (as proven by Harshit’s progression numbers and photos).
There’s nothing better than working with a client who goes all in and wants to transform so badly that he will do whatever it takes to crush that goal.
You can always put your training and dieting on “maintenance mode” after you’ve achieved the physique you want… but until you do get a physique you’re proud of, put in 100% and crush that goal.
You don’t want to end up looking back in 5-10-20 years and regret that you didn’t work harder on your goals.
To ensure that I select the right kind of clients for my online coaching program, I have a question asking you how many times a week you can train and for how long time.
If you say can’t train 4 days a week for 20 minutes, I have to tell you: “It’s not gonna happen. There’s a certain minimum requirement you need to fulfil to transform.”
I have a client working for a space-ship company on 4 hours a sleep each night and he was able to do 4 bodyweight workouts a week and went from 0 to 10 pull ups in 5 weeks and a few months later he’s almost at 20 pull ups.
If he can do it, so can you.
Stop making excuses for your lack of progress, and start looking for solutions instead.
One of my favourite fitness YouTubers, Brandon Carter said the following in one if his videos:
“If I put a gun to your head, you would find a way.” – Brandon Carter
Think about that for a minute…
If You Want A Summer Body, You Have To Diet Correctly
Sweating your ass off at the gym is one thing, but the hard part of a transformation is the diet.
Everyone can train their ass off for 2 hours a day when they eat a high calorie diet but can you push yourself when yore on a fat loss diet and you can eat a limited amount of calories each day?
Harshit did just that.
He ate a low calorie diet and lost 14lbs. in 10 weeks, but he still had energy to workout 1.5-2 hours a day and build muscle mass.
The key to doing this is to follow a diet plan that is high in vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
This means nothing get’s neglected.
Everything from macros to food choices, refeed meals and meal timing needs to be dialled in.
Harshit’s diet plan was low in calories, but very high in quality foods, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Every single food in Harshit’s diet was put there for a reason.
I could have put together a random selection of foods to meet his caloric needs, but then there’s no way he would have made the same progress.
He would have felt tired, sluggish and might have lost muscle mass instead of gaining it.
The small details can make an enormous difference in your transformation once.
For example, I have him eat pineapple for breakfast to improve digestion of proteins and increase vascularity.
And moving on to macros, it’s crucial to get the balance right.
You need to have the right macronutrient split (protein, fats and carbs).
Protein repairs and rebuilds your muscles after you break it down during your training. You want to eat just enough protein, but no more than you actually need.
>> Most people into fitness eat too much protein, leaving little room for carbs and fat.
Carbs are the main source of energy for the brain and body. To get that full-looking and muscular body and train for 1.5-2 hours a day you need to eat enough carbs since they supply glycogen to the muscles.
>> Most people into fitness eat insufficient carbs or the wrong carb sources at the wrong time. When you eat too few carbs, you look flat and weak. When you eat the wrong carb sources, you look bloated and feel fatigued.
Fats are responsible for recovery and optimal testosterone levels. To recover quickly between your workouts and sustain good sexual function, you need to eat enough fat.
>> Most people into fitness eat the wrong types of fat and either too much or too little.
It’s difficult to get the right macronutrient balance.
Besides that, your carb intake must match your training and current body-composition.
More training = More carbs.
Less body-fat = More carbs.
More muscle mass = More carbs.
In other words, you have to earn your carbs.
Also, diets that are very low in something, are all fad diets. Stay away from them.
I’m talking about diets such as paleo, low carb and low.
Unless you have a medical condition, there’s no reason to remove a certain macronutrient (no matter what some pubmed study says).
Most studies are poorly designed, and you can find a study that supports anything.
Just use your logic on this one: Do you think the worlds top experts with credentials far above the average fitness author would recommend a balanced diet if it was wrong?
Here’s a good quote from SFT-reader, Steven S. who is studying to become a Registered Dietitian:
To feel your best, look your best and perform at a top level, you must have a balanced diet, and you should also include reefed days (high calorie days).
Reefed days are crucial because testosterone levels drop when you’re in a caloric deficit, so having 1-2 reefed days a week will ensure that you maintain an optimal hormonal balance in your body.
Testosterone is the main muscle building hormone in the body and is responsible for sexual function, concentration and your overall energy levels.
After being in a caloric deficit for weeks, testosterone will literally drop to the levels of an old man, so you need to reefed regularly to “reset” the body and avoid that big testosterone drop that disrupts your endocrine system.
Another thing to look at is your budget…
It doesn’t matter if I tell you to eat grass fed steak and fresh alaskan salmon with every meal, if you can’t afford it.
The truth is that few of us can eat a “perfect diet”. We have to do the best with the resources we have available and prioritise.
The same goes for supplements. You have hundreds of dietary and training supplements, but most of them are not essential to your transformation and health.
I personally take less than a handful of supplements, and stick to the same “budget” foods so I can keep my budget in check (if I ate “the best paleo foods” I would be in debt now).
Does It Get Easy?
“I updated my excel sheet. I can see the changes man, but when I look myself in the mirror, it doesn’t feel like i have improved my physique. I have been busting my ass off with so little changes. Does it get easy?” – Harshit 4 weeks into our coaching
I wrote a lengthy response to Harshit’s question and here’s the gist of it:
You will be the last to notice the changes in your body because you see yourself in the mirror everyday.
And that’s why it’s absolutely crucial to track your progress in hard numbers.
Females should track waist and hip measurements (as a minimum), while men should add a shoulder measurement too.
These measurements must be taken weekly, and I also recommend monthly progression photos from different angles so you can see your progress over time and thereby know exactly what training programs and diet plans that work for you.
If you’re training and dieting without tracking progress, you’re wasting your time.
How would you know if the stuff you’re doing actually works if you have no reference point to compare to?
Just imagine if Harshit had gotten discouraged on 13 May 2015 because he didn’t see progression in the mirror and then gone back to his old eating habits… THAT’S HOW BIG A DIFFERENCE TRACKING PROGRESS CAN MAKE.
Give Yourself Enough Time To Build A Summer Body
Did you know that 90% of people who lose weight, regain all the weight within 2-3 years of losing it?
And did you know that a lot of people who lose weight, lose it too fast?
It’s cool to be able to say that you lose 100lbs. in 5 months, but there’s a reason to why there are guidelines made by medical professionals on how much weight to lose per month.
When you lose weight too fast, you will feel like shit throughout your transformation, and potentially damage your metabolism.
In some cases, the damage can be irreversible and there are many cases of people who have to go on hormone therapy for life because of messed up metabolisms and hormones in their 30’s.
If you’re feeling hungry and irritable all day long you’re dieting down too fast.
It’s OK to be a bit hungry and irritable for a small part of the day (say 6 hours). I’m not saying dieting is supposed to be easy.
But, feeling hungry and irritable all day long for weeks or months on end is a recipe for disaster.
It’s basically your body screaming at you that it needs food, but you aren’t giving it what it needs to function.
The right way to get a summer body is to make lifestyle changes and see your bodybuilding as a life-long goal.
It took 9 months for Harshit from finding my blog to joining my coaching to getting the summer body he wanted.
But Harshit is Harshit and YOU are YOU.
Don’t compare yourself to other people and transform at your own pace.
If I compare myself with my clients and readers I will quickly end up an unhappy person.
At the pace Harshit is going he will smoke my transformation in less than half the time I spent.
But you know what? That’s all good, because I accepted a long time ago that everybody is unique so focus on building yourself up at your own pace instead of wasting time being sad about being worse off than others.
No matter if it takes 9 months like Harshit or 2-3 years like it did for me, it will all be worth it.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer