I often get asked about why I recommend weighted bodyweight exercises for skinny-fat guys rather than weight training?
Shouldn’t weight training exercises produce a superior result since most guys at the gym do weight training?
In my experience, no, and in this post I will explain why weighted bodyweight exercises are superior to their weight training equivalents.
To be specific, I’ll compare weighted chin ups and weighted dips with rows, deadlifts and bench presses.
If your goal is to build as much muscle mass as possible and you’re a natural low responder to training, my advice is that you should ditch the rows, deadlifts and bench presses and instead do weighted chin ups and weighted dips.
Now, I know that some of you may not even be able to do unweighted chin ups and dips, but don’t worry, we will talk about that later.
Anyways, rows and bench presses are the main upper body builders in most weight training programs.
Then deadlifts are added as a posterior chain exercise, and while they mostly target the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors and traps, they will also lead to some added thickness on the lats and upper back.
I suggest you replace these with weighted chin ups and dips because in my experience, people who are natural low responders to training, get superior muscle gains from doing that.
Why? I don’t know the science behind this, however I believe it comes down to 2 things:
- Moving your body through space rather than moving a weight through space.
- Weighted bodyweight exercises are much more taxing on the body than their weight training equivalents. You get more work done each rep.
You can consider the difference between weighted chin ups and lat pulldowns for a clear difference.
During lat pulldowns you sit down and move a weight through space. It’s relatively easy. Even if you do dropsets to failure on lat pulldowns, it’s not a very taxing exercise.
In contrast, during weighted chin ups you hang on a bar and move your own body through space. It’s hard.
Moving your body through space is much harder and produces some type of signal in your body that shocks it into growth.
I believe this signaling is especially useful for skinny-fat hardgainers who naturally don’t respond well to resistance training.
When I first started doing bodyweight exercises, I was able to bench press 100 KG, deadlift 180 KG and squat 140 KG.
At that point, I had barely gained any muscle mass and looked like I didn’t even lift.
As soon as I switched my focus to doing bodyweight exercises, I saw a massive increase in the size of my upper and inner chest, lats, upper back and arms. These were muscles that had previously never responded to weight training.
Within just 8 weeks of doing basic bodyweight exercises, I had gained something like 13 pounds while maintaining visible abs.
Those gains were superior compared to what I had gained in the first 2.5 years of weight training.
In addition to that, compared to heavy squats and deadlifts, I never felt aches in my joints and I didn’t feel drained after sessions.
Now don’t get me wrong. Bodyweight exercises weren’t easy for me. I took each set to muscular failure.
I emphasize muscular failure because on the bodyweight exercises I felt all the right muscles activate while the stress on my joints was minimal. In contrast, on squats, bench presses, rows and deadlifts I never felt the target muscles working – regardless of how much work I put into optimizing my technique.
Over time, I managed to build up to weighted chin ups with 45 KG (100 LBS) attached for 5 reps at 90 KG (200 LBS) bodyweight.
Overall, since implementing bodyweight exercises as staples in my training regimen 8 years ago, I’ve kept gaining mass each year. Right now I’m 104 KG (230 LBS) at 6’2” (188 CM) and I have no problems gaining mass anymore.
If I want a certain body-part to get bigger the solution is simple: I just increase the volume, frequency and intensity on the bodyweight exercises (and isolation work).
I’ve seen the same thing happen with my clients who have reached Phase 2 and progressed on weighted chin ups and weighted dips.
Over time, they all gain mass. Even those who previously thought they’re non-responders to training.
The long-term goal is to reach weighted chin ups and dips with 40-50 KG for reps and then move into more advanced training.
This is why all my client programs use basic bodyweight exercises as a staple.
This makes the switch into weighted bodyweight exercises much smoother since the unweighted variations train the exact same muscles and movement patterns.
When you master the phase 1 goals that I recommend (15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups, 100 bodyweight squats), you can smoothly move into weighted chin ups and weighted dips.
I usually don’t prescribe dips as a standalone pushing exercise for phase 1 because it emphasizes the lower chest, therefore in order to develop a great chest, you would need to add upper chest and inner chest work as well.
Also, most skinny-fat guys shoulders are extremely weak and immobile when they start training, therefore it takes time before they can even attempt dips.
Dips are very taxing for both shoulder strength and mobility.
The benefit of adding weight is that it makes progression smoother since you can work in better rep ranges rather than pumping out endurance sets of +20 reps.
The main problem with doing weighted chin ups and dips is that they’re hard.
Most skinny-fat guys have extremely low starting strength levels and their strength relative to bodyweight is minimal.
The guys I train typically struggle with just hanging on a pull up bar when they start out. The ones that do better start with being able to do 1 or 2 pull ups.
If that sounds like you, it seems impossible to do weighted chin ups and weighted dips any time soon.
I know because it took me 6 months of hard training to do my first pull up.
Therefore, it may be discouraging to start off your training doing bodyweight exercises.
What typically happens is that you think you can skip the bodyweight exercises and instead focus on bench presses and rows from the get go.
This leads to the following happening:
- You follow a typical weight training program such as stronglifts 5×5 or starting strength.
- You get stronger but at a much slower rate than other people. You often stall and in order to progress, you try eating more protein and Calories. This just leads to more fat gain around the waist.
- After a few years of going back and forth between bulking and cutting you have gained a lot of strength on the barbell exercises and your legs and glutes have responded by getting bigger (because you’re doing movements that move your body through space for the lower body — squats and deadlifts), but your upper body has minimal muscle. You don’t even look like you lift.
- You think you have crappy genetics and give up.
The key here is to NOT skip the essential step of doing bodyweight exercises first.
I train a lot of clients who can deadlift nearly 200 KG and bench over 100 KG after years of training but they barely look like they’ve ever been to the gym.
When I ask them to do pull ups they either can’t do a single rep or they struggle doing a set of 2-3 proper reps.
The problem is they’ve completely neglected bodyweight exercises which are fundamental to building a great physique if you’re skinny-fat.
As mentioned earlier, I can’t explain the science behind why this is the case, but I’ve seen this with my own eyes over and over again. I believe the key is signaling.
Weighted bodyweight exercises shock the body into growth.
I can guarantee you that if you didn’t respond to weight training, you will respond to weighted chin ups and weighted dips.
In order to get to weighted bodyweight exercises, you have to take the hard route and master your own bodyweight first.
The good thing is that mastering weighted bodyweight exercises transfers incredibly well to regular weight training while the opposite isn’t true.
When you become strong on weighted chin ups, your strength on rows, lat pulldowns and deadlifts increases as well.
When you become strong on weighted dips, your strength on all presses increases as well.
Therefore, after mastering weighted bodyweight exercises, you will have increased your all around fitness and you can always go back to regular weight training exercises and improve on those.
Generally speaking, the harder an exercise variation you perform, the better the transfer to easier variations will be.
Does all of this mean that weight training is useless? Not at all.
Weight training is essential to build on the weighted bodyweight exercises, and further grow the muscles.
You use the weighted bodyweight exercises as your big training staples, then you do accessory hypertrophy work with weight training exercises to further sculpt your physique.
It’s especially important that you do isolation work for the 3 shoulder heads, biceps, triceps, upper chest and inner chest.
This will help you prevent injuries, overcome plateaus and build a more complete physique.
The long-term goal is not to keep doing sets of 20-30 reps on pull ups, diamond push ups and dips, but rather to build the foundation to progress into weighted bodyweight exercises and get massively strong on those.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer