What To Do If You’re Skinny Fat?

The coined term “skinny fat” has been been around for a while.

As paradoxical as it might sound, it actually makes perfect sense and is quite common: it’s when you’re both “skinny” and “fat” at the same time. 

What does skinny fat look like? Well, there is a special breed of people out there, including maybe yourself, who have the characteristics of being skinny such as the noodle arms, small forearms, small calves, narrow shoulders and chest but also have some characteristics of being fat since they’re usually accompanied with a wide waist.

If this is you, you face a dilemma:

If you decide to bulk up, your waist will just get larger and you’ll get fatter. If you decide to lose the extra fat around your waist, however, you’ll end up just looking skinny and may even lose some of what little muscle mass you already do have. So should you bulk or cut?

It’s a catch-22. 

But fear not; it’s certainly fixable so not all hope is lost.

Escaping the fate of being a skinny fat person will probably require a little more effort and time on your part but rest assured that with the right advice, you’ll be on the right path to success.

What Causes The “Skinny Fat” Look?

It’s all about body composition and this is when you realize why the number on the scales doesn’t mean jack.

Body composition is the reason why a 160lbs man at 6’ft can look shredded to pieces while another guy at 160lbs and the same height can just look a blubbery mess.

The skinny fat look is caused by having too little muscle development on your body in proportion to fat. The less muscle development you have, the lower your body-fat levels need to be in order to have any muscle definition.

A guy with a nice amount of muscle development at 15% body-fat won’t look too shabby at all. A guy at the same 15% body-fat percentage but with little to no muscle development, however, and there you’ve got your recipe for the “skinny fat” look.

Make sense?

Having said that, the most common factors for a “skinny fat” body are the following:

Little or No Strength Training

If you are like the average guy, then you probably don’t really engage in consistent strength training. You wouldn’t be dealing with a “skinny fat” body to begin with if you had enough muscle development.

Resistance training i.e. lifting weights builds muscle mass and also preserves muscle when you are losing weight, preventing your body composition from being negatively affected.

Low Calorie / Low Protein Diet

By restricting calories to very unhealthy amounts and not eating enough over extended periods of time, your metabolism will slow down and, aside from many other symptoms, will essentially make your body hold on to every bit of fat on your body it can.

It’s an evolutionary survival instinct when your body believes you’re going into starvation; it will hold on to fat storage for energy and will start to burn off muscle first because it isn’t a necessity to survive.

If you’re not in a survival situation, you can only imagine how that puts your body composition in the gutter. Keeping your body-fat levels the same while losing muscle mass means looking like a “skinny fat” weakling.

The same goes for low protein diets. Protein is a necessity for protein synthesis, development and preservation of muscle mass. The ideal diet is moderately high in protein and includes an adequate amount of calories based on your goals and resistance training regime.

The Two-Step Skinny Fat Solution

So we’ve explored how the “skinny fat” look is caused; it’s all to do with body composition.

And the skinny fat solution consists of two important factors; diet and resistance training. Surprise surprise!

With that said, here are some specific things to think about and two easy steps you can take to rid yourself of “skinny fat” syndrome:

1.) Decide To Bulk Or Cut

You’re going to have decide to do one or the other.

Either you’re going to focus on building muscle or losing fat. You can’t really do both.

That’s really the only two options you have when you’re a natural trainee, unless you are completely new to working out in which case you can experience what’s known as “noobie gains”, where you’ll be able to gain some muscle while also losing fat in the first couple of weeks or months since lifting will be a new stimulus to your body.

For everyone else and beyond that, you can’t efficiently build muscle and lose fat at the same time. In order to aid muscle growth you need to eat in a caloric surplus and to lose weight you need to eat in a caloric deficit.

There’s no way you can effectively do both at the same time, so kiss that fantasy goodbye!

Here’s a rule of thumb:

If you’re under 15% body fat, you can go ahead and start building muscle. Make sure you do it right from the start, educate yourself on proper lean bulking, and be consistent. By building muscle you’ll improve your body composition.

If you’re currently over 15% body fat, you’re better off losing the fat first. Trying to bulk up while at a high body-fat percentage will just make you fatter and make it way harder to lose that amount of fat later on. See why you should get lean before bulking for more detail about this.

Not to mention the negative effects a higher body-fat level has in general on your muscle building and health in the first place.

2.) Stick To a Proper Workout Routine

The next step is picking a skinny fat workout plan that focuses on heavy compound lifts and free weights and which encourages you to progressively get stronger. 

Remember that building muscle as a natural trainee is all about consistently getting stronger and not about fancy high rep, high volume workouts; leave that to the drug users.

You can also include your isolation exercises and put an emphasis directly on your arms, calves and shoulders, which any good routine will include.  Working with thick grip bars can also help with the development of bigger forearms.

A lot of “skinny fat” people tend to suffer from small noodle arms, small forearms, small calves and narrow shoulders so you definitely want to make sure you address those “weak spot” areas.

Final Thoughts

Being skinny fat is not some unlucky curse you have to live with for the rest of your life.

By and large it is simply a good indication that you have low levels of muscle development. And if you learned anything today, it is that the less muscle you have on your body, the lower your body-fat levels need to be in order to see any muscle definition and not appear skinny fat.

It’s all about body composition over the numbers on the scale in this situation.

Assuming you’re less than 15% body-fat, start building muscle properly and you’ll have a good body composition to work with eventually. If you’re above 15% body fat, lose fat first to start off from a good base.

Combine that with a proper workout routine that includes heavy compound exercises and targeted isolation exercises and you are set!

You don’t need to make any of this complicated. Really, it’s that simple.