Bodyweight exercises are by far the best way to get started if you’re skinny-fat and now I’ll explain the main reasons to why this is the case and then debunk some of the top myths related to the skinny-fat physique at the end.
Reason #1: 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.
Just imagine the changes your body will go through when you progress from 0 to 15 chin ups.
There’s no way you will remain skinny-fat when you can knock out 15 chin ups with perfect form.
Here’s a photo of how I looked 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:
#2 The Signalling Effect
When you become stronger at bodyweight exercises, you send a strong signal to your body that it has to shred body-fat and pack on lean muscle.
The same isn’t the case with weight training, because being lean is not a requirement to get strong on weight training exercises.
There are plenty of fat guys who deadlift over 500 pounds but you won’t find a single fat guy doing sets of 20 chin ups. These two things are mutually exclusive.
Also, if you look at the strongest men in the world, they have high body-fat levels and bulky looking physiques with overdeveloped necks, traps, legs and glutes.
Now, take a look at guys who practice bodyweight training.
They have leaner and more athletic looking physiques with just the right amount of muscle mass in the right places.
#3 If you suck at bodyweight exercises, it means you need to work them hard
One of the main reasons to why I put off bodyweight training for so long was because I couldn’t do a single push up or chin up.
And I was too embarrassed to drop my ego and practice knee push ups and negative chin ups.
So just like many other skinny-fat guys, I made the mistake of focusing on heavy weight training and cardio.
I did heavy squats, bench presses and deadlifts and added over 500 pounds to my total in the first few years of training.
In addition to that, I followed a high protein diet and did cardio on a regular basis.
However, after doing all of this for over 2 years, I had nothing to show for it.
You can see a photo of my 2 years of gym training below:
As you can see from the photos above, doing heavy weight training didn’t help correct my skinny-fat look at all.
The issue with heavy weight training is that it puts a lot of stress on the Central Nervous System and the CNS takes a much longer time to recover than the muscle itself. (Think up to a week compared to the muscle which recovers within 48 hours).
In addition to that, skinny-fat guys have a way below average recovery capability, so doing training that is taxing on the CNS limits your training frequency to the point where you aren’t getting optimal frequency for muscle growth.
Since protein synthesis takes 24-48 hours, the optimal training frequency for muscle growth is about once every 48 hours.
Now, if you go in and lift heavy once every 48 hours, you will find that you plateau in your training a lot and that you won’t be able to progress in your training program unless you cheat and use terrible technique.
With bodyweight exercises, you don’t put much stress on the CNS, so you can go in fully recovered and progress in your training on a regular basis. This leads to more muscle growth.
So, to sum up this point: Yes, you may have to start with knee push ups and negative chin ups to build up your strength to do proper reps, but it’s 100% worth it.
Over time, you will get much smoother strength progress with bodyweight exercises and the signalling effect will help you shred body-fat.
Top Skinny-Fat Myths Debunked
To sum up this article, I want to debunk a few myths regarding the skinny-fat physique.
“Heavy weight training is better than bodyweight exercises to get rid of the skinny-fat look”: If that was the case, then why is it that you have so many skinny-fat guys all over the reddit and 4chan forums who lift heavy weights for years without any change? Now go to a park and look at the guys who practice bodyweight training, almost none of them are skinny-fat.
“You need to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to build muscle mass.”: People have been building jacked physiques before protein shakes were invented by eating regular balanced meals and training hard. All this protein non-sense is the result of the supplement industry wanting to increase the sales of their #1 product: WHEY PROTEIN POWDER – which is a liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained then made into powder form. Don’t fall for the marketing.
“Cardio alone will get you lean.”: The most important thing to achieve sustainable, LONG-TERM LEANNESS is to increase your metabolism because then you will be able to shred body-fat while eating more food. (I.e. you won’t have to starve yourself to stay lean). The best way to increase your metabolism is to add more muscle mass and that is done through resistance training. This is why resistance training is always KING and your #1 priority for physique improvements. The second way to increase your metabolism is by following a proper balanced diet plan with small frequent meals. Cardio can then later be used as a supplement to increase metabolism further, but 80% of the results will come from resistance training and your diet.
“Counting Calories is the key to transform the skinny-fat physique.”: While counting Calories is a good way to get to know how dieting works, it’s not something you want to get obsessed with. The issue with focusing too much on Calories is that cutting your Calories too low and doing too much cardio is just about the worst thing you can do to get rid of the skinny-fat look. When you cut Calories too low and do too much cardio, you get some initial fat loss, but within a few months you slow down your metabolism to the point where you can’t lose any more fat. In fact, you will most likely start gaining all your fat back.
“You can achieve a ripped 6-pack as long as you work hard enough for it.”: The way your mid-section looks after you lose body-fat is largely determined by your genetics. The truth is that most skinny-fat guys will not have aesthetic looking abs after losing body-fat. Instead, you will most likely have some ab-outline or even a 4-pack in the right lighting, and then a bit of skin or body-fat on the lower part of your waist and love-handle area. Going for the ripped 6-pack look is not a realistic goal simply because for most of you it will require that you starve yourself to the point where your natural testosterone production, energy levels, strength, mood, sex drive and metabolism suffer for it. But does that mean you can’t build a great physique? No! You can still build big arms, big shoulders, a V-tapered upper body and a physique that is in the top 10% everywhere you go.
“Isolation training is a waste of time.”: Another misconception I see a lot is that isolation training is a waste of time because it doesn’t build “functional muscle”. This is not true at all. Doing higher rep isolation work and building up your mind-muscle-connection is the best way to bring up the muscles that don’t grow much with the bigger compound exercises. This is why my more advanced Phase 2 training programs add a lot of isolation weight training exercises. Once you are lean and you have built a good muscle foundation with bodyweight exercises, you can go in and focus more on sculpting your body with isolation weight training exercises. This will help you prevent injuries and develop a much more complete looking physique.
Finally, a quick point on diets: Anything that isn’t a healthy and balanced diet, is a fad diet.
Fad diets include the KETOGENIC diet, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), paleo, juice cleanses and anything else that isn’t a balanced diet.
Don’t fall for the marketing of these diets.
I’ve tried KETO, IIFYM and intermittent fasting and and they are all inferior when compared to a proper, balanced diet plan that optimises your hormones and metabolism.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer