Article last updated: December 2017 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.
Fortunately, I didn’t give up because I couldn’t imagine going through my whole life being skinny-fat .
So I decided to give training one more shot.
I switched my focus to doing a basic bodyweight training program that had just the 3 exercises listed below:
- Chin Up.
- Diamond Push Up.
- Bodyweight Squat.
I did these exercises for just 30-45 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.
Bodyweight Training SIGNALS to Your Body That it has to Transform
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 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 shredding fat.
When you become better at moving your body through space, you SIGNAL to the body it has to change.
This is especially the case with the chin up and diamond push up which are the 2 most important exercises for skinny-fat guys.
When you get strong on chin ups, your shoulder-to-waist ratio improves dramatically and you lose that pear-shaped look.
You can see how my shoulder-to-waist ratio improved with chin ups in the photo below:
If you look carefully at the photo, you will see that I look like a new person, but it’s not because of my abs, chest or shoulders.
It’s because of the lats (the wing muscles under your arm-pits).
The chin up is the #1 exercise for the lats (the wing muscles under your arm-pits) and the lats are the biggest muscle in your entire upper body.
This means that unlike the shoulders, chest and arms, the lats have the potential to grow very thick and wide.
As a result… When you master the chin up, you get one stop closer to creating that wide V-tapered superman look.
This is why I always say that the chin up is the single most important exercise for skinny-fat guys.
It completely changes the proportions of your body, both from the front and back, and it’s also one of the top 3 best exercises to build the biceps peak.
When you perform a chin up, you’re essentially curling your whole bodyweight over the bar on each rep.
This will do much more for your biceps development than endless biceps curls at the gym.
I would go as far as saying:
If you focused ALL your energy on getting to 20 perfect form chin ups and that’s all you did, you would get better results than most fancy training programs out there that have dozens of exercises.
So how about the diamond push up?
The diamond push up sculpts the upper chest and it targets the triceps muscles which make up 2/3 of your arm size.
The diamond push up is especially great for those of you who have a soft looking or puffy chest because it will help tighten up that area without making it look too big and bulky.
When you put the chin up and diamond push up together, you sculpt your entire upper body, in all the right places: The lats, upper back, upper chest, shoulders, arms and abs.
While sculpting your upper body with diamonds and chins it’s also crucial that you develop strong and flexible legs that are in proportion with the upper body.
The bodyweight squat is the best exercise for that because:
- The leg muscles respond best to very high rep training (think 30-100 reps).
- It increases lower body mobility and thereby prevents the lower back and hip pain most people get from years of sitting down too much.
It’s also safe and light on your recovery.
I’ve never heard about someone who hurt themselves doing unweighted bodyweight squats but I’ve heard plenty of stories about guys who got herniated discs and knee problems from heavy leg training at the gym.
Start With A Minimalistic Program. Add Exercises Later.
The chin up, diamond push up and bodyweight squat are all compound exercises.
This means they train several muscle groups so you get a lot of bang-for-the-buck from each exercise.
Here’s a list of the muscle groups that you train with each exercise:
- Chin Ups: Back, biceps, rear shoulders, forearms, abs.
- Diamond Push Ups: Upper chest, triceps, front shoulders, forearms, abs.
- Bodyweight Squat: Legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves).
The chin up, diamond push up and bodyweight squat train nearly all the muscles in your body.
You can build 80% of the muscle mass your body is able to support naturally with these bodyweight exercises alone.
Therefore, if you aren’t able to do 15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups and 100 bodyweight squats with perfect form, there’s no need for additional exercises.
Additional exercises will only detract from your recovery and that’s a bad thing because as a skinny-fat guy with below average genetics, you have a naturally slow recovery from training.
When you don’t recover between training sessions, you make no progress in strength and muscle gain.
This is why you want to focus all your energy on the exercises that matter the most.
If I had to give you just one piece of advice for your physique transformation it would be to master bodyweight exercises before you do anything else.
By doing so you will build a strong foundation that sets you up to make bigger gains in the future.
Your 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. 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 or wrist injury that puts them completely out of the gym.
Therefore, don’t make the same mistake as me and thousands of other skinny-fat guys who wasted years lifting heavy weights.
Get to 15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups and 100 bodyweight squats and build your foundation first.
The Top 6 Reasons to Why You Should Start Your Transformation With Bodyweight Training
Overall, bodyweight training is the best way to get your transformation started because of the 6 reasons below:
- 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.
So there you have it. All the reasons to why I recommend bodyweight training to skinny-fat guys who want to transform.
Be proud but stay hungry!