Article last updated: January 2020 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
One of the age old questions in the fitness industry is: Can you build muscle while losing fat?
To relate this to my skinny-fat transformation strategy (the 2 phases of a skinny-fat transformation): Can you build muscle while going through phase 1 of your transformation?
The answer is: Yes, you can build muscle while losing fat if your starting point is skinny-fat and you are untrained.
If you train, eat and recover properly, you can achieve both goals in the same time from a skinny-fat base.
I emphasize if, because most skinny-fat guys train the wrong way.
This type of easy training can perhaps be used to maintain some of your muscle mass once you built a base, but it’s not effective for building muscle mass.
Most of my Phase 1 clients train full body 5-6 days per week with moderate volume to start with and then we gradually increase volume and exercise difficulty.
When you train full body 5-6 days per week, there isn’t much room for following a junk diet (or a fad diet such as KETO, If It Fits Your Macros).
Your nutrition has to be on point to get the most out of your training.
With that said, the amount of muscle mass you gain is usually not very visible. You will not stand out in a shirt after completing Phase 1.
Why? Because when you’re an untrained skinny-fat guy, you start out severely undermuscled with the strength levels and hormonal profile similar to a girl. (This is an exaggeration but I’m using it to make a point).
The only size you have comes from fat mass and most of that fat mass is usually deposited into the estrogenic spots such as your lower chest, hips and love handles.
Once you lose that fat mass, you look like a skeleton under.
A good example of this is my own photo which is taken 2.5 years into training (when I had already built up my deadlift up to 400 pounds and could military press 135 pounds for reps):
Despite gaining all that strength, I didn’t have much lean mass.
Most skinny-fat guys don’t have any shoulders, arms, chest or lats and if they do, it all comes from fat.
Therefore, by losing fat without doing a proper resistance training program for your body-type, you’ll end up looking like a skeleton.
So what about building muscle size during Phase 1 training?
If you train hard on the bodyweight exercises I recommend (diamond push ups, chin ups and squats) and follow a good diet plan that optimises your natural testosterone production and metabolism, you may gain a good amount of muscle mass.
Usually my clients gain 10-20 pounds of muscle mass during their first year of training (the upper limit is usually 20 pounds of muscle mass gained in the first year for anyone regardless of body-type).
The 10-20 pounds of muscle you build during Phase 1, takes you from severely undermuscled to fit:
Here are more examples of how much muscle mass you can gain when hitting the phase 1 goals (15 chin ups, 30 diamond push ups and 100 squats):
You can read more about why bodyweight exercises are the best way to start for skinny fat guys in my article Why Bodyweight Training is the Best Way to Transform the Skinny-Fat Physique.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer