We’ve all seen that guy.
-Luscious love handles.
-Pipe cleaner arms.
-Lower tummy pouch.
All of these fantastic characteristics, while still weighing in at a “healthy” body-weight.
It’s not an appealing look, but it is one that has become far too common.
We know what he is.
That is a scary word in today’s fitness-conscious world.
It is also one of the few times that your body manages to be two completely opposite things… at the exact same time.
Somehow though, a certain population has managed to find themselves in quite the paradox:
-They are not over-weight or obese, but they are definitely fat.
-They are not lean or “ripped”, but they are definitely skinny.
These people are skinny (not good) and fat (even not good-er) at the exact same time.
These people– have entered the mythical land of Skinny-Fat-Ism.
Secretly, we have all seen this person. Whether it be in school, at work, or even at the gym. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re witnessing a chronic case of skinny-fat. Many of these poor sufferers look perfectly fine in clothes. Some even, can look extremely in-shape with the correct clothing.
Would that be the case if you were to catch them shirtless?
To be honest though, that will never happen, they wouldn’t be caught dead without their shirt. Too embarrassing.
They realize their situation, and most become ashamed by it. They work hard, but despite their efforts, remain in a body they find humiliating.
While it is an extremely sad situation to witness.
It is a much worse situation to actually live.
I lived it.
Most people are familiar with my transformation.
I used to be a fat kid. After which, I became a lean kid. Most people know this. They have a firm grasp on the beginning and the end of that particular story.
What very few people are familiar with isn’t the beginning or the end, but the story that came in between.
The chapters that made up that book.
I used to be fat.
I am currently fairly lean.
But in between these two phases, I was a hardcore sufferer of skinny-fat syndrome.
All of these unfortunate characteristics at a “healthy” weight of 180 lbs on my 5’11” and 3/4 inch frame.
(Because that 3/4 will always matter)
I was fat… but I was skinny.
I was skinny… but I was fat.
I. Was. Skinny-Fat.
Well, maybe it isn’t too frightening for you.
But, it definitely was for me.
Here I am– Supposedly a Strength and Nutrition Coach, and I look like THAT shirtless? How am I supposed to teach people how to “look great naked”, when I can’t even do it to myself?
Now I completely realize (and I did back then as well) that how you look is an extremely poor indicator of what you know. Despite that fact though, I still felt like a fraud. I wanted to fix it, but I wasn’t sure how.
I felt stuck.
Most Skinny-Fat people feel the exact same way. Stuck. They eat more, and they just get fatter. They eat less and they just get skinnier. It is a viscous cycle and one that leaves you spinning your wheels faster than a cracked out hamster.
The toughest part of being skinny-fat isn’t the situation itself. The toughest part is how difficult it can be to grow out of it.
Most people live in one of two camps:
-They have trouble gaining muscle, but easily stay lean.
Think of your typical Cross-Country Runner.
(These people are commonly referred to as ectomorphs)
-Muscle gains are easy, but they tend to add fat easily as well.
Think NFL Offensive Lineman.
(These people are typically called endomorphs)
Occasionally you will find certain people who merge the two classifications. Some in the best way possible, and some in the worst.
The lucky ones add the best characteristics of each class together.
-They add muscle easily, and stay lean just as easily.
Think NFL Running-Backs or Olympic Sprinters.
(These people are typically referred to as mesomorphs)
The unlucky ones? Well, they get left with the shit leftovers.
-They have trouble adding muscle, but store fat very easily.
Think…. well…. I guess the picture of me above.
(These people are typically reffered to as skinny-fat… they don’t even get a cool class name)
For most of the above classes, the plan of action is fairly simple.
Strength train. Maybe do a bit of cardio. Eat in a caloric deficit in an attempt to shed body fat and show off your already muscular frame.
Strength Train. Do zero cardio. Eat in a caloric surplus in an attempt to add muscle to your already lean frame.
It doesn’t matter what you do.
You lucky bastard.
But for you skinny-fat folk?
We need a different plan of action. Something to break us free from our own skinny-fat hell. So for those of you who are tired of looking like a 15 year old girl, here are 5 steps to break free and do just that.
1. Start Prioritizing Strength
Most people suffer from skinny-fat syndrome due to one common factor- They live a weak lifestyle. That might seem like an offensive statement, but hear me out.
Skinny-Fat is something hard to break free from, but it isn’t impossible. The trick is to perform the actions necessary to encourage the body to change. To this point in your life, you have not done that. However you have lived, has encouraged your body to look exactly how it currently does… skinny-fat.
While that fact may seem discouraging, it should really be the most encouraging thing you’ve read thus far. Because by realizing what you did wrong, you will also realize exactly how to fix it.
Up until now, your body has not had a reason to carry around any extra muscle mass.
It is time to change that.
What to do:
Start lifting weights.
And by lifting weights, I’m not talking bicep curls and calve raises (although they do have a place). You need to be aggressively attacking the big(ger) lifts. Front squats, deadlifts, incline bench presses, things like that. Load the bar up, keep the reps moderate, and focus on slowly becoming stronger in those movements.
Force your body to realize it needs that extra muscle mass.
Lift heavy shit consistently, get stronger, and good things will happen.
2. Address Your Weak Points
This is a common strategy among physique athletes. You decide where your body is most lacking, and blitz that area until your former “weakness” is now a strength.
Skinny fat people typically have a few consistent weaknesses: Sunken upper chest, stick-man arms, narrow shoulders, etc.. In order to address these weaknesses, we need to make sure we are hitting those areas adequately. So things like direct shoulder and arm work will need to have a place in your program.
Sometimes this can also mean skipping on typical “gym staples” in favor of exercises more friendly to our skinny-fat predicament.
Take, for example, the flat bench press.
Everyone loves the bench. Look in any gym on any Monday and it seemingly has a cult-like following. But for you, my skinny-fat friend, no flat bench 4 u.
The flat bench press is a fantastic exercise, and is great at stimulating the lower portion of your chest. Unfortunately for us, that is the exact opposite of what we want. (Assuming you are not a fan of having moobs).
Instead of completely dropping exercises like the bench press. Instead switch them out for variations which help address your weaknesses. Since the flat bench targets our lower chest a bit much, why not switch it for an incline bench press. This will allow you to join your fellow gym-bros on bench monday AND target your upper chest at the same time.
What to do:
Make sure that all exercises in your program have a purpose. No single exercise (even the squat) is an absolute must. Get stronger yes, but make sure you’re attacking the areas needed to achieve the physique you want.
This will almost always mean a focus on your upper chest, shoulders and arms. You know, that physique-based training that gets shit on now a days. But, lets be real, we all
secretly want to look great naked.
I see lots of incline presses, lateral raises, and barbell curls in your future, young padawan.
3. Drop the “Bulking” and “Cutting”
Bulking and cutting definitely works.
Many of the most impressive physiques ever built, were done so on bulks and cuts. For most people, either cutting or bulking is inherently fairly easy.
Our ectomorph friends enjoy easier cuts, and our endomorph pals enjoy easier bulks. And mesomorphs tend to do both fairly “easy”… but we hate them, remember?
This isn’t the case for the typical skinny-fat sufferer, we typically just suck at both. The normal bulking/cutting cycle tends to leave us back in that wheel-spinning phase.
Some of this has to do with what is called “nutrient partitioning” and the fact that we do it poorly. Meaning that at a certain point, many of our excess calories are stored as fat instead of muscle.
Typical bulks leave people with a decent amount of excess calories. For those who store them primarily as muscle, that is a good thing. For us, that just means a longer stay in our skinny-fat prison.
What to do:
Eat at a slight caloric deficit. Usually just enough to be losing .5-1 lb a week. This strategy will accomplish a few different things.
It allows calories to be high enough to see strength gains and lessen total stress (remember how skinny-fats don’t deal well with stress), while still keeping them low enough for our body to start shedding some of the excess fat hanging from our chests and love handles.
A fair warning though, when it comes to your deficit, more is NOT better. You need to be patient with dropping fat. Because while looking like a 15 year old girl sucks, looking like a skeleton isn’t much better.
4. Stop Intermittent Fasting
I have two different theories I’d like to confess. Neither backed by “science”, but both backed by evidence (either with myself or clients).
Theory 1: Fasting is deceivingly stressful on your body
Theory 2: Skinny-Fat people do not handle stress well.
Going without food for long periods of time can stress the body. Our bodies want to eat, it’s where we get our energy from. If our body senses a lack of energy influx it is naturally going to stress over it.
In the same regard, eating too much food can be stressful as well. Nearly everything you ingest needs to be digested and sorted out by your body. Too much food at one time leaves the body with a ton of work to do all at once. Since we are already poor at nutrient partitioning this excess in calories can be hard to deal with optimally.
Fasting can be a highly effective tool. For those who it works, it seemingly works extremely well. For those who it does not work, it can result in a hardcore crash and burn scenario.
Our bodies can definitely handle fasting. Going without food for 12-20 hours (depending on IF set-up) isn’t going to ruin our metabolism or send us in to the dreaded “starvation mode”.
But remember, we’re not looking for what we can handle. We are looking for what is optimal.
Your body is holding on to excess fat because it thinks it needs to store the extra energy. In your case, it is storing it as fat to be used later during those periods without food. We need to get our body realizing that there is a consistent flow of food at all times. It doesn’t need to store extra energy if there is always more coming.
I realize this is has no “scientific” backing.
But for some (anecdotal) proof, remember that picture above? 180 lbs practicing intermittent fasting on a daily basis.
Here is another picture.
Same weight, same calories. The only nutritional difference? Frequent eating.
Oh, and I’m standing in a much more seductive pose.
Science said no.
But my body said yeah.
What to do:
Go old school. (Early 2000’s is old-school now right?)
And eat frequently. You don’t need to be eating every 2 hours and carrying around tupperware all day. But you do need to be making time for a solid 3-6 meals a day. Ideally spaced out by 3-5 hours each.
Not only will you experience much more consistent energy levels. But, you should also see a positive change in the way your body holds excess weight.
5. Be Patient
“People overestimate how little they can do in a week or a month. But they underestimate how much they can accomplish in a year.”
Before starting your journey, there are two facts you need to come to terms with.
-Transforming your body takes more time than most are willing to give. For #SkinnyFatNation (hashtags are hip aren’t they?) this will take even longer.
-Transforming your body is very difficult. For skinny-fats this will be even more difficult.
To some, these two facts are hard to deal with and can leave you feeling defeated from the get-go. At least that is– if you let them.
Yeah this shit is hard, but everything worth it in life typically is. You are going to have to work hard and consistently, but you’ll never be more proud of yourself than after having done so.
What to do:
It is going to take time.
So go ahead and embrace that it isn’t a quick fix.
Fall in love with the process and pay attention to the journey.
There isn’t just a beginning and an end, there are a million steps in between.
But, like any good book, that’s where the beauty lies.
The chapters in between.
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***Some of these points are heavily inspired by the Skinny-Fat Sensei himself, Anthony Mychal, check his site out here.
***My opinion on frequent eating was inspired (read: passively forced on me) by Bryan Krahn, check out his jacked senior-citizen ass here.
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