7 Fundamental Tips for Skinny-Fat Sufferers

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I used to think that you pooped out fat when you lost weight. I mean, what else would happen? Totally logical conclusion. Am I right?

Often, on this blog, I talk about things that puncture the heart of lost souls. People that have been training for a while, but are sort of stranded at sea – people that know how to sail, but don’t know how to get anywhere – because that’s where I was for so long. (OK, OK, who am I kidding…I’m still there.)

I often forget the early days and just how tough they were to navigate, but I know I shouldn’t because we all start there. Some of us are still there. So if you somehow end up here and want to start fresh, here are seven (make that eight) things I'd want you to know.

What's for breakfast?

In The Skinny-Fat Solution, I tell this story:

The other week, my girlfriend berated me to go to breakfast. This particular place gets really crowded, so they jam everyone in—sometimes there isn’t more than one foot between tables.

As I sipped my coffee, another couple was sat next to us. The male was skinny-fat. You may be wondering how I knew, but I have a sixth sense for these kinds of things. (I am the leader of the Skinny-Fat Brohirrim, after all.)

I whispered to my girlfriend,

“I bet I can predict what this dude will order.”

She didn’t believe me, and didn’t really care either. I told her anyway to prove my psychic powers.

“Chocolate milk to drink. Pancakes to eat.”

Lo and behold, the waitress came around to take orders.

“I’ll have a chocolate milk.”

This was enough to prove my worthiness. But not more than five minutes later.

“I’ll take the pancakes.”

I might know this because that's exactly what I would have used to do when I was skinny-fat.

(Don’t judge me.)

The story serves a different purpose in The Skinny-Fat Solution (free skinny-fat learning course here), but I think it's perfect here. There are a lot of fancy neo methods, concepts, and principles out there, none of which matters much without the tiniest grasp on fundamentals. Call it culture if you want, but you need a backbone. Consider the following tips your atlas and axis. And don't forget about the eighth tip embedded in the conclusion.

1. Running or “cardio” doesn't make a body.

The vast majority of people looking to get “fit” and “healthy” (neither of which are good words to use because they're meaningless – drop a comment if you’re curious) default to running. We can all thank Dr. Kenneth Cooper for this (and by “thank,” I mean egg his house).

Running and other forms of “cardio” (which is another bad word – again, drop a comment) are chosen because they burn calories.

The treadmill says so! 

(By the way, treadmill calorie burning estimates are about as accurate as a panda bear playing a game of darts blindfolded and drunk.)

Your problem, and the solution, is a lot more than dabbling in a + and – game with calories. Even if you want to look like Tyler Durden, the treadmill won't get you there by its lonesome. And that's something I can guarantee.

2. 80% strength training, 20% everything else.

Eighty percent of your time training — if you're in it for aesthetics — should be spent…

  • underneath of a barbell
  • leveling up bodyweight skills

When you combine both, you’re sailing on holy waters. I don’t think training can get much better  — it's a unique combination that delivers great results.

The barbell (not smith machine) has benefits no other piece of equipment delivers. It's not solely about muscle stress, it's about total load on the skeletal system and the rest of the body. Bodyweight skills are fantastic for that same reason: there's more at work than muscle stress. No other form of training mimics moving your body through space in a challenging way.

The other 20% of your time can be spent exploring other avenues (walking on the treadmill, sprinting, rope jumping, etc).

3. 80% big, 20% small.

Most of your strength training efforts should go towards multi-joint barbell and bodyweight movements that attack your physique needs (see the Great 8 for the X Physique in the Workbook). Don’t do an exercise just because Flobo Joe does an exercise. You'll get wrapped up in the wrong culture.

Do exercises that…

  • progress via movement complexity in tandem with strength
  • stress the unique muscles that combat your skinny-fat physique needs (narrow shoulders, apparently wider waist, thin arms)

Don’t neglect the other 20% though. Hit the arms with some curls. Maybe another problem are with another isolation exercise. Get jacked at times, but don't neglect the biggies.

4. Fat loss is primarily food.

The first step for anyone looking to lose fat: level up your kitchen skills. There’s a cliché saying about abs being made in the kitchen, and I’ve found that to be true for the most part.

This isn’t totally about watching calories. Hormones are the ultimate controller, but narrowing it down to one thing is stupid anyway – the body is an emergent system. Our “whole” is greater than the sum of our parts. You don't have “one” problem and there isn't “one” silly trick that you need. It's the entire production.

Eating good foods goes a long way in the calorie and hormone department. Layer strength training on top, and you’re climbing your way out in the best way I know how.

5. Food is ingredients; food doesn't have ingredients.

Perhaps the best rule of thumb in regards to food choices: food is ingredients; food doesn’t have ingredients. I guess you can say this is rather paleo, and I think that’s a fine rule of thumb for a beginner to abide by. (When chaos hits, things change slightly.)

I used to think I was doing myself a favor by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but unless you're a true hardgainer, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches shouldn’t be in the conversation. There are a lot of foods out there you think are good, but probably aren't.

Before anything else, fix quality. I'd rather you handle the fight of food quality before you worry about quantity. This is before fasting, chaos bulking, or anything. If you don't understand quality, you won't make it far.

6. Stop drinking calories.

I know, I know. Once you start training with a barbell you get that tingle of uniqueness inside of you. You think you’re some kind of professional athlete with uber needs. You might drink Gatorade. You might head over to GNC and grab some sugary drink to fuel your training session.

You don't need them.

If you're taking any sugary workout drink, you're shooting yourself in the foot. I talk about protein shakes a lot (even though I never have “shakes” and always have pudding), but the kind of protein I buy is plain and unflavored.

You don't need any special workout drinks. Just food. Real food. Don’t drink anything but water, black coffee, and unsweetened teas.

7. Protein packs a punch; eggs aren't evil.

After you grasp food quality, your next step is getting enough protein to fuel the repairs your body needs to make from strength training.

Most protein is under the mainstream umbrella of evil. Red meat. Eggs. Pork. Organ meats.

There's fat, oh no!

Fat isn't bad as long as you aren’t eating synthetic slop. Eggs aren't bad. I'd much rather have people limit processed carbohydrates than good sources of fat. One of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had is ignoring 99.9% of mainstream “fitness” wisdom. Join the Darkside.

Eat protein-dense foods. You need protein when you train hard. Doesn't have to be shuttled into your system via sugary crap. Center each of your meals around protein. (Should it have ingredients…?) And since we’re here: stop snacking on junk. If you must snack, go with raw vegetables — that's a good snack.

Parting wisdom and the eight tip: beating genetics

You might have tried some of these. You might have tried all of these. You might not have seen results on par with others. You might be on the verge of quitting and cursing your genetics to the netherworld.

Genetics determine our starting point and potential. They are rather set, although there is wiggle room (some genes activate and deactivate from experiences). What we can change rather easily, however, is our environment.

The way I see things: genetics are like clay. If you have good genetics, your clay is soft, moist, and easy to build with. If you have bad genetics, your clay is drier, harder, and tougher to build with. Each can be shaped, but it just takes a bit more time with sucky genetics.

Our body is constantly receiving feedback from the environment and situations we put ourselves in, which then makes us change in certain ways. We are very much a product of this environment.

Fixing your environment is the easiest way to fix yourself.

Worrying about the clay is useless. It ain't changing. Just get to work and start creating.

 

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Photo Credit: toilet

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rick August 21, 2013, 2:59 pm

    Ok Michael, will you please tell me why “fit, healthy and cardio” are bad words? Thanks for the continued inspirational updates.

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:04 am

      Fitness is the ability to perform a task. Many different tasks exists. What’s “fit” to carry a boulder won’t be what’s “fit” to run a marathon.

      Healthy is subjective. For a daredevil, risking your life is “healthy” because it’s the only thing that gives you satisfaction. Living along isn’t “health,” it’s also a measure of subjective enjoyment. A 90 year old that’s on life support isn’t “healthier” than someone that died at 70 and lived the life of their dreams.

      Cardio doesn’t accurately define the energy systems at play, of which there are three. Aerobic, anaerobic-lactic, anaerobic-alactic. Cardio, which we typically see as something that makes us breathe heavy, isn’t specific enough as to which energy system is at use.

  • Joel Minden August 21, 2013, 3:23 pm

    Love the article. Agreed re: cardio. I’ll take a cup of coffee and a long walk first thing in the morning instead.

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:04 am

      Me too.

  • Hoyle August 21, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Another great article. I especially enjoyed the “clay” analogy, wonderful. Nice mid-week inspiration. Thanks!

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:04 am

      Thanks!

  • Kaizen August 21, 2013, 4:23 pm

    How do you train your heart without cardio ?
    You sprint ?
    Would you just go sprinting if you don´t even walk on a daily basis because you sit most of the time? Will this improve your healt ore will it produce injuries ?

    The calorie counters on the machines are usefull for measuring process
    work density = burned calories / time
    So even if the calorie coutner is wrong you could measure your progress (implying it always makes the same mistake)

    I overread something, you mainly talked about forming a body with Jogging/running. But still, could you build a healthy body without it?
    You clearly can lose fat without cardio, but can you train hard without a good heart ?

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:06 am

      How do you train your heart? What if you don’t need to train your heart much?

      Is 20 rep breathing squats “cardio?” That’ll train your heart.

      Healthy does not equal jogging or running. What is a “good” heart anyway? A good heart lets you do what you want to do, and if you want to do something that doesn’t involve a lot of demand from the heart, then I’d say your heart is pretty good.

      • Kaizen August 23, 2013, 10:11 pm

        A good heart lets you do what you want to do, and if you want to do something that doesn’t involve a lot of demand from the heart, then I’d say your heart is pretty good.

        So if I am fat and sit all day and do nothing I have a good heart ?

        On the other side you live in the USA you should ask yourself if you fit enough to run away from a dude with a gun going nuts – having a bad heart can get you shoot.

        After all what is your major problem with cardio , I didn´t get your point. :/

        • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:26 pm

          You can be sedentary and have a fine heart. It’s not like Okinwan’s are running marathons, yet they have a rather long life expectancy.

          Cardio is meaningless. What is cardio? Many types of exercises stress the heart, each of which are unique. “Cardio” is ambiguous.

  • Traindom August 21, 2013, 4:57 pm

    So this is you:
    Skinny-fat Joe: I think I’ll just work on my arms and drink lots of chocolate milk. I’ll eat cheetos too because the kinds of carbs don’t matter. Might even use the machines.

    Anthony: I sense a disturbance in the force… ó.ó

    Jokes aside, do you still believe in that theory about bodyweight work signaling the body to change in a pretty unique way? That was pretty interesting. It’s basically the figurative equivalent of a bear chasing you like in that metaphor of yours from a while back in regards to signals to the body.

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:07 am

      Yeah, I still do. I think our body picks up on a lot of silent cues like that.

  • Maninthebox22 August 21, 2013, 5:39 pm

    Love it! The last one was very inspiring since I’m quite strict with my diet and exercise, but still fight and uphill battle against my genes. What you said was very uplifting and will help keep my spirits up. Thanks!

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:07 am

      Thanks!

  • Eilish August 21, 2013, 11:27 pm

    Gosh I loved this post. Just the best thing I have read in ages.

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:07 am

      Thanks!

  • Anthony Intensity August 22, 2013, 6:36 am

    Hi Anthony,

    Have you discovered any problems by yourself or skinny-fat people about dairy product like quark, cottage cheese, milk products? Is there any relation between skinny-fat people and dairy?

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:18 pm

      A lot of people have issues with dairy. You have to experiment, it’s not universal. Cottage cheese and cheeses are generally easier to take than milk though, just from observation.

  • Posey August 22, 2013, 9:31 am

    Glad I found your homepage and blog. Very inspiring. I am 30 years old and already 3 years in the gym. Back then when starting I weighed about 95 kg (210 lbs) on 181 cm. I was even more fat some years ago, weighing 110 kg in my prime time.
    Back as a kid I wasn’t this fat but nonetheless I would describe me as a person who tends to be a skinny fat. Why? Because even with weighing 95 kg my arms were at a disgusting 9 inches. My bone structure is very small, especially my wrist. If I only looked at a candy it already had taken place in my belly fat.

    Although I have been training through 3 years I fought numerous battles. Changing the workout plan a thousand times, trying to train like a bodybuilder including the volume and the exercises, trying to bulk up a little bit, but not gaining any strength let alone muscle. Really disgusting to see other guys do the same and getting results in a few weeks which I didn’t get in 2 or 3 years.

    Last year I started with intermittent fasting and cutted down my carb intake and lost some pounds and was down to 85 kg (and very fat obvious). Overall I ate quite healthy (some kind like Paleo, like you do).

    At the beginning of this year I was at 88 kg again after trying the traditional bodybuilding nutrition plans only a few weeks again. But once more those 3 kg were nothing else but fat.

    In March I went on to intermittent fasting (more or less leangains) again and right now I am at about 80 kg, maybe my lowest weight since about 14 or 15 years.

    I still count calories from time to time (always have in the last 2 or 3 years and that’s why it’s so depressive when you try to follow all common nutrition and workout guidelines and don’t see any results), but mostly I don’t do anymore.

    I plan on to shred down bodyfat even more since I think I am still above 20%. I think if I am patient and follow your guidelines and the rules of other guys who tell the unpopular truth I can do it.

    But was clearly still was and is still is the workout routine. Going through your blog I found so many interesting aspects of training I will likely implement into my routine and I finally plan to stick to them.

    I wanna say a very big THANK YOU for covering such more or less unpopular topics and looking at problems from an uncommon point of view.

    (To be honest first I only wanted to say thank you for your articles, but now it has gotten a much longer post. 😀 )

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:22 pm

      Ah, thanks a bunch! It means a lot to me that you’d take the time to reply.

  • AB August 22, 2013, 10:52 am

    Great stuff as always man…

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:22 pm

      Thanks.

  • Khurram August 22, 2013, 11:59 am

    Awesome article!

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:22 pm

      Why thank you.

  • John August 22, 2013, 7:57 pm

    Are the calories burned over estimated on treadmills? And what do you think about dairy? Yay or nay?

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:34 pm

      Calories – depends. Dairy – maybe, maybe not. Depends on the type. Some cheeses (cottage) are easier to handle. Some milks (goat) are easier to handle.

    • Posey August 27, 2013, 7:28 am

      A funny and true story: In our gym we got different cardio machines. E.g. we got 3 different treadmills. Of those 3 one is really old and the two other are more modern. I tested it out myself some time ago, and I can confirm you that with the same bodyweight settings and the same incline % and speed, the older machine gives you way less calories burned than the new machines.

      • Anthony August 28, 2013, 5:26 pm

        Nice.

  • Johnny August 23, 2013, 6:38 am

    I had a question about running, and how i wanted to know the merits about it combined with weight training. BUT I HATE RUNNING!!!!!!. So thank you for the post it was well written.

  • Gabriel August 23, 2013, 9:16 am

    Hi Anthony,

    thanks for the great article! Quick question though:
    Will running three times a week for about an hour prevent/minimize the positive physique effects of barbell/bodyweight training? I am asking because I happen to enjoy running, but would consider giving it up if it chained me to the boulder that is skinnyfatness.

    • Anthony August 26, 2013, 8:33 pm

      I think you’ll be fine provided you have enough energy to pour your heart into strength work. I’d rather see you lifting 4 times per week, running 2.

  • Raman August 23, 2013, 4:57 pm

    “food is ingredients; food doesn’t have ingredients”

    Fantastic line my man

  • Marco September 3, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Anthony,
    to “cure” the skinny-fat syndrome, swimming is comparable to running and a practice to avoid?

    • Anthony September 4, 2013, 12:16 am

      Avoid? No, but it’s not going to fix things by its lonesome.

  • Marco September 4, 2013, 12:37 pm

    Anthony, just curious…
    Are bodies like these built in a gym?

    http://www.niftyfifty-and-the-city.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/australian-swimmer.jpg

    • Anthony September 10, 2013, 3:50 pm

      Swimmers at the elite level have natural propensity to have a certain look. I’m not sure who this is, but the type of swimming (short distance, long, and stroke) also contribute to what muscles get stressed. I’d imagine his body is a combination of training for swimming, and the volume of swimming in itself. Keep in mind, he probably swims EVERY DAY for hours.

    • Anthony September 10, 2013, 3:50 pm

      And having said that, it’d be much easier to just lift weights to build muscle. Was his body built in a gym? Dunno. Can a body like that be built in a gym? Yeah, and much easier than swimming for hours every day.

  • Fa September 8, 2013, 3:38 pm

    Thanks for the article bra.

    • Anthony September 10, 2013, 3:54 pm

      No problem, panties.

  • Nate September 25, 2013, 6:03 am

    Is reverse pyramid training good for hypertrophy or just strength? Thanks.

    • Anthony September 26, 2013, 11:14 pm

      For the vast majority of mortals, strength and hypertrophy carry correlation. I say RPT with biggies. Smaller lifts, get jacked a bit with higher reps. That’s usually the ticket.

  • Troy October 7, 2013, 10:15 pm

    What should I do if I stall in strength? Drop sets or something else? Do you ever have stalls?

    • Anthony October 8, 2013, 4:55 pm

      Everyone stalls, otherwise we’d be infinitely strong. When you stall you need more advanced programming, and with that, there are thousands of avenues to explore. Pick which one sounds right and fits your personality.

  • Maria November 21, 2013, 9:30 pm

    Hello Anthony! Thanks for the article.
    I would like to know if the skinny-fat problem could be solved by activities like pilates (because of the use of the body weight) instead of lifting heavy weights ? Cause I don’t have how to go to a gym, and the skinny-fat is really bothering me!
    Thank you!

    • Anthony November 25, 2013, 5:12 pm

      Probably less so.

  • Glamourista January 3, 2014, 2:14 pm

    A very interesting article, thanks! I’m a woman and I’m going to try this… size 10 (UK) but very fatty underneath :s

    • Anthony January 3, 2014, 3:27 pm

      My blog is primarily male-centric, but you should be able to get some goods from it all.

  • Xavier May 27, 2014, 9:03 pm

    Hey Anthony,

    Im 28 year old male, all I ever did was cardio and now I’m left with some love handles…I’m have stopped running so much and have started beginner strength training at home with dumbells.

    I eat low carb, paleo as much as possible.

    Just wondering if there’s anything else I should incorporate? Protein powders? Fish oil?

    Thanks!

    • Anthony May 28, 2014, 11:04 pm

      You don’t have a supplement problem, you have a culture and environmental problem. Live in a way that will make the changes, and then repeat. It’s not about supplements, it’s about what you do.