With your shirt on, you look pretty regular. On the scale, the body mass index (BMI) says you are at the correct weight you should be at.
So far, so good! But then…
You take your shirt off. And sadly, you do not like what you see.
You look soft and flabby — no muscular definition, and a slight muffin top.
It kinda sucks, right? But, let’s see what you can do about that.
First, what are you? You are a walking oxymoron. You are skinny-fat.
Table of Contents
- What is Skinny-Fat
- Causes of a Skinny-Fat Physique
1 – Nutrition Mistakes
2 – Training Mistakes
3 – Other Factors
- How to Get Rid of Skinny-Fat
1 – Skinny-Fat Diet Plan
2 – Skinny-Fat Training
3 – Workout Plan (Gym and Home)
What is ‘Skinny-Fat’, Exactly?
Skinny-fat is a term that describes your body composition, or the ratio of your muscle mass to your fat mass.
Basically, a skinny-fat person is someone who carries little muscle mass and high body fat.
Having a slim and thin body structure does not mean you are not fat.
Try flexing any muscle in your body, then pinch the skin on top of it. See that soft mass? That’s adipose tissue, aka fat.
This is why I don’t trust the BMI. When you are skinny-fat, it tells you that you are at a relatively healthy body weight. But, your lack of definition and shapelessness says otherwise.
Thus, your weight is not the only thing that you should be paying attention to.
What you should pay more attention to is your body composition — how much of your body weight is muscle, and how much of it is fat.
The better your body composition is, the healthier you are.  Yes, I am, in a way, saying that being skinny-fat could mean you are unhealthy.
Ideally, you want to be at 10-15% body fat for men, and 12-20% for women.
But, not everyone has access to skinfold calipers to measure their body fat — and I doubt you have one sitting on your desk. So, let’s make assessing your body composition simpler.
Stand in front of a full-body mirror. You can tell that you are within those ranges and at an optimal body composition when:
- You can see your second row of abs from the top down.
- For the shoulders, you are able to discern the outline of your deltoids, which takes up about a third of the upper arm.
- For the legs, when the skin above the knee does not appear loose and you can discern the patella from the upper thigh.
While they are not an accurate measure of your fat-to-muscle ratio, they serve as a good gauge of where you should be physique-wise.
If you can’t see any of those visual indicators, then you have a skinny-fat physique.
Feeling frustrated? Don’t be! I’m here to help you with your problem, and the solution is actually simple.
You have to change your body composition to go from skinny fat to fit and ripped.
You do this by lowering body fat and developing muscle mass. The combination of both will lead to a defined, sexy, or jacked physique.
Causes of a Skinny-Fat Physique
1- Nutrition Mistakes
Inconsistent Caloric Intake
Let’s start with the most basic nutrition factor that most people botch: counting calories.
You can be skinny-fat from undereating and overeating.
When you’re undereating, you might be consuming too few calories that your body resorts to burning muscle mass for the energy it needs to fulfill basic metabolic functions.
If you overeat, your body will store all the excess calories you consume in the form of fat.
Thus, you can see how overall caloric consumption can influence skinny-fat physique regardless if you’re on the low side or high side.
Inadequate Macronutrient Intake
The next nutrition factor is your macronutrient intake. The amount of each macro you consume affects body composition, especially protein.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that jacked fitness influencer on the gram is always raving about his fave protein shake — so, what’s up with protein?
Protein is the most important macronutrient for getting out of your skinny-fat physique. First of all, protein builds muscle mass. Second, it helps you preserve those hard-earned muscles.
But keep in mind, you’ll only get the most benefits from this macro if you exercise.
Third, you burn more calories processing protein than any other macronutrient. And, lastly, it helps you stay full by curbing appetite, which leads to fat loss.
Thus, you can see why it is important to keep your protein consumption high.
As for carbohydrates and fats, you can consume more or less of either, as long as your calorie intake is accounted for.
2- Training Mistakes
Lack of Exercise
The first training mistake is evading exercise.
To drastically improve body composition, you would want to build muscle, not just lose body fat. And, anaerobic exercises, aka resistance training, are the answer.
Lifting weights help you effectively utilize the protein you consume.
Instead of being converted for energy, the protein is used to build the muscle fibers you tear down in the gym.
Too Much Focus on Cardio
Next mistake is only doing aerobic exercises. Don’t get me wrong! Cardio is not bad, but you most probably are overdoing it.
Besides cardiovascular and respiratory health, one of the main reasons to do cardio is to burn a significant amount of calories to help you lose weight quicker.
When you overdo it — especially for long, endurance-type of sessions — your body will eventually run out of stored muscle glycogen and shift to burning muscle instead.
So, while you may be losing weight, you are losing fat and muscle in the process — you don’t want that to happen, budd!
Focusing on just cardio would not help you optimize your body composition.
In comparison, strength or resistance training gives you fat-burning, and muscle-building and preserving benefits.
If you look at it, not having enough muscle mass is the main reason for being skinny-fat. Thus, lifting weights is the best way to avoid skinny-fatness.
3- Other Factors
Testosterone. This hormone greatly affects how well you build muscle and burn fat. Thus, having low testosterone levels, especially in men, have been linked to poor fat-burning and muscle-building capacity.
Stress. When you’re stressed, you have a strong propensity to overeat, especially on high-carbohydrate food.
Why, you ask? Here’s the scoop.
Carbs help you produce serotonin in the brain. It is, plainly speaking, a feel-good hormone. Yup, your go-to comfort food is most likely carb-filled.
You might not be aware of it, but your body tells you to reach for that bag of cookies or finish that pint of ice cream because of this mechanism.
Also, with the perception of stress-inducing stimuli comes the production of cortisol. This affects body composition by increasing the possibility of fat storage as well as signaling your brain that it’s hungry even when it’s not.
Genetics. As with most of our traits, some people are just genetically predisposed to store fat.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term mesomorph. The truth is, some people are born with this body type that can burn fat faster than others. And, unfortunately, you have a different body type.
I totally understand the frustration. But, don’t fret! Because there’s always something you can do about it. With nutrition and training intervention, you can overcome these genetically predetermined difficulties and develop from skinny fat to ripped and jacked!
But, it’s not an easy nor quick journey to where you want to be.
I tell everyone that patience is the most important factor for building your dream physique. If you’re not willing to wait, you won’t get to see the results of your hard work.
Think you’re up for the challenge? Let’s get down to business and move on to actually solving your skinny-fat issue!
How to Stop Being Skinny Fat
Skinny-Fat Diet Plan
Since you’d want to burn the fat you are currently carrying, you’ll have to go on a caloric deficit. But, I also told you that you need to build your muscles which, for most people, require a caloric surplus.
How on earth are you going to build muscle and burn fat at the same time?! It’s actually simple.
To answer the question, yes, beginners can build muscle and burn fat at the same time.
Before anything else, go calculate your daily basic calorie requirement (which is the calories you need to maintain your current weight).
Now, subtract 200 calories from it. Got it? This will be your daily goal as far as calories are concerned. Notice that we are only going on a slight deficit of a couple hundred here.
Is that number enough to help you get rid of your extra fat fast?
Yes, it is. We will let the intensity and frequency of training increase your calories-out.
The goal is to build muscle. And, muscles use more calories than fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even without doing anything.
As you are building muscle, the calories you burn increase. Thereby, steadily increasing the caloric deficit without making any drastic change to your calories-in, or the food you eat.
Here are the key elements you should have in your skinny fat diet plan:
- Keep your protein high. Aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- For carbs and fats, their amount will depend on your preferences. Just remember to stay within your computed calorie intake.
- You should also utilize proper meal timing and increase meal frequency. For meal timing, have a carb and protein-heavy meal before your workouts and after. For meal frequency, have 5-6 meals a day spread out evenly. Try to eat every 2-3 hours.
Eating keeps your metabolism up, which leads to more calories burned outside of your exercise windows.
- Incorporate supplements into your nutrition regimen.
Take fat burners before your lifting and cardio sessions. They’ll help you incinerate fat by pushing it as a secondary energy source after your muscle glycogen (carbs) stores have been depleted.
You might also want to consider buying a protein powder to make it easier for you to hit your daily protein goals — and the best part is they’re yummy drinks!
Lastly, I recommend you use at least one of these two supplements: creatine monohydrate and Omega-3s.
Although each compound works through different mechanisms in the body, these two have been shown to significantly increase muscle hypertrophy, increase fat burning, and improve overall performance. 
Focus on pumping iron
The first is to concentrate on doing anaerobic work in the gym. Your training should be focused on resistance/strength training to build muscle.
If you want to do some form of cardio, better keep it light and short.
We just want to give the body a reason to burn fat via a higher calories-out. We do not want to force it to use muscle tissue to supply the energy needed for aerobic exercise.
Lifting weights combined with a high-protein diet will take care of preserving any lean mass you currently have. And, you should be able to preserve that with fair ease, since we are not going on a drastic cut.
Let me address again the question that I know is still lingering on your mind: Why would I want to burn fat if building muscle is the best solution to getting rid of skinny-fat?
The answer is this, it is easier and simpler to track progress and changes in your body composition when you are at a low body fat percentage.
Do not use the weight scale to track progress
Remember why I don’t trust BMI for gauging your fitness level?
The mirror is an easier and more accurate tool to use when tracking progress than the scale.
Take progress pictures weekly and you’ll see what I mean. Your scale weight might not budge, but the half-naked selfies you’ll be taking will show you significant differences in your physique.
Another way to track if you are building muscle mass is to measure strength changes. An increase in strength means an increase in muscle mass.
Especially for beginners, progressive overload or increasing the weight you can maximally lift for a given exercise consistently is a great indicator of muscular hypertrophy. So, track your 5RM PRs.
Get your Zs in
No matter what your fitness goals are, all your hard work will go to waste without proper sleep.
It is the single most important tool for recovery. And, proper recovery means maximal muscle growth and fat burn. 
So, do not neglect sleep. It is not only vital for building a jacked or sexy physique. More importantly, it is important for overall health.
Skinny-Fat Workout Routine
For the skinny-fat workout routine, I’ll be giving you a Push/Pull/Legs split. This allows you to train huge muscle groups at a time.
This workout split is done so that you can train hard and heavy on every single training day using compound lifts. Thus, training intensity will be high.
I recommend doing the program in a 3-days-on 1-day-off approach to allow optimal recovery.
This way, you’ll also be training 6 days a week. Thus, training frequency is still high.
I understand that we probably are in different situations with regard to lifting equipment access.
So, I’ll be giving you two programs, one for the gym and one you can do at home. The workout plan will be effective no matter where you do it — as long as you do it diligently.
The main driver for muscle growth is intensity or mechanical tension , so focus on technique — how you perform a single rep — rather than the rep scheme or the amount of weight you are lifting.
|Chest||Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press||5||5-8|
|Chest and Front Delts||High-Incline Dumbbell Press or Seated Dumbbell Press||4||8-10|
|Side Delts||Lateral Raises||5||10-15|
|Chest, Delts, Triceps||Dips||3||To failure|
|Triceps||Lying Single-Dumbbell Extensions||4||8-10|
|Lats (torso parallel to ground), Upper Back – Traps, Rhomboids, Teres Complex (torso 60-70 degrees from ground), Lower Back||Barbell/Dumbbell Rows||5||5-8|
|Traps, Rhomboids, Teres Minor and Major, Rear Delts||Chest-Supported High Rows||4||8-10|
|Low Back – Erector Spinae, Lats, Traps||Deadlifts||4||5|
|Rear Delts, Rhomboids||Reverse Pec-Deck or Chest Supported Prone Flyes||4||10-15|
|Upper Back, Lats, Biceps||Pulldowns (alternate supinated and pronated grips)||3||8-10|
|Biceps||Cable Bicep Curls||4||8-10|
|Quads, Glutes||Back Squats||5||5-8|
|Calves||Calf Raises (alternate between standing and seated)||5||To failure|
|Chest, Front Delts||A1 – Banded Push-Ups||5||To failure|
|Chest, Front Delts||A2 – Regular Push-Ups||5||To failure|
|Front Delts||B1 – Front Raises (use bands)||5||To failure|
|Side Delts||B2 – Lateral Raises||5||To failure|
|Triceps||C1 – Diamond Push-Ups||5||To failure|
|Triceps||C2 – Wall Skull-Crushers||5||To failure|
|Upper Back Complex, Biceps||Pronated Grip Pull-Ups||5||To failure|
|Lats||Supinated Grip Pull-Ups||5||To failure|
|Traps||Band Shrugs||5||To failure|
|Rear Delts||Band Pull-Aparts||5||To failure|
|Biceps||Band Curls||5||To failure|
|Quads, Glutes||Bulgarian Split Squat||5 sets each leg||To failure|
|Hamstrings||Single-Leg Band Romanian Deadlifts||5||To failure|
|Glutes, Hamstrings||Single-Leg Hip Thrusts||5||To failure|
|Calves||Standing Calf Raises||5||To failure|
As you can see, all sets for your home workouts will be taken to failure. This is to get the most out of these bodyweight exercises.
Taking the sets to failure allows you to create the most mechanical tension and metabolic stress in the working muscles so you can mimic the stimulation you would otherwise get using barbells, dumbbells, and machines in the gym.
There’s a difference between looking fit, and actually being fit. Which one is better is a no-brainer.
And, if you’ve managed to read this far down, that means you’re ready to start your journey to getting fit and hot!
Stick to this foolproof guide, and you’ll go from skinny-fat to swolly-fit in no time! I may be bad at wordplay but I know a lot about transforming a physique from average joe to savage (gym) bro ;).
Do resistance training. Ease up on the cardio. Consume a high-protein diet. Be consistent. That’s all you have to remember.
Fitness is not a lifestyle. Rather, make optimal fitness a part of your lifestyle. You have a career, a family, and other passions and hobbies you care for and do. Make being healthy an integral part of that.
1 – Is being skinny-fat unhealthy?
Yes, it is. Being skinny-fat means you have a high body fat level.
High levels of body fat are associated with life-threatening diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and even cancer.
2 – How can I tell if I’m skinny fat?
If you are at a “healthy” weight yet your body appears soft and round, then you are skinny-fat. Also, a lack of muscular definition can be a sign of being skinny-fat.
3 – How long does it take to go from skinny fat to fit?
You can tell if you are skinny-fat or just plain fat.
Typically, skinny-fat people can see improvements after a month of consistent training and diet.
4 – Should I do cardio if I’m skinny fat?
I recommend dropping cardio if you are skinny-fat, since it can interfere with your primary goal of building muscle mass. Remember, we want to maximize the calories we consume for muscle gain.