TL;DR: If you want a good physique you have to work double as hard. And learn from that.
I am skinny-fat.
Not so evident right now necessarily, but my body type can be described by that term. I am relatively tall, have long slim limbs and narrow joints. Generally lean, except for the area we really care about being lean: the abdomen.
Owning that body type comes with certain pros and cons. The major benefit is that you never look overweight. No matter how much you eat you will never get so fat that people will look at you and wonder what happened.
I may be exaggerating a bit there. But in order to really look like a person with an obesity problem you have to really be eating a lot of food for quite a while.
So being skinny-fat means that you can get away with eating your big juicy burger covered in cheddar, a nice bowl of fries and drinking coke, to be later followed by consuming your favorite ice-cream sundae. It means viciously attacking the Christmas buffet or reaching for seconds before anyone has had time to lift a fork at the big family dinner. All that without ever really looking fat.
But you are.
Your body fat levels are higher than a person at your current weight ought to have. A 75kg (165lbs) person with ~20% bf is not overweight. But they are fat. And skinny.
All that does not matter until you decide you want to obtain a good-looking physique. As long as you’re not interested in fitness, none of that plays an important role in your life. And as long as your lifestyle choices are not extremely poor, like smoking heavily, drinking a lot, partying out late a bit too often and your relationship with veggies and fruit being as distant as Daenerys Targaryen from the Iron Throne, then your annual checkup will be ok. Your height to weight ratio is normal, or even negative which means you should put on weight. Everything is fine, but…
It all changes once you decide you want to build a great, strong body. A body that is lean, with a visible six-pack, and muscular enough so that nobody would call you skinny. With relative strength that allows you to perform some of the most challenging exercises, like pull ups, for more than a few reps with good form. That’s when things get tough.
For starters, the dilemma most skinny-fat people face is where to start from. You are skinny, you definitely need to add size to those thin arms and small shoulders. But then again, how can you go on a bulk when your gut is sticking out? So…should I bulk or cut?
Then even when you decide what to do you have to face the consequences. If you do go on a bulk you will get size, but your reduced insulin sensitivity because of high bf% will cause you to store more fat then if you were leaner. Plus your relative strength, your strength relative to your own body weight that is, will suffer. Seeing your stomach grow even more, even slightly, will demotivate you even further. You will be growing, but how much of that will be lean muscle mass compared to someone who is bulking from a leaner starting point?
On the other hand, if you decide to tackle your belly problem first, you face the problem on the other end of the spectrum. Your bf% will be getting lower, your belly deflating. But you will be losing size from places you don’t want to lose. You will notice your arms, chest and back getting smaller. You will not be fitting in your clothes anymore because they are too big. And I’m taking about the slim-fit pair of jeans that was small to begin with.
Don’t get me wrong. Strength training with progressive overload that consists of compound exercises will in both cases be your assistant. But strength training is not a magic pill. Especially if you don’t take any magic pills. As a natural, your progress will be slower, will hit plateaus and will require you to be smart and get to better sync with your body and what it is telling you.
But, is being skinny-fat really that different when it comes to getting in shape than being a “skinny ectomorph” or overweight?
In essence, no. The same rules apply. In practice yes. Because you start from the middle on a road where you need to reach both ends. Both get lean and build a solid muscular foundation. The ectomoprh of the question has only one way to go, that’s bulk. Train heavy and eat a bit more. The overweight person also has one way to go, get lean. The developed muscular system is there, it’s just hidden under layers of fat. Again train heavy and eat a bit less. In time, both will reach their goal.
But for a skinny-fat person that time will be double as long and the progress seen in the meantime will never be that impressive. They will never look radically different.
If you’ve read up to this point you might be thinking that life is over. Skinny-fat is a dead-end and getting ripped is an elusive dream.
Well, I don’t think so.
We all work with what we have and do the best we can with it. There are plenty of examples out there with people starting from average or even below-average condition and getting into amazing shape.
The point I am attempting to make is that this whole process of analyzing your current state, wondering what to do and weighing your options, pushing yourself, looking for inspiration, getting occasionally frustrated, slipping, getting back on track and finally finding a balance is both didactic and deep. It teaches patience and perseverance. It requires that you face yourself and that you take control of it.
Nobody has it easy, unless you are blessed with amazing genetics. Everyone has their demons and their obstacles to overcome. Everyone has to fight for every single piece of gains. For skinny-fat guys, it just takes longer. But I do believe that when the time comes when the measurements, the scale, the mirror and most importantly the performance at the gym, are those you’re shooting for…then the satisfaction will be greater too. Until then, learning to appreciate what you have and keep working to improve it is the most important element for your transformation.
Now, let’s push a bit harder for that one extra rep.