In the last article, I talked about the skinny-fat Journey. I see it best trudged through with three steps, and I’ve written about pieces of them before. Some, like my “Should You Cut or Bulk?” posts (see first, see second) hint at the path, but don’t really get to the guts of it all.
What you’re about to read are those guts.The first stage of skinny-fat syndrome
The first stage is the beginning. You’re dealing with fat. You’re undermuscled. Probably undertrained. Lacking nutrition knowledge, too.
The goal: lean down and begin building a solid strength foundation. You won’t turn into the incredible hulk, but that’s fine. This is where most people get all finicky, but as long as you seek answers in the barbell, you’re on the right track.
You should learn the basic barbell exercises, do some walking, jump rope, maybe some sprints, and learn about (and implement) nutrition basics under the guise of fat loss. (I should note that I don’t mean CrossFit. CrossFit is not the answer under most circumstances. It all depends on the particular CrossFit philosophy you abide by.)
Low(er) carbohydrate, low(er) glycemic load stuff tends to do good work at this level. And yes, you have to do a modicum of nutrient counting. You have to know what a protein, carbohydrate, and fat looks like when it comes to food choices.
You want to eek out strength gains as they come (and since you’re a beginner, they will come). The strength and experience you gain here will be invaluable in the later stages. And if you do things right, you’ll almost always build some muscle here. If you’re a complete newbie, you’ll often gain muscle while you lose fat is you tackle this stage correctly. No guarantees, but it’s not uncommon when the body is completely new to this world.First stage conclusion: make love to the barbell and free weights three or four times per week, stop eating junk, start focusing on protein, move a bit more to encourage fat loss — walk often, move your body through space in a challenging way (jump rope, sprint) two or three times per week. The second stage of skinny-fat syndrome
The second stage is the stubborn fat stage. I often recommend being at the solid base before questing to gain muscle without fat. (Solid base is such a terrible term. I’m thinking…”paozu” point in the future. And if you know why, we’d get along. Send me an email and I’ll give you a present.) Stubborn body fat is the last bit of fat that keeps you from the solid base (paozu point).
The thing about the stubborn fat phase is that you often have to go through the first phase to determine whether or not you’re truly here. If you can’t do three chin-ups, you don’t have stubborn fat.
You just have weakness.
Stubborn fat thrives on weakness. Often times, strength training will make magic happen. But if it doesn’t, this is where most high intensity forms of training are valuable. For reasons beyond this post, often times, body fat at this level is about more than calories — this is why hormone based training seems to help a lot here.
You won’t often gain muscle during this stage. If you play your cards wrong, you’ll often lose muscle. Any intensive fat loss method you use should also carry muscular potential to prevent wasting away into smithereens. It’s a very finicky stage — generally the toughest to travel.Second stage conclusion: Go through the first stage before speculating about the second. This stage is where more nutrition modifications (perhaps some intermittent fasting) and high intensity head-in-a-trash-can techniques are most viable. Tell your body it needs it’s muscles, otherwise, they won’t stick around. The third stage of skinny-fat syndrome
The third stage is recreating the physiological set point and then building muscle without getting fat. (I could break these two things into separate phases and might in the future, but triforces are too cool for me to resist the idea of having three stages.)
What’s this set point business?
Fat cells aren’t dumb. When you empty them, they’re hungry. If you lose a bunch of fat and go immediate bulk mode, you’re just going to get fat again.
In order to lull the fat cells away, you have to recreate your body’s set point for body fat. In other words, empty the fat cells, and don’t give them reason to fill back up for a while. Once you do that, you’re better off for gaining muscle without fat.
So after the stubborn fat phase, you should spend some time evening out things. Find a calorie intake that keeps you stable — neither losing or gaining. Settle into a more basic training program with nothing but strength training. The fat is gone, so any “extra” training is just going to create noise.Third stage conclusion: Ween your way off any “extra” training. The only thing you should be doing is strength training. Scale back nutrition to a point in which you’re even keel — not gaining or losing. Get in this autopilot mode and cruise for a while. The future would then hold some chaos. The huge drawback to all of this
You could probably take these three stages and, looking at them from afar, do some good work on your own with their implementation. But I like adding another layer — doing this in a way specific to skinny-fat hiccups.
What do I mean by this?
Well, strength training is a broad thing. In my opinion, training should be skewed in the direction of an “X” physique, because most skinny-fat guys are built in the opposite way of the “X.” This means emphasizing certain exercises over others and tweaking form to encourage different muscle recruitment in places that will be better for the “X,” specifically building two areas: wings and the halo.Wings = the lats Halo = the area above the deltoid tuberosity, which essentially amounts to shoulders, upper chest, and upper back
And of course doing this in a non-meathead “all upper body” way.Skinny-fat specific sauce
I don’t recommend the flat bench press. (Read this. Check this out for a refined process and more juicy bits.) Rows are best served with the elbow flared. And in my opinion, the two lifts that every skinny-fat dude must fall in love with and hinge their existence upon: pull-up/chin-up and deadlift.
Just little things like this that I’ve observed over time that skew training in the preferential direction — things that general muscle gaining routines and whatnot tend to ignore, and things people tend to overlook.
All exercises aren’t created equally. Even the same exercise in itself isn’t created equally. Flaring elbows vs. keeping elbows close to the body. Finishing upper body pulling right.
Just a lot of stuff that’s often overlooked.Overlooked stuff – what you should know
I’ve learned a lot since I released The Skinny-Fat Solution last year. I’ve heard from thousands of people out there that are skinny-fat that want to primarily look great naked.
But with talking to everyone and looking back, I’m silently realizing that it’s the Journey itself. That’s where most people stumble. And that’s why I’m revising The Skinny-Fat Solution, and why I’m working on this other thing.
The revision of The Skinny-Fat Solution will be good. I can tell you that. This other thing? It’s going to be good, too. I think you’re going to like it. I’m excited about it, and you’ll hear about it soon.
Until then, here’s what you should do.Your next step
Find out what stage you’re in and then look ahead to the next stage. That’s all. Don’t look beyond. If you’re in stage one and want to be in stage three, you have to get through stage two. So stage two is the next hurdle and you can’t look ahead.
Each of these stages is a checkpoint. It might not be the final boss, but you’ve come far enough for it to be worth something. Don’t get down on yourself, even if it isn’t quite exactly where you want to be. As long as you’re playing the game — and you’re playing it to win – you’re bound to find your way.
And don’t stop.