Help a guy with the "skinny fat" problem! I want to gain definition, but not waste away.

  • BookmarkNYC

    Posts: 5

    Jan 14, 2011 8:58 PM GMT
    I want to:
    1. gain definition (I've never seen one of my abs in my life) but
    2. get bigger arms, or at least not see them shrink. (Mine are only 13" and have been for 10 years.)

    In the past I've gained some definition only by increasing cardio to the point that I lose musculature, strength, and a fair amount of weight--which I don't need to do at only 155# and 5'9".

    Yet, my CONSTANT and bigger problem is that I tend toward high body fat % without ever being overweight. This is the dreaded "skinny-and-fat" situation, and it f'ing sucks.

    I take in about 2000-2200 calories a day and try to watch my "bad" fat intake. I try to eat 4-5 smaller meals a day instead of 2-3 big ones. I'm generally successful with that.

    What lifting + cardio paradigm addresses my skinny-fat problem?

    In terms of lifting:
    Whole body workouts? If so, how many days a week?
    Muscle group workouts? If so, how many muscle groups per day, 1 or 2 (or more), and how many days?

    Intense lifting at high reps and lower weight is, I assume, best, since I want definition. (But then there's my arms problem......)

    In terms of cardio, I've gotten conflicting advice from trainers even though I explained the same goals of mine to each of them. I've been told:

    1. Intense 20 minutes a day--never more than 20 mintues so to prevent over-training and wasting away as I've done in the past (dropping down to 140#)

    2. Slow-paced 40-60 minutes a day; a slower pace will burn fat, not as much muscle,

    3. Sprints for 30 minutes--spring for 1 min., then walk/jog for 2-3 minutes. Again the explanation was: this will burn more fat and less muscle.

    So, which is it? These cardio recommendations can't all be correct really.

    I'd like to find a few points that several guys on RealJock might agree on for my benefit.
  • Jessie_Lee

    Posts: 113

    Jan 18, 2011 10:55 AM GMT
    Don't know why this went unchecked, maybe because of the 3-day weekend.

    I can see why you get different answers from personal trainers. Most personal trainers deal with people who want to lose weight, and that's what they're there for. Your situation is unique enough to get differing answers because you're looking to lower your bodyfat percent, but not weight. And personal trainers are trained to help a person lose weight by motivating their clients to come to the gym to do cardio while maintaining what muscles they have by lifting weights.

    By the sounds of it, you don't mind gaining weight. If you want to ask advice from personal trainers, I'd suggest asking one with bodybuilding experience in your case.

    Now on to your situation. Drop the cardio. Yes, you read it right, drop the cardio. Focus purely on lifting weights for the time being. First work on putting on muscle before focusing on definition, because 1) it's easy to see more definition the more muscle you have, and 2) having more muscles help you burn more calories in the long run.

    Do muscle group workouts. Work out at least 4-5 times a week, around 1 hour each. You can go for 6 days, but don't go for 7. It will depend on 3 things, your schedule, your dedication, and your recovery time. Your schedule will obviously dictate how much time you have available. What I meant by dedication is that some people can burn themselves out easily while others take longer. The more a person works out, the faster they'll burn out. So going 6 days a week could potentially burn a person out after several months while working out only 3 days a week has a much lower risk of burning out, probably take 2 years. Recovery time refers to how long it takes for your muscles to heal and be back to full strength after a strenuous workout. For some people, it'll only take 3 days to fully recover, for others, 5 days (young peeps are usually only 3 days and it will take longer as they get older). Most people choose to go for a week because 1) it's easier to keep track of, and 2) it definitely ensures that their muscles are fully recovered, assuming they're working out correctly. Recovery time is also pretty difficult to figure out because it's based on the individual person, and there some muscle groups that tend to recover faster than others.

    I won't tell you how to design your workout based on your recovery time because no one knows your body better than you, but I'll tell you how mine is set up. I'm currently on a 4-day cycle, which is 3 muscle split workout days, then 1 rest day, and repeat. They is due to my good recovery time (I can recover in just 3 days), and my fairly young age. This allows me to hit each muscle group almost twice each week, and I give myself enough time to rest.

    As for the intensity of your workouts. Focus on hypertrophy, 8-10 rep range. Make sure that the weight isn't too heavy that you can't push for 8 reps, but also make sure that it's not too light that you can push for more than 10 reps. When lifting weights, make sure to take as long or longer to lower the weight than lifting it. The "lowering the weight" part is an important aspect of muscle building.

    For nutrition, I think you're good in it. Just 2 pieces of advice, make sure that you have enough protein in your diet, and don't be afraid of putting on a little weight (most the the weight you'll put on will hopefully be muscle).

    It is said that fitness is 1/3 exercise and 1/3 diet, the last 1/3 is rest. I hope you're getting enough sleep. Sleep is the time when your body tries to recover from the day's work, including exercise. In other words, sleep is when your body builds the most muscle.

    You can add cardio later once you're satisfied with the amount of muscle you put on.

    Sorry for the long post.
  • BookmarkNYC

    Posts: 5

    Jan 27, 2011 5:30 PM GMT
    Wow, Jessie, thank you for all this great advice! I am very appreciative!
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    Jan 27, 2011 5:40 PM GMT
    I'd really focus on doing multi-muscle lifts. Things like bench press, chin-ups, squats, etc. They'll burn up a lot more energy, and help spur on more growth then isolation exercises.

    Make sure you're working your legs. As the largest muscle group in the body, getting them to grow is of major importance. Having large thighs will make your body burn up a lot more calories, all day long, even when you're resting.
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    Jan 27, 2011 9:12 PM GMT
    Cardio = Skinny Fat

    Not only is it great for burning fat, but endurance cardio is very effective at burning muscle unless you specifically design your diet to support the cardio. I'm with Jessie - drop it. If you need further proof, just walk into a gym and look how many large guys are on the treadmills.
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    Jan 27, 2011 9:51 PM GMT
    You've gotta hit the weights. Pretty much ignore cardio completely. Muscle speeds up metabolism and will take all the calories you consume and divert them into building itself (muscle). Push heavy weight, change your body - it's that simple.
    For cardio, if you do do it, try speed rope in short bursts, or just a couple laps at fast pace around a track. Key is keep it short, and intense (for cardio).

    *Second what matty said - focus on compound exercises. ignore iso.

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    Jan 27, 2011 10:03 PM GMT

    Some impressive stories on his site. Of course he probably doesn't post the failures.
    My experience so far (2½ weeks)... Given me much better focus on getting enough calories. Made me relax a bit more with what I eat (still no junk though). One cm off my waist/abdomen and four cm added to my chest (though I wonder if that isn't just glycogen - but who cares when it looks nice).
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    Feb 02, 2011 9:04 PM GMT
    If you're wanting lean, you're wanting HIIT. You can research that elsewhere. 12 to 20 minutes daily will make a world of difference. Anyone that tells you to avoid cardio is sabotaging your goals. The weights will help you retain mass, but, you need calories and HIIT to stay lean and to make gains. Eat. HIIT will not only be very effective, but, with increased calories to allow that work, it will markedly improve your cardiac threshold and allow you to trainer harder, longer. You'll have increased vascularization, and lower overall blood pressure, too. EAT, lift, and do HIIT.

    You'll want to study up on hypertrophy. What you find may surprise you. Many folks don't understand hypertrophy and will completely misguide you. Study hypertrophy.

    You're 37. If you have low testosterone, you'll have a hard time staying lean. Get it checked. A good doc will set you at 1000, or above. A conservative one will put you lower, but, loads of studies have shown much better outcomes at 1000 or above. That higher test will also help to protect your heart, lower blood pressure, improve your lipids, help your bones, brain, and vision, and protect against diseases of aging. (Ever notice that bodybuilders aren't falling of the face of the planet, despite propaganda?)

    You'll want recovery. That means doing a major part per day. Keep your reps up, and keep your set cadence fairly fast (45 seconds to 90 seconds). Get in, get out. The idea being to promote growth, stimulate your metabolism, and not to wear you down. If you're at the gym longer than 90 minutes, you'll been there too long.


    Avoid simple sugars because of the insulin spike they cause, EXCEPT post workout. Post workout, feel free to hit the carbs in the golden hour.

    You may want to have your T3/T4 checked. It's easy to optimize that, as well.

    In general, you want to eat enough to fuel physical activity and stoke your metabolic rate without slamming insulin levels.

    You'll want to study the gylcemic index, as well.

    When I'm very lean, I'll bring my calories up to as high as 5000 kcal per day to support intense physical activity. Eat.

    If you do what I tell you for about 18 weeks, you'll get a much leaner look, and have good cardiac threshold.


    It's important to eat enough calories, and, when you do HIIT, you should just be sweating like a race horse.
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    Feb 02, 2011 9:26 PM GMT
    With regard to your arms, I'd like you to study up on muscle fascia. It's the main limiting factor of muscle size, along with myostatin. Now, you can enlarge that fascia, and let the muscle grow into it, either by getting pumped up, or using an external fluid (typically benzyl alcohol and grade seed oil).

    Do this: do 8 sets of 8 to 25 and go home. Hit your tris one day, and bis the other. Do full extension to STRETCH the muscles (stretched muscles are longer and bigger). That is, do incline dumbbell curls, and triceps extensions through a full range of motion.

    You should be able to gain an inch in a few weeks. What you're wanting is size. Don't forget to study hypertrophy and to train intelligently instead of sabotaging your goals.

    Keep your reps up; use strict form; use dumbbells; get pumped up; get out; eat.