What’s The Best Training Program For Skinny Fat Guys?


Being skinny fat sucks. You look skinny or normal with a shirt on but fat with a shirt of, and what’s worse is that the skinny fat physique just seems impossible to get rid of.

No matter how much time you spend in the gym, how many hours of cardio you do, and how well you watch your diet, you still seem to be stuck with it.

You know what, I’ve been there and know how you feel, and I’ve also been fortunate to be able to break free from the skinny fat physique. In this post I’m going to explain what I learned when it comes to the training part that allowed me to break out of this damned “curse”.

So, what did I learn? What’s the best training program for skinny fat guys? The best way to train as a skinny fat guy is to focus on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio. If you can do this then you’re on your way to be successful.

Way to many skinny fat guys take the wrong approach by either listening to training advice created for skinny guys or for fat guys. But the turth is that this advice don’t work for us skinny fat guys, simply because our genetics are different. In this post I’m going to explain exactly how you should train to stop being skinny fat and by the end I’ll give you a sample routine that’s perfect for beginner to novice skinny fat individuals.

What Makes up a Good Training Program to Get Rid of Skinny Fat?

Just as I stated earlier, the best training program that’ll help you get rid of the skinny fat physique is one that’s minimalistic in nature and compiled of these 4 things:

  1. Lifting heavy weights using low to moderate volume
  2. Focusing on a few key exercises
  3. Not staying in the gym for too long
  4. Avoiding excessive amounts of cardio

Let’s look closer at these one by one:

1. Lifting heavy weights using low to moderate volume

Training with heavy weights, for fewer reps and using low to moderate volume is perhaps one of the most important things a skinny fat guy should pay attention to. The reason for this is that us skinny fat guys can’t take to much training volume (amount of training), especially not in the beginning. And there are two reasons for this:

The first reason is that the majority of skinny fat individuals don’t handle stress well, which is one of the reasons we end up skinny fat in the first place. Stress has been linked to enhanced fat storage around the midsection which is the main problem a skinny fat individual has.

Training with heavy weights and low reps as opposed to light weights and high reps leads to lower amounts of training volume and instead higher amounts of training intenisty, which won’t stress the body as much, while still providing a great stimulus for muscle growth.

The second reason is that higher volumes caused by lifting lighter weights for more reps leads to increased appetite, which makes it very difficult stay lean. This is especially true for us skinny fat guys who usually have good appetites while also storing body fat more easily.

2. Focusing on a few key exercises

One common characteristic of a skinny fat guy is wide hips and waist combined with narrow shoulders. I can remember that this is what I disliked the most about my physique when I just started lifting:


But fortunately by focusing on a few key exercises you can improve your physique immensely even if you start out with wide hips and narrow shoulders. This is what I did and now I look more like this:


So, which exercises should you focus on? Well, to combat the natural shape of the skinny fat, it’s vital to develop your:

  • Lats and shoulders – to develop upper body width
  • Upper chest – to create that squared looking masculine chest
  • Arms – to complete the upper body look

To develop these muscles I recommend that you focus on these two exercises the most:

1. Weighted Pull-ups to get a Wide Upper Body

If I would have to choose ONE exercise only, it would definitely be the weighted pull-up. The pull-up is extremely effective at building a wide back, muscular biceps and forearms. Additionally, heavy pull-ups with a high frequency also builds your rear shoulder, which contributes to that 3D shoulder look.


Weighted pull-ups helped me build this back.

Lat pull downs and rows don’t even come close to the effectiveness of weighted pull-ups. With pull­‐ups you can’t cheat and use momentum or a swing like you can with rows and pull downs. In addition, pull-­ups are a closed chain exercise whereas lat pull down and rows are open chain exercises. What this means is that with pull-­ups your hands are fixed to the bar while your body is moving through space. Closed chain movements have greater overall muscle recruitment and lead to better muscle and strength gains from my experience.

The back is the most underrated muscle group because the lats specifically are the largest muscle group on your entire upper body. When you develop them to their potential, you make yourself appear wide from both the back and front. This is very important for us skinny fat guys, since upper body width is what we’re lacking the most.

2. Incline Bench Press to Create That Square Looking Chest

My next go to exercise is definitely the incline bench press. There’s nothing wrong with the regular (flat bench) barbell bench press. It’s a terrific exercise for building the whole pectoral region when done properly.

With that said, skinny fat guys will benefit a lot more from the incline version, since it develops the upper pecs better. Most skinny fat guys have crappy chest genetics. The upper chest is almost non-existent while the lower chest is either soft or overdeveloped. This gives a feminine appearance to the chest rather than a full masculine chest.

Therefore, the “trick” is to focus exclusively on training the upper chest. By doing so you will improve your chest proportions greatly!

Furthermore, the incline bench press also recruits the triceps and front shoulders heavily. So by getting strong on the incline bench press not only will you see a massive improvement in your chest, but also your arm and shoulder size.

When it comes to arm size the belief is that biceps is the main contributor, but the fact is that your triceps actually make up 2/3 of your arm size, so well developed triceps is actually more important for overall arm size.

When it comes to shoulder development, the barbell incline bench press hits your front delts just as effectively as shoulder presses do, so usually I’m leaving shoulder presses out so they’re not getting overtrained.

When you combine the incline bench press with weighted pull-ups, you have the perfect combination of upper body exercises because you’re increasing your shoulder measurement, maximizing arm size and sculpting the chest the right way. These two exercises train all the most important muscle groups for skinny-fat guys:

  • Weighted Pull-up: Lats, upper back, biceps.
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press: Upper chest, shoulders, triceps.

3. Lateral Raises to Target Your Medial Delts for Maximum Width

The lateral raises is the final most important exercise for anyone looking to build an aesthetic looking masculine physique, but especially for us skinny fat guys.

Well developed medial delts provides a lot of additional width to your appearance and it also completes the full 3D look of having thee three heads completely developed.

I always include lateral raises into my workout programs. The medial head of the deltoid never gets fully worked with any other exercise, not even shoulder presses. For this reason the medial head will lag behind your overall growth, and therefore lateral raises should be incorporated to ensure even muscle growth.


Here’s my results putting focus on these exercises mentioned above for about 3 years. I went from having somewhat of a pear shape to a great V-taper with a large shoulder-to-waist ratio.

Now, there are more filler exercises that’s a good idea to have in a training program, this list is just the exercises that’s best to focus on if you want to get rid of the skinny fat physique. I’ll have a good sample routine for you at the end of this post.

3. Not staying in the gym for too long

This one is important for us skinny fat guys. Just as I talked about earlier we can’t handle too much stress, so our goal should be to get in the gym, lift heavy things for a few sets and then get out of the gym as quickly as possible.

By staying in the gym for too long and doing tons of pump work your stress levels will go through the roof. What this does is further promotes the skinny fat look by causing bad recovery and unwanted fat storage, mostly around the midsection. So try your best to be effective with your time in the gym as this will help you build that lean and muscular physique.

4. Avoiding excessive amounts of cardio

Even though cardio is healthy to heart and lungs, doing excessive amounts of cardio will be negative for you. This is true first and foremost because of stress. Cardio is very stressful to the body and will cause the same problems for us skinny fat guys as described above.

Second, cardio will greatly reduce your recovery capacity. This means that your lifting progress will likely take a hit since your body is working hard to recover the system from the cardio, neglecting the lifting. Excessive cardio also leads to worse strength training performance directly, which reduces muscle growth. These are things you don’t want to happen, especially not as a skinny fat guy.

If you’re going to do cardio I recommend that you do the following:

Cardio Recommendations:

  • Do “lifestyle” cardio like walking, cycling etc. This is low intensity cardio, that doesn’t activate endurance pathways nor does it steal from recovery, while it at the same time help burn more calories. This is also great for health, in fact, it’s been shown that you should walk at least 10.000 steps per day to stay healthy.
  • Do 1, max 2 sessions of HIIT or alike per week. I recommend 8-12 minute intervals. Cardio workouts like this is very similar to pump training with weights, and it promotes muscle growth. However, doing too much of it and you will overtax your capacity to recovery.

Here’s a Great Skinny Fat Workout Plan

This workout plan is inspired from the workout plan outlined in the ShredSmart Program.

Monday – Upper Body – Chest Emphasis

  • Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Cable Rows – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Skullcrushers – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

Wednesday – Lower Body

  • Barbell Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Leg Press – 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Seated Calf Raises – 5 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Hanging Knee/Leg Raises – 5 sets x max

Friday – Upper Body – Back & Shoulder Emphasis

  • Weighted Pull Ups – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Cable Rows  – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Spider Curls – 5 sets of 12-15 reps

*Don’t have access to a gym? Don’t worry, using bodyweight training is a terrific way to pack on tons of lean muscle if done right. You can read more about bodyweight training here.

Related Questions

How do you reverse skinny fat? To reverse the skinny fat physique and get lean and muscular, first and foremost follow the information provided in this article regarding training. Second, I recommend that you set up your diet correctly.

The first thing to do is focus on eating at least 80 % wholesome nutrient dense foods. Once that’s covered focus on cutting by being in a slight calorie deficit if you’re a bit on the fatter side of skinny fat, and focus on lean-bulking by being in a very slight calorie surplus if you’re on the skinnier side of skinny fat. If you want more guidance on this make sure you read these articles next:

Should I bulk and cut as skinny fat? It’s not necessary to bulk and cut as a skinny fat guy, you can just eat at maintenance and focus hard on getting stronger while eating mostly clean foods. However this approach is VERY slow and it won’t allow you to indulge in foods that you like every now and then to the same extent as if you’re cutting and bulking. Make sure you read these articles if you’re interested in the benefits of bulking and cutting:

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

13 thoughts on “What’s The Best Training Program For Skinny Fat Guys?

  1. Hi. Is it enough to train 3 times a week? How about if I make 5 times a week. I’ve been hitting the gym for 1 year, there is improvement of my physique, but the belly fat is still there.

    1. How often you train is less important than the overall training volume you do in a week. This means that often times training more frequently, like 5 times per week, leads to too much training being done making it harder for you to recover. That’s why I usually recommend that people train less often (like 3 times per week) but train very hard/heavy during these workouts.

    1. Not necessarily. Skinny fat has less to do with body weight and more to do with body fat distribution and skeleton genetics.

    1. Hey Nick,

      For food intake 80/20 rule. 80% wholesome nutrient dense foods and 20% whatever you like foods. Regarding bulking or cutting, most often I recommend skinny fat guys to cut first using a moderate calorie deficit until they’re down to ~10% body fat. Then slowly bulk up to ~15% body fat. You can check out this post for more info on this Nick: https://www.ironbuiltfitness.com/bulk-or-cut

      1. Thanks for the quick response!
        I must say i have 18-20% body fat with a minimal. So you do suggest that i need to focus on weight loss until i reached around 10% body fat? Does it kinda contradict your advise on this page that the “”The best way to train as a skinny fat guy is to focus on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio. If you can do this then you’re on your way to be successful.””

        1. No that advice still applies, in fact following that advice during a cutting phase is likely the best thing you can do to see great results.

          Fat loss is mostly about diet, which means being in a moderate calorie deficit and eating enough protein. Once you have that covered then by focusing on lifting heavy weights with low to moderate volume, focusing on a few key exercises, not staying in the gym for to long, and avoiding excessive amounts of cardio you will be able to build a bit of muscle even while you’re cutting, at least for the first few months. The key for effective fat loss is to do less training (volume) but with heavier weights and closer to failure (intensity).

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