How to Deal with the Skinny-Fat Look

Q: How do you do? I am a follower of your blog, and I am considered new to bodybuilding as I started last year.

I am an ectomorph (initial status 178cm, 62kg) and gained some mass (now weighing 68kg) from my workout. I have noticed some improvement on the size of my muscles, but there is one thing that never changed in me. I still have that ‘skinny-fat’ look. I don’t see my abs except for a vague 2-pack below my chest. I find that my stomach area has thicker fat deposit, and this makes me look like I have a belly even though I am skinny.

I workout my abs whenever I do my cardio. I think the problem has got to do with cardio. I do cardio twice a week (about 30 minutes). I just jog slowly, not doing any sprinting or HIIT as I am concerned that it might consume my muscle mass.

Besides, I find that I am weak when it comes to strength. Until now, I could hardly perform a complete pull-up and triceps dip.

What is your advice for my problem? Thank you for your time.

– J. Yang


My Answer: Well it’s hard to say what you need to do, as I don’t know the details of your strength training routine or your diet. Nevertheless, there are a few things I can point out.

People who are “skinny-fat” have problems with stress. This inability to react well to stress is causing two things:

1) You’re not able to gain as much muscle as you’d like.

2) Fat is being hoarded around your midsection.

Both of these indicate high cortisol levels. The way you deal with high cortisol is this:

1) Quit eating so many white carbs. Cortisol does not allow you to metabolize carbohydrates very well, so any excess will be deposited around your waist as fat. Eat more protein, fat and green vegetables.

2) Lose the steady state cardio (30 minutes of jogging), because that is raising your cortisol levels and not giving you any benefit of fat loss or muscle gain. You do not have to engage in HIIT, but definitely lose the jogging.

3) Quit the ab work. There is a huge network of nerves in your midsection, so if you work abs all the time, then you will overtrain and raise your cortisol levels.

4) Use strength training as your primary form of fat loss. This way you can gain muscle while losing fat. If you cannot perform pull-ups or dips, then don’t worry about it. That’s a problem you will have to deal with at a later date. Your primary concern is building more muscle to burn more fat around the midsection. Simply substitute exercises such as pulldowns and pressdowns.


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