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Am I Skinny Fat? Bulk or Cut?

So, to start I know most lifters with under a year of experience ask this question. I have searched forum after forum to give me an answer and I’ve found tons of great ones but in the end I find myself asking if any of it applies to me. I’ve learned a lot from T-Nation so I figured I would ask the people I trust most.

I’m 21, 6’1, 184 lbs last body fat test was 14.6%. I started lifting in September of 2018 at 197 lbs (with a very bad idea of what a good calorie deficit was) lost 20 pounds, and gained very little muscle. During this I dislocated my knee and was out of the gym from October to January, gained all the weight back and restarted in January. I’ve lost 12 pounds on a good clean cut at around a 800 calorie deficit. I’ve seen big strength gains and PRs way above where I started but now I’m starting to slowly stall on some lifts.

I find myself stuck between caring about the extra little fat on my body but really wanting to continue to increase the weight on my lifts. I’ll include lift numbers and body pics (before and after) below. only lift not included is squats because I never really worked on them until 2–3 weeks ago due to the knee.

OHP: January 1st- 90lbs 1RM. March 30th- 95lbs 3x5
Bench: January 1st- 150 1RM. March 30th- 165lbs 3x5
Deadlift: February 3rd- 300 1RM. March 30th- 285lbs 1x5 (I don’t remember what my January 1st 1RM was. Maybe 250-270)

Pic 1 and 2 are from January.

Pic 3 and 4 are from March.

A little system I’m a fan of using in these situations is the following:

If I want to be bigger, I gain weight.

If I want to be smaller, I lose weight.


My advice is to just lift. Period. To be brutally honest, you don’t have very much muscle mass on you right now. You need to focus on the big compound lifts, stop worrying about 1RMs and focus on volume and form. Keep your diet clean but substantial so you’re not in a deficit. Muscle burns calories and increases your metabolism.


Agreed. I guess I should of added a part, my end game goal is to be big and lean as efficiently as I can.

Edit: my end goal is to be big, Strong and lean, I’ve read that for skinny fat people it’s best to go on a lea bulk and really build up muscle for a year or more even if you gain a little fat in the process. Then when you cut you will look more lean than you ever have. My question about being myself is do you think I’m skinny fat? Or am I just fat.

What is your most immediate goal?

So my starting point body wise and lift wise was just like yours.

I went from a 165ish skinny fat to now a muscular and lean 179 in the span of basically 3-4 years. I’m also 5’7 and in my early 30s.

All I did was eat WELL and made sure to consistently eat and NOT miss days in the gym. Eat some sort of protein, carb, fat and veggie at every meal. Over time you can make them bigger.

I think just doing that will get you 80%-90% of the way there.

As your lifts go up and you continue to eat great you will add muscle and slowly add weight over time. Do chin-ups, push ups, dips, lunges, sprints to keep your body fat in check even as you add weight.

I think you can get your squat to the 300’s, deadlift into the 400s, bench into the high 200s, and oh press into the mid 100’s with this approach.

Just my 2 cents though.


Understand that this is a process whose success is primarily based on time and compliance.

You can eat clean at a small surplus and put on muscle slowly with little fat. You can eat less clean at a bigger surplis and put on muscle a bit faster with more fat gain, which you’ll need to drop later. Or any variant within that.

The important thing is over a period of years you have averaged at eating a small surplus to facilitate muscle gain and at the same time you do the activity that tells your body to grow muscle.

The rest is detail (assuming you are not aiming at becoming a world champion at something). The trick is finding something you can execute and shifting between “getting strong” and “getting lean” and putting your long term calorie surplus at zero is a good way to end up right where you started.

A good landmark is to make sure the amount of calories you need to maintain weight jumps by 50-100 calories or so every 6-12 months or so.


It was to get around 180lbs. Now I’m there, I’m not totally stoked with my belly fat but I don’t want to be super skinny. I care more about building a muscular look more than a shredded one. So to answer my immediate goal is to put on muscle.

Thank you for the reply and I’m fine with the brutally honest, (if I wasn’t I would be on a different forum)
I only added the 1RM because at that time I was focused on raising it. I’ve since learned that the number means nothing and that, as you said, volume and form means more, which is why I put the 3x5 weights for my current.
I do only focus on compound lifts now in a Starting Strength style program. Thanks again for your input.

Gain weight.


Up your calories to maintenance and get on a template off this site with more volume(will keep you lean among other things). Either of these good at your level…

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@gooniestrong so you’re trying to stay lean while doing Starting Strength. This may explain your lack of results thus far. You need to eat more than you think in order to progress. Since you want to gain weight anyway, just do the program as it was intended to be run. You’ll get very strong very quickly.

Just don’t be an asshole like me who gained 40 pounds in 3 months and ended up fat. If you gain 20-25 pounds and end up squatting in the mid-high 300s by the end of it; you’ll be in a good spot.

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Why are you holding your junk in pic 4?

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Was more tryna block it then hold it.

@gooniestrong, Follow this advice! I repeat, follow this advice!

I’m 34 and I’ve been lifting with good effort for 16+ years. I’ve spent that time going back and forth from chasing strength to chasing abs. Guess what - your strength just goes up and down when you bulk and cut (drastically).

The best thing you can do is view yourself in terms of years instead of months. 12 lbs of muscle with very little fat gain in a year is awesome. 18 lbs over two years is awesome. 25 lbs over 3-4 years is awesome. Imagine being 200 lbs and leaner than you are now when you’re 25 years old.

Don’t make the same mistakes as me and countless others but going back and forth.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t quit training and eating well just because you get hurt. If one joint is broke then why neglect the other three? Train what you can and you’ll regress less and the injured part will recover faster once it’s healed (in terms of regaining strength and lost muscle).


I would very strongly recommend getting really good at learning how to eat and training consistently, and eat around maintenance, or in a slight deficit. I would highly advise against trying to “bulk” (gosh I hate that term), you don’t want to be putting on any more fat than you need to right now.

These things are not mutually exclusive. You can absolutely get stronger in a deficit.

As others have stated, the primary question is what is your ultimate goal.

Alright, there’s your goal. Also, what you’ve read, in my opinion, is wrong, and you should not follow that advice. You’re not “skinny fat”. You’ve got a decent amount of body fat with not as much muscle as you originally thought, which happens all the time. Looking at your pic, I’m guesstimating at 6’1 if you lose another 15-20lbs you’d have some solid conditioning. A “lean bulk” as many call it, is really just putting on muscle with minimal fat. It takes extreme knowledge and consistency to execute. As an example, one of my clients, we’ve been working together for 4 months, he was about 9%BF when we started, he’s put on 12 pounds in the process and still looking almost identical with his conditioning. We’ve structured his plan meticulously and he executes 100%.

I would strongly recommend eating maintenance or in a slight deficit (10%). Your training plan and execution of said plan will be more of a primary driver to your strength gains than anything else right now.

Definitely post with any questions and feel free to tag me anytime!


@robstein thank you a ton for the advice I took it to heart. A few questions though just to make sure I understand fully.
Lose 12-15 more pounds by eating slightly under maintenance, meaning it should be a slow controlled loss? How much should I lose in a month, in your opinion? And what mixture of cardio to strength training in a week would you recommend? And what type of cardio would you recommend? Personally I like sprints and high intensity. Not a fan of long runs.
The other question is I started the starting strength program a few weeks ago because I felt like I needed to start from the very beginning and really nail down my skill in the basic compound lifts. I’m very much still a novice in the gym but I have been lifting for 4-5 months so I’m in a weird spot to just now be doing SS. SS is meant to be done on a bulk to continue to gain strength, so would doing this on a slight deficit be counter productive?

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The 12-15 pounds was just to illustrate my point, I don’t think you should try to lose that weight now, it will be very challenging, more-so than if you got lifting for a while and packed on more muscle first. I think that would be a long term goal to put on the back burner, and the primary objective should be to simply start an outstanding training program, and eat at or slightly below maintenance. This will give you your best chance to ensure you don’t gain any fat, you’ll keep getting bigger and stronger, and eventually can decide what to do after that.

5 days per week weight training, 1 designated HIIT day, and 1 totally off day. You could sprinkle in a couple days of 20min LISS (elliptical, incline treadmill, etc.) after weights during the week.

SS is certainly a program that will get you stronger. For your goals, I would recommend a program that will get you stronger, as well as focus on building more muscle. A program like this would be perfect:

Do the “Hypertrophy” program, Phase 1, then Phase 2, and Phase 3. This was the first program I ever did in a gym after a few years of P90X at home. It focuses on building strength and constant execution of foundation lifts, and also utilizes some isolation exercises and higher volume work to build muscle. Follow the plan EXACTLY, and you will make fantastic progress.


Thank you so much. I will take all this into consideration. I will look into that program too. I feel a bit of responsibility to finishing at least 8 weeks of SS because I’ve been a bit of a program hopper trying to find the “magic workout” (which I know is wrong) and want to prove to myself I can stay on one for at least a cycle. I really appreciate all the advice from everyone on this forum. T-nation is a awesome community