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Skinny Guy's Dilemma

What path would you guys recommend for a guy who is currently 160lbs at 16% bodyfat, trying to get to 175 lbs at 7-8% body fat? I realize this will probably take a year or more but I am willing do whatever it takes to get there.

Would it be quicker to bulk now and stop worrying about my excess fat, or take off the excess fat now and start from around 150lbs and 10% bodyfat? I currently lift as hard as possible, focusing on the “money” exercises.

I think I might be spinning my wheels though because I am running on the treadmill for about 30 minutes after arm days 2-3 times per week. Assuming you cannot effectively gain muscle while losing fat, would I be smarter to bulk and worry about the cutting later or cut now and start with less fat?

I have a small frame and am 5’9. 25 year old male. I have been lifting steadily but not at an all out effort for about 2 years. I used to be skinny as hell. When I graduated college a couple of years ago I was 135 an 10% bodyfat. I have been able to gain about 30lbs but have added fat in the midsection so my abs disappeared. I want a transformation that I can be proud of and one that other people can tell I’m not a skinny bitch anymore.

Help a skinny guy out! Thanks a lot guys.

Thank You.


If all you’ve been doing is treadmill and “arm day” you can consider yourself a beginner and will likely be able to lose BF and make some lean muscle gains simultaneously. You accomplish this mainly by focusing on big, compound, multi-joint lifts; sticking with High Intensity Interval Training for your cardio and getting your diet in order. The heavy, compound work will serve to increase your hormonal levels, the HIIT will increase your metabolism and the diet is… well, a no-brainer.

Read the stickies in the Beginner’s forum where you will find many appropriate programs, diets and general information. Choose a program/diet. Bust your ass in the gym (the lack of true intensity here is a common pitfall, NO routine will work if YOU don’t). Accept the fact that dieting means sacrificing some things you enjoy eating/drinking (it will get easier once you realize that eating crap isn’t that great after all). And last but not least… Stick To It!!! Rome wasn’t built in a day and your goal of 7-8%BF is pretty lofty so prepare for the long haul and don’t get discouraged by little setbacks. Good Luck!

Thanks Kruiser. Last night I wrote a program for myself based on a lot of the articles I have read on T-Nation. It is a 5 day split, each day built around a compound movement. I don’t have the program in front of me now but it goes something like so:

Day 1: 4 Sets of 8 Squats, Calf Extension, Leg Press and Curls and Extensions.

Day 2: Pullups (as many as I can do in 5 sets), rows, Rope pull downs, Incline Bicep Curls, Regular Bicep Curls with Dumbells.

Day 3. Compund chest movements focused around both incline, decline and flat bench DB and Barbell Bench press, Flies, Peck Deck.

Day 4. Deadlifts, 5 sets of 8 as heavy as possible, Lat Pulldowns, rowing variations.

Day 5: Military Presses, Shrugs, Arnold Presses, Bicep and tricep Variations

This is a very loosely structured program as I get bored of going to the gym and doing the same thing day after day. I might be wrong but in my opinion as long as I go as hard as possible, take a day or two rest per week and clean up my diet I should change, for the better. a 12 week program doing the same thing week after week seems like a daunting task to me but I will do it if I have to.

Are there any huge holes in this setup that will prevent me from making gains? The dieting is getting better by the day as I have more money now to eat right and 2 years removed from college has gotten me away from late night Taco Hell and beer 3 times a week.

Thanks a lot man, any input is always appreciated!

Not bad. I agree with the idea that writing your own routines and going “instinctive” while in the gym alleviates the boredom that can sometimes cause a new trainer to drop out. The advantage of a more structured approach basically boils down to its inherent ability to track your progress and ensure that a progressive overload is maintained. Be sure that you’re adding at least a little weight on most days on your core exercises and you can guarantee increases in strength ( lean mass too if you’re eating enough HEALTHY foods).

Get to it and keep us posted.

Tsmalley, I am 25 years old also, and very similar to you, so heres what has worked for me.


Start with a 3 times/week full body plan. An A-B split will work perfectly.

Workout A:

Incline bench
Face pull or row

Workout B:

Squat or unilateral exercise
Flat Bench

Do the above plan with 8x3, 4x6, and 3x10. Focus on increasing you technique, as well as strength in all the above lifts.

After a few weeks, you’ll become accustomed to the amount of work your doing, at which point you have a few choices.

Option A: Go to a 4 x week Upper/lower split
Optoin B: Stay with the full body workouts 3x per week, and add HIIT cardio on two other days.
Option C: Swtich to a 3x per week plan, but 2 workouts per day.

I personally would choose option A.

People have got this assumption that cardio is the best method of improving body composition. Steady state cardio is IMO only beneficial for recovery, or burning calories. It doesn’t encourage much adaptation. HIIT cardio can be very good for body composition, but it is easily over-used. Weight training is the key to long term results IMO.

***A final not on training: Keep your workouts to about 45 minutes or less. If you cant get an adequate workout in 45 minutes, your not working hard enough.

As for nutrition, its not as complicated as you’d think it is. For you, since your “skinny-fat”, total calories are not the problem. Your problem is lack of muscle and insulin sensitivity. I HIGHLY RECOMEND YOU LOOK INTO “NUTRIENT TIMING” AND “G-FLUX”. With these two principles, and a good training plan, there is no reason why you cant build muscle and lose fat in the same time perdiod.

So my advice to you, is to not bulk or cut, but instead develop a good foundation in both training and nutrition. This should take you to around 10-12% BF fairly easily and in maybe 3-6 months. Getting to 8-10% is going to be quite a bit more difficult, but the more muscle and strength you develop during this first time perdiod, the easier it will be.

Hope this helps.

***Oh and look into creatine, and maybe BCAA’s, and nutrient timing is your best bet.

I think you’re routine looks fine.

As a skinny guy that has gained and is still trying, I want to tell you right now that you have to eat. You have to up your calories and keep doing so until you are gaining. If you struggle to gain, this won’t be easy, but you have to do it. Spread meals out over the whole day - 6 or 8 of them. If you think meal replacement drinks will help get more calories in, get some and drink them.

Your food intake will be far more responsible for getting much bigger than your workout routine, imo.

You guys are awesome. Thanks so much for this. I also should have mentioned that I just started taking the Superfood, Leucine and German Creatine Monohydrate which I bought from the T-Nation superstore. I currently use creatine about 3 times per week, never on days when I am not lifting. Lately it has been tough for me to get to the gym on the weekends so I find myself lifting Sunday-Thurs or Monday-Thurs, consecutively with no rest days except for Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Sundays.

I never workout the same muscle groups (at least directly) on consecutive days. Do you think that going this many days in a row has a negative effect or slows progress? I don’t think I am anywhere near “overtrained” at least I don’t feel like I am.

One final thought. Would you guys reccommend going every set to failure or at least until I can’t stand the “pain” anymore? I haven’t seen anyone training to failure since high school and I think it’s because of all this “overtraining BS” you hear about. I think that “overtraining” is an excuse that a lot of skinny guys like myself use to not work up to your full potential in fear of over working your muscles. Maybe not.

If lifting until I bleed is the approach that works the best and the fastest, that’s what I will do. If it isn’t maybe I will just go to failure on the last set of each exercise.

Thanks again for your input!

I suggest you avoid failure until you are a little more advanced. I’d start with 3-4 days a week, and eat a lot. If your not gaining weight doing this, then try to shorten the workouts. For a person that has trouble gaining weight, less time in the gym is the way to go. This means you have to make every set count. Compound movements, to near failure. And keep reading the articles on this site.

tsmalley, you make a good post, but I don’t see anything about eating. You have to eat big to get big.

Hey guys, again thank for all the input. I just got done killing myself at the gym. It hurts to type actually so I think I worked as hard as I would have liked to. I also found that mixing creatine with Cranberry juice is more enjoyable (to me at least) than with plain water. Tonight I did Incline DB Press, Decline DB Press, Flies, Tricep Pushdowns and a short little bicep workout called “21’s” that some guys in college swore by. All in all, I think I had really good workout, at least for the chest.

I was checking to see how you guys make sure you get enough protein everyday. I only weigh 160 but it seems like to get 160 grams I have to ingest a lot of fat with that. I have 2-3 10 gram protein bars per day, a pint of 2% chocolate milk, and sometimes beef jerky just as supplements to my 3-4 regular meals. What foods are you guys using just as an on the go snack / protein supplement. I may have to go for the Whey but I will do it all with natural foods if I can manage.

Sorry, but at the risk of getting flamed I think you should not be doing a split workout as a beginner. TBT will work better for getting your body used to higher workloads and give you a total anabolic boost vs splits. As a beginner you just can’t use enough of your muscle fiber to make splits effective. Don’t get me wrong, I use a split, but I don’t think it is the best approach for beginners.

peanut butter, cans of tuna, etc. are cheap sources of protein. Make your big meals consist of meat and vegetables.