The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt. 3 of 3)

The final part in the series. We’ll cover four categories of trainees, Fat & Weak, with it’s related category Obese, and two types of skinny-fat, which I define separately as Skinny-fat and Purgatory.

  • What to do if you’re Overweight but New to Training.
  • How to Avoid the Skinny-fat Trap and What to Do if you’re Stuck in it.

The latter two categories are going to apply to a lot of frustrated people, and while I may not have the answers you want to hear, I do have the answers that you need to if you’re going to break out of the cycle and finally start making progress. (Click for part 1 and part 2)

Category 6. Fat & Weak

Body fat 23-30%

Thigh Cross section MRI
Thigh Cross section MRI – Fat and Weak person

Strategy: Cut while consistently gaining strength

Alright, the category name doesn’t sound very appealing, but if this is you, you’re in a good spot. Of all the categories of trainee, it is you that has the most potential to drop the jaws of your relatives come this time next year. You’re new (or fairly new) to training, so you have all the newbie muscle gains to enjoy. You’re carrying a lot of extra fat, but that can be burned off relatively quickly. You’ll be lighter and stronger and notice a very real difference in how you look and feel each month for months to come.

How Quickly Can You Lose Fat/Gain Muscle?

People in this category are going to be around the 23-30% body-fat range, which means you can likely lose around 2lbs a week of body fat without risking muscle mass losses. However I really wouldn’t recommend going that high as you will critically hamper your newbie muscle growth potential, and it’s likely you’ll end up as a skinny-fat version of yourself that your doctor is more pleased about than you are.

I’d recommend keeping the target fat loss rate to between 1.25-1.5lbs a week of fat loss to prevent this. This way you’ll also avoid unnecessary hunger pangs and irritability that can come with higher deficits. – As with the “Fat but Muscled” category, ideally we want it to feel almost like you’re not dieting for the longest time possible.

It is important to note that muscle growth is not going to be optimised when in a calorie deficit, so your potential for growth will be a little less than a beginner that is bulking which we covered in the previous parts. However, because of your relatively high body fat you’re still likely to get close to that 2-3lbs/month of muscle gain that novice trainees can expect. This is because though you have insufficient energy going in to your mouth, the body has plenty of energy available in your body fat stores to fuel itself. This is a very different situation to the leaner novice who can’t simply eat a calorie deficit and expect to gain muscle.

Common Pitfalls for the “Fat & Weak” Category

1. Belief that you gain muscle very easily and therefore don’t need to strength train. – This is just hubris based in misunderstanding. What you thought was rapid muscle growth when you started training in the past was much more likely just the initial pump everyone experiences due to an increase in glycogen and water balance. The only reason it bothered you is because it made your jeans uncomfortably tight in the thighs and you were worried you’d have to shop for new ones, right? (I have yet to meet the man that complained that your arms and chest started exploding in size) Fortunately you have a lot of fat on your thighs at the moment and this will cease to be a problem soon enough. Resistance training is essential for muscle mass retention when dieting do it. (You’ll experience this again much later on when you have a small waist but big strong legs, and find that there isn’t a single manufacturer out there for a reasonable price that will fit you)

2. Dieting too quickly, hampering the muscle gains you could have had. – For some time you can have your cake and eat it – both muscle gain and fat loss will be achievable – as long as you don’t get greedy or impatient and try to expedite this rate of fat loss. This is the perfect example situation where though you could get leaner quicker, you really don’t want to.

3. Purchasing a crap program, kidding yourself that it will suffice. – P90x is a notorious example. (It fails to work past a few weeks because it doesn’t allow for progressive overload)

All of these roads, though they appear to be quicker by those walking them, just lead you to the skinny-fat category.


  • Start a sensible strength training program focussed on progressive overload.
  • Work hard on practicing your form.
  • Set yourself a weight loss target of somewhere between 3-5lbs per month. This is the expected fat loss minus potential muscle growth. The fatter and taller you are, the more you’ll shift expectations to the upper end of this range. (Fatter & Taller: 8lbs of potential fat loss – 3lbs of potential muscle gain / Leaner & shorter: 5lbs -2lbs)

Category 7. Obese

Meaning a body fat of over 30%, not what is culturally considered to be obese (~50%)
Technically this applies to 1/3 of the population in the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK.

Strategy: Change habits and mindset

You didn’t get obese overnight. There was a consistent calorie surplus consumed over a long, long time, and you need to consider carefully the foods, habits and environmental factors that caused that.

Foods – You know what I’m going to say here – cut out any big and obvious junk. The 2litre a day coca-cola habit – swap it for diet and wean yourself off. Dessert with every meal? – start cutting down. Add more fresh vegetables into your diet and you’ll stay fuller longer. Try to eat mostly foods that your great-grandmother would recognise as food and that will take you a long way. Stick with that simple advice and see how far you get.

Habits & environment – This is not just about the food. Your habits are what make you and the environment is what shapes them. I have a good friend, Nabil, who has eaten himself into a mess over the last 5 years. He loves eating, and I worry that it’s slowly killing him. Text him the name of any city in the world you’re in when traveling, and he will have a list of “must go-to” eateries noted. His habit when traveling is to make the vacations centre around the food. He takes a lot of vacations. His environment, given that he lives in one of the oil-rich Arab desert cities, is not conducive to outdoor activity either, social life revolves around eating and drinking. That can work if you can exercise outside of that and control your portions, but he doesn’t seem to be able to. The answer in Nabil’s case is not to focus on changing his foods, but to first work on changing his habits and environment (or the way he thinks about them) which is obviously easier said than done. This isn’t my area of expertise, so I won’t talk any further on it.

Jesse was morbidly obese (close to 70% body fat) but lost over half of his bodyweight. Proving that even at the most extreme end of things, you can still do it if you put your mind to it.
Jesse was morbidly obese (I think he was close to 70% body fat) but lost over half of his bodyweight. Proving that even at the most extreme end of things, you can still do it if you put your mind to it.


I always suggest the simplest approach for people, because changing one habit at a time is far more effective. Many folks out there may look to trick you into doing something complicated so they can just make a sale. I hate that, don’t fall for it.

Implement the following steps one at a time. Resist the temptation to skip to step three. – adding in too much complication right now is not only unnecessary, but it’ll backfire when you can’t sustain it.

1.a. Consider a routine like Starting Strength, 3 days a week. Barbells preferably, but if you struggle with flexibility then it’s perfectly fine to do bodyweight squats and work into dumbbell goblet squats (for example). Getting into the lifting and exercise mindset is of equal importance to the training effect itself.

1.b. Start cutting out the obvious crap in your diet. Work towards a target of eating a diet which is comprised of 80% fresh foods, real food, not twinkies and other stuff in boxes. If you drink a lot, cut back a little. Work towards this 80% target over the next month.

When the weight loss stalls:

2. Get the book “Eat.Stop.Eat.” Do the plan in there and drop weight with it. It’s really simple and you will drop weight consistently. The ESE method doesn’t require you to count macros, but if you can make a conscious effort to eat less starchy carbs than you perhaps normally would then this will help you drop the weight a little faster. This is because at your bf% level you are likely to not do so well with a lot of carbs. (Insulin resistance/poor insulin sensitivity).

When the weight loss stalls, or you really don’t like or agree with that method for whatever reason:

3. Follow the guides on the site. Start with my simple set-up guide. Consciously count calories and work to increase your protein intake. The calorie recommendations in my nutritional hierarchy of importance series are of primary concern, macros second. Read the third part for the common sense approach to vegetable intake and implement it. Timing is pretty much irrelevant to your results at the moment so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Fasting (skipping breakfast or the ESE method above) may help you to control hunger, but it’s not going to magically make you lean by itself. Thus, if you want to skip breakfast and eat two meals a day, do it. Prefer not to? Fine. Doesn’t matter at this point and worrying about any differences just feeds that procrastination muscle.

Bear in mind that you’re likely to be carrying more muscle mass than the ‘Fat & Weak’ category guy because you will have built up some more muscle as a necessity to move yourself. Your expected rate of muscle growth will be lower, and because of all the fat that you will lose you probably won’t be able to measure or notice it. Thus, scale weight and strength gains are the most important barometers of progress for you. Don’t exceed 2lbs a week of fat loss for skin elasticity reasons.

Common Pitfalls for the “Obese” Category

Often it’s the mental aspects, rather then the technical, that hold people back. Dick Talens has some excellent articles about this on his blog, and JC Deen’s recent short book is the best and most applicable I’ve read on the subject. Highly recommended.

Category 8. Skinny-fat

Body fat 12-23%

Skinny-fat | RippedBody.jp

Strategy: Chase a recomp

Skinny-Fat Type 1

The strategy for the skinny-fat guy should be to chase muscle gain while losing fat. Most people in this category will be best to go with a slight calorie deficit, while pushing hard with your lifts so that you gain strength, which will drive the muscle growth. This works in beginners and novices nearly always, and can work for more advanced trainees too. However this isn’t always successful in practice for two primary reasons:

1. It is working, but the guy is tracking things so poorly that he can’t see it’s working, or the progress is just too slow for the unrealistic expectations that he set for himself initially. – This leads people into a program hopping spiral.

2. The guy is too far along with their training and they can no longer have their cake and eat it – a choice needs to be made between losing fat OR gaining muscle. (There is no clearly identifiable point that this will happen. Some people have it easier than others genetically and a whole bunch of other factors influence it – diet set-up, training, sleep-stress-recovery, mental aspects, etc.). I categorise these folks as being in Purgatory, because that’s often how these guys feel. We’ll cover these Skinny-Fat Type 2 people in the next section.

What do you mean by a recomp?

‘Recomp’ comes from the word ‘body-recomposition’ meaning that muscle growth takes place at the same time as fat is lost. This is not a reference to a calorie setting where there will be no weight change. Sometimes a recomp will be best achieved through a calorie surplus, sometimes it will be maintenance calories, and often it will mean a slight calorie deficit. Which it is for you depends on your body-fat level and training status.

A skinny category guy (see previous article) will often achieve what visually appears to be a recomp through a calorie surplus.

A skinny-fat guy, somewhere in the 12-23% body-fat range, will have a calorie deficit scaling with how much fat he carries. At the bottom end of the range there will not be a calorie deficit (and thus no change in weight), at the top end of the range there will be a calorie deficit targeting between 0.75-1.0lbs of weight loss per week on average. In other words: The skinny-fat guy carrying more body fat should have more of a calorie deficit than the leaner guy.


How quickly can I change?

Muscle can be created more slowly than fat can be burned off. Fat comes off from most areas of the body. Thus you’re in for a possibly frustrating period where, though your stomach measurements change, your limb measurements probably won’t change by much, and might even go down depending on how much fat you’re carrying to start with. If you recall that MRI from further up the post you’ll see why – the fat is being replaced by the muscle. This is one of the few times where callipers can prove to be a useful way to track progress, but only if you have access to someone that has experience using them, and only if you’re at or under 15% body fat.

Practically then, the best way to gauge progress is by your strength gains and stomach measurement decreases. When you can no longer keep up this recomp effect, you’re into the Skinny-Fat Type 2 category and need to make a decision between muscle growth or fat loss.

Brad's initial progress
Brad’s initial progress

Common Pitfalls for the “Skinny-fat” Category

1. Lack of patience. – This is fed by the over expectations fed by the industry to beginners.

2. Program hopping.

3. Not training for strength. – If you don’t you not only remove a key piece of tracking data, but an important motivational tool for yourself. There will be weeks where the measurements and scale weight show little change and you wonder if you’re doing everything right. But if you are getting progressively stronger then you know that there are changes taking place under the skin that you simply haven’t been able to detect. Subjective assessment, such as the mirror each day when you get out of the shower, is not recommended and will only likely screw with your head, but photos taken months apart are useful. You can pinch yourself and know that you feel harder and more muscled under the skin, but that’s not nearly objective enough to be considered a way to measure progress.


  • Set your calorie level to between 0-1lbs of weight loss depending on where you are in the 12-23% body fat range. As always, if after several weeks your initial calculations yield more or less on average, adjust upwards or downwards later accordingly.

  • Train hard, work to get stronger, and work to keep progressing (always with good form) for as long as you can.

Category 9. Limbo/Purgatory

Body fat 12-18% (typically)

Chandler felt like he was in purgatory, never making any clear progress.
Purgatory, feeling like you’re trapped between bulking and cutting.

Strategy: Make a clear decision, cut or bulk (usually cut) & follow through with it.

Skinny-Fat Type 2

For these guys the recomp strategy of the skinny-fat guy hasn’t worked, or has ceased working and they are faced with making a choice between losing fat or gaining muscle.

How much fat we put on with each pound of muscle we gain comes down to how well we can partition calories. Cleverness of diet set up and genetics aside, a big determinant of that is believed to be our current body-fat level. In general, the leaner we are, the better our calorie partitioning and the less fat we’ll gain when bulking.

So, @18% body fat if you bulk over the course of the next 6 months by ~20lbs, even if you do everything perfectly, more of those 20lbs of gain will be fat than if you had started at ~10% body fat. The thing is because we can’t measure body fat changes accurately you’re unlikely to realise the difference in outcome between the two strategies until you cut and see what is left once the fat is gone. So you’re either going to take my word for it, or you’ll find out the hard way. So, now that you know this, and you know that 20lbs of weight gain for you at 18% and at 10% is going to yield different amounts of muscle growth, you could simply say, “Ok then, I’m just going to gain 30lbs while chasing my strength targets.” – That is a very valid and very real option, but it comes with the health risks associated with fat gain, particularly the visceral fat (around the organs) that starts to build up after the 15% body-fat level.

(The theory behind this is actually a lot more complicated. If you’re interested read Lyle McDonald’s calorie partitioning and p-ratio articles, then his six part series on leptin if you wish to go further).

In this linear model then you are left with two options: you can either get leaner than you like, probably getting to the point of feeling a little skinny, on your way to your ‘jacked and ripped‘ end-goal, or you get fatter than you like on your way there. The net result is the same, it just depends on your preference after weighing up the options on how you wish to get there.

The problem comes when people don’t realise that they need to make a temporary trade-off and they end up spinning their wheels: they stop part way through their bulk because they feel they’re getting fat; they stop part way through their cut because they feel they are getting too thin. They’re right in both cases, but assuming they’ve explored all the other logical options, it’s simply tough shit for the time being.

I categorise these folks as being in Purgatory.

If this is you, it’s not a bad thing as long as you acknowledge and accept it, then start working towards the best you.

Training status
(per Berkhan’s strength standards)
Happiness scale when shredded
(in smileys)
Novice/ beginner🙁
Intermediate:/ or 🙂
Advanced🙂 or 😀
Highly advanced😀 or 😛

Common Pitfalls for the “Purgatory” Category

1. The same three pitfalls of the skinny-fat guys. (Lacking patience, program hopping, not training for strength)

2. Failure to follow through with your goal, cut or bulk, once you’ve decided it.


  • Bearing in mind what I have said above, choose one of the two options, bulk or cut, and prepare yourself mentally for a period of discomfort, whether that be feeling too fat or feeling too thin.
  • If you cut, cut until you can see your abs clearly before starting to slow-bulk. (You can use the two clients’ levels of definition in this section as an example of what you need to shoot for). Aim to maintain your strength (but obviously, take the strength gains if they do happen to come). Do not shoot for an end weight target because you likely carry more fat than you think.
  • If you decide to bulk, either decide on some reasonable strength targets (see my Training status vs Happiness scale when shredded table), or shoot for a sensible weight-gain target (base this on guidelines in the ‘skinny‘ category from part 2 of this series). Fix these now and only start your cut when you achieve them.
  • Continue to progress with slow-bulk and cut cycles, keeping within a 9-15% body fat boundary. This is based on Lyle’s general recommendation from the articles that I mentioned above to keep calorie partitioning at it’s optimal.

There are no genetically gifted folks in this Purgatory category

Bell Curve illustrating different genetic potential

Recall my bellcurve of genetic potential graph from the first article. Remember, most of the guys in this industry, if not chemically enhanced, have above average genetics. They are solidly in the yellow zone, purgatory does not exist for these people and none of them can understand your feelings, worries and concerns.

Here are two real-world examples of guys that have found themselves in this category.

Client Chandler - Progressing out of Purgatory
Client Chandler – Progressing out of Purgatory

Chandler (above) has a genetically average disposition to muscle growth. I’d say he’s in the middle of the orange section. He had to get leaner than he wanted in order to go on to crush a slow bulk.

Brad (below) has a genetically under-average disposition to muscle growth. He’s probably somewhere on the middle-to-right side of the red section, and so the point where a recomp stopped working for Brad was earlier (in terms of muscular development) than with Chandler. There was little that he could do about this except for suck it up for a little longer and accept occasional negative comments from people that couldn’t understand the strategies and reasons for what he was doing. I salute Brad and people like him that have the patience to follow through with the plan. You can see how they are rewarded for it.

In both cases, they decided to give their genetics the middle finger and are on their way to creating great ideal physiques.

Hard work, patience and consistency will win out over someone with better genetics but a lousy work ethic, so don’t give yourself excuses.

Client Brad - Progressing our of Purgatory
Client Brad – Progressing out of Purgatory


Can you tell me my body type if I tell you details in the comments?

I won’t. This is because it partially comes down to your personal preferences, and doing so takes a lot of time. Now, while it is true that I make clear suggestions for potential clients, that’s after a conversation/interview, with detailed and supporting reasons.


Thank you for reading this series. I hope you’ve found this helpful and inspiring. It’s honestly been a pleasure writing it and sharing these more specific things that I’ve learned through coaching people. I intend for this to be a linchpin article for the rest of the guides on the site, something that you will come back and refer to again and again.

Questions, as always, are welcomed in the comments. Our Facebook page has a good community spirit, and I thank everyone for increasingly making it a pleasure to check in to over recent months.

↓ What are you waiting for? Go get those gainz! ↓

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Missed the earlier parts? Take me to Part 1, Part 2


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Hi Andy,

My stats are as follows:
6’6″ tall
226 lb
39″ waist

Based on the navy calculator, I am 21% body fat.

I have been following Starting Strength for a couple of years and getting stronger. However, it definitely hasn’t helped my aesthetics. I was pretty bad and go up to 265 lb in the name of “increasing my squat!” However, I got really fat! I’ve since gone down in weight, but I think I am definitely in your “purgatory” stage. I’m not very muscular, but I also have high BF%.

Do you recommend I cut down to at least 15% BF and then try to “slow bulk” my way to more muscle mass? I don’t think Starting Strength has helped me put on much muscle mass, but only a lot of fat.

Maneesh Sethi
Maneesh Sethi

Just read this post and realized it’s you, Andy. Awesome post, and hope we get to hang out again soon!


Amazing, clear like water, thanks Andy 🙂


Another buddy here trying to scape from the purgatory, finishing a small recomp, 12-13% bf (but not very well muscled) and almost iso caloric diet.
Then going for 8-12 weeks of diet, and after that slow bulking for some months.
Regards from the limbo

Nikos Kontogeorgis
Nikos Kontogeorgis

17 y/o male, ~62kg, 162cm, ~15% body fat, training since last August. I have put on some muscle, so I am ok with cutting. Come September I will have school and other responsibilities so I won’t be able to precisely follow a diet and training program. With this in mind, I though about doing a quite drastic cut, in order to get to around 10% before August and then aim to lean or slow bulk until September, so I have more freedom from September on. I know a cut like this wouldn’t be healthy, but how much muscle can I expect to lose if I get to 10% in 2 weeks, 3 weeks or more (optionally with diet breaks once week or so because of the large deficit)?

Nikos Kontogeorgis
Nikos Kontogeorgis

Thanks for your answer. Would you think trying to recomp indefinitely would be a better idea? (Probably with a focus on losing fat until I reach my body fat goal and then it might turn into a lean bulk for as long as I can maintain it).

Nikos Kontogeorgis
Nikos Kontogeorgis

Thsnks for the input!


I definitely identify myself with the purgatory diagnosis. I’ve been training for 5 (!) and spent the first 2 being too skinny (56kg at 174cm) but afraid to bulk because I couldn’t see my abs, to finally gain some weight but get stuck again at 67kg and ~14% BF, without abs and much muscle either and thus endlessly trying to recomp without visible results, not knowing whether I should bulk or cut. Finally decided to slow bulk to 73kg and ~17% BF during 9 months and am now cutting (~0,6kg of weight loss a week, currently back at 69kg) until I get my waist to 0.44% of height (someone else’s recommendation) and/or can clearly see my abs (your recommendation). Will slow bulk again after that.


How tall is Chandler? I think we have similar stats.

And, even at 14% I have little definition in my abs. I’m wondering if this is because my abs need to be bigger to be seen through the fat.



Hi Andy,

I don’t know if you’re going to read this but… I’m 6’1, 165lbs (13,5% bodyfat). Been training for 3 years now, before that I was fat, then skinny-fat and now I’m in the limbo. I’ve been yo-yo dieting trought bulking and cutting cycles and never happy with how I look…

I don’t know what to do anymore, when I bulk I get strong (210kg deadlift, 150kg squat, 117kg bench) but doesn’t look like I lift, mostly fat, when I cut everybody tells me that I look skinny (like how I’m looking right now).

Now I’m taking a two weeks break from dieting because I was loosing my libido and motivation to train…

What should I do? Thanks for your time and I hope you can read this.

(excuse me for my english, I’m from spain)


I think that I’m cutting slowly… being on my cut since August 2018 to now. When I started the cut at 187lbs my 1RM lifts where 210kg deadlift (now 180kg), 150kg squat (now 120kg), 117kg bench (now 105kg).

Now at 165lbs I’m still carrying on some fat, I need to flex to see my top 4 abs. I look like your client Brad in the second picture.

I would like to cut down to a 10% body fat and then start a slow bulk. But now I’m feeling always tired, low libido and lethargic. I don’t know if the best approach would be to take a couple of weeks off dieting and then keep up with the cut?

Thanks for your time and work!


Thanks Andy!

Ketan Kate
Ketan Kate

Hello Andy,
When I look in the mirror in a relaxed state my stomach looks bloated. But as I flex it’s flat with visible upper abs! ( I have decent muscle frame)
Why is this? Why it can’t be rigid or firm like my other muscle groups ?

Thanks you .


Hi Andy,

I have the same situation – then does that mean that one should go on a cut or do some abs work?

About myself – I’m 5’9”; 155 lbs



I don’t understand my next steps in regard to gaining or maintaining, im still learning about macro’s etc

In 3 months I dropped 27lbs…i was unhappy with my size and the weight loss made me happy with my size.
I then hit the gym….on a 5 day schedule rotating light weights and cardio. Weight was pretty stable..losing a few lbs here and there… I do 5 days a week pure weights/resistance, track my macro’s and LOVE the gym.

My goal is to get stronger and build defined muscle. My weight is 102lbs, 5-1 height, my BF is 19%.
Over the last 8 weeks I have seen an improvement in strength and am lifting heavier or longer almost every session. I can see improved muscle definition. However, my weight and body fat have stayed the same over these 8 weeks.

So to continue seeing results…should i be trying to MAINTAIN weight or GAIN weight?
I don’t understand how my stats haven’t changed but my performance and ‘look’ has changed.


Andy, does “THE MUSCLE & STRENGTH PYRAMIDS TRAINING & NUTRITION” include scientific references? I’ve read a ton of your articles and indeed it seems that you know what u’re talking about, but most of the articles lack of references. I just want to get detailed information of the stuff.


I knew I’ve read it somewhere but I couldn’t find it! Thanks for your time, keep working out on this incredible site 💪


Hello Andy,

I have been in a calorie deficit diet and lifting last 6 months to lose weight and went from 190lbs to 142lbs. I am around 14% body fat, 5’8″ and 31.6″ waist. I look OK with some definition but I want more lean mass and sit around 12-15% body fat. I am not a pro, just a regular guy who wants to look good with some abs definition and most importantly stay healthy. What should I do?


Thank you Andy! So according to it the best option would be to eat at maintenance and train hard with free weights.


Hi Andy,
I used to think that I was in a purgatory state (around 57 kg, 163 cm and 15-17% bf), but stopped lifting for some time. Now I’m looking to get back into it and I’m sitting closer to 60 kg and 20% bf. The increase in fat is mainly in the stomach area, so I feel like I fit more into skinny fat 1. I’m planning to start lifting 3 days/week with a pure strength focus and 1 day of cardio (about 30 mins treadmill/walking) What’s your advice on where I might fit in and what could be a good next step for dieting?


Hi Andy,

I am in the fat and weak category, how can I expect to gain muscle if I have a calorie deficit? I am aware of newbie gains but can’t relate them to fat loss i.e. to lose fat you need to be in a calorie deficit and to gain muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus.

I am beginner to weight training, 5’11” weigh 87kg with 27% BF and my goal is to lose fat and gain muscle (ultimately, but it would be nice if I can achieve both at the same time). Do I cut my calories, stay at maintenance or increase them slightly?

What I am really asking is, how can milk the newbie gains when I am overweight?


michiel smets
michiel smets


Any advice on : 155 lbs, 5 feet 10 , 15% fat? Lean bulk?

Thanks in advance


Hello Andy, and thank you for the great content as always. I’ve been in purgatory for about 2 and a half years, and this time I decided to stick with a cut until I see results and then start a proper slow bulk. I’ve reached the point where my 4 abs are almost clearly visible and defined without flexing, so I believe that there is not much fat left to lose. In the past I would have stopped the cut here, but now I know better thanks to your site and information. My question is this: Regarding body fat percentage, would you recommend the navy method in order to evaluate progress and know where to stop a cut or a bulk? I know you recommend it as a cheap and reliable solution, but I took the test and my results averaged from 6.5% to 8.5% which seems a little low to be honest. Thanks!


Thank you very much Andy, I appreciate the fast response and the advice! Thanks to your valuable information, I was able to finish a proper cut, and now I’m ready to bulk.


Hey Andy, a great article as usual!

I have a question regarding your strategy for the guy in the ‘skinny-fat type 1’ category. You state here the strategy is to recomp (build muscle and lose fat simultaneously). And that “most people in this category will be best to go with a slight calorie deficit, while pushing hard with your lifts so that you gain strength, which will drive the muscle growth.”

My question is this: Given the current scientific literature, we know that training volume is the key driver for muscle growth/hypertrophy (correct me if I’m wrong). Would it therefore be viable for an intermediate level lifter in this category to train with a bodybuilding style approach, with less of an emphasis on strength progression, however still doing the big 3 exercises along with isolations while following progressive overload through intermediate periodization techniques?

When you say “pushing hard with lifts so that you gain strength” are you referring to progressive overload in terms of a novice lifter? I am asking because I believe a late-novice / early-intermediate lifter who has stalled on the main lifts (i.e. their nervous system has learnt the movements) may not be able to make further strength progression while eating at a caloric deficit. Or perhaps the situation I describe in my question is actually a person in the ‘Purgatory’ or ‘skinny-fat type 2’ category as they can no longer continue with this ‘recomp effect’ ?

Thanks Andy!

Liege Kluppel
Liege Kluppel

Hi Andy, very nice article!
I’m currently in purgatory and after reading this article I decided to start cutting and, after reaching 12% bf (I’m female so I think 10% is too low bf for me) I’ll start slow bulking.
I want to use your calculator on How To Calculate Your Leangains Macros for the cutting and slow bulk as well, but there is only the bulk option there (Increase TDEE by 20%.). How would the slow bulk be? Increase TDEE by 10%?
Thanks in advance!


Very informative. Do you have the knowledge/experience to update the given bf%s and other data to include ranges specific to females?

Mark Monachino
Mark Monachino

Hi Andy – great article. Would you consider only those who are 12-18% but “Novice/Beginner” according to Berkhan’s strength standards to be in “Purgatory”? Could those who are Intermediate, Advanced or even Highly Advanced possibly fit in this category as well?



You need to put the heights of these guys to make sense of their weights changes…waist measurement would also be useful for those without access to expensive equipment.

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