This is the second part in my serial guide helping you to identify where you’re at now so that you can set your diet and training up accordingly to make the fastest possible progress. (Part 1 here.)

This part we cover two categories of trainees, Skinny, and Shredded. – Very different physiques, but very much related in terms of diet strategy. Two lessons here:

  • Why You Are Still Skinny, What You Need to Change, and What Pitfalls You Need to Avoid.
  • How to Slow-Bulk – Avoiding the Dream-Bulk Trap

I share a lot of my own personal lessons in this part of the guide having languished in that skinny category for a long, long time and also having gone on a couple of dream-bulks myself.

Category 4. Skinny – very little muscle, low body fat.

lightly muscled vs skinny

Image credit – Leigh Peele

Strategy: Bulk

‘Skinny’ is the category that I was in for most of my mid-late teens, and early twenties. It isn’t a flattering term and it’s not what anyone wants to hear as a description of themselves. However, it is an exciting category to be in as you will see the biggest changes of your life over the course of the next 12 months if you get your training and diet right. As you’re reading this site there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that. I went down a longer, harder road.

How Quickly Can You Grow?

You’re a beginner. You are set to gain 2-3lb of muscle per month for around 3-6 months, and then 1-2lbs of muscle for the following six-nine months. That’s 15-25lbs of muscle over the course of your first year. If these rates in any way seem slow to you, next time you’re in the supermarket have a look at how much steak that is and imagine it strapped to your body in a year’s time. Motivated? Good.

Muscle Growth Potential

Training Status  |  Gains/month  |  Energy Surplus/day

Beginner  |  2-3lbs  |  ~200-300kCal

Intermediate  |  1-2lbs  |  ~100-200kCal


Exceptional circumstances aside, aiming to gain 100% muscle and zero fat is simply not a realistic expectation. Part of your bodyweight gain will be fat, however you may not notice it (or it may not bother you) cause you’ll look bigger and leaner despite carrying more fat overall. In the image above look at the guy on the left and picture him with a little more body fat. If you currently look like the guy on the right, you’ll be happy with the change, yes? That is very doable over the course of the next year. You’ll then be able to cut to your first set of real defined abs, and you’ll build from there.

“Part of your growth will be fat gain, however you may not notice it.”

Firstly though, you need to identify why you are skinny in the first place, or you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again.

Why You Are Skinny

You’re underweight for a reason, whether due to a conscious decision or not. Here are the two most likely culprits for why that is the case:

Skinny Due to a Conscious Decision

You might think it quite strange for me to say that someone might diet their way to being skinny, but consider the following:

  • Everyone that hasn’t dieted to near competition-level lean before believes themselves to be more muscled than they actually are. Everyone.
  • Most people without any training experience believe they will put on muscle quicker than they can if they start training.
  • ‘Quicker’ is nearly always considered better, when you don’t know any better. So inappropriately high calorie deficits are common.

What you get then is a lot of skinny-fat people dieting too quickly, without an appropriate resistance training program, and losing the little muscle they had to start with. They are then left wondering where their abs are hiding. [A lot of ‘fat and weak’ category people get themselves into this ‘skinny-fat’ category this way.]
Eating more will not be hard for this category of people, unlike the naturally skinny guys.

Naturally Skinny

If you are in this category without any conscious effort on your part then it is likely because you don’t have a big appetite. This is not to say that you can’t eat huge portions at the buffet (you may even be known for it), but you will subconsciously reduce your food intake for the rest of the day (or the following one) to make up for it when you do. This is in contrast to most people that will eat themselves into a mess when faced with multiple buffets each day. (I find it interesting that while technically buffets should be the greatest friend of the dieter – because it allows us to choose exactly what we need rather than rely on arbitrary restaurant portions – it rarely works out that way.)

You are also probably a high NEAT responder, meaning that you subconsciously get more active (fidgeting or otherwise) when you do overeat.

This is genetically how you are set up. You will find maintaining a lean physique relatively easier than others when you get there, but you will need to consciously try to eat more. It is not sufficient to guess whether you are eating more based on fullness, portion or macro/calorie counting is a necessity. You will likely need to choose more calorie dense and palatable foods than you usually would in order to eat enough without feeling uncomfortable. You should also consider a higher meal frequency if you have trouble.


  • Set a weight-gain target of around 50% above what you see in that table, this way you won’t compromise your muscle growth potential. (e.g. If you’re a tall guy, shoot for ~4.5lbs per month of weight gain, shorter guys go for 3lbs/month.)
  • Ignore the first week’s rise in scale weight as that will just be a change in water balance due to the higher carb intake.
  • Bear in mind that due to a high NEAT response you may need to eat a lot more than you calculate you need. Tracking trumps calculations.
  • Focus on strength acquisition. This will keep you from second guessing whether you are making progress when the mirror starts messing with your head.

Force your body to get stronger, eat enough to support that.

Common Pitfalls for “Skinny” Category Trainees

1. Choosing a gym that lacks the equipment you need because it is cheaper or more convenient. – Don’t unless you have to. Ok so you have read that the leg press with appropriate supplemental exercises can get the job done, but that’s if you know what you’re doing (which you don’t yet). A gym without a squat rack is a bad idea for reasons that you probably haven’t considered yet: poor atmosphere and uptight staff that will not let you do what needs to be done. It is worth paying a little more and traveling a little further to be in an environment that is conducive to your goals. Seek to be surrounded by people that are stronger than you, as they will make you believe in yourself, and that will have huge long-term impacts on your physique. (note: Do not confuse a smith machine with a squat rack. If you cannot separate the bar from the rack, it is not a squat rack.)

Related: Why do you prefer BARBELLS OVER BODYWEIGHT workouts? 

2. Not focusing on strength acquisition.

3. Not following through with your strength training program. – Do not get distracted by a routine you read in a magazine advertising drop-sets, supersets, giant-sets and all sorts of other cute sounding stuff. These things aren’t remotely relevant to you until you have built a solid base of strength. Do not add things in. Just follow the program.

4. Struggling to get the training handled. – You must train with correct form and bring enough intensity to your workouts. 99% of staff in commercial gyms don’t have a clue how to coach the barbell lifts, so if you are stuck training in one of those you probably need to teach yourself using books, and instructional videos online. Most people do it this way, I did this, you can too. Just beware of other gym members (especially in the commercial gyms) that will come over to you ‘to help show you correct form’. They mean well, they might be right, but it’s equally likely that they don’t know what they are doing. A common one here is for a beginner to be trying the low-bar back squat, and have someone that only knows about high-bar back squats, walk over and tell them they are doing things wrong. It doesn’t matter which you do, but you need to choose one style and stick to it. Either way, if you make yourself familiar enough with the material then you will be able to judge when something isn’t right.

Client Examples

There are a few guys in particular that come to mind that I’ve worked with, but I won’t be asking them if they would like to share their pictures here, just incase it’s taken the wrong way and instead of it coming across as high praise I unintentionally hurt some feelings.

If you are a former client reading this, proud of your progress, and are up for sharing here so that you can inspire others, please send me an e-mail.

I have no qualms about embarrassing myself though…

Personal Story

22 in Japan

Shortly after moving to Japan, 22. (The only shirtless pic I could find around this time.)

Now just to be clear, I don’t feel embarrassed about this picture because I was thin – but it is a little embarrassing to say that this was 4-5 years since I started going to the gym, with the specific intention of getting bigger, to not look like such an easy target for another glass-bottle-wrapped-around-my-head situation. I looked less lanky than I used to, but that is definitely not the kind of progress that I should have made.

(As you can see, I’m far from the typical fitness industry guy – physically gifted to begin with, played a lot of sports in school, went to the gym as a hobby and just gravitated into training people. Personally, I think that’s why there are so many bad trainers out there – they simply can’t understand how tough some people have it.)

I was doomed to keep messing up for the next 3 years until that girl’s comment on the beach in Goa (summary: Do You Even Lift?) woke me up to reality.

Though the progress I made with my gym efforts in my first ~7 years is kind of laughable when I look back on it, the struggles of the past are what makes us who we are. I have no regrets. I just don’t want you to repeat my mistakes, which I feel were:

  • Naturally skinny but I didn’t eat enough. I was scared of fat gain and wanted my non-existant abs to come out.
  • Complete neglect of the compound barbell movements, no attention to the lower body or posterior chain. I think I got completely lost in lifting more and more with my dumbbell presses. Despite getting up to 90lbs/side with a hefty spot and shitty form at one point I managed to cheat myself out of a good training effect in nearly everything, but failed to realise it. (With barbells you’re less likely to do this – you can lift it or you can’t. So when you haven’t gained any strength for a while, you know you’re not getting bigger – generally speaking anyway.)
  • Ignoring calorie requirements and macro setting.
  • Crappy gym environments. – Looking back, this was the number one reason for my lack of progress. Everything else fell into place when I finally started going to a good one.

Andy and Okamura

Taken ~12-18 months after the Goa beach comment. Looking through my old photo albums for a shirtless “before” picture to accompany this was like hunting rainbow-coloured unicorns – I wouldn’t take my shirt off. I’m not in the habit of taking pictures at the gym and have my old buddy Jeremy Mangos to thank for capturing this moment of mock-vanity with the beastly Takeshi Okumura. I hadn’t yet realised the value of tracking things so I don’t have data.


[Update: Thanks for Chandler for mailing me offering to share his progress. I’d put him somewhere between the two categories featured in this post in the left photo. He had been spinning his wheels for a while before this also.]

Chandler C - Slow-Bulk Progress |

If you are in this category, I want you to get motivated by what I’ve written above, but it is not intended as an advert for my coaching services. For me to be able to get people the results that they want, I need to know they are comfortable/proficient with the main compound lifts. As a minimum, I ask that people give themselves two honest and sincere months of work with barbells first before applying, as that way I can get a good idea of whether they know what they’re doing or not based on how they progress in that time. Some people just seem incapable of learning on their own, and are better off hiring someone locally. I want you to be successful. I just don’t want anyone to have paid me and be unsuccessful due to something I have no control over. (More on this here.)


Category 5. Shredded (Clear, defined abs.)

Shredded |

Joe, Phil, Sadaaki, and Jay all have differing levels of body mass, but I would consider them all to be shredded. (l-r)

Strategy: Maintenance or Slow-bulk

If you are happy to simply be at a period of maintaining your physique, then see my guide to finding the maximum you can eat while maintaining your physique after dieting. If you are looking to improve and haven’t reached your likely genetic ceiling then this guidance is for you.

‘Shredded,’ ‘ripped,’ I’d like to make these subjective wordings more defined here to help with explanations moving forward.

Shredded‘ means to have a very low level of body fat (7-8%), with a decent enough amount of muscle.

Stage-shredded‘ – means to have a low enough body fat to be competitive on stage (this will generally be anywhere from 5-8% depending on the level of competition, for naturals of course).

Ripped‘ is the same general idea as shredded, but with a touch more body fat (9-11%).

Decent enough amount of muscle‘ means that you wouldn’t be described as skinny if seen at the beach by the majority i.e. >90% of people. This is highly subjective, but what is considered to be a decent amount of muscle will inversely correlate with body fat in most people’s eyes. Meaning, the leaner you are, the more muscle you need to look good. When you are lean, there is no pretending that the fatty padding over your muscles is actually muscle. A shredded guy with more body fat will look ripped, but a ripped guy won’t necessarily look shredded if he loses more body fat – he might cross the threshold into skinny.

The advice here covers all of these labels, as well as our 10% guy from the previous section. He wouldn’t really fit in any of the categories above. (Cutting from here isn’t going to get him any nearer to ripped or shredded as he would just look skinny. He needs to start a bulk phase.)

How Quickly Can You Grow?

This depends on your training status, height, and how close you are to your maximum natural genetic limit. By this stage though we’re talking about 2lbs or less per month. In the pictures above, Joe has the biggest scope for growth per month, Phil the second most, Sadaaki is close to his genetic potential, Jay exceeded it a long time ago.

You need to set your calorie surplus at a level that gives you an appropriate rate of weight gain per month for your level of training experience and development. If you eat too little you will hamper your hard work in the gym by not providing enough calories for growth. If you eat too much your body will store the excess energy as fat. Extreme cases of the latter are called a dream bulk, which we’ll come to later.

If you’re a lifter that has been focused on gaining strength in the barbell movements, or has put those movements at the core of your workouts, then you can determine your training status fairly objectively using Martin Berkhan’s guidelines here, section Progress and Goals. If not, check out Lyle McDonald’s guidelines on training experience and maximum muscular potential here.

Muscle Growth Potential

Training Status  |  Gains/month  |  Energy Surplus/day

Intermediate  |  1-2lbs  |  ~100-200kCal

Advanced  |  0.5lbs  |  slight surplus


  • For maximal hypertrophy with manageable levels of fat gain, set weight gain at 50-100% above what you see in that table.
  • For maximal maintenance of leanness, increase your calorie intake only when you cannot progress in your workouts rather than setting a weight-gain target. (If you choose this method just be aware of my comments in the ‘Common pitfalls’ section below.)
  • Keep your body fat percentage under 15%. If you hit this, cut back down to abs (10% will do) and then start another slow-bulk cycle. This is for both health and optimal calorie-partitioning reasons. (Basically, the fatter you get, the less able you are to build muscle relative to fat when gaining weight.)
  • Train hard – you’re likely in the intermediate stage now and will need to consider increasing volume to progress. First though, see how your body responds to the increased calorie intake with your current training plan – you may find that it is not necessary to change things up yet.

You will probably find the “Slow Bulking: Muscle Growth Expectations and Setting Calorie Intake” section of this guide of mine useful. I have adjustment guidelines in there also to help you keep progressing. For optimal progress you will need to get your macros right too – so see my guidelines for that in the Nutritional Pyramid of Importance series.

Common Pitfalls for “Shredded” Category Trainees

1. Becoming obsessed with your level of definition, refusing to allow any fat gain in your quest to gain muscle, failing to make (or more importantly, see or measure) progress. It is for that reason that I would recommend chasing a sensible weight gain target rather than trying to maintain maximal leanness for most people.

2. Going on a dream bulk and simply getting fat, like I did in the winter of 2010-2011. This happens when people aren’t aware of their maximal growth potential, or they just ignore it because they don’t like the numbers they read. Aside from the cut taking longer afterwards, you risk your health doing this, and if you do it too often, your skin elasticity too.

Andy 10 Week Comparison BWThe photo on the left was the result of my second 25-30lb dream bulk (which I was certain would be at least half muscle this second time round). The 10 week cut you see above revealed my gains to be more like ~5-6lbs, which I then stupidly lost half of by continuing to cut too quickly, trying to go from ‘almost ripped’ to shredded. Two valuable lessons that I was glad to learn on myself before I started working with clients.

Though the dream bulk is alive and well among the bodybuilding community in Japan, Sadaaki (pictured next to Jay Cutler) and Takeshi (the guy pictured with me above, and on stage below) are ahead of the curve – they are both at or close to their genetic muscular limits, and they’ve realised that there is no point in gaining a ton of weight in the off season trying to force muscle gain that can’t happen. Their off-season and competition weights (water and glycogen changes aside) differ minimally. Everyone else seems to go on a 30-40lb dream-bulk regardless, which makes the gym New Year party pictures quite hilarious. (And yes, Sadaaki knows his triceps might be considered to be lagging, but trust me – it. is. not. for. lack. of. trying.)

Okumura Takeshi

Takeshi Okumura – Stage shredded @~68kg (~150lbs), likely his genetic limit given how long he’s been competing. His height is 163cm tall (5’4). He’s won the all-Japan masters for his weight category multiple times and his best placing in international competition was fourth. (And yeah, I think this is his favourite pose.)

Believe In Yourself

Switching gyms (when I actually started paying attention to what was going on around me) was the catalyst to finally start progressing. I started training with more intensity, and better form. I saw that nutrition was key to fuelling that change and started thinking about calories and macros. But I think the biggest factor was simply that being surrounded by these guys finally made me believe in myself.

This makes me wonder – is that what makes a lot of the readers of this site successful also – they now believe they can so they are? How much does coaching add to this?

The power of empowering people to believe in themselves… fascinating.


Thank you for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments.

Physique Goal Setting | Part 3In Part 3:

  • 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.

Read the final part →

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional and training coach living in Tokyo, Japan. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, racing around Suzuka circuit, or staring at watches I can't afford. (Read more about me →)

67 Comments on “The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.2of3)”

  1. Hi there Andy. I have a small dilemma. I originally used one of those body weight/body fat scales to get a baseline for choosing a program I should start on and it read ~9% body fat so I chose the skinny program (bulking). However, I checked myself again at the gym I attend on one of their super fancy machines which tell you body fat, muscle mass, where in your body those are etc and it told me ~15% body fat which would put me in the skinny fat category. Supposedly this machine is much more accurate than my body fat scale at home, but I really am not familiar with that technology. I am in my second week of skinny routine (bulking). In your opinion, should I switch to the skinny-fat recomp, or stick with my bulk?

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Hi Avery, this guide is for men. The body fat percentages in this guide will be much higher for women, 7-10%. Even so, I haven’t written this guide with women in mind as I don’t have that experience, so the categories aren’t as relevant.

      Those machines you’ve used – both are going to have their inaccuracies and I’d suggest you avoid using them.

      1. Andy, apologies but I should have mentioned that I am male. What is the best way to estimate body fat, so that I may choose between the skinny and skinny-fat programs? It was mentioned in your diet section ( that you can use a BIA to get a body fat estimation baseline for calculating the macros. Does this type of machine also work for a baseline estimation for figuring which program to start with, or is there a better way Andy?


        1. Ah, right, sorry about that.
          As mentioned there, you can use them for initial guesses but they are inconsistent so shouldn’t be used to track progress. As you’ve also seen, there are large differences between the results given by two machines.
          My guess is that you’re not 9%, cause if you were you’d know it. (Either the abs would be clearly visible, or you’d just look very skinny due to having too little muscle mass to really show any ab definition at a low body fat range.) So unless either of these descriptions ring true I’d go with the guess of the higher machine as your start point.

          1. No worries Andy, I appreciate that advice. I will switch my routine to the recomp then as I would tend to believe the 15% number (can’t see my abs). Cheers!

  2. Hello andy,oustanding post.After a long way come to the conclusion that I should gain weight because I am a skinny guy (132 lbs, and 5ft 9in) .I would know if the amount of carbs and calories for a bulk would vary or be invariant in days of training and rest for an skinny guy.
    I would appreciate your advice Andy.
    Greetings from Chile for everyone.

  3. Pingback: The 9 Categories of Physique Trainee - Part 3 |

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  5. Hey Andy,

    Thanks for your help on the finding maintenance calories post; I’m loving the extra calories with no fat gain yet.:-)..

    On this post – for a slow bulk I wanted to check my understanding of the surplus calorie requirements when shredded (clear, defined abs) and I consider myself an ‘intermediate trainer’:

    1) For maximal hypertrophy you suggest going for 50% – 100% extra to the figures in your table (i.e. Intermediate / 1-2lbs (muscle gain) / ~100-200kCal). So I take this as a daily surplus range of 150Cal to 400Cal and a theoretical 1.5lb to 4lb gain per month (some fat some muscle); is this your thinking?

    2) Assuming I have the right idea above, being a shorter guy (5′ 6″) I was going to aim for a 250Cal surplus per day and keep an eye on the fat gain. Is this a bit too cautious?

    Clearly you putt a huge amount of work into this site; it’s appreciated..


    1. Hi Geordie, my next article is actually covering exactly this, but here are your answers till then:
      1. Yes.
      2. Set calories like that, aim for the lower end of that weight gain range, then adjust based on how your weight actually changes.

  6. Hi Andy, I finished training with you about a month back and continued my cut. I’ve found I’ve stalled a bit (despite 2 diet breaks over the period). While not being 100% happy with my abs not showing through I thought I would start the slow bulk process anyway as I’ve been cutting for so long, and then cut again in 3 months. I’m happy about getting stronger (my lifts are quite modest) and the idea of recharging my metabolism after essentially being on a cut for 6 months. I was just about to jump into that when I looked back over the website and wondered should I do a Body Recomp first/instead? If so I couldn’t find what those macros would look like for me. It would be great to hear your thoughts so I can be at peace for the next 3 months with whatever plan I’m on. Cheers.

    1. Bulk Jon. Don’t make the mistake of trying to chase both at this point. Increase your macros steadily as per the guide I sent in the parting guidance e-mail. “How to Manipulate Your Macros” is the key phrase to search for to make that easier for you.

  7. How can you adjust your diet around a specific training. Let’s say a competitive swimmer or someone who wants to become a competitive powerlifter, both are as lean as they want to but they need to train harder (or aerobically in the swimmer’s case) but want to keep their shredded look?

    1. Hi Sergio. The principles remain the same, but you just have to be a little more detailed in places.
      Calorie expenditure for the athlete will be higher, so carb intake will be significantly higher. If they are doing two-a-days then carb type and meal timing will become more important. You can read more on this here:

      The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance – #4 Meal Timing & Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

      When it comes to keeping the shredded look, there may be compromises to be made. This all depends on the sport.

      – A swimmer will be better with more fat (than what I would consider shredded) for buoyancy purposes. – If you’ve ever been scuba diving then you’ve experienced this – shredded people need no extra weight added to their belts – the fattest person on the boat may need a huge amount of added weight to keep them neutral, but that makes it tough for them to climb back onto the boat after the dive.

      – A powerlifter generally wants to be as lean as they can to make their weight class, but no leaner so that they don’t lose any mechanical advantage of being fatter.

      – In contact sports, a layer of fat is beneficial for protection.

      You get what I mean here right? Obviously it comes down to what people’s priorities truly are:
      -The amateur will put their physique first and they’ll still enjoy their sport.
      -The pro needs to think about what is optimal rather than what looks best.

  8. Hey Andy, I’ve transitioned from a cut to lean bulk, adding about 2.5 pounds of fat and 7-8 lbs of LBM over the last 6 months. I’ve just stalled a little bit, and am going to change my workout routine, but my question is more in the area of nutrition.

    Do you think there is any benefit to IF when you are in a caloric surplus every day? If the goal is to gain LBM (as lean as possible), am I better off eating more often, or is the 8 hour window sufficient. Is it truly “calories in vs. calories out” at the end of the day, or is their advantage, one way or the other?


    1. Hi Nick.
      “Do you think there is any benefit to IF when you are in a caloric surplus every day?”
      No not really, in that case it’s all down to personal preference. I do, but that’s just cause I personally enjoy the simplicity of two big meals.
      “Is it truly “calories in vs. calories out” at the end of the day, or is their advantage, one way or the other?”
      No. Unless you’re talking in the very broadest sense, weight gain or loss. The composition of those gains or losses, muscle/fat comes down to what you eat and then finally when.

      This is covered in my guide, The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance (for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth) – Overview. Worth you checking it out. That’s the most comprehensive set-up guide on the site.

      1. Thanks for the input Andy. I appreciate it. I think I’ll shift some calories to the morning, and go with some eggs for a while, to see if that helps with the bulk at all. I haven’t eaten breakfast in a year… weird, lol.

          1. One more question, if it’s not too much trouble…

            I’m currently at 9.7%, 72 kg, and looking to cut around 4 pounds in April/May. The goal is maximum LBM retention.

            Which do you think is a preferable path to achieve that goal.

            A. Rather dramatic deficit on rest days (1,000) and maintenance or +10% on work days.
            B. -30% on rest days and maintenance/ +10% on work days.

            I am not sure if it is better to “Get in and get out” as fast as possible when there is a just a bit of fat to lose, to avoid metabolic adaptations, or if that is too catabolic, and slow and easy is still the better path.


            1. The slower and steadier approach is the surer way to retain your hard-earned muscle mass. The need for this increases as we get leaner, but by that point people’s patience is usually at it’s lowest. It is this reason you see people bulk and cut for years on end without making progress – they lose what they created over the year in rushed cutting cycles.

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  10. Hello Andy,

    Any update on follow up articles on fat, skinny fat?

    Literally checking each day, love reading them.

    Hope Your well.

    Also, could I make a recommendation?

    Would love an article on prepping food, not in the bodybuilding sense, more meal planning if you see what I mean, cooking meat in advance, quick sources of carbs on the go etc etc.

    1. There will be, but probably not going to get that done for a couple of weeks now as I’m going off on a road trip as soon as this flu clears up.
      Just subscribe to get updates in the side bar and you’ll be notified when a new post comes out.

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  12. Great stuff as always Andy. Thanks so much for sharing.

    I fall somewhere in between the two categories. I know I have to slow bulk and I want to (and thanks in large part to your site, I am confident I know how to).

    Unfortunately I have a knee injury. I am rehabbing and getting it better, but obviously I can’t train with the necessary intensity to properly slow bulk. I know getting the knee better is priority one. But what would you be doing in my situation diet wise? Just try to maintain my current body weight?

    1. Hi Jon. Answered a similar question to this on the Facebook page recently. I’ll paste that answer here:

      “I don’t know about research in this area, I’ve only been using anecdote and my version of common sense.

      No training + deficit -> muscle loss. Scales with the severity of the deficit, length of time off training, size of the muscle(s) that can’t be trained. Thus, a deficit if any is, is best kept small.

      If rehab of a particular body part requires muscle growth* to take place (to address an imbalance perhaps) then you want to avoid being in a deficit or you’ll hamper that, and be at maintenance (minimum) or a calorie surplus.
      [*Note, muscle growth, not retrainment of movement patterns.]”

      Hope that helps.

      1. It does, absolutely. Especially with that little differentiation noted by the asterisk. Thanks so much, Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  13. Hi Andy,

    Long time reader, first time commenting. Thank you or this article, it’s very informative. I seem to fit into a hybrid category between muscles with a little fat and skinny. I’m 5′-7″ and 142 lbs, been lifting for over 5 years and started at a weight of 110 lbs. I’m strong for my size, my 1 rep max are: 405 lbs deadlift, 275 lbs squat, 235 lbs bench, and 105 lbs dumbbell bench (unspotted).

    I want to get my weight up to a lean 165 lbs. Should I bulk first and then cut. I feel like if I cut my weight first to ripped status, I will be too light. Mentally that would probably be tough to handle. What do you think is the best approach for me?

    Thank you.

    1. David, thanks for the question.

      Getting leaner or fatter than you’d like on your way to get the body you want is a choice that often needs to be made. There’s some science behind how to choose, but there isn’t a correct choice per se, as that needs to be balanced with your personal preference. I think I have you covered in this comment answer where I go into more detail, but let me know if anything isn’t unclear.

      Basically this exact thing will be the topic of the next article. But if you’ve never been shredded before, given your lifting stats, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good you look when you get there. Often the scale weight is simply a mental hangup cause we get anchored to a number.

    2. Thank you Andy. I decided to try and bulk first. Your comment below about giving up too easily is spot on, so I’ll try my best to stick with this bulk. Do you recommend continuing to intermittent fast while on a bulk? Skipping breakfast makes it harder to reach my calories goals. I’m thinking about adding 200 extra calories per day during my bulk.

      I’d also like thank you for sharing your 3 life changing instances that transformed your life. I also had 2 life changing experiences that caused me to take lifting seriously. One of them is similar to your glass bottle story and the guilt that came with it. It’s good to know there are other people out there the same way.

  14. Hello Andy, excellent site, I thank you for the information. New to training and considering coaching but first like to try myself. I am body recomp and unsure of realistic macros. For starting out, 5.9feet height, 185kg weight, 33 age is macros of
    170g protein, 100g carb, 130g fat for workout day and 170g protein, 500g carb and 75g fat for rest days a realistic or correct? Thank you.

  15. Hi Andy,

    finally took the courage to write just to say a big THANK YOU! for all your work (and sharing) of your knowledge, and confidence that we can do it too!

    To make a big story short, one year ago (November 2013) i was 94 kg @ 1,82 m, (somewhere around 18-20% BF), and decided to make a change, but this time I wanted it to last.

    First i found Martin’s site, and then yours. Took the decision to follow your guides and now, after one year of training and “dieting”, i found myself with only 82 kg, and 13-14% BF.

    I took it slowly, and with patience (and some fun also), and now i can see my abs 🙂
    Not to mention that my overall sports performance it’s in is peak, ever.
    I mean, i’m 37 years old, and never felt younger and stronger!

    I also would like to say thanks for your continuous update of articles, since they come with almost perfect timing, regarding some questions that come along, like this one now that motivated me to push it a little further.

    Keep it going Andy, we will keep loving it!

    Best regards from Portugal!

  16. Andy,

    This is a great series so far.

    I love the detail with which you communicate, the layout of the new site, and I
    especially like the audio that you have added. I like this because for me,
    hearing you speak and deliver your message while reading along makes it
    much more personal and comprehensive. I really appreciate this, and I do hope
    that it is something that you continue to do.

    In your closing of this post, you reflect on and say something that struck me as
    very profound.

    “This makes me wonder – is that what makes a lot of the readers of this site
    successful also – they now believe they can so they are? How much does
    coaching add to this?

    The power of empowering people to believe in themselves… fascinating.”

    This resonates with me at every level. I, like you, had a journey of my own
    that involved years of spinning my wheels, spending HOURS in the gym,
    program hopping, and spending the amount of money that could have
    just as easily been utilized to purchase a small, modest island in the caribbean
    on supplements- all with nothing to show at the end of the day.

    When I started working with you, yes – it gave me hope. Your coaching
    helped me build confidence, and silence the fear that the “chatter mind”
    sought to instill as doubt crept in along the way. At the end of our program,
    all of this had blossomed beautifully into belief in myself, more self confidence
    then I have ever had, and a true sense of empowerment.

    Now – I know what is possible, and your coaching will serve to remove my
    fears and doubt from the equation again, as well as dealing with any technical
    issues and adjustments along the way.

    This is why I’ve come back to work with you again. I look forward to this next
    part of the journey with you.

    Thank you for everything.

  17. Andy, I am a pretty short dude, 5.6″. Right now I am 130lbs 16% body fat. I would LIKE to be 130lbs 10% body fat. Do you recommend I bulk first, or cut first? I can’t decide.

    1. Bert, thanks for the question. Really, I can only lay things out in this series and it’s for you to decide. If nothing so far resonates then you’re likely in a later category.

  18. Thanks for these articles Andy.

    I (probably like many) don’t know if I am still ‘skinny’ or what my muscular base is. I have been cutting again, but after reading the ‘skinny; section I wonder if I would be better served for my ultimate goals (lean and strong) to increase cals and bulk. I already feel well versed at tracking macros, IF, sticking to a set of intake numbers, and barbell training.

    Question: How easy is it to place someone into one of these categories to follow the recommendations listed? Height/weight plus lifting stats (like Martin B discusses somewhat in his famous Fuckarounditis post)? Pictures? I feel pulled weekly between just getting strong and getting lean (maybe an honest 11-12%) first.


      1. Apologies, let me try again:

        My goal is to be relatively lean and strong, say, ~11-12% BF and well above Cat III on all my main lifts as defined by Rippetoe’s strength standards chart. Right now I am focusing on getting leaner (down from ~18%) after getting decent beginner gains. Reading the article above, I can’t help but wonder if given where I am at (BF and strength wise) it would be better to continue getting stronger before worrying about cutting to my ideal BF range. As in, once I get lean I’ll simply look under-muscled and skinny.

        I know I have the tools and mental discipline to execute whatever plan effectively, I just genuinely would like guidance on the shortest path to my stated goals. Is this something you can advise on beyond engaging in full-on coaching with you? I value your unfettered opinion.

        Best, and thanks again for all the good knowledge,

        1. Ah I see, really I’m going to cover this in the later sections but I’ll give you a summary now:

          Skinny-Fat Type 1

          The strategy for the skinny-fat guy should be to try and get muscle growth at the same time as fat loss. This can usually be achieved with a slight calorie deficit (usually) so that you’re losing fat, while pushing hard with your lifts so that you gain muscle at the same time. This works in beginners and novices nearly always, and can work for more advanced trainees too (though they wouldn’t be worried about looking skinny if they leaned out). – However this isn’t always successful 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, thus he gets into a program hopping spiral.
          2. The guy is too far along with their training that 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.)

          Skinny-Fat Type 2

          For these guys the above hasn’t worked or has ceased working and they are making a choice between losing fat or gaining muscle. – This might be you right now. To explain I need to go a little deeper than I usually would in the comments but I’ll try to make it worth the read Eric:

          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 (for reasons I’ll skip for now) is believed to be our current body fat level. 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 (meaning a surplus of calories/weight gain) doing everything exactly right over the course of the next 6 months by ~20lbs let’s say, more of those 20lbs of gain will be fat than if you had started at ~10% and bulked by 20lbs. – That’s the theory anyway (see calorie partitioning and p-ratio articles by Lyle McDonald).

          You’re unlikely to realise the difference though until you cut and see what is left once the fat is gone (cause we’re incapable of being objective about ourselves, and we can’t measure body fat changes accurately).

          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 health risks.

          So in this linear model you are left with two options: you can get leaner then you like, probably getting to the point of feeling a little skinny, on your way to your goal. Or you get fatter then you like on your way to your goal. The net result is the same, it just depends on your preference 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 they bulk cause they feel they’re getting fat, they stop part way through the cut because they feel they are getting 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 and they have to bite the bullet and accept it. – I categorise these folks as being in Purgatory.

          Feedback welcomed Eric, as I’ll likely use that as the base for explaining those sections. Let me know if anything was’t clear.

          1. Thank you, that does make sense and it’s all good info even if it still leaves me with a hard choice/compromise to make.

            In your experience is it common to have the “Type 1’s” continue making progress in some lifts and very little in others? While cutting my deads have continued to grow, albeit at a diminishing rate. Last week I pulled 310×5 @ 170# BW…. damn close to my milestone of 315×6. Yet my upper body lifts, bench and overhead press, are just stubborn as hell to move up. They have been and still are my weakest. Plus, everything is just bloody hard when cutting , I’m learning…

            So, as far as my upper body is concerned, do I need to make the “$#!* or get off the pot” decision to commit to a cut or bulk?

  19. For anyone that still has doubts about Andy’s methods DONT! They definitely work! I have been following his reverse pyramid plan for 3 1/2 months and in that short amount of time my deadlift went from 225×5 to 365×4. Squat 250 to 315×2. Keep in mind I am 5’11” 160lbs and have been lucky enough to go up in all my lifts while still losing fat. I am about to get on a slight bulk until February. (405×2 on deadlift is the goal by then)
    All you need is to read his articles. Yes I know they are long and confusing but after a couple of times reading through them you will understand why his methods work. You just got to put in the work, track your progress and the best part…. Do NOT forget to eat all those extra carbs on days you work out! (600 for me today :D)

    Thanks for everything Andy, your the man!!

    1. Overall, I’ll take that as a compliment Asai.
      Just to clarify to others reading, the reverse pyramid training was popularised by Martin Berkhan, I don’t claim it to be mine. Also, it’s important to not glorify one style or training or program. You need to adjust things as you go along. The RPT was simply appropriate for Asai at that time. This post will be useful for people wondering where to start with their training: Which Routine Is For Me?”

  20. I discovered your page last week and added it to my favourites immediately. I think I am skinny-fat so will be waiting… while reading (and listening) your articles.

      1. No worries about that. I even liked when you toned it down or up depending on the topic at hand (and even joked at some point)
        Keep doing this, at least, if you seem to find it enjoyable 😀

  21. Cannot wait to the skinny-fat, part! Plz !! xD Iam realative leaner, with very little muscle mass, and i can see my abs, but in the lower part of abs, i have much more fat than other parts of my body,! plz im in a fat loss phase, but i see me very skinny, !!!! Sorry for my english,

    1. Hi Mauro.
      with very little muscle mass, and i can see my abs, but in the lower part of abs, i have much more fat than other parts of my body,
      You’re in the skinny category. Getting leaner is not likely to be of further benefit. Follow the advice above bud.

  22. Great stuff Andy!

    To your point about empowering people to believe they can achieve thier goals – thats your strength as a coach in my opinion (as I am a former client of yours). You give people a nudge in the right direction, set them off on a path with your guidance and let them come to their own realisations s they see changes using your methods and advice. You have a very good way with people and you certainly inspired me with plenty of confidence to finish my cut and get to shreds.

  23. Pingback: What To Expect | Physique Goal Setting pt1 |

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