The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.3of3)

Andy MorganGoal Setting185 Comments

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.

Recommendations

  • 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.

Recommendations

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.

HERE’S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE ON THE BOARDER BETWEEN SKINNY AND SKINNY-FAT ACHIEVING A NICE RECOMP EFFECT. THE KEY WAS BEING PATIENT, WHICH IS NOT SOMETHING MANY PEOPLE HAVE.

HERE’S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF SOMEONE ON THE BORDER BETWEEN SKINNY AND SKINNY-FAT ACHIEVING A NICE RECOMP EFFECT. THE KEY WAS BEING PATIENT, WHICH IS NOT SOMETHING MANY PEOPLE HAVE.

.
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.

Recommendations

  • 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 :p

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.

Recommendations

  • 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


One FAQ

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.

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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.

185 Comments on “The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.3of3)”

  1. Hi Andy, recently purchased the Muscle and Strength E books and found them very helpful reads. I am currently on the novice bodybuilding program and I fall in the skinny fat category too. My body fat last I got it checked is around 16.8% however my strength standards are pretty poor as I have only started to follow a proper training program late last year to this year. My current lifts are still going up as I am eating at maintenance calories and also loosing around a pound a week even at maintenance. Should I continue progressing this way until I plateau? I don’t have any visible six pack but my end goal is to have a muscular athletic body, meaning I want to build muscle but loose fat as well. Just your opinion on the best approach on this and which goal to prioritize first?

    Sorry for the long question.

    PS- Big fan of your work as well as all the 3dmj coaches.

    Regards,

    Andreas.

    1. Hi Andreas, thanks for the question. I don’t know. This is for you to decide based on what you have read here.

      I am eating at maintenance calories and also losing around a pound a week even at maintenance.
      Then you are not at maintenance calorie intake, you are eating under maintenance. Reality > calculations.

  2. Hey Andy. Been skinny fat for about (all of my life). Have a few years of on-and-off training experience but I’ve only been back seriously for about 3 months after a long bout of injuries. I’m definitely in the purgatory category where I constantly flip between cut/bulk after a matter of weeks usually. Currently in a ‘I need to cut because of Christmas’ phase.

    Because I’m still relatively weak I’m desperate to gain strength and I’m seriously motivated and enthusiastic at the moment. The only thing is – I get married in mid August so I want to look my best. I can see a 4-pack some days but I hate my lower chest/lower abs/lower back fat. I’m probably 4-6 months away from an intermediate lifting stage but I know my strength is hard to maintain with a deficit. I’m also studying towards a master’s in statistics alongside a full time job so I’m generally quite stressed out.

    Seeing as I have 7 months and I’m serious about my lifting, would you recommend a slow bulk with a short cut or try and get much leaner first before slow bulking? I just want to stick with something and follow it regardless. How many months of each would you recommend? Even though I’m definitely fall in the purgatory category, I’ve never tried a recomp seriously.

    I know it’s hard to say as you haven’t seen me but I’m almost at a decent 4-pack, 31 inch waist at 5’10” and 72kg, OH Press = 0.65 BW, Bench = 0.8 BW, Deadlift = 1.7 BW.
    Thanks,
    Kieran

    1. If I were you, I’d keep cutting given how close you are, as that will give you confidence you can get there again when you gain fat while bulking. Ultimately, you’ve got to decide this though, Kieran.

  3. Hey Andy,

    after being overweight most of my life (say, 23-28% bf) at barely 5’7, I lost an initial ~50 pounds from 195 to 145 by doing yoga and a little bodyweight training at home. Ever since I am gaining and losing the same ~30 pounds betwwen 129lbs and 160lbs, getting absolutely nowhere. I have started proper strength training with barbells about a year ago, but it hasn’t changed anything regarding my stay in purgatory and visually, I am basically identical. My strength has gone up a bit initially, but is still pathetic (165lbs squat, 198lbs deadlift, 120lbs bench, 80lbs overhead press at my strongest, now a fair bit lower) and now stalls whenever I’m not in a surplus.
    I have spent the past 5 months, cutting back down slowly from 160lbs to 139lbs and again, I am approaching the territory where my friends and relatives tell me that I am “about to be blown away by the next gust of wind” and ask me “you don’t want to lose any more weight, right?”. I realize that I am rather short, but do I really need to get down to 120lbs? I can see my upper 3 abs (they’re asymmetrical) fine when flexing, but have never seen the lower ones, not even when I was 128lbs about 15 months ago.

    Any advice would be truly appreciated. I am quite desperate. If it matters, I’m 32.

    1. Jack, thanks for the comment. Firstly, ignore your friends. They don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, and while they may mean well, the comments are just distracting.

      What do you want Jack? It sounds to me like you want to gain some more muscle. Not getting lean enough first before bulking previously wasn’t the reason that you didn’t gain muscle, the issue is that you’re not training hard enough. I doubt it’s the programming, though if you’d like to read a book about that I’ve co-authored this. It likely comes down to a self-belief issue, which could be caused by a shitty gym environment.

      My suggestion would be to get to a serious powerlifting or bodybuilding gym where everyone a lot stronger and bigger than you, and you’ll likely find your lifting stats fly up 50% within a few months as you’ll simply train harder. I see you’ve already read my bulking article. Just follow the guidelines there.

      1. Thank you for the fast reply. I am very happy with my gym and there are a lot of strong, motivating people there (most of them powerlifters) and I can freely execute all the lifts 24/7 so I doubt that is the problem. And while I have considered that I might just not be training hard enough, I’ve had numerous issues due to pushing myself too fast too quickly regarding the weights which in turn lead to needing too much recovery time (mostly lower back from deadlifting and legs from squatting). I am always very focused, I really exert myself (and have learned how this looks and feels) and typically am drenched after the first couple of sets and somewhat shaking, always striving to maintain very good form and I don’t take prolonged breaks between workouts, but rather return while still having some residual soreness (following a traditional full body split), going almost all-out, mostly a rep or two removed from failure, sometimes to failure by accident.

        Having finished your bulking article, it seems that the biggest issue in the past has been a combination of jumping from very aggressive cutting (losing roughly 2lbs/week) into a relaxed bulk while just starting out with barbell training. I gained weight very quickly, but was still learning the movements and not really increasing the weight for the first 3 months. This, combined with some less than stellar eating 1/3 of the days made for a lot of unwanted fat gain and now, at the end of this specific bulk -> cut cycle, I am left with very little muscle left to show for while I’m through with most neurological/motor- and efficiency-related improvements which would explain the lack of progress when I am not in a caloric surplus.

        I’ve always had a decent looking chest and neck, thicker legs and abs (covered though, but rather block-y when visible), but narrow shoulders and whenever I was on the higher end bodyfat wise I would also have people ask me whether I lift (despite never doing so) and comparing myself with those in the “skinny” category, I see this confirmed. The closest to how I look right now would be Brad between his first and second picture, or the other dude from the skinny-fat category in his first picture, but with a little bit more muscle

        Asking myself what I really want, the answer is clear: A more athletic, ripped look, more vascularity, more separations, a more angular face/actual jawlines etc. I’ve never been/had any of these things and always wanted to (be), but thought it impossible to attain.

        I guess you are right, I should simply ignore those comments and keep doing what I’m doing until I reach my goal, even if it means being at 120lbs for a minute. Most these people know me from when I was 180+ so it’s understandable that I look like a ghost to them now even if it’s perfectly within reason to be at like 118 if it also means being at 10% bf.
        Key I think will be to follow up with a proper diet break and then an actual slow bulk at a mere 200kcal surplus (instead of the rather optimistic 400/500+ last time around) for at least 6 months.

  4. Excellently written article with real life ‘natural’ people and the feelings a person really goes through in the entire process especially ‘purgatory’ .

    Awesome

  5. Hi Andy, how can you tell when you have entered the purgatory state. Is it when you can no longer make strength gains?For me I am currently around 13-14% bf and my calories are about 200 below maintenance. My weight has not moved for a month now but my strength continues to go up. Would you say that I am gaining nearly the same amount of muscle as I am losing fat and that I should just continue this. At what point can you tell you are in purgatory and need to change? Thanks.

    1. Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. The purgatory state is a feeling of frustration with progress, and not knowing whether to cut or bulk to progress. If you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a calorie deficit. If your weight is the same and you’re getting stronger, then you could be gaining muscle and losing fat. What does your stomach and limb measurement tracking data tell you?

      How To Track Your Progress Like A Pro, To Ensure Body Composition Goal Success

  6. Hi Mr Morgan

    First of all, may I just express my gratitude for you sparing your time to help out so many people and write such useful documents. It’s so refreshing to get a “No Nonsense” approach which extinguishes much of the bs that is generated around these matters by the fitness industry. You have clearly changed lives for the better and I think you are a great person and a role-model for many.

    The guidance for Skinny-fat individuals on this page recommends to have a caloric intake that is less than or equal to maintenance (i.e a deficit or maintenance) however on the F.A.Q there is also the note about cutting with little muscle and how in this instance it may be better to bulk (with a nice couple of photos of Christian Bale). Which should be pursued and is one “better than the other” for weaklings.

    Kind regards,

    Arj,

    1. Arjan, thanks for the question. This would be the difference between skinny and skinny-fat. The boundaries aren’t clear, nor set in stone. These are just suggestions, and I think the key is to decide on a direction and then follow it through till the bulk/cut is finished respectively and it’s time to cut/bulk to make further progress.

  7. Hey andy, i’ve been following leangains protocol for 1 year and its the better thing i’ve found in therms of dieting.

    The description of the purgatory is like it was made for me! I am cutting now, and i already find myself thin and feeling some ‘mental disconfort’ but i think i made cool gains

    I’ve got these results so far:

    start: i’m 187cm
    march 90.5 kg, bf 15,2
    april weigth? bf 13.3 lost 3.8cm of waist

    1) What should i do now? You think it’s better to continue the diet exactly as it is now until reaching 12%bf to adjust the diet ( change the loss per week 0.35 – 0.45 or maybe don’t adjust because i’m already using 0.45 ) or I can already consider that the reduction of 15.2 to 13.3 was only fat and now calculate the new weight and make a new diet based in this weigth calculed? because i don’t know my weigth right now. I don’t now if my question is clear, my english sucks.

    2)Is there any time limit to the cutting phase? i mean, i’m in the 2nd month, can i continue cutting even if it takes 4,5 or 6 months?

    Have a good day sir!

    1. Hi Perazzo, thanks for the questions.
      1. Completely up to you and down to how you currently feel about your physique. There aren’t right and wrong answers.
      2. No, but remember to take diet breaks. You’ll see an article on that in the menu under the diet section.

  8. Hi Andy,
    I actually got to your site just to renew some of my leangain knowledge but now I’ve been hooked for 5 hours straight..
    Your site is truly amazing.
    I have some questions though,
    2 years ago I went on leangains diet for 2 months, body (re)composition. And it worked good. I definitely went down in body fat and I remained at the same weight. Now I want to go back to leangains but I’m struggling to find myself in any of the trainee categories..

    2 years ago I was definitely in the skinny fat area but now I’m not so sure. I would say I’m just normal. Not skinny and not fat.
    I have some muscles but not much.
    I’m 175 cm, weigh 74 kg and body fat is around 19%.

    (Q1) Should I go with skinny fat and take it from there? I understand if this question is impossible for you to answer.

    (Q2) If I go with body recomposition (skinny fat) how should I divide fat/carbs for rest/train days? Your macro guide for leangains is divided into bulk and cut but I can’t find any information about body recomposition.

    Thanks a lot for this site and all the effort you put into it!

    1. Robin, thanks for the compliments and questions. Glad you’ve been finding the site so useful.
      1. This is down to you to decide based on the advice in this article series.
      2. It’s the same, you just don’t have the surplus or deficit.

  9. Hi Andy,
    Great website mate.
    A real breath of fresh air. Let me tell you why…
    You’re a realist. You talk about something that nobody is willing to talk about – adherence. Sure ketogenic diets work. But when you ultimately snap and raid dunking donuts. You’ve gone 2 steps back.
    Your guides are some of the only guides on the internet that are sustainable.
    Now that I’ve sufficiently buttered you up. I’m gonna ask a really dirty question that completely contradicts the principle of long term progression and sustainability. Its my wedding in 3 weeks. How do I shed the maximum amount of fat?
    I fall into the fat and weak category. I’m approx 25 percent bf if comparing to reference photos. Us navy bf method says I’m 16 but whatever. I don’t believe it.
    I’ve been making excellent progress these last few months despite jerking around and programme skipping. I know you only recommend I lose 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week but can I cut corners just for these 3 weeks? A quick fix? How do I appear as lean as possible for my big day? Target = to reduce curvature around the gut.

    1. Hi Jerrold, thanks for the compliments. You’re familiar with the site, you like it specifically because I don’t mince my words, and I won’t here.

      It’s your wedding, you’re in a suit, not your bikini. It’s 3 weeks away. Start your diet now, sure, but don’t rush it, you’re not a girl trying to cram into her dress she bought two sizes too small, just enjoy it.

  10. Cheers mate. Now it’s time for me to get into the full routine. Hope to show you my progress down the road. =)

  11. Hi Andy.
    First, thank you for all the info and advice you’ve provided. I absolutely love how you’ve been patient and incredibly helpful to all of us here trying to learn something new. You have my utmost respect. Makoto ni, arigato gozaimashita. I find it even more interesting that we’re both foreigners living in Japan, in the same city no less!

    Q1: I’m a bit confused as to which direction to take. I’ve gone through your nutrition and goal-setting guides. I’m skinny-fat in every respect, yet I noticed you advised the tall/underweight “skinny-fat” guy to go for slow bulk instead of cutting. I’m 39y.o, 181cm, 74kg, and 20%+ body fat. I was always skinny yet athletic (defined abs, small muscles) up until, well, coming to Japan. Now there’s a gut on top of those abs. I did some training for 2-3 years, 10+ years ago, but of course it was with improper techniques. Now I want to get rid of the fat yet also increase body mass and weight; no more Mr. Skinny. Would you recommend reducing calories slightly for the fat loss, or going for a slow bulk to increase body size?

    Q2: I don’t understand how to calculate the food on my plate. You said you weigh your meats & carbs, but how does one know the caloric (plus fat) equivalent? I’m stumped as to how I should organize my diet since most of my meals are home cooked and so varied. Would it be wiser to stick to a pre-determined meal plan? It seems like everything boils down to exactly how many calories you’re intaking, yet that seems like the hardest thing for me to measure (before ingesting). Any advice on this aspect?

    TYIA

    1. Hi Torben, thanks for the questions.
      I’m a bit confused as to which direction to take.
      – Train hard, have a slight calorie deficit. You should make training progressions and put muscle mass on while leaning out, but fat losses will be greater than muscle gain during this phase. Get to where your abs are out, then start the bulk.

      I don’t understand how to calculate the food on my plate.
      – My full guide for counting and relevant tools and links in this article:
      How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach

  12. So I am in the Brad purgatory category. Prob worse than him. I have been spinning my wheels for 3 years. I followed your guidelines for the weight loss target of 1lbs due to my body fat % being above 20%. It put me at 1500 calories a day. Am 5’8″, I started recomp at 152lbs, now sitting at 137lbs. Feel like a twig. Have lost strength a little bit but nothing I can’t recover within 2-3 months. I have maybe another 3-4 lbs to go. Funny thing is I got a body scan done for my body fat percentage and its telling me am at 19% fat now. At the start I was 25% according to the scan. I have concluded, my body just hates muscle. Have lost about 7 pounds of muscle during the cut. Again nothing I can’t recover within 3 months. I am going to slow bulk once done. I like doing the 5/3/1 strength training, its a slow steady strength gaining program. Should I do that during my slow bulk, or do a beginner program?

  13. I thought I was skinny-fat but now after reading your article I know I’m in purgatory. At 18% body fat I fit your description perfectly. I lost over 50 pounds this year but managed to put on about 9 pounds of muscle during the process. I like maintaining my weight everyday, but I’m getting now where. I think it’s time to do a proper cut with a slight calorie deficit and weight lifting to not loose any muscle. Then after getting leaner, I’ll try bulking again. I’m in a bulking program right now and only have a few days remaining on it so I’ll probably just finish it to see if I got any results. Come January, I will start cutting again to see if I can start to see my abs.

    Any advise?

    1. Nothing more to say than wasn’t in those ~10,000 words you’ve already read over this article series really David. I know you’d like me to tell you if I consider what you have just written to be the “correct” way for you to go about things but I have no way of gauging that. This is why I wrote the article, to help you make your own decision. If you have a more specific question, fire away. I always make myself available in the site’s comments.

  14. Hi Andy! very appreciate your work.

    One questions:

    Have client expericene with fat in the face and not lose ? is only genetic? my BF is approx 15%.

    Thanks!

  15. Hi Andy!
    First of all, I am very impressed with the information you put out. You come across as very professional and make no false-promises. I am also particularly impressed with how you respond to almost every single comment. I cannot imagine the time you put into this.
    Now for my question:
    When calculating my TDEE some weeks ago I entered “Lightly Active” as I exercise 3 days a week. When I did this I also started using an online calorie-counter to track calories as well as macros. Within this calorie-counter it is possible to add “exercise” which will count against calorie-intake for that day. A weight-lifting workout (of approximately one hour) is listed as -360sh calories. I’ve been using this to add “exercise” to the days I work out.. Whilst reading this article a question popped into my mind: Is this exercise already taken into account when I entered “Lightly Active” back when calculating my TDEE, thus meaning that I’ve been eating an additional ~360 calories on my workout days?
    Regards,
    Mikkel

  16. Pingback: How to Calculate your Leangains Macros | RippedBody.jp

  17. Andy, regarding the recomp, I am between 15-16% body fat (Male, 6′ 3″) therefore I set my weight loss goal at 0.3 lb per week (linearly interpolated between 0-1 lb a week depending on where I was in the 12-23% body fat range). I know that I should keep up the recomp until I find that my stomach measurements are no longer decreasing and that I am not making any more strength gains. How often would you be evaluating this? For example, lets say at my weekly weigh in and measurement taking I realize that I have not decreased my stomach measurements for this week and I also failed some sets and therefore did not go up in weight on one of my exercises. Would this signify that my recomp effect is about over and I need to choose to cut or bulk?

    Also, since we are losing fat in the recomp, when does one readjust their weekly weight loss targets to scale with the loss in body fat? I’m guessing this is very difficult to do since it is hard to accurately determine body fat, but I was wondering if and when the weekly weight loss target during a recomp should be adjusted.

    Thanks,

  18. How would you apply this guide to a female? Specifically, what’s a range of body fat for a skinny-fat female v. fat and weak?

    1. Hi Hannah, it’s written for men based on my experienced with men. There isn’t a quick way to apply this to women without, it would need to be rewritten or heavily added, but that is outside of my skill set.

      1. I have the same question as Hannah. Do you have a good site recommendation for women?

  19. Hi Andy,
    I’ve heard you say in comments before that there’s no real point to going below 9-10% bodyfat before starting a slow bulk. But wouldn’t going lower a) mean looking better/leaner for longer during the ensuing bulk and b) perhaps provide a sliver of improvement in terms of partitioning than starting at around 10%?
    Cheers Paul

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for the questions.
      1. Yes.
      2. Not that I am aware of.
      The decision should come down to personal preference. If you get to 9-10% and feel too skinny then don’t take it any further. If you feel good then you can of course.

  20. Andy thanks for the information, it’s been great for educating myself on this topic. However, I’m not sure what body type I am in this case. At first I thought I would fall into the skinny fat category. As you recommended, I got a baseline BIA reading just to see what my weight loss target should be, but the machine said I was 8.7% body fat. I do have a little bit of muscle on me from doing Muay Thai classes 2-3 times a week, but nothing significant (I also have noticeable fat on me, can’t see abs). Should I try out the skinny-fat guide and see if the works for me, or go for the skinny guide? What would you move be here?

    Cheers!

  21. Hi Andy,

    First off, I’m glad I accidentally stumbled onto your site, and really wish I had found it earlier on in life. I’ve gone through your articles as well as the leangains site a few times and the section about Purgatory really spoke to me as that is how I’ve felt for the last 3-4 years. I decided that I need to really forget all the ‘truths’ about nutrition and training I’ve learned over the years and begin anew starting with the basics, plus forge ahead against the fear of losing the muscle I seemed to have worked so hard to gain. I started doing IF (I’ve always kept track of my calories and I’ve meal prepped for a quite a few years prior to this) at the end of June with a reduction in calories, and I went down to 153 lbs from 160 lbs (at 5’10”). I’m going to keep on cutting and that is where my question comes in; in your recommendations for people in the purgatory you state:

    “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).”

    When you mean see your abs clearly, do you mean in a relaxed, post-exhale state? And all 6/8 abs or just the top 4? As with most of the pictures I see of people with sub-15% bodyfat on health websites, I cannot tell if in the pictures the two clients are flexing or not. There is a big difference if I tense or flex my abs/body in pictures and thus I just wanted clarification before I move on to the slow bulking part. Lastly, do you see an advantage of continuing IF for a slow bulk as opposed to going back to eating breakfast if I have the willpower to follow through with it?

    Thank you for the information for far, and hope you’re having a great ‘time off’.

  22. Hey, Andy. Great site, thank you! I just a have couple questions if you could.

    1. I’m 6 ft 7 in your experience does height affect anything with this?
    2. Does being underweight mean anything? I’m skinny fat as I have a small bit of belly fat I need to cut but I’m currently 185 which is pretty underweight for my height supposedly.
    3. You’ve probably answered this before but If I’m eating at a slight negative calories is a workout routine like Stronglifts 5×5 okay?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Mike, sure thing:
      1. No really.
      2. Yes, it means you have plenty of potential to grow.
      3. You’ve already decided that you’re underweight, so you need to eat a caloric surplus. Any routine that follows progressive overload is fine. Specific thoughts on strong lifts in the FAQ.

      1. Thanks for the reply Andy.

        So what I meant was that I’m underweight for my height but I still have a little belly fat, should I still cut that off first and then slow bulk? Or just go for the bulk?

        Cheers

        1. I’d go for the bulk, you’ll look leaner as you get bigger. Getting leaner from here won’t really help with calorie partitioning given that you have so much growth potential anyway.

      2. Hi Andy . awesome site and the best article on this subject that I have found. Thank you for giving away this detailed and very easy-to-understand information.

        I am a skinny-fat beginner. I am considering cutting at 164 lbs and 6’3″ tall, 15% bodyfat. I am considering cutting to 10-11%. In an earlier comment you mentioned calorie partitioning was better when underweight. Does this apply to me as well?should I opt for a bulk? My second question was if cutting for too long plays a part in choosing a strategy. I have been cutting for a very long time already and lost a lot of weight and feel the effects of it hard.

        Thanks again

        1. Hi Jay, thanks for the question.
          At your weight and height you’re probably best to set yourself a calorie surplus and just train damn hard. You should lean out while putting on muscle.

  23. Hi Andy,

    I’m purgatory guy.

    Body recomp effects are starting to slow after a slow but steady 4 months of progress. On your recommendations above, I’m now chosing to cut until I can see my abs or until I reach 10-12% bf. The calorie partitioning idea behind this sounds logical and I’d therefore like to try it. On reading the article you link to, however, I read:

    “The same goes in reverse: naturally lean (but NOT folks who have dieted to lean) individuals tend to gain more muscle and less fat when they overfeed and fatter individuals tend to gain more fat and less muscle when they overfeed.”

    Given that I am not naturally lean, does this throw the calorie partioning theory out the windows for me?

    Many thanks,

    Nick

    1. Hi Nick, thanks for the question.
      – No, it still applies and is probably even more important for you so you can make the most of what you have.

  24. Hi Andy! Thank you SO much for the info on your website.

    I’ve followed your guides and, lo and behold, EVERYTHING has turned out exactly as you said it would. I started a 500 kcal/day deficit and The Big 3 in early April. I went hard with noob gains for about 2.5 months, then began to plateau. A few weeks ago, after my 3rd set of Deadlifts, my lower back told me it had had enough, so I gave it a week off from DL and swapped to a split routine (reducing DL to 1×5), focusing on maintenance while continuing my cut. This past weekend, I decided to start a diet break, and I gained 5 lb in water weight in 3 days–which I was expecting. All in all, I am stunned with how consistently the results match your predictions.

    From here, though, I figured I’d ask for your opinion before I proceed. I’m down to 171 lb (before the diet break addition) and a 32″ waist at 6’0″ tall. By most metrics, that puts me at 14%ish body fat, and I can see a hint of my abs. However, I can also see a hint of ribcage, and my pecs–while quite firm and certainly more defined–aren’t super impressive. My initial goal was to cut until my abs had definition, but I’m starting to suspect I might be closer to the “Skinny” camp now that my belly is gone, which may mean that my definition won’t get any better.

    I know it’s tough for you to diagnose over the internet, but do you have any strong feeling on whether I should stick with my cut or switch to a bulk? I personally don’t have a preference at this point. Thanks again for everything.

    1. Hi Tim. Glad everything has been working out as you hoped. This is just the point before people are truly lean, but they feel their skinniest and start second guessing themselves that I wrote about above. Cut till you can see your abs.

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