- Being active is great, but to build muscle and lose fat you need to lift heavy weights.
- Focus on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, personal trainers told Insider.
- It’s also important to ensure you’re in a calorie deficit and eating plenty of protein.
- Read more Working It Out here.
I am what you call skinny fat. I have man boobs and a pot belly, which I’ve had for probably the last 30 years. My diet over the last eight years has been good, as I only eat clean food. I don’t drink, smoke or eat takeaways. I do occasionally eat a few biscuits and some chocolate, but I don’t overindulge. I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last five years and trying different workouts to try to tone up, but there is no change in my body. I am very active but can’t seem to work out where I’m going wrong. I have an app on my phone that helps me track exactly what I’m eating. What can I do?
— Man Boobs
Dear Man Boobs,
It’s great to hear you’re living a healthy, active lifestyle. Remember that the health of your body is more important than its appearance, but it’s OK to have aesthetic goals too.
“A lot of people assume that being ‘healthy’ (not smoking, being active, eating mostly ‘clean’ foods) will automatically lead to losing body fat, looking toned, and having muscle,” personal trainer and fat loss coach Patrick Wilson told Insider. “However, that’s not the case.”
It can be disheartening when you think you’re doing all the right things and aren’t getting the results you want, but there are tweaks you can make.
Ensure you’re in a calorie deficit
Being aware of calories puts you in a strong starting position for fat loss, but if you’re not losing weight, you’re probably not in a deficit — Wilson suggests dropping your calories by 100-200 a day and seeing if that makes a difference.
“You can still work tasty, fun foods into your calorie goal for the day,” Wilson said. But eating them in moderation is key.
“We all have different definitions of ‘not overindulging’,” personal trainer Niko Algieri told Insider. Try having two instead of three biscuits.
Focus on protein
For fat loss and muscle gain, focusing on protein is more important than “eating clean,” Algieri and Wilson said.
“Being in a deficit is what leads to losing overall weight, but if you want it to be body fat (and not have that skinny fat look), focus on eating plenty of protein,” Wilson said.
Protein helps you build and retain muscle (alongside lifting weights), which will also boost your metabolism, Wilson said.
“Higher protein foods are much more filling for lower calories, which makes it easier to stay on track within your calorie goals as well,” he added.
Aim for at least 0.6g of protein per 1lb of body weight daily as a starting point.
Lift heavy weights at least three times a week
If you’ve been training for five years and haven’t seen any results, your training needs to change, Algieri said. And heavy weight lifting is key.
“People generally think cardio is the fat-burning answer when resistance training is a far more efficient way of lowering body fat and speeding up the metabolism,” he said.
Algieri and Wilson recommend focusing on heavy compound lifts like deadlifts, squats, lunges, rows, shoulder presses, and bench presses at a weight where you can perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, but it’s hard to get the final few.
Compound exercises are an effective way to train because they work many muscle groups at once. If you can, work with a personal trainer to ensure your form is on point.
“The fact that you’re using the word ‘tone’ leads me to believe you’re going light and doing lots of reps — up the weight, lower the reps,” Algieri said.
You want to be lifting weights at least three times a week, sticking with the same exercises for at least 4-6 weeks to see progress, Wilson said.
Aim to increase the weight or reps each week to continue challenging your body — this is called progressive overload.
Don’t neglect cardio either — Algieri and Wilson recommend adding 15-30 minutes on to the end of each lifting session.
Monitor your progress
Rather than focusing on the scale weight, which can fluctuate for various reasons, take progress photos every 2-4 weeks.
“If progress is being made in any way, keep doing what you’re doing,” Wilson said. “If not, after 3-4 weeks, make some adjustments.”
Sustainable body recomposition takes time, so be patient and don’t beat yourself up if you go “off track” some days. Just get back on it as soon as you can.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.