As someone new to training, you’re probably wondering how long it would take you to go from skinny fat to muscular.
In today’s post, we’ll review several popular models to answer the question. We’ll also cover everything else you need to know for optimal muscle gain.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
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How Long Does it Take to Go From Skinny Fat to Muscular?
The first model comes from Lyle McDonald and is based on years of proper training:
The model is quite accurate and suggests that people new to training can experience the most growth. The only issue with these predictions is that it can sometimes be challenging to calculate how long someone has trained properly. Plenty of people have five, ten, or more years in the gym, but are nowhere advanced or elite, simply because they follow a poor training plan, don’t train hard, don’t pay attention to their nutrition, or something else.
Alan Aragon also has a model for muscle growth:
His model is based on percentages and provides similar numbers to that of Lyle. An issue with it is that it is based on body weight, which isn’t always the most reliable metric. For example, a tall guy with over 20 percent body fat can easily weigh 230, 240, or even 250 lbs. But does that mean he can gain 2.5 to 3.25 lbs of muscle monthly? No. The model works well for people with an average body fat percentage. It’s always important to use your best judgment
The final model we’ll be looking at today comes from Martin Berkhan. Unlike the previous two, this one is based on strength as an indicator of how advanced a trainee is. If you perform the core barbell lifts, you can check out his guidelines for where you stand.
Factors That Influence Muscle Growth
The above models do a good enough job of telling us how much muscle we can gain on average. But, as you can imagine, how much muscle you can gain will depend on many things, including your training plan, nutrition, recovery, and more. Let’s go over the primary factors that influence your ability to go from skinny fat to muscular:
1. Your Training Plan
Your training plan plays a crucial role in muscle growth. Lifting weights is the most practical way to cause the necessary stimulus because you can target muscles more effectively, control your training volume, and produce the required overload. You can also use numerous types of equipment, including kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, and gym machines.
A good muscle-building plan covers the basics:
- Adequate training volume (10 to 20 sets per week) (1)
- Optimal frequency (training each muscle group two to three times per week) (2)
- Varied intensity (doing heavier sets of 6 to 12 reps and lighter ones - 15 to 30)
- Training hard but not taking most of your sets to failure (3)
- A varied exercise selection and doing at least two movements per muscle group
More things go into a good training plan, but the above are the fundamentals you need to keep in mind.
2. Your Nutrition
How you fuel your body will play a tremendous role in your ability to build muscle mass. Skinny fat beginners are in a great position to do a body recomposition: building muscle and losing fat simultaneously. The problem is that doing so requires exceptional attention to detail with your nutrition, and you cannot build muscle quickly because you’re in a calorie deficit.
A calorie surplus (consuming more calories than you burn) isn’t essential for muscle gain, but it makes the process much quicker and more predictable (4). You can read everything you need to know about pulling off a successful bulk in my guide.
3. Your Recovery
The third pillar that supports your fitness outcomes and determines how long it would take you to go from skinny fat to muscular is recovery. Training provides the stimulus your muscles need to grow. Nutrition supplies your body with the fuel and building blocks for muscle gain. Recovery allows you to adapt positively, remain injury-free, and achieve your goals.
Not recovering well means your body cannot repair the exercise-induced damage and training stress. As a result, you train in a weak and compromised state, and your muscles don’t grow or strengthen.
Your nutrition plays a vital role in recovery, as eating enough calories and getting enough protein are extremely important (4, 5). Following an intelligent training program is also necessary. You need just enough stimulus to make progress but not too much that you struggle to recover.
Here are a few extra tips for improving recovery:
- Get at least seven hours of sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Practice self-myofascial release with a foam roller or go for the occasional massage
- Take creatine monohydrate (5 grams daily)
Should Skinny Fat Girls Train Differently?
Many women feel that weight training is bad and that practicing it would make them big and bulky. Luckily, the myth has been around for a long time and is slowly fading into obscurity. The days of advising women to stick with cardio and lift pink dumbbells are behind us, but many still wonder if training programs should differ between the genders.
Interestingly, men and women should approach their training slightly differently for several reasons. First, data shows that women recover somewhat better than men (6). One likely explanation is estrogen––a class of sex hormones in women.
Women have roughly nine times more estrogen than men, making them more resistant to muscle protein breakdown in response to physical activity. Additionally, differences in metabolic functions and muscle fiber distribution allow women to fatigue more slowly. For instance, data suggests that women have more slow-twitch muscle fibers that are designed to produce force more slowly and endure over more extended periods (7).
Interestingly, women also appear to have better muscle perfusion (8). Women experience better blood flow to their muscles than men, which offers two advantages. First, oxygen and nutrients get delivered more efficiently and in higher quantities, promoting training performance and recovery. Second, metabolites that build up in the muscles during training get cleared more readily, reducing fatigue and the all-too-familiar burning sensation.
The other difference influencing how the average man and woman should train is purely psychological. On average, men are more comfortable training at higher intensities (i.e., using heavier weights). As such, doing more low-rep training could be a more engaging way for them to stick with their training programs. In contrast, women prefer to perform more repetitions with weights they can manage well. Part of the reason could be that women are better at high-repetition training and enjoy capitalizing on their strengths.
You can read the post I wrote on how women might choose to train (training plans included).
How to Stay Motivated to Keep Building Muscle In The Long Run
Going from skinny fat to muscular takes a long time and requires a lot of patience and consistency. The process occurs somewhat quickly initially, but growth slows significantly after the first year of training. Learning how to stay motivated will ensure better consistency. Luckily, doing so isn’t as difficult and mostly comes down to three factors:
First, your training plan needs to be sustainable because staying consistent makes you feel good about yourself. There is no point in following a 6-day training split if you can only stick with it for two weeks before you get overtrained or burned out. Most beginners don’t need more than three or four weekly sessions to make great progress. The best part is that such a frequency isn’t as challenging to maintain.
Second, the journey needs to be fun and engaging. Many people see fitness as the necessary evil they need to endure if they hope to shed fat, build muscle, and get a ‘beach body.’ Fortunately, that’s not the case, and you must learn to enjoy what you’re doing if you hope to stick with it in the long run. Any person who trains consistently for years will enjoy some aspect of their program, be it specific exercises, how it makes them feel, their progress, or something else.
Finally, the fitness journey must be fulfilling and not a burden to your life. Many people quit working out precisely because it doesn’t feel fulfilling. In other words, they don’t find real value in what they do, so they save themselves the trouble. The good news is that a fitness plan that’s sustainable and engaging will also likely be fulfilling because it will bring results and make you feel better.
An excellent way to determine if fitness is fulfilling is to consider the role it plays in your life. Do you feel happy that you’re on a structured exercise program, or do you dread the experience and count the days until you can take a few days off training?
The journey from skinny fat to muscular is long. It occurs differently for everyone because numerous factors go into the equation. So, instead of obsessing over the theoretical amount of muscle you can build in a year, take action.
Start working out, improve your way of eating, and prioritize your sleep. You will undoubtedly look and feel much better a year from now, so why does it matter if you build 12, 15, or 17 lbs of muscle?
Before you go...
Download my free guide on fixing the skinny fat look in the next 6 months. Implement step one today!
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7. Haizlip KM, Harrison BC, Leinwand LA. Sex-based differences in skeletal muscle kinetics and fiber-type composition. Physiology (Bethesda). 2015 Jan;30(1):30-9. doi: 10.1152/physiol.00024.2014. PMID: 25559153; PMCID: PMC4285578.
8. Hunter SK. Sex differences in human fatigability: mechanisms and insight to physiological responses. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2014 Apr;210(4):768-89. doi: 10.1111/apha.12234. Epub 2014 Feb 25. PMID: 24433272; PMCID: PMC4111134.