Fellas, let’s just admit it: Whether feeling fit or feeble we’ve all got some unsightly flab clinging to our carcasses. While many of us might look svelte from afar or when fully clothed, deep down we suffer from a common male condition known as being skinny fat.
But rather than just bitch about that beer gut we long ago pledged to lose or that jaw line we’ve been meaning to excavate from our neck, we decided to consult leading medical and fitness experts, who helped break down each permutation of skinny fat, explain why certain men gain weight in certain areas, and, finally, give us tips on how to best shed those extra pounds from our otherwise Adonis-like physiques.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Dennis Cardone, a sports medicine expert at NYU Langone Medical Center tells us, just exactly where we gain weight can be blamed on genetics. “Nearly all issues of where fat deposits build up are based on genetics, or an imbalance in the levels of testosterone and estrogen” Cardone says.
“Men have a level of both hormones, and if something offsets the balance it can lead to body changes similar as to what occurs in women—including an increase in breast tissue or a greater amount of fatty tissue developing around the butt or hips. Many things can impact this balance, including…alcohol and aging. Men produce less testosterone as they age, which can increase the ration of estrogen in the body.”
So, basically, you can’t drink and you’re turning into a woman. But the good news is there are ways to fight back. That’s why we turned to Francisco “Cisco” Liuzzi, a Manhattan-based physical trainer who primarily works with lean, low-body fat percentage endurance athletes like cyclists.
Cisco says consistent and efficient exercise can trump even the flabbiest of genes, and while he used our two least favorite words in the same sentence, “hard” and “work,” he did lay out a plan that even the weakest and fattest of us skinny fatsos can follow. Suck in that gut and read on.
The condition: Your fat, swollen ankles make it seem as if they’ve collided with your calves, giving your lower leg the undefined look of a piano key. Add this to the list of things you can blame your parents for, cause it’s all genetic, Mr. Tubby Legs. Or as Cisco clinically puts it, “Cankles are largely due to the shape and insertions of your calf muscles, specifically gastrocnemius and soleus and how they attach to your Achilles tendon. These are things you can’t fix, sorry.”
Cisco’s solution: It’s all about building your calf muscles so that your ankles look smaller by comparison. Which, for some of us, is no easy task. “Calves are hard for some people because the soleus muscle is overwhelmingly made of slow twitch muscle fiber that resists hypertrophy [muscle cell growth],” Cisco says. “So if you don’t have a large proportion of fast-twitch fiber in the gastrocnemius [the higher muscle group on your calf] then you aren’t going to get a lot of growth. Don’t worry, you just have to work harder.” To that end, Cisco prescribes calf raises, lots of them. “Do standing calf raises to target these muscles. Go heavy and stretch them at both the top and bottom portions to get them out of their comfort zone.”
The flab coffin
The condition: You look like someone grabbed you by your skinny, Popsicle-stick legs and dipped you in a vat of flab. In other words, there’s a thin, fit man under there somewhere, he’s just been encased in layers of lard due to your leisurely ways.
Cisco’s solution: To develop leanness, the majority of your workouts should consist of cardiovascular work done in the aerobic or “fat-burning” zone, which is about 70% of your max heart rate (or the rate at which you can still carry a conversation between labored breaths). Hit the treadmill, elliptical, or spin bike three times a week for 45 minutes, and incrementally build from there as you feel stronger. If you’re bored by, say, long rides, park it in front of the TV for a stationary spin. “I got in the best shape of my life watching all five seasons of The Wire,” says Cisco. Then, sprinkle in a bodyweight-resistance plan throughout your day—”pushups, pullups, air squats, wall squats, planks, dips, and lunges can all be done anywhere with zero equipment,” he adds.
The fat man mask
The condition: Due to the fat you store in your otherwise handsome mug, you look like a chipmunk who doesn’t swallow, and trust us, that’s not a popular party trick. For some, this is the last place you lose weight—just ask Jonah Hill—forcing the laziest and most resourceful among us to employ creative shaving techniques to construct the illusion of a jawline.
Cisco’s solution: “My face is the first place I lose it from; for some it’s the last. Just know it will come as long as you get lean enough. Be consistent with the aerobic work, and the overall body fat percentage comes down—the face will come along with it. That said, this isn’t always a good thing. When Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour de France he had a skeletor look. He was 32 and could have passed for 42. When my body fat percentage drops below 7% I look many years older. The chubby face isn’t necessarily that bad.”
The potbelly (the quintessential skinny fat look)
The condition: You’ve been on a liquid diet since you were 21, and now you’re skinny everywhere else except for the massively bulbous heap that is your core. Cardone labels this one of the worst kinds of skinny fat because it leads to a high risk of health complications and could contribute to an early death. Yikes.
Cisco’s solution: Despite the depressing diagnosis, shedding your skinny fat physique is simple because it’s largely diet-related. Skinny everywhere else means you have a fast metabolism, so “increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, lean sources of protein, and complex carbohydrates while eliminating sugary foods, processed foods, most juices, and anything that comes in a wrapper.” Add regular cardio work and a steady routine of body resistance to your weekly workload, and you’ll see results even faster.
The condition: You’ve got the large, childbearing hips of a matronly woman and more junk in the trunk than a Sir Mix-A-Lot video. Of all the skinny fat curses, this one is by far the worst because there’s no hiding your emasculating butt badge of shame.
Cisco’s solution: Waddle on over to the gym, and get a ripped rump by doing squats. “A big, fat butt isn’t attractive, but an athletic powerful one is. Just think of every Olympic track athlete you’ve ever seen. The key: squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Many people fear these exercises, and I’ve always found that curious. When done properly they 1) make your back and knees bombproof, 2) improve nearly any athletic motion you encounter, and 3) make your butt feel like it’s made of steel. Be sure to get a session with a professional trainer to master the form; it doesn’t take long, even on deadlifts.”