I’m not overweight but want to tone my soft body. How do I change my physique from ‘skinny fat’ to firm?

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Jogging is great for your cardiovascular health, but not the best way to create a firm body. Getty
  • Firming up a soft body requires strength training, personal trainers told Insider.
  • Follow a traditional resistance training programme 2-3 times a week for the best results.
  • Don’t restrict your diet in a bid to lose fat, and ensure you eat enough protein.
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Dear Rachel,

I am what I believe is described as “skinny fat.” By this I mean I’m not big and I don’t think I’m overweight as such, but my body is really soft. I’m not fussed about getting big muscles but want to firm up everywhere. I don’t think I’m eating too much (and don’t want to get skinnier) and I exercise 4-5 times a week, mainly cycling, HIIT, and a bit of strength work. What am I doing wrong?

– Skinny but Soft

Dear Skinny but Soft,

Great to hear you’re active and doing a range of different forms of exercise.

Your predicament is a common one for both men and women, but reaching your physique goal is entirely achievable.

It may take some time, but building something that will last shouldn’t be rushed.

Focus on building muscle

For a firm body, the key is building muscle, Sal Di Stefano, Mind Pump podcast co-host and author of “The Resistance Training Revolution,” told Insider. Unfortunately, your current workouts aren’t going to do this.

While moving your body in ways you enjoy is arguably the most important thing, transitioning from “skinny fat” to “toned” requires strength training.

“Follow a traditional resistance training program in which you train the entire body 2-3 times a week and you focus on compound lifts like barbell squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rows, and overhead presses,” Di Stefano said. These movements engage multiple muscles in the body.

He recommends 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise per workout, making sure to rest in between sets for 60-90 seconds.

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“Rest is imperative because without it you will not build the kind of lean muscle you need in order to firm up,” Di Stefano said. “Going from one exercise to another without rest may burn calories, but it does not build muscle. Aim for strength gains in the above lifts.”

Training like this may be scary if you actively don’t want to bulk up, but rest assured building muscle is a long, slow process, particularly for women, and this is how you will create the firm body you covet.

“As you build muscle your metabolism will speed up and the fat will start to burn off,” Di Stefano said. “This process can take a few months to really see but when it happens you will feel much firmer, stronger, and have better visual shape along with a metabolism that automatic burns more calories than it did before.”

Eat plenty of protein

Of course, training is only part of the picture, you need to eat right and emphasize protein.

“Building muscle also requires nutrients,” Di Stefano said. “Protein intake should be high so aim for 0.5-1g protein for every pound of bodyweight.”

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When I started losing fat while maintaining muscle – essentially firming my body up –eating a high-protein diet played a large role in helping me achieve my goals.

Restricting your diet is not the answer

You’re right that you don’t need to eat less – doing so would make it harder to build muscle.

“A lot of people see lean physiques and assume they got there via dieting,” personal trainer Emma Storey-Gordon told Insider. “How they actually got there is usually through years of building muscle and obviously keeping body fat levels down in order to see those muscles.”

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Storey-Gordon says many people make the error of “over-dieting” in an attempt to look leaner, when aiming to build muscle would actually get them closer to their goals.

Although cardio is important for your health, be careful not to overdo it and ensure you’re eating enough: “Some is absolutely fine especially if you enjoy it but do make sure you are fueling this.”

Taking your recovery seriously by eating enough, sleeping enough, and taking rest days is also essential.

“Resistance training creates a stimulus (it actually breaks down your muscle) and it’s during recovery that you adapt and grow,” Storey-Gordon said.

Wishing you well,

Rachel
As a senior health reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition-certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.

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.

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