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Skinny Fat Cardio: Should You Do It?

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN-L1

skinny fat cardio

Wondering if skinny fat cardio is necessary is adding another question to the already long list of uncertainties that people with this body type have.

The goods news is I’ll break it down for you and make it easy to understand.

Performing cardio when you are skinny fat is 100% something you should be doing and I’ll break down why, what forms of cardio you should focus on, and how much of it you should do.

The Benefits Of Skinny Fat Cardio

If I would have written this article a couple years ago, I would be telling you that skinny fat cardio is not needed and you should be solely focused on building muscle.  My views have changed because of the multitude of benefits you’ll get from doing cardio. 

It’s worth it for you to add it to your routine because skinny fat cardio will:

  • Improve endurance so you’ll be able to do more in the gym
  • Help your muscles recover and get ready to for your next workout
  • Positively influence your cardiovascular health
  • Give you positive mental health benefits

Improve Endurance So You'll Be Able To Do More In The Gym

The last thing you want to do is take 2 hours to finish your workout because you need long recovery times.

That’s where adding in cardio will help you.  

Cardio is going to improve your cardiovascular output so you’ll be able to recover quicker between sets and still be able to use adequate weight on your main lifts to stimulate muscle growth.

Help Your Muscles Recover And Get Ready For Your Next Workout

Your dream body is not only built in the gym.  Getting proper rest and recovery plays an important role in building muscle and getting the toned look that you are after.

Helping your joints recover by adding skinny fat cardio into your routine is going to help your body feel great for your next workout.

If you are constantly tight, sore, and/or in pain, your body might not be able to move through its full range of motion, thus resulting in less muscular gains.

Positively Influence Your Cardiovascular Health

The benefits of improving your cardiovascular health can be a whole article by itself.

Your blood markers can improve, you’ll lower your risk of diseases, and improve your bone health.

This is something everyone should be striving for and is why cardio is important for a skinny fat body.

Great For Your Mental Health


Lastly, we can’t overlook the mental side of cardio.

Many people enjoy forms of cardio because it gives them an opportunity to de stress and take their mind off certain things.

I would be a bad coach if you did cardio for these reasons and I said you can’t do it anymore!

The 4 Best Skinny Fat Cardio Options


When working on your skinny fat body, building muscle to help tone your body is going to be your main priority so you want to make sure you are doing cardio that won’t interfere with those workouts.


The benefits of walking include:


  • There is zero skill to be learned!  We all know how to walk.
  • It’s very easy on your joints so it’s hard to overdo it or cause injury.
  • You don’t need access to any expensive equipment.
  • It’s the best option for cardio that won’t deter muscle growth from occurring.


Walking can be done daily for 30 - 60 minutes.  If you can do it outside so you get vitamin D from the sun while you walk, that’s an added win.


Zone 2 Cardio

Zone 2 cardio refers to your heart rate and for most people, that’s in the range of 115 - 135 beats per minute, but may fluctuate based on age, performance, and medication.  

This form of cardio is an amazing option because it allows you to get your heart rate up higher than you would walking but it doesn’t interfere with your recovery.  You’ll still be able to prioritize your strength training and not have any setbacks.

Don’t have access to a heart rate monitor?

No problem.

Alex Viada from Complete Human Performance says you know you are in zone 2 by doing the “talk test”.  You should be able to speak 12 - 15 words before you need to take a breath.  If you were on the phone with someone, they should know you are exercising, but you shouldn’t be huffing and puffing the whole time.

Pick your favorite cardio machine (treadmill, elliptical, bike) and do 1 - 3 days of 30 - 60 minutes of zone 2 training.

Skinny Fat HIIT Cardio

Have you ever doing a 60 minute HIIT workout that got you moving from circuit to circuit without a break and left you in a sweaty mess and exhausted?

That’s cool if you did but that’s not a HIIT workout.

A HIIT workout is a short 10 - 15 minute workout that has bursts where you are going at max effort.  When performed correctly, 10 - 15 minutes is all you need.

Skinny fat HIIT workouts take a toll on your body so that’s why 10 - 15 minutes is optimal for skinny fat cardio.

An example of HIIT cardio when bulking would be to do 10 minutes on the assault bike where you do 20 seconds all out and 40 seconds of casual strolling.  You’ll be smoked after 10 minutes!

Effective skinny fat HIIT cardio will be 1 - 2 times a week for 10 - 15 minutes.  It’s short enough where it won’t interfere with your main lifts but you will still get the cardio health benefits.

Hobbies That Get You Moving


For most people when they think cardio, it means chugging away on a treadmill staring out into the abyss as you pray that you won’t miss a step and fall of it.

What’s overlooked is that there are so many everyday activities that can count as your cardio that will complement your workouts.

I’ve had many clients that enjoy activities such as swimming, hiking, playing basketball, dancing, riding bikes, playing tennis, and many more that are all great forms of cardio.

Adding these into your cardio for skinny fat is a great way to get movement in without feeling like you are actually “working out”

Depending on how intense the exercise is, stick to 1 - 2 days a week.

How Often You Should Do Cardio If You're Skinny Fat

best forms of skinny fat cardio
  • Walking: Can be done daily for any amount of time
  • Zone 2 Cardio: 1 - 3 times a week for 30 - 60 minutes
  • HIIT Cardio: 1 - 2 times a week for 10 - 15 minutes
  • Favorite Hobby: 1 - 2 times per week.  Time based on intensity of activity

Should I Prioritize Heavy Weight Lifting Or Cardio If I'm Skinny Fat?

To overcome your skinny fat body and have a healthy, well rounded, strong, and toned body you want to prioritize strength training and sprinkle in your cardio. 3 - 4 heavily lifting days paired with 1 - 2 days of skinny fat cardio is going to be a great place to start.


For an effective exercise routine, you’re going to want to check out this guide.

The Ultimate Skinny Fat Workout Program


Learning and following that workout program is going to pair perfectly with the cardio choice you enjoy doing from the list above.