Gaining muscle as a skinny guy can be challenging, as it requires you to eat more food, train often, and accept that your results may be slower than others.
When looking to build muscle as a skinny guy, you need to make sure, first and foremost, you are in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than your body burns). You most likely will also need to focus on training more frequently (4-5 days per week) to induce more muscle growth as a hardgainer.
Below we will discuss how to structure your muscle building program to stimulate growth as a hard gainer. We’ll cover 9 rules for skinny guys to follow, as well as provide a sample program.
Most of the muscle building exercises in the sample workouts below are found in the Fitbod app, offering you ideas on how to structure your workouts in the Fitbod App. Download and try 3 free workouts.
How To Structure a Muscle Building Program for Skinny Guys
Below are five major factors that you should consider when structuring your muscle building workout programs.
When looking to build muscle, you will want to choose a program that has you lifting at least 3 days a week, with 4-5 days being ideal.
Training more frequently allows you to accumulate more training volume over the course of the week without subjecting your body to serious amounts of muscle soreness.
When choosing a workout split, you want to focus on ones that train muscle groups at least twice per week.
Below are some workout split options that are ideal for beginners and intermediate lifters looking to build muscle and strength.
Check out our article on the best workout splits for more inspiration.
Compound vs Isolation Exercises
When looking to build muscle as a skinny guy, you’ll want to use both compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises are great because they allow you to train a ton of muscle at once, however they may not be the best at isolating a muscle group.
You may also want to add extra isolation work to help stimulate more muscle growth without beating up the body. A good example of this is adding hamstring curls and leg extensions after back squats and Romanian deadlifts.
By adding isolation and machine exercises, you can train in high volumes (see below) and with hard intensity, while keeping injury risks and over training in check.
Training volume is a simple way to calculate how much work you did in a workout.
Generally speaking, you want to train each muscle group directly with 10-15 total hard effort sets per week for the first few weeks, then bump that up to 15-20, or even 20-25 over the course of another few weeks. You can spread volume out over multiple days.
This number can vary, so the important thing to do is to track your progress, and take notes on your recovery. If you are not very sore after a workout, try adding an extra set or two next time. If you are beyond sore, then hold off adding more sets the next week to allow your body to adjust.
How to Progress Over Time
Progressing over time is something that is critical for muscle growth. Progressive overload is a principle that means over time, you increase the stress and demands on a muscle so that it will overcome and adapt to improve.
Below is a comprehensive listing of what to do to progress your workouts over time. You don’t need to do each of these every week, but rather try progressing only one or maybe two of these each week.:
- Increase Loads by 1-5% Per Week: This range varies, as stronger lifters may use smaller increases (1-3%) every week whereas those not as strong may be able to increase loads 3-5% week to week. This linear progression (i.e. increasing one variable every week for weeks on end) of loading can often be run by beginners for 8-12 weeks until it starts to plateau out.
- Do More Reps: You can do a few more reps with the same weight as a prior week, increasing the overall volume you subjected a muscle to to improve muscle growth.
- Add Extra Sets: Adding an extra work set is another way to boost your overall training volume. For example if you did 3 sets of 12 reps with 100 lbs this week, do 4 sets of 12 next week.
- Slow Down Your Reps: Slowing down your reps on the lowering phase (eccentric phase) is a good way to increase the duration of time that your muscles are under stress per set.
How Long Will It Take To Build Muscle When You’re Naturally Skinny?
You need to be realistic with your expectations, and understand that you will need to work harder than most people to gain muscle and good weight, just like some people struggle more than others to lose weight.
Ideally most beginners should gain .25-.5% of their body weight per week. This means that a skinny 150 lbs guy may gain ⅓ to ¾ lbs per week. This may seem slow, but at that rate they could expect to gain 4-6 lbs of weight over the course of 12 weeks (a 3-4% increase in weight), with the majority of it being muscle tissue.
Any slower than that means you need to increase food intake, however any quicker may mean that you are gaining higher proportions of body fat than muscle, which may not be ideal for overall muscle growth and body composition in the long run.
Nutrition Rules to Follow When You Want To Build Muscle
Below are nine nutrition rules to follow when you want to build muscle and maximize recovery from hard training.
Be in a Calorie Surplus
If you aren’t gaining weight, there is a very very strong likelihood that you are not in a caloric surplus (i.e. eating more calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight). If you are not eating enough to support hard training, recovery, and weight gain, you will not gain weight (and limit your ability to gain muscle).
As a skinny guy, you need to focus on your diet, especially eating more. First, you need to determine how many calories your body needs to maintain its weight.
Once you have that number, add 10-20% more calories to your daily intakes. From there, you should be eating to gain weight. If you are not gaining .25-.5% of your bodyweight per week, then you may need to eat more.
Consume Enough Protein
Consuming enough protein will help you recover from training and increase muscle growth.
Shoot for roughly 1.6-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight that you currently are. This number may increase as you gain weight.
Stop Fearing Carbs
It’s extremely difficult to try to gain weight while limiting your calorie intake via removing a macronutrient group. Not only are carbs an essential fuel source for muscle tissue (in fact they are the PREFERED source), they help to increase muscle growth.
When looking to gain muscle and fuel performance, start by consuming 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight that you are. If you are struggling to still gain weight, bump that up to 3-4 grams per pound.
Increase Fat Intake to Eat More Calories (If Needed)
If you are having issues eating more calories, try adding more fat into your diet. This can be done by adding more oils and butter to dishes and increasing the fat in your diary options (whole milk and fuller fat yogurt). .
Increasing fat intake is a way to make a meal more calorically dense (per a given volume) and ultimately add more calories to the overall diet.
Eat More Meals Per Day
Skipping meals leads to missed opportunities to consume more food to allow weight and muscle gain.
Ideally, when looking to increase your daily caloric intake, you want to increase the number of meals you eat to allow yourself more opportunities in the day to eat more food. Most skinny lifters should eat 4-6 times a day.
Supplement with Protein Powder
Supplementing with protein powder can help you if you struggle to ingest enough protein in your diet through whole foods.
If you are consuming enough protein through your diet, then you may not need to supplement with additional protein powder.
Protein powders are also very convenient as they can easily be transported in a shaker bottle and can be consumed quickly.
Try Adding Creatine to Your Supplement Stack
Creatine supplementation has been linked to increases in maximal strength and power, increased ability to train at higher volumes at maximal efforts, and faster sprint performance.
Hard training has you depleting your stores on a regular basis. Supplementing with 5g per day could be a good insurance policy to ensure you are refueled at the end of the day and ready for your next workout.
Consume a Post Workout Meal or Shake
Eating a post workout meal or shake is key for improving recovery and kickstarting muscle protein synthesis.
Aim to consume 20-40 grams of protein and 80-120g of carbohydrates immediately post workout. These macros may vary based on your individual macros, so be sure to budget out your meals accordingly (usually a 1:4 ratio of protein:carbohydrates at this meal will suffice).
Research has shown that consuming carbohydrates and protein together provides a greater net balance of protein synthesis (i.e. you body signaling muscle growth to tissues) than ingesting carbs or protein alone. Even minimal amounts done in low amounts (10g of protein + 20g of carbohydrates) have been shown to boost muscle protein synthesis.
Sleep is one of the most powerful performance factors you can do. Inadequate levels of sleep has a direct impact on your hormones, muscle protein synthesis, immune system function, inflammation, muscle recovery, and injury rates.
Researchers found that elite male athletes (across a wide array of sports) on average need 8.3 hours per night to feel rested. While this number can vary for most individuals, 8-9 hours of sleep seems to be a safe bet for optimal growth and recovery.
Is sleep really that important?
Sleep debt (low levels of sleep on a regular basis) has been linked to lower testosterone levels and insulin-growth factor I (both are main pathways for muscle growth). Additionally, low sleep levels have been shown to increase cortisol levels which increase muscle breakdown and could increase muscular injury risks.
Sample Muscle-Building Program for Skinny Guys
Below is a four day sample muscle building program developed to help skinny guys add muscle.
This program is based on the idea that you will be in a caloric surplus, will be using progressive overload techniques from above, and not skipping workouts.
Note: The below workouts are not found exactly how they are written in the Fitbod app, however all of the exercises below themselves are. This workout program can be used as an outline to help you build your own workouts based on what you have access to on a regular basis, or just simple select “muscle gain” in the fitness app and let the app create a program for you.
Day 1 – Upper (Chest, Back, Triceps, Deltoids)
- Incline Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Dip: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Barbell Row: 4 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Lat Pulldown: 4 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
- Cable Rope Overhead Triceps Extensions: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
Day 2 – Lower (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Biceps)
- Front Squat: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Walking Lunge: 3 sets of 8-10 steps per leg, resting 90-120 seconds
- Machine Leg Extension: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Barbell Curl: 4 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
Day 3 – Upper (Chest, Back, Triceps, Deltoids)
- Dumbbell Arnold Press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Cable Upright Row: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
- Cable Row: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds
- Assisted Pull Up: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds
- Close Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
- Cable Chest Fly: 3 sets of 8-12 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
Day 4 – Lower (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Biceps)
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 4 sets of 12-20 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 8-12 steps per leg, resting 90-120 seconds
- Machine Leg Extension: 4 sets of 12-20 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Hack Squat / Leg Press: 4 sets of 12-20 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Cable Bicep Curl: 4 sets of 12-20 reps, resting 90-120 seconds
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4 sets of 12-20 reps, resting 45-60 seconds
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Other Muscle Building Resources
- Looking to add muscle and gain weight fast? Try these 10 bulking tips to kickstart your diet and workouts.
- Building muscle is a slow process, but you can help your chances of gaining muscle quicker by doing these 10 things
- Do you know how many different exercises you should be doing for a muscle group? Well, here’s the answer, and it may not be what you expect!
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.