I know the struggles and frustrations of trying to build muscle as a skinny guy. I am 6ft 7 inches and once upon a time I only weighed 82kg. This may sound a lot to some, but at my height, I looked paper-thin. This is exactly why I wanted to write this guide on “how to bulk up for skinny guys“.
By following this guide you will save years of struggle and avoid all the common mistakes I made.
Once I finally said enough is enough and properly researched the subject, things started to happen. The most annoying thing was the simplicity in what I actually did to see radical changes in my body. All this time I was over complicating things when in actual fact, this is the worse thing I could have done.
Before we get into the article properly. I just want to say, when trying to bulk up, chucking endless amounts of calories from crappy processed foods or take-outs will lead you to nowhere fast. This is the worst advice you could follow, and like most skinny guys it’s probably something you have already tried with little to no success.
Anyway, now that’s out of the way, it’s time to crack on.
Table Of Contents
- Do skinny guys need to do anything special compared to everyone else?
- Is it possible to bulk up without gaining any fat?
- Does the amount of food you eat affect muscle growth?
- You must focus on compound movements and heavyweights.
- Push hard, no, push really really hard, but not too hard
- Recover, Recover, Recover
- Is there a rep range most effective for muscle growth?
Do Skinny Guys Really Need To Go Through A Bulking Phase To Build Muscle
There are many topics that are widely debated within the fitness industry. And bulking is one of them. Everyone has an opinion on whether you need to go through separate bulking and dieting phases. This isn’t just for the naturally skinny guy but for everybody.
- If you listen to the modern fitness guru, then within seconds they will have you believe that going through a separate bulking phase is a sure-fire way to make you fat. And if you are happy putting weight on with fat and very little muscle then go for it.
- In the world of bodybuilding, however, many athletes will say it’s absolutely necessary to go through a bulking phase if you want to add on slabs of muscle. You will often hear them say, “if you want to get big then you better eat big”
If it was simply a case of one of the above being factually correct then adding muscle would be no problem at all as there would only be one sure fired way of going about it. Unfortunately for us, this isn’t the case
One of the main reason bulking gets such a bad rap is down to how people execute their bulking plan.
The theory behind going through a bulking phase is actually spot on, but like with so many other things in the fitness industry that are utter crap, like the typical beat yourself into the ground weight training plans that are thrown about, the strategies people follow for bulking are no different.
Do skinny guys need to do anything special compared to everyone else?
As you can probably see from what you have read, everything I discuss is aimed at not just skinny guys who struggle to put on size but to everyone. This is because the theory for bulking is exactly the same for a skinny guy as it is for a genetically gifted person.
The problem with skinny guys is, they will look at certain people packing on slabs of muscle really quickly and then question everything they are doing themselves as they are not achieving the same results.
There could be so many different factors involved.
- The point at which that person is in their training journey (advanced, intermediate, beginner)
- Whether that person is taking any anabolic enhancements.
- The genetics of that person (some people just have all the luck)
The difference for a skinny guy (hard gainer) is they will need to be a lot more patient as the process of building muscle will take longer.
So is it possible to bulk up without gaining any fat?
There isn’t a yes or no answer to this question. The answer will depend on certain factors.
- As a complete beginner with the correct nutrition and training plan, then this could be possible.
- As an advanced weightlifter, then I’m afraid the chances of not putting any fat on are very small.
- As an advanced lifter who has started to use anabolics, then this is possible.
- If you are incredibly gifted with your genetics, then this is possible.
Now most of us are going to full into the first two categories. Whether you are a skinny guy or advanced lifter, then the truth is when wanting to add muscle as quickly as possible, some fat going on will be inevitable
In fact, even when following a well-executed plan, most people will gain roughly an equal amount of fat as they will muscle.
The key is not to let fat gain overtake muscle gain.
Does the amount of food you eat affect muscle growth?
Yes, the amount of food you consume has been shown to have a strong effect on muscle growth.
Some say as long as you are eating enough protein, then you can still build muscle, even if you are in a calorie deficit. Unless you are a complete beginner this couldn’t be further from the truth. Trying to build muscle when under eating (being in a calorie deficit) is extremely counterproductive.
Without going into a mega load of detail here, it all boils down to energy balance.
Being in a calorie deficit (feeding your body fewer calories than it burns) will create a negative energy balance.
This is exactly what you need for fat loss, but not for building muscle.
- Studies show that being in a negative energy balance can severely affect your ability to synthesise protein.
- Here is another study showing the reduction in anabolic hormone levels when being in a calorie deficit.
- And finally as well as the reduction in anabolic hormone levels, studies also show an increase in catabolic hormone levels for a double whammy.
Oh, let’s not forget that there will also be a natural drop in workout performance.
As you can now see, being in a calorie deficit will make it near impossible for you to gain new muscle.
So the easiest way to ensure you are not in a deficit is to make sure you put your self in a calorie surplus. Basically eating slightly more calories than your body needs.
Where people tend to go wrong is, they use this as an excuse to eat everything and anything they want, putting themselves in a huge calorie surplus, way more then is needed.
So although the saying “you need to eat big to get big” is true, you must avoid taking it to the extreme. You won’t achieve extra muscle growth but going way over the top.
Train Big, Recover Big, Repeat Even Bigger
Having the perfect bulking diet is great, but this alone without the correct training, will get you nowhere fast. You have to be forcing your body to build new muscle. If your muscles are not put under enough strain, they will have no reason to grow.
Training in the correct way alongside a well planned out bulking diet is essential, and even more so for the skinny guy.
You must focus on compound movements and heavyweights.
There is so much debate between so-called experts about what the best rep range, volume and training frequency is to build muscle effectively. You will hear numbers being thrown around like 8 to 10 reps, 10 sets per exercise, 6 exercises and training each muscle group 3 times a week is best.
Well, I can safely say this is wrong.
Let’s take a closer look at the most important factors when it comes to stimulating muscle growth.
- Progressive Overload – This is by far the most important factor involved in stimulating muscle growth. Basically, you need to gradually increase tension through your muscles. And the most effective way to do this is by slowly increasing the weights within a set rep range.
- Muscle Fibre Damage – When you subject your muscles to extremely high levels of tension, little tears will occur in the fibres. If you are feeding yourself with the right amount of protein and correct nutrition, then the body will want to repair these little tears stronger then before in order for the muscles to cope better and more efficiently for when they are next put under similar tension.
As said above progressive overload is the most important factor when it comes to muscle growth. If this doesn’t exist then no matter what you do with your diet or recovery, you will not see any muscle growth.
Training with heavyweights, moderate to low volume and moving your weights up gradually will hugely emphasize progressive overload.
Getting stronger has been shown time and time again that it has a direct relationship with muscle size. Basically the stronger you get the more muscle you will gain.
So based on this it is hugely important for not just the skinny guy but everyone to focus on getting stronger over time and this should be done using big compound movements like the deadlift, squat, barbell overhead press and bench press.
Push hard, no, push really really hard, but not too hard
So the heading to this section may seem a little contradictory.
But let me explain.
So many people follow advice from magazines when it comes to training. And in a way, I can’t blame them for doing it. Their idol is telling them “to look like me you must do this”. However, most people at an advanced stage in there training and knowledge of weight lifting will know there is much more being done by these magazine human machines then just training to look the way they do.
But that’s for another day entirely.
As a skinny guy or natural weightlifter, you really must be cautious with these high-frequency programmes being banded about.
Yes, you must train your muscles hard to create overload but if you absolutely obliterate them, then you run the risk of outstripping your bodies capabilities to recover properly.
And from here it’s simple. If your body can’t recover and repair properly then you will see zero results.
Your total weekly training volume (number of sets and reps you do) plus the intensity and overload you create has been shown to be far more important to muscle growth than training frequency.
Take a look at this article, which goes into far more detail about training frequency and the negative impacts it can have on muscle growth.
Recover, Recover, Recover
You hear it all the time. People saying things like “correct nutrition is 90% of the puzzle” or “recovery is by far more important than everything else”. Well I hate it when I hear people talk like this.
It’ really simple, you take anyone element away, be nutrition, training or recovery, then you will not see results. Each part of the puzzle is as equally important at the other.
Now when I talk about recovery, I don’t just mean rest days when you are not weight training. Although that is part of it, the correct recovery protocol is much bigger.
You need to make sure you have sufficient rest days, getting plenty of quality sleep, eating lots of good quality protein, carbs and fats plus using the correct supplements to help. Although building muscle can definitely be done without using supplements at all. They are just a tool to help, especially if you have a busy lifestyle.
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Is there a rep range most effective for muscle growth?
Get this part right, and you can expect to see serious long terms gains in muscle growth.
Although this is a very debated topic, like most topics in fitness I suppose, bags and bags of scientific research really only point in one direction.
In order for muscle growth to be maximised, you must train using moderate volume and heavyweights.
So what do I mean by heavy weights? Well for optimal results you will want to train in the 4 to 6 rep range using weights upwards of 80%+ of you 1 rep max.
It’s always handy to look at some evidence when talking about things like this, so let’s take a look at this study.
- 33 physically fit and active men were split into two separate groups.
- Group 1 did 4 weight training sessions a week using moderate intensity and high volume. They completed 4 sets for every exercise they did working in the 10 to 12 rep range.
- Group 2 trained over the same number of days and did the same number of exercises and sets as group 1. The main difference being they trained with high intensity and moderate volume, aiming for 3 to 5 reps per set.
Both groups also maintained their usual eating regimes using food diaries to monitor this.
Knowing everything I know now, the results really didn’t surprise me.
After a period of 8 weeks group 2 (high-intensity moderate volume group) gained a load more strength and muscle than group 1 (moderate intensity, high volume)
The two main reasons for this are.
- Activation of group 2s muscle fibres was much greater than group 1s.
- The mechanical stress placed on the muscles was much higher.
So let’s simplify what not only the study is showing us, but what I recommend through years of training experience on myself and clients.
- Focus on heavy weights for fewer reps
- Focus on big compound movements like squats and deadlifts.
- Focus on progressive overload (gradually lifting heavier weights)
Skinny Guys, You Must Be patient
Building muscle is not a quick process. In fact, if you are a natural weight lifter, it’s an incredibly slow process, and even more so for the skinny guy.
You really need to make sure you understand this and set realistic expectations. As you are reading this article you probably already know from your own experience this is not a quick and easy process.
Please do not set yourself up for huge disappointment by being unrealistic with your expectations.
You must forget about every bit of bull crap you have read in the muscle magazines, selling you super duper supplements that will help you gain 40lbs in 1 month. There really is only one kind of supplement that can help you gain muscle at a rapid rate, and trust me, it’s not anything you can buy or even see in magazines.
Here are some realistic goals you could potentially set yourself. However, please remember everyone is different and as a naturally skinny you find it hard to achieve these kinds of numbers. Not impossible just harder. You will really need to be on the ball with everything from training, nutrition, sleep etc
- Year one of training – men can realistically gain up to 15 pounds of muscle and woman 7lbs
- Year two of training – men can realistically gain up to 8lbs of muscle and woman 4lbs
- Yeah, three of training – men can realistically gain 5lbs of muscle and woman 2lbs.
As you can see these numbers are nowhere near what they say you can gain in all the muscle magazines. The difference is these are realistic and if you can get near these numbers you have done extremely well.
So as cheesy as this sounds, Weight lifting is a lifestyle choice, not a quick fix.
How To Bulk Up For Skinny Guys Key Takeaways
- You need to eat big to get big (slight calorie surplus) but don’t go overboard and completely blow your diet. You will only get fat by doing this.
- You must focus on compound movements like the bench press, deadlifts and squats.
- You must train with high intensity and moderate volume.
- Be careful not to train so hard that you outstrip your bodies ability to recover.
- Focus on the 4 to 6 rep range
- Training frequency is the least important factor for muscle growth.
- Progressive overload is the most important factor for muscle growth.
- Make sure you follow proper recovery protocols. This includes getting enough sleep and eating enough protein and carbs.
- Being patient is key. Weight training is not a quick fix, especially for the naturally skinny guy. Results will come, they just take time.
Please don’t hesitate to leave any questions or comments below. I will get back to you ASAP. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article here at BFG Muscle.
Hi, I’m David and I believe absolutely anyone can achieve the body of their dreams. I’m a qualified health and fitness coach and have been helping clients achieve their dream bodies for 15 years. Whether you are looking to get beach body ready, compete in a bodybuilding show or simply to improve your confidence and wellbeing, I can help.