The two most common reasons I see skinny guys stay skinny are:
- They overthink everything
- They’re impatient
Most skinny guys never make any progress because they drive themselves crazy into paralysis by analysis with pointless questions like:
- Should I train back on Tuesday or Wednesday?
- Should I lift my pinky when I do curls?
- Should I eat 38 or 39 grams of protein per meal?
All this second-guessing only serves to stress you out, increase cortisol and halt muscle growth.
Building muscle doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s hard, brutal and takes a hell of a long time, but it’s simple.
Here are my top ten muscle building tips for skinny guys…
1. Train 4 Days A Week
Most skinny guys train too much.
For the guy with a normal life and average genetics, I’ve found four workouts a week to be the perfect balance between muscle growth and recovery.
Some guys do better on three days a week. Especially if they’re really busy and stressed, or just need the extra recovery.
When your goal is building muscle, you need to prioritise recovery time just as much as your training time.
You grow when you are out of the gym, not inside.
2. Focus On Big, Compound Exercises
The bread and butter of your training should be based on compound exercises like squats, chin-ups, dips, presses, rows and deadlift variations.
These are the exercises that will allow the greatest loading potential and provide the most bang for your buck in your training.
The compound exercises you choose to focus on should fulfil three important criteria:
- Suit YOUR mechanics
- Be pain-free
- Allow you to keep tension on the right muscles at all times
From this you should have 2 to 3 exercises per movement pattern that you can rotate between and strive to set PRs on.
Utilising a rotation like this means you’ll have less muscle imbalances and overuse injuries that typically come with focusing on only one exercise.
If you fill 80% of your training with these exercises, you can fill the remaining 20% with isolation exercises like curls, abs, lateral raise variations etc.
3. Pay Attention To Progressive Overload
Most skinny guys stay skinny because they never focus on actually getting stronger.
They just mindlessly pump away on the latest Muscle and Fitness magazine workout with no thought to progress over time.
The body doesn’t like building muscle – it’s not efficient.
If you’re naturally skinny, this applies even more. Which is why you need to force your muscles to adapt with increased overload.
You need to focus on either adding weight or doing more reps with the same weight.
I can guarantee that if you’re bench pressing 60kg for 10 reps now, when you can bench press 100kg for 10 reps you’ll be a bigger person.
It’s easy to get distracted, but getting stronger over a wide range of rep ranges is still the single most important factor in building muscle.
4. Use Perfect Form
Progressive overload always comes with a caveat.
It only counts if you maintain perform form, execution and muscular tension.
If you increase your squat from 100kg to 140kg, but your depth has gone from below parallel to a 30-degree knee bend, you’ve made zero progression.
Form always comes first.
Most skinny guys are in a rush, so will add weight at all costs and forget about form.
This doesn’t work. You’ll only get beat up and injured. And your muscles will receive no overload.
So perhaps I should rephrase the single most important factor as progressive overload WITH perfect form.
5. Train Each Muscle Group At Least Twice A Week
If you’re really weak and skinny, you don’t need body part splits.
You need to train on a full body system 3 to 4 days a week.
As the weights you’ll be lifting won’t be heavy, there won’t be much toll on the nervous system or joints.
You’re also in a phase of your training where you need frequent exposure to similar movement patterns in order to learn and begin progressing.
As you get stronger, you’ll want to start thinking about splitting your workouts up.
My favourite split for guys who’ve been training at least a year and want to build size is the upper / lower split, or variations of it.
This allows each muscle to be trained twice a week, which seems to be the sweet spot for muscle growth in the long term.
6. Use A Low To Moderate Amount Of Volume
Your workouts have most likely been along the lines of…
25-30 sets of chest on Monday
25-30 sets of shoulders on Tuesday
And so on.
Not only are you now going to train each body part twice a week, but you’re also going to slash the volume in half. Maybe more.
Somewhere in the region of 12 to 18 total sets per workout works pretty well, although it’s tough to give specifics.
Some people can get away with less if they really know how to apply intensity. But this is usually best saved for advanced trainees.
And if you’re training hard, there’s rarely a place for more.
Per body part I like to give skinny guys 1 to 2 exercises done for 2 to 3 sets each.
Of all the advice in this article, this will be the one tip that throws skinny guys off. Yet it’ll probably be the one that gives the most growth.
By keeping the volume lower, you’re able to 1) train more frequently and 2) allow the body to recover to continuously get stronger.
Remember, if you’re lifting the same weights as you were a year ago, chances are you’ll look exactly the same.
7. Use The Right Rep Ranges
The magic rep range for skinny guys looking to build muscle is 5 to 8 reps.
Just like you should be spending 80% of your time doing the big compound lifts. I believe 80% of your sets should be spent working in the 5 to 8 rep range.
This rep range works so well because it allows the perfect blend of maximal muscle recruitment as well as metabolic stimulus.
Skinny guys are typically also weak, which means working excessively in the 8 to 12 rep range will provide little muscle recruitment and tension.
Until you’ve built a good foundation of strength and muscle, stay in the 5 to 8 rep range.
When you’re a little more advanced, that’s when 8+ reps can provide benefits.
That’s also when utilising splits such as the heavy/light method, where you vary the rep ranges through the week can really accelerate your muscle building results.
8. Don’t Abuse Training To Failure
If you want to stay healthy and make progress over a long period of time, you need to train hard, but also smart.
That’s why you need to be careful with how you approach training to failure.
You want to mostly train at around 90%, meaning the majority of your sets should finish just shy of technical failure.
This doesn’t mean you can’t train to balls out failure from time to time. You need those sets too to know what hard is, as well as to test your limits.
But these should be used sparingly and strategically.
The problem is that most skinny guys do this everyday, and so they struggle to recover, are always sore and continuously pick up injuries.
9. Stick With ONE Program For At Least 12 Weeks
Muscle building is a marathon, not a sprint.
In the age of information overload we now live in, program hopping is at an all time high.
One week it’s 8×8, the following week is 5×5, then it’s DC training, followed by Ronnie Coleman’s Olympia routine.
If there’s one thing you take from this, it’s that you need to ‘buy in’ to ONE program that fits your personality, and then stick with it for AT LEAST 12 weeks.
Unlike what the magazines have duped you into thinking, you can’t gain 15 pounds of muscle in 3 weeks with one magical program.
The body craves consistency and time for progression to occur, not confusion.
10. Maximize Recovery
Coming back full circle…
If your goal is muscle building, you need to maximise your ability to recover.
Your body grows when you’re resting. Your time in the gym is only a signal for growth. Once stimulated, your body needs food, sleep and plenty of rest to be able to grow.
If you’re up partying all night, sleeping only 3 hours, stressed out all day and under eating, you’re not going to get any bigger.
Start prioritizing high quality sleep every night. Eat in a consistent calorie surplus with the right foods. Manage your stress. Get massages, and stay on top of soft tissue work.
All of these things will add up to allow you recover faster between workouts, get stronger and ultimately build more muscle.
About The Author
Akash Vaghela is the co-founder of RNT Fitness. He specialises in transforming the bodies of City executives, CEOs, actors, physique athletes and regular people who want to be in the best shape of their lives. Akash has written for T-Nation, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, the Square Mile and Ultimate Performance. He blends scientific knowledge, evidenced by his 1st class Sport Science degree from the University of Birmingham, with the practical experience of successfully competing in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, to generate maximum results in minimum time for his clients. Akash can be best found on: Instagram @akashvaghela, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/akash.vaghela, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on his website at www.rntfitness.co.uk.