This guide is written specifically for skinny people and hard gainers who are looking to pack on some muscle mass quickly and safely.
First of all, stop reading all the bodybuilding routines from magazines and popular websites. Even better, burn your magazines and block those websites so you don't make the BIGGEST MISTAKE on building muscle mass: train like a pro bodybuilder.
Most of us are normal people with average genetics. We don't have the body to train like pro bodybuilders who are either on drugs or genetically gifted… or both. Especially for skinny people and beginners, you will only destroy your body if you do conventional bodybuilding routines. Trust me on that. I've been there done that. Lifting hard and not getting results is not fun…
Here's what my Dad always says to me, "you need to learn how to walk before you run." This applies to many areas of life including building muscle mass.
If you're serious about building muscle mass, follow these immutable principles:
1. Do compound exercises.
There are two types of exercises: compound and isolation. Compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscles. And isolation exercises only use a single joint through its range of motion.
If you want to build muscle mass quickly, focus on the big basic lifts and their variations such as bench press, squat, deadlifts, barbell rows, and pull-ups. Compound exercises will stimulate multiple muscle groups at the same time. They save you time and effort. You don't want to spend all day at the gym, do you? You goal in the gym should be to stimulate your muscle and get the fuck out ASAP. Weight lifting uses a lot of your precious calories that you need to grow muscle and gain weight. So "get in and get out" should be your new motto at the gym.
The truth is you can't isolate any muscle. If you want to build big biceps, you have to build a muscular back. Yes, you can build a muscular and head-turning body by doing big compound lifts exclusively.
Isolation exercises such leg extension and bicep curls are not only ineffective on maximizing muscle gains, but also very time-wasting for skinny people…
The right training routines for skinny people and beginners should only consist of compound exercises. Once you build up the foundation, then you can worry about definition. You got to learn how to walk before you run.
2. Eat a lot of calories and eat clean.
It doesn't take a genius to know that if you want to build muscle mass, you have to gain weight.
How much calories do you have to eat?
A general rule of thumb is to eat about 20% over your maintenance calories level or 20 x your body weight in pounds. For your convenience, one kg is about 2.205 lbs. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs, then you should be eating at least 2800 calories a day (140×20). Of course, the more you eat the faster your weight gain. But more is not always better. You could gain fat instead of muscle. Take your time and adhere to the +20% above maintenance or 20x your body weight rule
What should you eat?
You want to gain muscle not fat, right? Then you should ditch your junk food and stop eating fast food. No PizzaHut, no KFC, no McDonald's, and no Chinese food.
- Protein: chicken breast, lean grass-fed beef, tuna, egg whites, fat-free milk, and whey protein shakes.
- Carbohydrate: Whole grain oatmeal, yam or sweet potato, brown rice, wheat pasta, and black beans.
- Fat: fish oil, olive oil, peanut butter, avocado, egg yolks, and nuts.
- All kinds of green vegetables, and some fruits.
Please make your diet simple so you don't stress yourself out. Just pick 2-3 foods from each macronutrient category and eat them every day. Learn how to cook them and wash your dishes.
Remember this: While you're bulking up, calories from healthy foods are your friends.
P.S. Here's is a list of healthy and safe foods that you should be eating to grow muscle.
3. Focus on getting stronger and using good form.
This is the one thing that 99.9999% of muscle building experts can all agree on. Get stronger and you will build more muscle. You have to strive to increase the poundage that you can lift in every workout. We called this "progressive overload."
Even though, some of the strongest guys are not the biggest guys, but have you seen a serious bodybuilder who could not bench press at least 10 times his bodyweight? There are some factors that will add poundage to your lift without muscle gain, such as neurological efficiency, power lifting techniques, and muscle composition. However, for a skinny person or beginner, the more weight you can lift, the more muscle will be developed.
Building muscle is a process called hypertrophy. It's your body's response and adaptation to stress (lifting weight). Stimulate it with enough stress, it will respond by growing more muscle.
"There's a very strong relationship between strength and muscular size, providing that strength is not built using specific strength-focus techniques like very low reps, partial reps, and low-rep rest-pause work." said Stuart McRobert in Beyond Brawn.
The basic idea is to set a new personal record in every workout. And you will be almost guaranteed to gain muscle. But one caveat: go small. Don't increase the weight by too much, increase by 5 pounds at a time or even better, 2.5 pounds. Your poundage progress will be different in every exercise.
Bigger exercises that involve bigger muscle groups will progress faster than isolation exercises. But that's ok. As long as you see yourself getting stronger every week, you know you're on track.
Here's how a typical skinny person adds more weight to his or her lift:
- Workout 1: Lifted 150 lbs 6 reps
- Workout 2: Lifted 150 lbs for 8 reps
- Workout 3: Lifted 155 lbs for 6 reps
- Workout 4: Lifted 155 lbs for 7 reps
- Workout 5: Lifted 155 lbs for 9 reps
- Workout 6: Lifted 160 lbs for 7 reps
In our example, this skinny person added 10 lbs on the bar and lifted one more rep in just 6 workouts.
Beginners typically progress even faster than our example. Usually without drugs, the more advanced your are the slower your progress as you're closer to your genetic potential.
Now, let's talk about using good form. You've probably seen a lot of people cheat on their workout to lift bigger weight. Even pro bodybuilders often cheat on their sets. But you should always strive to lift in good form. When you cheat, you're not working the muscle with the range of motion the exercise is suppose to.
Loose form could cause you serious injuries, especially exercises that involve your lower back. You should only "learn" to do cheat reps once you've built your foundation. What I'm trying to get across here is beginners should focus on learning proper training form.
Progressive overload in good form is key to building muscle mass quickly and safely.
4. Train your entire body.
As I mentioned earlier, skinny people should be doing compound exercises. You can't just aim to grow one part of your body and ignore the other. Many people don't like to do lower body workout such as squat and deadlift. My suggestion to you is: learn how to get used to them. Stop complaining if you want to get big. Squat and deadlift are two of the best exercises to build muscle mass fast. Train your thighs. Train your lower back. Train your hips.
If you want to pack on some serious muscle mass, do your squats and deadlifts. The best way to build muscle mass is to do compound exercises that train your entire body. Many trainers will tell you not to ignore small muscles, but you shouldn't worry about them until you build your foundation.
Don't waste your time and calories doing direct abs exercises like crunches, leg raises, and sit-ups. Squat, deadlift, bench press, and should press will give you enough abs workout. I told you to do compound exercises.
"Exercises that use lots of muscles in coordinated action are better than those that force muscles to work in isolation." – The New Rules Of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.
Train your lower body as much as you train your upper body. Grow your body as a unit.
5. Don't Overtrain:
Overtraining is a common mistake among beginners. I've been there and done that. Many new trainees think if they want to build BIG guns, they have to train like bodybuilders. They train too hard and stay skinny.
Here's a typical story:
A skinny guy decided that he wanted to build some muscle so he can better attract this girl.
- He went to Wal-Mart and bought a popular bodybuilding magazine (with Ronnie or Jay Cutler on the cover).
- He picked out one of the gazillion of workout routines in that magazine.
- He signed up at a local gym (and got ripped off).
- He followed the routines rigorously and worked hard.
- He trained 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.
- After 3 months….guess what?
- ….He's still skinny as F.
You're not genetically gifted and I doubt you want to use illegal drug just to get big. Don't follow pro bodybuilder's training routines. Your body will not be able to handle 5 sets per exercise and 5 exercises per muscle. Don't overtrain. You will only overkill your body and stay skinny and little. Less is usually more in the world of building muscle.
You shouldn't follow muscle building programs that require you to stay at the gym for more than one hour to complete. Lifting weight is a catabolic process that's breaking down your muscle. You should not let your body stay in that process too long. Get in and get the fuck out. Go home and eat so you can transition into anabolic process – the muscle growing state ASAP. If you find yourself in the gym for more than one hour, then you're doing too many sets and exercises. For hardgainers and beginners, I think 2-3 sets per exercise and 6-8 exercises should be the maximum.
"Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn't formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them" – Lee Haney
How do you know you're overtrained?
Here are some of the overtraining symptoms:
- Decreased strength – You feel weak in your workout and repeatedly fail to improve or even complete your previous workout.
- Decreased muscle – You're losing your muscle.
- Insomnia –You feel restless at sleep.
- Lack of appetite – You don't feel like eating much all of a sudden.
- Sore jointed and muscles – Soreness resulting from lactic acid build-up is normal. Delayed onset muscle soreness should go away in 2-3 days. But if you feel like your pain is acute, you might be overtrained or injured.
- Sickness – You feel like crap. And you're getting sick a lot more often. Overtraining could hurt your immune system's ability to protect you.
- Elevated heart rate
- Lack of sex drive – Hmm…
Everyone is different and only you know your body well. Don't overtrain. When in doubt, train less not more.
6. Recover well:
Your muscles don't grow when you're working them. They grow when they are recovering. Sleep is the hands down the best recovery for your muscles, so make sure you get enough sleep each night like 7-8 hours.
The general advice is that your muscles need AT LEAST 48 hours to recover after you "worked" them. Bigger muscles like your back, thighs, and chest may even need longer than 48 hours to fully recover. You should never train the same muscle group in 2 consecutive days.
However, I think beginners need even more time to recover. There was study on recovery, conducted by Western Kentucky University. The majority of its subjects took 72 hours for upper body muscles to fully recover, but it took 96 hours for lower body muscles to fully recover.
To further speed up your recovery, here are some tips:
- Stretch between sets and after your workout.
- Warm up before your workout and cool down after your workout.
- Do some light cardio for 15 minutes if your muscles are sore the next day. The point is to get some blood into the sore and fatigued muscle to speed up your recovery.
- Take a cold bath or cold shower. The purpose is the same as light cardio workout.
- Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- Do yoga.
- Go to a sauna.
- Get a deep tissue massage.
Proper recovery is very important, but many people ignore such significant factor. Train hard and rest well.
Summary and key points:
1. Do compound exercises – Bench press, squat, deadlift, and pull-up.
2. Eat a lot of calories and eat clean – Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and eat 20x bodyweight in calories.
3. Focus on getting stronger and using good form – Try to increase small poundage in every workout.
4. Train your entire body – Do your lower body exercises. Grow your body as a unit.
5. Don’t overtrain – Do not follow conventional bodybuilding routines.
6. Recover well – You need 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Rest your muscles for at least 48-72 hours before you work them again. Stretch.
I hope this timely guide will help you gain more muscle mass and avoid some of the beginner mistakes. Of course, there are more specifications on designing a good mass building program such as reps, lifting tempo, and macronutrient ratios. But every skinny trainee needs to follow theses 6 principles to a T, no matter what program you choose to do.
Are there more beginner training principles that I did not include?
What beginner mistakes have you made?
What is your favorite muscle building exercise?
Please give me feedback in the comment section. Thanks.