So you’re skinny.
If this were an RPG, you’d be an elf. If this was Maniac Mansion, you’d definitely be Bernard. In the fitness world you’re called a “hardgainer.” You weigh 125 lbs., you eat whatever you want, and you still can’t gain weight. You’re ready to bulk up, build some muscle, and get strong like a mofo…but you have no freaking cue what you’re doing. Luckily, you’ve found this site, and I’m here to help. I used to be a skinny guy too (see above). And it wasn’t that long ago!
I’ve spent the past 15 years struggling to get bigger and only in the past few years have I finally cracked the code. I still am working on getting bigger and stronger, but.
I dig into this in WAY more detail in the following (more recent) articles:
But these 13 tips will get you started down a path to a stronger physique.
13 Ways to Get Bigger
1) Eat a lot – This sounds much easier than it really is, but it’s the truth.
If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough.
It’s that simple. When I first started exercising and trying to get bigger, the personal trainer in my gym had me DOUBLE the amount of food I was eating. I thought he was crazy…until I did it and it worked. I had tried unsuccessfully to get bigger prior to that, it was simply because I wasn’t eating enough food. You might eat 3 MONSTER meals, 6 big meals, or any combination of whatever works for your schedule.
These days, I eat all my calories between Noon and 8pm (this is a type of Intermittent Fasting).
This is going to be difficult for a while, because your body isn’t used to eating this much food, which means you’ll have to force yourself to eat even when you’re not hungry. 500 extra calories a day = 1 extra pound gained per week. Whatever you’re eating now, add an additional 500-1000 calories (spread throughout the day).
2) Eat a lot of good things – You need to eat a ridiculous amount of calories (my guess is 3500+ per day) if you want to gain weight (depending on how skinny you are), but you want to make sure most of those calories are GOOD calories. You could easily get 3500 calories eating Taco Bell and Twinkies, and drinking Mountain Dew, but your body will hate you and that’s not a good long term solution. If you want to build muscle, you want to eat healthy calories that are loaded with good protein, good carbs, and healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables to help move all that food through your internal plumbing…which brings me to my next point:
3) Protein = building block for your muscles. Chicken, fish, meat, eggs, milk, almonds. Aim for .8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. You don’t need to overdo it with 300+ grams of protein like you’ll read in fitness magazines – they say that so you buy their protein powders and go through it quickly.
4) Carbs are your friend when you need to put on weight – rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, etc. will help you put on weight. You can also eat a lot of it to get your calorie goals. If you’re younger or have a lot of weight to put on, you can get away with eating less healthy things like bread, pasta, even snack food, but I try to avoid those things these days. Also, as previously stated, every meal should have vegetables when possible so your body can properly manage all those calories as they move through your body and come out.
In addition to carbs, eating lots of nuts (high calorie, high fat) can help you reach your calorie goals too.
5) Keep track of everything you eat – Sign up for a site like MyFitnessPal (it’s free), input your stats and start to track every one of your meals. It will tell you if you’re eating enough calories, enough protein, and enough carbs. Once you start to get a good feel for how many calories you eat each day, try to eat the same meals to keep it easy. If the scale is moving up, keep doing what you’re doing. If the scale isn’t moving. EAT MORE.
If you’re ever unsure if you’ve eaten enough that day, eat more.
You can always scale back the calories later and thanks to your fast metabolism you’ll lose that weight quickly. YOU WILL NOT GET TOO BULKY. Trust me. That should not even be a concern in your mind. Remove “I don’t want to get too bulky” from your vocabulary.
6) Compound exercises are your friend – Up until this point, we’ve only talked about the weight gain portion. Do the above, and you’ll put on weight. HOWEVER, if you’re not also training properly, you’ll just be getting fat, and not building muscle.
And that’s where training comes in! Concentrate on complex, compound exercises that recruit as many muscles as possible: bench presses dumbbell presses, squats, deadlifts, pull ups, chin ups, and dips. Do these exercises, and concentrate on lifting as much weight as possible.
Don’t worry about triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, bicep curls or crunches. All of the compound exercises listed here use every muscle in your body, and when you overload your body with calories and protein, those muscles will grow.
Read through our Strength Training 101 series If you’re interested in getting started with Strength Training!
7) Appearance is a consequence of fitness – This is the mantra of the actors of who trained for the movie 300 – would you be okay looking like a Spartan? Concentrate on being really strong and lifting heavy weights, and your body will follow suit. It doesn’t matter if you can only bench press 10 lb dumbbells right now. Wherever you’re starting out, concentrate on being stronger each and every time you exercise. Push yourself, get stronger, lift more, and before you know it you’ll be ripped.
8) When exercising, keep your rest between sets to a minute or less, and don’t do more than 12 reps in a set – Keep your range of reps between 6 and 12, and try to keep the time you rest between sets to a minute or less. Example: incline dumbbell chest press – 12 reps of 50 lbs, wait a minute, 10 reps of 55lbs, wait a minute, 8 reps of 60 lbs.
9) Let your muscles rest – never exercise the same muscle two days in a row. Your muscles get rebuilt (larger) during your days off, so never exercise the same muscle before it’s ready. Training 3-4 days a week with a day off in between each (and plenty of calories) is plenty of training. Skinny guys often don’t need to train more, they need to eat and rest more!
10) Sleep – you need to be getting at least 7 hours of sleep, but 8-9 hours of sleep every night for maximum gains. Your body is doing nothing but lying there and building muscle while you’re sleeping. If you are only getting 6 hours or less, you’re not going to get all the benefits of your exercising and diet. I know it’s tough, but those 3AM raids on Runnyeye need to be put on hold for a few months. SLEEP.
11) Cardio is your enemy – Running long distances isn’t going to help you. If you’re going to run, do sprints or run up a hill. Think about it: would you rather look like a sprinter or a marathon runner? Keep your distance cardio to a minimum if you want to put on some pounds.
12) Make it part of your routine – It’s okay to skip a workout here and there, but it is NOT okay for you to skip a meal if you’re serious about weight gain. You need to be always eating. It sucks, it’s practically a full time job, but it’s what you have to do. Eat.
13) Realize you will put on some fat – with all of this eating, you are going to be putting on some fat along with your muscle. That’s okay! Figure out what your goal weight is, and then add another 5-10 lbs on top of it. Once you get to that weight, cut back on the carbs in your diet, do more sprints, and keep exercising: you’ll shed the fat quickly and be left with a killer figure. Eat all the vegetables you want, but cut back on breads, pasta, rice, and oatmeal.
Now go eat something!