So you’re a skinny nerd.
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).
Here are 13 tips for you to get started:
- Eat a lot – This sounds much easier than it really is. Whatever you’re eating now, you should probably double it. If you eat three meals a day, instead eat six. You need to be eating every 2-3 hours, and each meal needs to be the size of a normal meal. This is going to be difficult for a few weeks, because you’ll often 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 1000 calories (spread throughout the day), and you’ll put on 2 lbs a week. Not just any calories though…
- Eat a lot of good things - You need to eat a ridiculous amount of calories (probably 3500+ per day) if you want to gain weight, 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 that will just make you fat. If you want to build muscle, you want to eat healthy calories that are loaded with good protein, good carbs, and healthy fats…which brings me to my next point:
- Protein = building block for your muscles. Chicken, fish, meat, eggs, milk, almonds, peanuts. Eat lots of this stuff, all the time. Read more about protein here.
- Carbs will help you put on weight, but it won’t be muscle – pasta, brown rice, wheat bread, oatmeal, etc. will help you put on weight, but a lot of that weight will be fat. Every meal should have vegetables and fruit. If you just eat protein, your body will resort to using it for energy rather than building muscle. I learned this the hard way in college; four years of exercising and three protein shakes a day got me NOTHING. Unless you’re eating tons of good fats (almonds FTW), good carbs (fruits and veggies), and protein, you won’t be gaining weight.
- Keep track of everything you eat - Sign up for a site light dailyburn.com (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. This site has helped me put on 15 lbs since last fall.
- Compound exercises are your friend– 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. Don’t worry about isolation exercises until you’re up to your goal weight and ready to tone down. Read about squats here, deadlifts here, and pull ups here.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. I usually wait at least 48 hours before I hit the same muscle again.
- Sleep – you need to be getting 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I was definitely a skinny guy, but managed to go from 162 lbs. to 185 lbs. following these principles.
We have recently written a MASSIVE post on how to gain weight properly, which you can read here: “The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Getting Bigger.”
Now go eat something!