How to Do The Front Squat: A Definitive Guide

The front squat is a fantastic alternative to the traditional barbell squat

In this guide to front squats – part of our Strength 101 series – we’re going to be covering everything you need to know about how to perform the front squat.

Teaching people how to do squats is one of my favorite things about our 1-on-1 online coaching program!

We build workout routines that help people get strong as hell, check their form via video, and even help them get their nutrition dialed in too.

If you’re ready to jump into this guide on front squats, simply click on the sections below to get to the good stuff:

Oh, and if you like this guide, we have an entire Strength 101 Guide that you can download free when you join the Rebellion (our free community).

I’ll send you the ebook when you sign up in the box below!

What’s ArE Differences Between a Front Squat and a Back Squat?

This pictures shows a man in the middle of a front squat.

“Dearest Steve, HOW does a barbell front squat differ from the back squat?”

Great question, gumshoe (can I call you “gumshoe?” Cool).

This section is going to rely heavily on the bible of barbell training, Starting Strength, which I HIGHLY recommend you pick up if you’re serious about your training. 

The differences between a barbell back squat and front squat is all due to the location of the bar with regards to the rest of your body.

Your back position, knees, and shins are all used differently when comparing a front squat to back squat

Because you keep the weight over the middle of your feet in both movements, your body needs to adjust fairly dramatically to do a front squat when compared to a back squat (below photo from Starting Strength):

the front squat is very different than the back squat

In a back squat, at the bottom of the squat your back is in a 45 degree angle[1].

However, in a front squat, due to the fact that the weight is in front of you (duh), resting on your shoulders, your torso and back need to be almost completely vertical throughout the movement to keep the weight stable!

In addition, because your back is much more upright, this requires your hips to stay under the bar, your knees to extend out further, and also your ankles to be more activated (photo below from Starting Strength)

Your knee position and ankles are very different with a front squat compared to a back squat

Other differences between a front squat and back squat:

  1. You’ll lift LESS weight than a traditional back squat.
  2. You might find front squats to be easier on your lower back than back squats, because you’ll be lifting less weight and your lower back is less engaged.
  3. Your quads are more engaged, your glutes are more engaged, and your hamstrings are LESS engaged due to your hips staying under the bar and your knees driving forward when you drop into a front squat.

Quads are the dominant muscle that have to do most of the heavy lifting in a front squat. Which means doing both front squats and back squats in your workouts is a great way to build very well developed legs and posterior.

BOOYAH.

How to Work Up to a Front Squat

This picture shows a group doing the Front Squat

The front squat is an exercise that requires quite a bit of mobility, experience, and strength to be able to pull it off correctly. 

In addition, it’s important to learn how to bail safely out of a front squat before attempting it with a heavy weight, so it’s a lot more advanced than a traditional back squat.

And if you can’t do a regular bodyweight squat correctly, there’s no way in hell we’re gonna have you start lifting heavy weight with improper form either!

So let’s start with…

LEVEL 1: BODYWEIGHT SQUATS

Here is a video from us nerds at Team Nerd Fitness (with instructions from Jim, lead trainer at our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program) that will teach you good form on a bodyweight squat, including all the mistakes NOT to make:

Once you can do multiple sets of 15+ deep bodyweight squats with proper form, it’s time to level up. 

Pulling an exercise from our Gym Workout Level 4 Program, you can do…

LEVEL 2: DUMBBELL GOBLET SQUATS

This is a good exercise to get used to doing squats where the weight is in front of you (like in a front squat) rather than behind you (a back squat). 

Once you can do a Goblet Squat with 20 pounds, it’s time to level up to…

LEVEL 3: DUMBBELL FRONT SQUATS

This exercise helps you start to develop improved wrist mobility, develops familiarity around having weight across the tops of your shoulders, and can be scaled with different sized dumbbells.

The best advice I can give you on Dumbbell Front Squats: get those elbows up! This is one of the most important mobility challenges people have when it comes to doing front squats correctly: shoulder and wrist mobility to get the bar locked in the right place!

We have LOTS of 1-on-1 coaching clients who are new to doing front squats, and it often comes down to ankle flexibility and hip mobility in order to do a front squat right.

Once you can do Dumbbell Front Squats with 20 pounds in each hand, it’s time to level up to the major leagues:

Front Squats!

Let’s start setting up for the movement.

How to Set Up Properly For Front Squats

This section will tell you exactly how to setup the Front Squat

#1) Find your squat rack!

It’ll look something like this, with an unattached barbell:

A. Squat Stand:If you find a squat stand like this in your gym you are good to squat!

B. Power Cage/Squat Rack

C. Half Rack (Least favorite*):

*I don’t like Half-racks without adjustable safety bars – if you want to squat deep the barbell might hit the immovable bars! Not cool.

Aim for the A or B options if you have the choice.

HUGE NOTE: a squat rack is NOT the same thing as a Smith Machine, where the barbell is attached to the machine, and slides up and down two bars:

Don't use the Smith Machine, unless it's for inverted rows at the gym.

You do NOT want to do front squats in a Smith Machine. Because the bar can’t move horizontally (only vertically), it can put your spine and body in precarious positions and is NOT recommended.

You need a completely unattached barbell in order to do a barbell squat properly and safely.

Friends don’t let friends squat in a Smith Machine.

#2) Next, set the height of the bar to be about the same height as your collarbone.

Not sure how to set the height of the barbell for your front squats? Here’s a video from our Coaching Staff for setting the squat rack, safety bars, and how to properly load weights:

Not sure if you should set the squat rack pins higher or lower? It happens. If your options are either too high or too low, it’s always best to set the pins slightly lower than you need them

You don’t want to have to get up on your toes to rack/unrack the bar, especially as the weight gets heavier.

Okay, now that we have the bar on the rack and our safety bars in place, we are ready to get started! 

How to Do A Proper Front Squat

This pictures shows a CrossFitter doing s Front Squat

THE FRONT SQUAT SETUP[2]

1) Step up to the bar, lift your arms, and place the bar on the meaty top/front of your shoulders resting close to your neck (not AGAINST your neck!)

2) Continue lifting your arms and wrap your hands around until you can use your fingers to keep the bar steady!

Depending on your shoulder and write mobility, you might need to adjust your wrist location on the bar.

This is a traditional front squat grip:

With your chest up and elbows up, grab the bar close to your shoulders

See the image below for WIDE grip (if you have mobility issues or longer than average forearms): If you have longer than average forearms or poor wrist mobility, grabbing the bar with a wider grip can help

Most people can not front squat with all of your fingers wrapped around the bar, and instead will let the bar roll against their fingertips (a 2-3 finger grip is okay here).

Your fingers are NOT doing any lifting in a front squat: They are merely there to keep the bar on the tops of your shoulders, and to keep the bar from rolling forward if your elbows start to accidentally drop down.

However, if you keep your chest puffed out (like King Kong about to pound his chest), and your elbows UP UP UP, you shouldn’t have any problem here.

Keep your shoulders back while doing your front squat, just like King Kong.

If you can’t get your fingers around the bar, there are a few variations you can start training with (specifically, the cross grip squat, which we cover below).

However, we do NOT recommend doing front squats with heavy weight until you can do them with proper form with your grip properly wrapped around the bar and elbows up.

Okay, you’re now ready to do the actual front squat movement.

THE FRONT SQUAT MOVEMENT:

1) Keep your spine tight, your body vertical, chest out and elbows UP UP UP.

2) Lift the bar off the rack, and take one cautious step backward.

3) Your stance should be with your feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointed SLIGHTLY outward (if you have poor hip mobility or very long legs, you might need to squat with a slightly wider stance, that’s okay).

4) Inhale deep into your belly, flex your stomach, and slowly lower your body until your thighs touch the back of your legs. If you don’t squat deep enough, it’s only a partial squat!

5) Staying vertical, keeping your hips underneath the weight, and keeping those elbows UP HIGH, drive down through your feet and lift the weight back to its starting position.

 

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Keeping your elbows as high as possible the entire time is extremely important in the front squat – as soon as you let them drop, the weight will likely pull you forward out of correct positioning, and you will either drop the weight or potentially get injured.

If you can’t do a Front Squat with your arms in the position consider a “cross grip front squat” to START:

Why should you not do front squats with cross grip forever? Because it’s tougher to control the bar at heavier weight without having your hands in a traditional front squat position.

If you’re going to start to lift heavy, you’re gonna need to learn how to fail and bail from a front squat safely.

And it’s very difficult to fail safely while doing a cross grip front squat.

So, sure! Feel free to start with a genie front squat to work on your squat movement, but don’t forget to work on that shoulder and wrist mobility too so you can do front squats properly.

How to Bail Safely on A Front Squat

If you are going to squat, you have to know how to “fail” at squatting safely!

This is where practice can REALLY come in handy. Set the safety pins at the right height, and then practice your bail at a safe weight (or with a PVC pipe) so that the movement becomes second nature if things go poorly!

Make sure you watch the video above to learn how to bail safely with a front squat and back squat.

Now you know how to bail out of your Front Squat.

Front Squat: 5 BIGGEST MISTAKES to Avoid

A man giving tips on the Front Squat

I’ve been front squatting for about a decade, but I’m just one nerd. So I asked the coaches of our Online Coaching Program (with decades of experience between them) what big mistakes they see people make with front squats, both online and in person:

MISTAKE #1) Not staying vertical enough.

If you’ve never done front squats before, it’s a FUNKY maneuver.

You need to keep the weight over the middle of your feet – if you drew a line down from the bar to the floor, it should bisect your feet – which means you need to be significantly more vertical compared to a back squat.

See it in the right image below:

Your back position, knees, and shins are all used differently when comparing a front squat to back squat

The tendency is to bend forward on a front squat, and this is a recipe for disaster!

SOLUTION: Film a video of yourself doing  front squats from the side, and note where the bar is in relation to your feet. Keep your chest puffed out (King Kong!) and elbows up!

MISTAKE #2) Not developing proper shoulder and wrist flexibility.

If we had one more more common problem than the others, it’s that people don’t have the proper shoulder and wrist and arm mobility to be able to grab the bar properly with their fingers.

Although you CAN do a cross-grip front squat, it’s not recommended for heavy weights due to the fact that it’s more difficult to bail from this movement safely.

SOLUTION: Grab the bar wider, or with fewer fingers. Just keep those elbows up!

If you have longer than average forearms or poor wrist mobility, grabbing the bar with a wider grip can help

With each future workout, grab the bar with a slightly closer and closer to your shoulders, or with more fingers.

Develop that mobility!

MISTAKE #3) Not squatting deep enough: ankle and hip mobility.

Most people have poor hip and ankle mobility – it’s from spending all day sitting in desk chairs or cars. This is the most common fault I see in gyms around the world: people doing a barbell squat and only dropping down a few inches and thinking it’s a full squat.

We call this a “power curtsy:”

Showing a front squat not going low enough.

If you don’t squat deep enough – until the tops of your thighs are parallel or lower, then you’re only doing half a repetition and cheating yourself!

See the difference in depth between a half-rep and a VERY deep front squat below.

You can go deep enough until the tops of your thighs are below parallel, and if you have the mobility and depth, until your hamstrings hit your calves:

Make sure you go down low enough in your front squat, like so.

SOLUTION: Take a slightly wider stance, and turn your feet out slightly more. This will help you squat deeper to start.

You can also do some ankle mobility drills to improve your ankle flexion!

Lastly, spend more time sitting in a squat!

I try to do up to 30 minutes per day sitting in the bottom of a squat (while watching TV, or while reading a book):

Accumulate time sitting in a deep squat to increase your squat depth!

MISTAKE #4) Not learning to bail properly.

If you’re gonna get strong, you’re going to want to lift heavier and heavier things. Sometimes when you lift heavy things, you’re going to fail on that lift.

If you lift enough you will reach a point where you have to bail out of your squat. Just know how to do it correctly!

It’s part of lifting, so you might as well learn to bail correctly NOW! There’s nothing more scary than realizing you’re not gonna hit a lift and being trapped under a bar with no way of getting away from the weight safely!

Practice how to fail and bail so that you can have more confidence to try and succeed.

MISTAKE #5) Pressing the weight against your throat.

When you do a front squat, you have the bar resting across the tops of your shoulders, held in place by your fingers with your elbows up.

However, the bar is also resting precariously close to your throat and your windpipe!

Doing a front squat places the bar very close to your neck

If you happen to get your elbows TOO high, or if you use your fingers to press the bar against your throat too much, you are in danger of restricting your air passage.

Serious injury can occur if you manage to black out in a front squat due to the bar resting against your throat.

If you happen to notice ANYTHING unusual with your vision, breathing, or awareness during a front squat lower the weights onto the safety bars or re-rack the weight and drop to one knee IMMEDIATELY.

Get low to the ground in case you get light headed!

Front Squat: How do I put Front Squats in My Workout (Next Steps)

Coach Staci helping someone build a workout, including front squats.

Front squats are an AMAZING exercise, and you should now have everything you need to be able to confidently do front squats with correct form and proper technique.

I’m sure you have a few more questions: 

#1) “How do I fit front squats into my workout? Where do they go?” 

If you are building your own workout, feel free to alternate each squat workout with either a back squat or a front squat.

I train 4 days per week, and do higher rep back squats on Wednesdays, and then heavier, low rep front squats on Saturdays.

A solid strategy is to alternate between back and front squats!

Depending on your situation, you might decide to ONLY do front squats moving forward, or ONLY back squats.

Check with your coach or your personal trainer or whoever is building your program, or experiment yourself!

#2) “How much weight should I lift when doing front squats?”

As we cover in our “how much weight should I lift?” guide, always start with just the bar during your warm-up sets.

And then slowwwwly, over many weeks, can you start to ramp up the weight.

Your goal should be to confidently build strength each week while also improving your form each and every time too.

Make sure you progress with your front squats so you can celebrate like Bender!

#3) “Can you build a workout for me that has front squats, Steve?”

We do have a pretty killer 6-Level Gym Workout Program that you can do front squats in.

If you’re looking for a custom-tailored workout program or a supportive community to hang out with and cheer you on, I got a few options for ya:

1) Not sure if you squatted deep enough or if your form sucks? Not sure HOW to train in a gym quite yet? You’re not alone. This is what we do for a living!

If you want an expert to check your front squat form, we have a 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.

Our coaching app lets you record and send a video of your movement directly to your coach, who will provide specific feedback and build a custom program just for you.

Nerd Fitness Coaching Banner

2) Good at following instructions and want a blueprint to follow? Check out our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy.

The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles, meal plans, a questing system, and supportive community.

3) Join our free community, the NF Rebellion! You can download our free Strength 101 Guide, which you can get when you sign up in the box below:

So I have just a few questions for you:

  • What do you like better, front squats or back squats?
  • What sort of challenges do you have on front squats?
  • Any other questions? How else can I help?

If you have more questions about how to fit front squats into your workout, please leave them in the comments below.

Big or small, what questions do you have on the Front Squat?

-Steve

PS: Here are our other free articles in the Strength 101 Series:

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PHOTO SOURCES:[3]

Healthy Eating Ultimate Guide: Start Eating Healthy Without Being Miserable

So you want to start eating healthy…

Amazing!

We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people like you transform into the best versions of themselves, and we focus on proper nutrition to do so. 

Plus, we use fun LEGO photos and gifs to keep you entertained.

We'll keep you reading with bad jokes and clever gifs while you learn about healthy eating.

In this Ultimate Guide, we’ll cover everything you need to start eating healthy today. These are the exact strategies we teach our 1-on-1 Online Coaching clients, and I’m excited to share them with you:

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about healthy eating, but if you’re looking for virtual hands-on guidance on how to start eating healthy, I got you covered! 

Our online coaching program might be the PERFECT fit for you!

Strength Training for Beginners: The Best Routines, Workouts, & Exercises!

So you want to get strong, and you have no idea how to start (like this cat).

In this Beginner Strength Training Guide (part 2 of our Strength 101 series) – you’ll have both the confidence to start getting strong with resistance training AND a plan to follow.

We’ll be covering the following:

These are the exact strategies we use with our 1-on-1 Coaching Clients to help them build confidence and start strength training, and I’m excited to cover all of this in this massive guide.

This is also quite a lot to absorb, so we’ve combined this article along with the rest of our strength articles into a “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know” guide.

Grab it free when you join the Rebellion by putting your email in the box below.

How to Get in Shape Quickly and Safely: 4-Step Beginner Guide

This step-by-step strategy guide will tell you everything you need to do to lose weight and get healthy starting today.

I know you have lots of questions, and I promise I’ll answer every single one of them (yes, even that one).

These are the exact strategies we tailor to each 1-on-1 Online Coaching Clients, and I’m excited to share them with you today.

In this guide we’ll discuss:

Four easy steps to obtain the Nerd Fitness “Triforce of Winning!”

“But Steve, ‘tri’ means three…”

…don’t worry about that, because Triforce!

Nerd Fitness Triforce of Winning

Either way, you got this.

You can read our overall philosophy below (which has helped hundreds of thousands of people), and help you get started today!

3 HIIT Workouts for Beginners: Start Interval Training and Sprint Running!

This High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) guide is probably the best interval training guide in the galaxy.

My justification for such a bold claim?

We’re really good at this stuff, AND we have dinosaurs and Muppets.

Plus, lots of great gifs:

This runner can't do interval training.

We build custom interval training programs just like the ones in this guide for our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Clients, including workouts for at home, the gym, or even while traveling.

In this Ultimate Guide to Interval Training, we’ll cover:

How Many Calories Should I Eat Every Day? A TDEE Calculator for Total Daily Energy Expenditure

“Steve, how many calories should I eat every day? I have goals!”

Great question.

Knowledge is power, so today, we are going to make you more powerful by calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Click below to jump right into the action:

These concepts are fairly complex, and many people want more assistance and guidance on their journey. We help men and women and self-aware robots get their nutrition dialed-in with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. We do nutritional guidance, habit building, professional accountability, and custom workouts. We’d love to see if we’d be a good fit for each other!

How To Build Your Own Workout Routine: Plans, Schedules, and Exercises (Oh my!)

I get an email at multiple times per day that says the following:

“Steve, what should I do for a workout?”

Welp, today is your lucky day!

In this guide, I’m going to help you build your own workout program, step-by-step! 

After all workout program should be developed around a person’s biology, age, goals, diet, free time, etc.

Yeah, your mom was right: you are a unique snowflake.

You are a unique snowflake and need a unique workout

There’s a lot of factors I can’t get handle in a quick email that would allow me to tailor a program specific to that person.

I do understand that it’s easy to overcomplicate this process – there are an infinite number of exercises, sets, reps, and programs to choose from!

If you’re somebody that wants to skip all of that, and JUST want to be told what exactly to do…

Our uber popular 1-on-1 coaching program pairs you with your own Nerd Fitness Coach who will get to know you, your goals, and your lifestyle, and develop a workout plan that fits your goals and schedule.

We take the uncertainty out of this process – and we’d love to pair you with a coach on our team who can do the same:

Your coach can build a workout for you!

Now, if you’re more of a “get my hands dirty and figure this stuff out on my own” kind of person – we’re going to dig into how to build your own workout plan today!

Developing a workout routine for yourself can be intimidating, but it’s really not too difficult and kind of fun once you understand the basics.

This Muppet knows strength training will help him gain muscle and lose weight.

We’ve also created a free resource for folks who want to build their own workout but would love some more specific direction and instruction.

You can download our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, which covers all of this stuff in a single guide:

OKAY! Are you ready to start building your own routine and want to know how its done? Great! Let’s do this:

Strength Training 101: Get Strong With Weight Training!

Strength training will change your life.

If you want to lose weight, gain muscle, and/or just look and feel better, strength training will do just that.

In this comprehensive series, we’re going to cover EVERYTHING you need to know about getting strong.

By the way, hi. I’m NF Lead Female Coach Staci Ardison with a 455 pound deadlift, and strength training has changed my life.

You can see in these images how strength training transformed Staci.

Here’s that deadlift by the way (at a bodyweight of 150 lbs): 

A deadlift like so is a great way to strength train. Don't start with 400 pounds though!

I help men and women get strong with our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, and in addition to this strength series, I’d love for our team to help you get strong too:

In this introduction to Strength and Resistance Training, we’ll cover:

This is also quite a lot to absorb, so we’ve combined this article along with the rest of our strength articles into a “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know” guide.

Grab it free when you join the Rebellion by putting your email in the box below.

How to Get Rid of Man Boobs: Step-By-Step Plan for Reducing Moobs Quickly

Can I get rid of my man boobs quickly and naturally?

Awkward phrase? Sure.

But that’s not gonna get us to shy away from the topic here on Nerd Fitness.

We work on solutions to questions just like this with our Online Coaching Clients: awkward questions and challenging situations that are tough to talk about and get actually helpful solutions for!

This is what we do, and we’re really good at it.

Today, let’s tackle the “moobs” situation head-on by covering all of the following in this MASSIVE guide:

Want to Get Bigger? Avoid These 9 Mistakes Skinny Guys Make Trying to Bulk Up!

If you’re here because you want to go from skinny to muscular, you’ve come to the right place!

I know exactly how you feel because I was once a very thin guy struggling to put on muscle.

We’ll talk about the mistakes I made so you can avoid them, then we’ll offer a step-by-step guide so you can start growing big and strong.

These are the 9 key mistakes skinny guys make (click each to skip right to that):

  1. Not eating enough (What to eat to grow big)
  2. Setting unrealistic expectations (How fast can I grow muscle?)
  3. Not having a solid plan (How to go from skinny to muscular)
  4. Not doing enough (How to grow muscle)
  5. Going too quickly and getting injured (Being safe)
  6. Not following a sustainable strategy (Consistency)
  7. Not making it a priority (Remember your training)
  8. Sweating the small stuff (Keep it simple)
  9. Not recovering enough (Get sleep)
  10. How I put on 25 Pounds of Mass

After today, we’ll make sure you don’t do any of these errors.

We help clients just like you get bigger in our really popular 1-on-1 Online Training Program! I’ve been been trying to get bigger since I was 16, and I started training with an online coach in 2015.

It has been the biggest boost for me in the world, packing on a ton of size without being miserable! 

Before and after photo of Steve.

Make no mistake about it, this stuff isn’t easy. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about it on the internet!

If you want to learn more about the program, simply click on the button below!

And don’t forget to download our Skinny Guy cheat sheet so that you can bulk like the Hulk!

1. Not Eating Enough (What to Eat to Grow Big)

This lego wants you to eat enough.

If you’re not getting bigger, you are not eating enough.

This one solution will account for 95% of most skinny men and women who are looking to get bigger.

When I started lifting weights, I spent 5-6 days a week in the gym following a bodybuilder workout routine from various fitness magazines.

Over the next 6 years, I put on maybe five pounds total, even though it felt as though I was eating a lot.

Turns out, I was eating 500-1000 less calories per day than I needed to stimulate muscle growth.

It wasn’t until after college that I simplified my workouts (lots of barbell lifts), doubled the amount of calories I consumed, and I was able to put on about 18 pounds in 30 days.

This is back in 2006:

A before and after of Steve in 2006.

I didn’t put the weight on a necessarily healthy or sustainable way, but after 6 years of struggle, this experience solidified the connection between diet and getting bigger.

It finally made sense.

If you don’t eat enough calories, you won’t get any bigger.

So if you are not getting bigger and more buff, then you are not eating enough.

It’s science.

Even bill Nye knows you need to eat more to get bigger

If you’re trying to gain weight: when in doubt, eat.

Some of my favorite techniques are in my “How to Bulk Up Fast” article.

YOUR GOAL: Add 200-300 more calories per day until your stomach gets used to it, and see how the scale changes.

What should you be eating? Depending on how skinny you are, you can get away with eating junk food as long as you’re getting enough protein and calories.

Liquid calories are your friend too for squeezing in extra calories every day – here’s my favorite high calorie protein shake recipe!

Here are some high quality, high calorie foods:

  • Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and yams.
  • Rice or quinoa of any variety.
  • Oats, instant or steel cut.
  • Peanut butter, almond butter.
  • Walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews.
  • Cheese, milk, eggs.

Eat lots of high calorie foods, get plenty of protein, and don’t forget the veggies!

I know how overwhelming this stuff can be, which is why we have a Coaching Program that kicks ass.

We also have a printable “Get Bigger” shopping list and Bulk Up Cheat sheet when you join our email list in the yellow box below.

2. Setting unrealistic expectations (How Fast Can I Grow Muscle?)

How fast can you build muscle?

We live in a world of instant gratification.

People have unrealistic expectations thanks to marketing when it comes to weight loss (“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”).

There's no way this sauna belt will help you get skinny.

Unsurprisingly, people also have unrealistic expectations when it comes to NATURALLY building muscle as well. Which is why we get served ads like this:

“Scientists don’t want you to learn this trick to pack on 40 pounds of muscle!”

These ads are designed to sell supplements, not make you bigger or get you results.

Most supplements are garbage.

The only supplements I recommend taking: protein and creatine.

We cover this extensively in our “how do I build muscle fast?” article:

Under optimal conditions, you’ll most likely be able to put on 1-2 pounds of muscle per month.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t make tremendous strength gains – you’re just not going to build 50 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks.

So start by having proper expectations: don’t try to Put on 50 pounds by the week or month. It’s time to think in terms of days and years to make your progress permanent:

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and muscle isn’t built in a matter of days either. It’s going to take months of sustained effort, and it’s going to take consistency and patience.

But you can get there.

If you struggle with not seeing results, and you want a Yoda in your pocket (that sounds weird…) to help you bulk up fast, our online coaching program fits that exact scenario

3. Not having a solid plan (How to Go from Skinny to Muscular)

Make sure you have a plan to grow big and strong.

If you want to go from skinny to buff, you need a plan.

A plan that is balanced, and provides you with big movements that stimulate growth all over your body.

If you just wander into the gym without a strategy, you’re going to struggle to get bigger.

Then you’re gonna have a bad time.

It’s better to pick a basic plan and stick with it for months and months and months, than jump around from week to week chasing the newest shiny object.

As we lay out in our Strength 101 series

Get freaking strong at the following movements, eat enough, and you will get bigger:

  1. Squats
  2. Deadlifts
  3. Overhead Presses
  4. Rows
  5. Pull-ups (weighted)
  6. Dips (weighted)

What plan to follow?

  1. No idea where to start? Read our free Strength 101 series, and pick a workout program from our Beginner Strength Training Workouts.
  2. Work with our coaching staff! We’ll build a program and offer nutrition guidance so that you actually start to see results right away.
  3. Pick one of the 6 levels of workouts in our Beginner’s Gym Guide article to get you comfortable and in a routine.
  4. If you’re not ready for barbell workouts, start with bodyweight training!
  5. Other great barbell-based programs are Stronglifts 5×5, Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, and Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program.
  6. I started with basic barbell training, then moved into more of a hybrid barbell/bodyweight program (thanks to my Online Coach).

Which should you pick?

Honestly, any of them will work – you just need to start, and stick with it for months at a time, focusing on getting stronger with each movement.

You can also download our Strength 101 Guide when you sign up in the box below:

4. Not Doing Enough (How to Grow Muscle)

These LEGO characters are on a mission to grow some muscle.

If you are trying to get bigger, you might not be doing a tough enough workout in the gym or in the park to stimulate muscle growth.

No matter what, you need to be doing heavier weight, or doing more repetitions in order to challenge your body, breakdown muscle fiber, and force your body to rebuild stronger.

This is called “progressive overload,” and it’s the only way you’re going to build size in the right places.

To answer your first question, you can get bigger doing just bodyweight exercises.

Take one look at gymnasts – these dudes have built their muscle through years of intense bodyweight training like handstands and muscle-ups on the gymnastic rings:

Proof that you can get big and bulky with just lifting yourself up.

However, you must be scaling these exercises constantly to make them increasingly more difficult, which many people struggle to do.

Just doing more regular push-ups, bodyweight squats and pull-ups is a good way to get conditioned, but after a certain point, it most likely won’t produce muscle growth without increasing the challenge.

That’s when you need to progressively overload your muscles with a more difficult movement.

I detail this during my “stay in shape while traveling” post, in which I packed on a few pounds of muscle while ONLY doing bodyweight exercises.

I started by doing just pull-ups and dips.

Now I’m up to doing pull-ups with 60 pounds on a weight belt, and dips with 70 pounds on a weight belt.

I used to just do push-ups and pull-ups, now it’s parallette gymnastic complexes:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Kamb (@stevekamb) on

And muscle-ups on gymnastic rings:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Kamb (@stevekamb) on

So, YES it can be done!

You just need a solid plan that allows you to consistently push your muscles further.

Looking for a plan to gymnastics mastery? Outside of our coaching program, we’ve got a Rings and Handstands course that we’ve recently released.

You’ll get 20 different levels to work through, so exercises will continue to get harder (and you’ll get bigger and stronger).

5. Going Too Quickly and Getting Injured (Being Safe)

Don't get hurt when you're trying to grow big.

In the age of instant gratification, we always want more, now now now.

Over the past decade, I followed a terrible cycle of setbacks and injury:

  1. Try to get bigger. Eat lots of food, and put on some weight.
  2. Ramp up my workouts too quickly.
  3. Sustain some sort of injury from trying to do too much.
  4. Take a month off to recover.
  5. Start back at #1.
  6. Repeat the process.

Don't act like Homer and move too quickly to bulk up. It's better to have patience and grow muscle safely.

Have patience.

Start out with easy weight, and get a teeny tiny bit better every single day.

In fact, it wasn’t until I stopped chasing fast goals and instead focused on tiny habits that I went from Steve Rogers to Captain America.

Back when I started deadlifting again, I kept thinking “I can do more! I can go heavier!” – but I patiently forced myself to go just a tiny bit further than the week prior.

Live to train another day, and just focus on the process:

“Hit the gym 3-4 times per week, get a tiny bit stronger. Then go home and eat!”

As bodybuilder Lee Haney says, “Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate.”

Getting yourself to slow down and put faith in the process is really difficult. It’s why everybody fails at diets, and why nobody can get results that stick.

They try to do TOO much, TOO soon, and keep falling back to square one.

If you are tired of falling back to square one and want somebody to help you make sustainable, permanent progress towards bulking up, check out our coaching program!

6. Not Following a Sustainable Strategy (Consistency)

If you're going to grow big, you need to make sure you have a plan.

Just like losing a bunch of weight by running on a treadmill and starving oneself is not sustainable in the long term, neither is making yourself miserable for a month just to pack on some size.

As soon as you go back to “eating like normal” and “exercising like normal,” you’ll lose all of your gains!

For me, I’ve found sustained success by doing the following:

  • Eating roughly the same meals every single day
  • Getting enough sleep by going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Training 4 days a week for about an hour

As a result, I’ve been able to make consistent progress for the past 4 years, and my new “normal” is progress and strength improvements!

What I’m trying to say is to be honest with yourself.

If you can’t work out six days a week for the next year, DON’T train that way!

Start with twice a week, doing a basic weight training program, and dump the extra time you would have spent training into eating more or getting more sleep.

If you can train three days a week, that should be plenty to make you bigger: muscles are made in the kitchen, after all!

Remember, if you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough!

Eat more.

If you're not getting bigger from your training: eat more!

It might take you 6+ months longer than if you went all-in and did nothing but eat and lift all day every day, but you’ll actually KEEP the progress you’ve made rather than giving it all back.

I referenced this video above, but I’m putting it here too to make sure you don’t miss it. It’s better to ask “What can I sustainably do TODAY that gets me closer to my goal?” and build your system around that!

This was a brutal lesson I couldn’t learn until I hired an online personal trainer who helped me get my mindset right, and put the right systems in place!

7. Not Making It a Priority (Remember Your Training)

Make sure you train if you want to grow big and strong.

After telling myself “I want to get big and strong,” I realized that for much of the past decade, it wasn’t really a priority.

I put work, messing around on the internet, video games, and going out and drinking ahead of my training on my list of priorities.

Since 2014, I’ve made it a point to see what I could accomplish if I made getting bigger and stronger a priority in my life.

Most importantly, I started taking this seriously and hired an online trainer that I’ve been working with for 5+ years.

It’s what allowed me to deadlift 420 pounds at a bodyweight at 172 pounds:

Steve rocking a 420 pound deadlift.

Here’s what I did to prioritize my transformation and training:

  • I ate extra meals even when I wasn’t hungry.
  • I rearranged my training schedule so work would NEVER be an excuse.
  • I said “no” more often to staying out really late and drinking.
  • I programmed my workouts into my calendar.
  • I had my coach keep me accountable.
  • I scheduled Saturday morning workouts so I wouldn’t go out drinking on Friday.
  • I made fitness a priority.

Is this goal of going from skinny to buff truly a priority for you? If it’s not, you’re going to give up when you’re tired, or not hungry, or don’t want to exercise.

As we talk about in our “how to get in shape” article, you need to have a BIG WHY: the reason you’re doing this!

I wanted to get bigger so I could be more confident when going on dates.

What about you? Why are you here?

Write down your reason, stick it on your bathroom mirror or laptop, and use it as a reminder.

Because this isn’t going to be easy!

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

And if you want to GET bigger permanently, you need to do things differently, consistently, and permanently.

Never forget why you are doing this! 

I did this journey alone for a decade before I finally got some help in staying accountable and keeping me on track.

If you’re looking for somebody to keep you accountable, tell you exactly what to do in the gym, and tell you how many calories you should eat, we can help there too.

8. Sweating the Small Stuff (Keep It Simple)

Don't sweat the small stuff like this ladybug.

Bicep curls! Forearm curls! Calf raises!

“Should I target all three heads of the triceps muscle?”

“I see the big guy over there doing 8 types of bicep exercises – should I do what he’s doing?”

“Does chest day need to be bench, incline bench, decline bench, cable chest flys, dumbbell flys?”

How many sets and reps should I do? Should I do 6 sets of 8 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps?”

Forget all of that stuff!

If you want to get bigger, focus on getting stronger in one of the few big, basic movements.

Once you have a solid foundation, then we can start targeting specific isolated muscle groups like the bodybuilders do.

Always start your workout with the basics of strength training (noticing a theme here?):

  1. Squats
  2. Deadlifts
  3. Bench Press
  4. Overhead Presses
  5. Rows
  6. Pull-ups (weighted)
  7. Dips (weighted)

“But where’s my bicep curls, tricep extensions, ab work, etc.!?!?!”

ALL of those muscles get worked incredibly well with the above exercises, so don’t worry about isolating.

Instead, just get strong.

When you can lift heavy things or complete intense bodyweight exercises, your body needs to adapt.

If you want to do things like bicep curls or triceps extensions, great.

Just do them AFTER doing the big important workouts.

As long as you are eating enough to fuel your recovery and following the Bulk Up Like the Hulk Axioms, you’ll be good to go! (Covered in the free download when you join our email list in the box below!)

9. Not Recovering Enough (Get Sleep)

This cat prioritizes sleep so it can grow strong after its training.

I used to pride myself on not needing a lot of sleep.

I also used to be dumb, apparently.

Since putting a focus on getting bigger and stronger, I’ve had to considerably up my sleep time.

When you strength train, your muscles break down and need to rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours.

Sleep is a key part of this process.

Make sure you prioritize rest like Jiminy here if you're trying to bulk up and grow muscle.

Without it, your body can’t recover, and you can’t grow.

I find I am exhausted the day of really heavy max deadlifts, so I prioritize more sleep on those days!

Muscles aren’t made in the gym, they’re made while you’re resting.

So make sleep a priority

How I Put on 25 Pounds – My Last 18 Months

A more recent before and after of Steve.

I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to pull off over the past few years, and I’m excited to see what the next 18 months bring.

Here are two recent photos to highlight how I’ve transformed in 6 months:

  • Photo on the left: 171 pounds
  • Photo on the right: 194 pounds

The best part is that it was all done in a healthy, sustainable, natural way.

Since then, I’ve actually worked on leaning out too (while getting much stronger).

This was all done under the supervision of my Online Personal Trainer and Coach, Anthony

If you are somebody who wants to get bigger, and go from skinny to buff, make sure you don’t make the 9 mistakes I used to make!

And if you want results, here are 3 options we offer:

1) If you’re tired of the guesswork and just to be told exactly what to do, consider checking out our 1-on-1 online coaching program! We create custom programs and nutritional guidelines for people like you struggling to put on size.

Your Nerd Fitness Coach can help you build muscle

2) Join the Nerd Fitness Academy! This is our online self-paced course and community. Join 50,000 members, get 8 levels of workouts, boss battles, a 10-level nutrition system, and even level up as you complete quests!

3) Join the Rebellion! We have a free newsletter that we send out twice per week with new content helping you build muscle and level up your life.

Sign up the box below and I’ll send you a bunch of free guides!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

What are your biggest struggles when it comes to bulking up?

Have you had success as a skinny dude or lady and made great progress?

Have you struggled your whole life with being skinny and still can’t seem to crack the code?

Let me know how I can help!

-Steve (former Steve Rogers, current Captain America)

PS: Check out these other articles in our “Build Muscle Fast” Series:

All photo sources can be found right here: [1]

How to Do a Bodyweight Row or Inverted Row

The Inverted Bodyweight Row is one of the BEST, simple, most effective exercises you can do for your “pull” muscles.

If you’re trying to get to your first pull-up, or even if you are already doing pull-ups, adding bodyweight rows to your workout routine is a great idea!

This is one of our favorite exercises to program for our Online Coaching Clients, and we use this exercise as a stepping stone to help people get their first pull-up!

When you do proper bodyweight rows, you build strength and muscle in your back, your biceps, your forearms, your grip, and even your core.

As part of our Strength 101 series, this guide will cover everything you need to know about this awesome exercise:

7 Ways to Measure or Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage (And Lower It!)

Today we are going to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about body fat percentage but were too afraid to ask.

We’ve been helping thousands of people get their body fat percentage to their desired level through our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, and I’m pumped to share with you our strategies in this guide.

Plus, lots of cute animal videos as rewards for reading each section.

Even wombats want to learn about how to measure body fat percentages

Fair warning: lots of half-naked people of all different shapes and sizes in this guide!

In this Body Fat Measurement Ultimate Guide, we’ll cover:

If you have been struggling with your weight (and having too high of a body fat percentage) for a while, I know how frustrating that can be.

It’s why we built our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching program, so this time things can be different. Your NF Coach will help you track the right metrics (like body fat percentage) and set the right goals.

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10 Ways to Make Vegetables Taste Good: How to Start Eating Veggies!

If the sight of a plate of broccoli makes you gag, this post is for you!

We’ll turn any “Veggie Hater” into a “Vegetable Lover” by showing you how to make a plate full of greens not taste like a wet gym sock [1].

If you’ve been a picky eater your whole life (I didn’t eat veggies until 22!), our guide today will help level up your taste buds!

Wayne appreciates vegetables that taste good

We work closely with our Online Coaching Clients to help them find their gateway vegetables, and I even picked our coaches’ brains to get their favorite tactics in this guide too.

By the end of this guide, I’m going to have you excited to eat vegetables, and ready to take the “NF Veggie Challenge”:

How to Squat Properly: The Ultimate Guide

One of the best exercises for you, whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight (or both) HAS to be the squat.

However, it’s also an exercise I see nearly EVERYBODY do incorrectly.

Have no fear, after reading this big ass squat guide (pun intended, I suppose?) – part of our Strength 101 series – you can start performing this compound exercise safely and effectively.

Click any link below or scroll down to read the whole guide:

We work with tons of 1-on-1 coaching clients to teach them how to squat, but we’ve also created this epic guide and even turned it into a free PDF you can download and read at your leisure (bonus points if you read it while sitting in a squat!).

Get it when you join The Rebellion by signing up in the box below 🙂

Bodyweight Workout For Beginners: Try this 20 Minute Workout Routine At Home or Anywhere

So you want to lose weight and get in shape, but you don’t want to leave your house.

As your fitness Yoda, I will teach you a great Beginner Bodyweight Routine you can do anywhere: in your living room, at a park, or in a galaxy far, far away….

Click the sections below to get right into the action:

These are the types of workouts we build for our busy 1-on-1 Online Coaching Clients!

We provide personalized instruction and custom workouts, professional accountability, and expert guidance from us at Team Nerd Fitness!

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