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

A man struggling against a jar.

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.

I was once a very thin guy struggling to put on muscle! Hell, my “before photo” below on the left below is after a decade of training and “eating a lot.”

Before and after photo of Steve.

It took me 10 years of struggle to crack the “bulk up” code, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re really struggling to put on mass.

We’ve helped people just like you get bigger in our Online Coaching Program: we use the same tactics and strategies I’ll discuss below!

Okay, let’s get into it! Click any of the links below to learn about the 9 key mistakes skinny guys make when trying to bulk up:

  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

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]

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