I’ve been skinny my whole life, no matter how hard I tried to gain weight.
I later found out they call people like me a hardgainer or “ectomorph.”
This is the story of my “lightbulb” moment back in 2006 that flipped everything I knew about getting bigger and rocked my world many years ago.
My sophomore year of high school, I was 5 feet tall and weighed less than 140 lbs. I hit a huge growth spurt during my Junior year (thank you, puberty), and by the time the year was done I was close to 6 feet tall…and I probably weighed 150 lbs.
Looking to bulk up, I began hitting up the gym three times a week like many skinny guys do.
When I got to college, I enjoyed the All-You-Can-Eat freshman meal plan, worked out 3-4 days a week, and failed to put on more than 5 lbs.
After four years of college, many different workout plans, and eating the right stuff (or so I thought), I had managed to get all the way up to 160 lbs! Woohoo. I just assumed that I had messed up genetics and I was doomed to stay skinny as a rail.
I’ll get into how I overcame these hurdles below, but if that sounds like you, sign-up for our email list and I’ll send you two resources that help skinny men and women bulk up with the information they need to know.
- The Nerd Fitness "Get Bigger" Shopping List
- Bulk like the Hulk with our rules for getting bigger
Steve has epiphany
After college, I moved out to San Diego, and really got serious about trying to build muscle.
I figured if I was going to spend all this time in the gym, I should be getting results out of it! I had a new workout plan, a new diet, and a new outlook on life.
I very quickly learned that 80% of my problem revolved around the diet.
I simply wasn’t eating enough. All the protein shakes in the world couldn’t help me, because my metabolism burned through the food I was consuming too quickly to save any for muscle-building.
Because I was so active (running, surfing, basketball) my body never had enough nutrients to bulk up.
Well, I made a conscious effort to change my entire routine, and fix that diet, and within 30 days, I managed to put on 18 lbs!
NOTE: This was NOT 18 pounds of muscle, but I’m thankful for the lessons learned and what this did for my confident, my knowledge, and helping me building momentum to get bigger and stronger!
A good portion of the weight I put on was fat, and due to the creatine in the supplement I was taking I also had plenty of extra water weight, meaning not many of the 18 pounds were 100% muscle.
I would have certainly rather gained all muscle, but it’s practically inevitable when trying to put on big amounts of weight in a short amount of time that some of the weight gained will be fat, which is okay.
After four years in college of struggling to gain any weight, I was more than okay with a few pounds of fat along with muscle in this short time span.
Many years later, I would not recommend this style of consumption, and I cover how to get bigger in a safer manner in this article.
I am a picky eater. I don’t like eggs. I don’t like fish. This means my options for protein are severely limited, as these two sources are the best in the business.
Because protein is the building block of muscle gain, it is an absolute necessity. I knew I needed to eat at least 30 grams of protein every 3 hours. I ate 6 times a day, so I had at least 180 grams of protein every day.
Yeah, this is a lot of protein…but it worked for me. Your results may vary!
Now, all the protein in the world won’t help a skinny man unless he ALSO eats enough complex carbs and healthy fats for energy. Without these things, the body will break down what it has available for energy…and no muscle will get built.
Here was my routine during this time frame:
I was working a job 5 days a week where I had to be at the office at 6:30AM, hence the early start time. And I also focused on a routine that worked for me: Just adjust the time to whenever you wake up.
Note that you can ALSO do Intermittent Fasting and still bulk up, and I would recommend NOT eating like I lay out in my strategy below, but I wanted to detail exactly what I had to do as a hardgainer to get the results. I’ll cover healthier habits at the end of this article:
6:00 AM (Meal 1)
Two cups of 1% Milk (200 calories, 24g carbs, 16g of protein)
4 Scoops of Muscle Milk Collegiate Edition ( 580 calories per serving, 40g of protein, 89 grams of carbs…it’s not the best thing for you, however, when you need INSANE amounts of calories very quickly and cheaply, you have to do what you can)
9:00 AM (Meal 2)
Met-RX Big 100 Colossal Bar – Super Cookie Crunch (420 calories, 32 grams of protein, 43 grams of carbs). Working my job didn’t give me access to a kitchen, and I couldn’t take lengthy breaks, so I had to find ways to eat a lot of calories quickly and easily.
12:00 PM (Meal 3)
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce (Angel Hair Pasta, Prego Sauce, A LOT of Ground Beef – calories, protein, carbs…sensing a trend here?)
3:00 PM (Meal 4)
Two peanut butter sandwiches on wheat bread (decent amount of calories and carbs, 20 grams of protein)
4:30 PM -Workout, Surf, or Relax, depending on the day
6:00 PM (Meal 5)
Two cups of 1% Milk
4 Scoops of Muscle Milk Collegiate Edition ( 580 calories per serving, 40g of protein, 89 grams of carbs) Tons of carbs and protein again, IMMEDIATELY following my workout. This is when you need it the most, your muscles are destroyed, and they need to be rebuilt. The carbs will refuel the body, the protein will rebuild the muscles. Everybody is happy!
9:00 PM (Meal 6)
Two 90% lean ground beef hamburgers cooked on the George Foreman Grill, and a BIG glass of whole milk. Protein and carbs before bed. When you sleep, your body isn’t expending energy, so it can use those nutrients to just build muscle. Note, if you eat like I did, and don’t work out, you WILL put on fat like I did. When you constantly exercise, your body will need all the nutrients it can get to get bigger and stronger.
As you can see, I drink a LOT of whole milk.
I’d say the most important meals are the post workout meal (this is when your muscles are broke down and desperate for nutrients), and right before bed (when you sleep, it’s prime muscle building time!).
Again, I do NOT recommend eating like I said above. Instead, check out our Get Bigger Grocery List and Bulk Up Cheat Sheet so you can do a CLEAN healthy bulk-up and get results – you get both when you sign up for our email list in the yellow box below:
[INSERT SHORT CODE]
This workout is not for a beginner.
If you are going to attempt a workout like this, I fully recommend training with a partner, or having a personal trainer to help you out.
Attempting this with squats, deadlifts, and bench presses is dangerous unless you have some experience, and somebody to spot you, help you complete the final rep. etc.
Secondly, I did a LOT of Supersets. A superset is a time saving device in many cases, and in my cases, it was used to give each muscle group an extra ‘pop.’
When you read my exercise log, look at each exercise, and see what it’s superset with.
For example, I superset a normal bench press exercise with push ups on an exercise ball. This means, I will do a set of bench press, followed IMMEDIATELY by 10 push ups on an exercise ball. Because you’re already worn out, and doing this exercise on a ball, it will be difficult to stay in balance, you’ll feel a lot of twitching in your chest as you try to do those push ups.
Looking back, with a few years of fitness experience under my belt, I’d simplify this routine considerably (Check out our Nerd Fitness Academy for safer more effective workouts), chopping out some of the supersets as they seem like overkill and my muscles were getting beyond overworked I think.
Still, I’ve reproduced the exact routine I followed for those 30 days just to show you what I did exactly to get the results I did.
MONDAY (Chest and Biceps)
Treadmill Warm up – jumping jacks, other exercises to get the body warmed up.
1A) Bench Press – 1 warm up set, 3 sets – 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps – increasing weight by 10 lbs each time. Aim for exhaustion on each set.
1B) Superset with pushups (3 sets of 10 reps) on an exercise ball – up and down slowly (works your stabilizer muscles)
2A) Barbell bicep curl – 1 warm up set, 3 sets (10, 8, 6) – increasing weight
2B) Superset with Dumbbell hammer curls standing on one leg (3 sets of 10 reps, light weight) – again, for stability.
3A) Incline Bench – Dumbbell Press (3 sets, 10, 10, to exhaustion) – same weight for the first 2 sets, 80% weight on third set, go until you can’t do anymore.
3B) Superset with dumbbell flys on an exercise ball.
4A) Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curl 3 Sets (12, 10, 8 )
4B) One legged rope curl (3 sets of 10)
5) Core Exercises (v-sit ups, superman extensions, side planks, etc.) and STRETCH, especially the two muscle groups you just worked out…they’re all broken down and contracted…stretching them out will allow them to breathe, and get started more quickly on the road to recovery (and increased size).
TUESDAY (Shoulders and Legs)
5 Min Treadmill Warm-up
1A) Squats – 1 Warm Up set, 3 sets of 12, 10, 8 reps
1B) Supset with 1-leg Romanian deadlift with dumbbells. Hold the weight in the same hand as the leg that’s still on the ground (right hand, right foot on ground). Do one side, then other – left hand, left foot on ground.
2A) Shoulder press – Dumbells (1 warm up set, 3 sets of 10, 8, 6)
2B) Superset with side lateral dumbbell raises (3 sets of 10), do this on one foot
3A) Lunges – Dumbbells on each side 3 sets of 12, 8, 6 reps
3B) Superset with one-legged body weight squats. I never knew how hard you could work yourself without weights until these exercises…BRUTAL.
4A) Front shoulder dumbbell raises (3 sets 10, 8, 6 reps)
4B) Superset with back shoulder raises 3 sets of 10 reps
5) Stretch, v sit ups, supermans, leg raises.
WEDNESDAY – Surf, Run, REST
THURSDAY – Hamstrings, Back, and Triceps
5 Min Treadmill Warm Up
1A) Deadlift – 1 warm-up set, 3 sets of 12, 10, 8 reps
1B) Close grip bench press – 1 warm-up set, 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 reps
2A) Superset with Dumbbell skull crushers on an exercise ball
2B) Wide grip pull-ups (overhand grip – palms facing away)
3A) Rope pulley tricep pull downs 3 sets, 1 leg (10, 10, 10)
Stretch and Core Exercises
FRIDAY- Surf, Run, RELAX
SATURDAY – OFF
SUNDAY – OFF
What I Learned
This is the routine I followed religiously for 30 straight days, and I put on 18 lbs.
Now, if you have any interest in putting on weight the right way – doing it in a more healthy way that I did above, sign up for our email list in the yellow box here and get some free resources that remove the confusion and tell you what to eat and avoid when doing a healthy bulk, along with other resources to help you get bigger
- The Nerd Fitness "Get Bigger" Shopping List
- Bulk like the Hulk with our rules for getting bigger
As for the results and what I learned:
I got stronger, and that was motivating and momentum-building. My bench press increased by 30 lbs, my squat by 50 lbs, and my deadlift by 30lbs.
I learned a lot about how my body works and how my muscles work. My workout wasn’t perfect, but it was right for me at the time.
I learned that I wasn’t eating enough at any point in the past. I always thought I ate “so much” and I could never gain weight. Then I ate like I did above, and it worked. If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough.
I learned that you’ll never have a perfect plan. Might as well execute a decent plan ugly and fix it along the way.
These days, I eat much cleaner, train much simpler, and still have success, but that’s okay. I’ve focused on small habits and transformed myself from Steve Rogers to Captain America:
We all have to start somewhere, and it was these 30 days that transformed my mindset and helped me become stronger and spark an interest in fitness that led me to start Nerd Fitness!
- #1 Eat more food. When in doubt, eat more.
- #2 Strength train – big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups, dips, and push-ups.
- #3 Get enough sleep
If you are not getting bigger, see #1. Good luck, my dear rebel friend.
Now, go eat something!