Growing up as a skinny, scrawny kid, it might’ve seemed that you had two options— become the emo skater guy who fades away into obscurity or the nerd who spends his entire life indoors figuring out how to build a new app. Not that either path is bad– they’re both incredibly rewarding. But if you want to take a third path and bulk up like the jocks who used to make fun of you, it’s possible! The thing about bulking up is, especially for those who are naturally skinny, it takes more than just working out and eating right. You need to understand how your body works, in order to really activate those muscle fibers and get that swole look. It’s not magic, but there are definite science-backed tips to make sure you don’t waste any time in the gym. In this article, you’ll find a workout plan for skinny guys to get swole, as well as some science-backed tips to use when you hit the gym. Ready? Let’s get started!
Skinny Guys And Their Metabolism
First things first, it’s important to figure out your metabolic type. You see, everyone has a different metabolism, and it’s essential to tailor your workout plan accordingly. This means understanding your individual physiology, which includes factors like body type, basal metabolic rate, and energy levels after exercise (3).
From there, you can determine the right kind of intensity for your workout plan. Whether it’s high-intensity or low-intensity, including the number of reps you should be aiming for, you’ll surely be able to figure it out. As a skinny guy, chances are high that you fall under the “hard-gainer” category. This means your body takes longer to build muscle, which is why a lot of people mistakenly believe that it’s impossible for skinny guys to get swole.
- A tall, lean, or thin frame
- Little body fat
- Low muscle mass percentage
- Hard time gaining weight
- Fast metabolism
- Quick to lose fat and/or muscle
An ectomorph’s greatest asset is its fast metabolism. This means that you can burn fat and calories quickly, allowing you to build muscle at a faster rate than someone with a slow metabolism.
But to do that, you need to understand how your body works. This includes understanding the principles of training and diet so that you can create a plan tailored to your individual needs.
Why Does Knowing Your Metabolic Type Matter?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “you can’t out-train a bad diet”. This statement rings true even for skinny guys, especially since diets are the key to gaining lean muscle mass. No workout plan under the sun that will save you if your diet isn’t on point.
And by on point, we mean a caloric surplus combined with a balanced diet to provide your body with the right nutrients. However, it’s not just about calories and macros—it’s also about timing. A fast metabolism essentially means that you’re burning calories at an accelerated rate.
Thus, it’s important to strategically time when you eat and what types of food you consume in order to make sure you’re always providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Eating More Food: The Secret For An Effective Mass Gain Workout Plan
Before we get into the reps, sets, and all the fun stuff, let’s talk about one of the most important elements for skinny guys—food.
If you’re serious about getting swole, then you have to be serious about eating. This means eating more than you think you need; a caloric surplus is absolutely essential for building muscle.
So first, you determine how much food you need to just maintain your current weight. This figure is called your maintenance calories (an online calculator can help with that).
How you go about hitting your daily caloric goal is up to you. Some people prefer to spread their calories out throughout the day in smaller meals, while others like eating three large meals. The important thing is to find what works for you and stick with it.
Granted, skinny guys are more likely to benefit from smaller meals, since they tend to have smaller stomachs and higher metabolism.
The quality of your meals is a bit of a controversial topic. Some people swear by clean eating, while others prefer “dirty” bulking (i.e. including junk food in their diets).
So, let’s briefly cover both.
Clean Bulking: Pros And Cons
This is the best way to bulk, which means you’ll mainly stick to whole foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, and legumes. By eating a well-balanced diet full of nutrient-dense foods, you will not only meet your caloric needs but also ensure that you’re getting the proper vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients your body needs to build muscle.
Keto, Paleo, and other popular diet plans can also be clean bulking diets, as long as you make sure to get the required calories. You may get additional health benefits from following these diets, but it’s important to note that the primary goal is still muscle building.
On the downside, clean bulking is more expensive and requires a bit more culinary skill than dirty bulking. Also, meal planning, prepping, and cooking can take up a lot of your time.
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Dirty Bulking: Pros And Cons
Dirty bulking involves eating a lot of junk food, like ice cream and candy bars. It’s often seen as the “lazy” way to get calories, which can be true if you’re not careful.
The upside of this approach is that it’s a lot easier and cheaper than clean bulking since you can hit your caloric goals with convenient (and often inexpensive) foods. Plus, let’s face it, it’s fun to eat junk food.
However, it’s not the best way to bulk since you won’t be getting the best nutrition for your body. While it might help you gain muscle, it also means that you could be consuming a lot of unhealthy ingredients, such as trans fats, refined sugars, and other processed foods.
The Bulk Up Workout Plan For Skinny Guys
Now that you know about proper nutrition for bulking, let’s get into the workout plan. Building muscle comes down to literally tearing your muscles down, and then giving them time to rebuild. We’re talking about bodyweight workouts like lifting weights, then continuously increasing the weight, and eventually adding more sets (2).
Bodyweight exercises are a great way to start because they can help you build strength and endurance without having to go to the gym. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and crunches are all great exercises that you can easily do at home.
Once you’ve built up some strength, it’s time to move on to the free weights and machines in the gym. Start with compound exercises like squats, bench presses, bent-over rows, and military presses. These are the big four exercises that you should focus on if you want to build muscle. Make sure that you’re progressively overloading your muscles (increasing the weight, sets, or reps with each workout) and giving them enough rest days in between. In that way, you’ll be able to maximize your muscle gains.
So, many skinny guys who are starting out ask — must I go to the gym? We say, not really.
Sure, getting to the gym has its advantages, like access to better equipment, trainers, and a motivation boost. But if you don’t have access to a gym, you can still get strong and jacked with bodyweight exercises and eventually some home gym equipment.
Here’s a sample workout plan that you can use to get started. This plan is centered on compound (aka multi-joint) exercises simply because they are the most effective for building mass. We’ve also thrown in a couple of isolation exercises to make sure you hit all the major muscle groups.
You’ll need to work out at least 4 times a week, but preferably 5 to 6.
Monday: Chest And Triceps
- Barbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Dips – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Tuesday: Back And Biceps
- Bent Over Rows – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Pull Ups – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
- Barbell Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Hammer Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Wednesday: Rest Or Active Recovery
- Light cardio or stretching
Thursday: Shoulders, Traps, And Abs
- Seated Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Upright Rows – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Shrugs – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Crunches – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
- Leg Raises – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Friday: Legs, Calves, And Glutes
- Squats – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Leg Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Deadlifts – 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
- Lunges – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps per leg
Saturday: Rest Or Active Recovery
- Light cardio or stretching
Sunday: Rest Day
Tips On How To Take Your Gains Up A Notch
Now that you have the basics of bulking for skinny guys down, let’s move on to some advanced techniques that can help you take your gains up a notch.
A non-negotiable part of any bulking plan is progressive overload. This means increasing the weight, sets, or reps you are performing each workout to ensure that your muscles are being challenged and pushed to their limits. This is the only way that your muscles are going to learn how to build more strength and size.
Here are the things you can do:
- Increase the weight of your lifts by 5 to 10% every week
- Increase the number of sets per exercise to 4 to 6
- Increase the number of reps per set to 12 to 15
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Rep Range For Different Goals
Thankfully, those who came before us have already done the math, so you don’t have to.
Generally speaking, the ideal rep ranges for different goals are as follows:
- 3 to 6 reps: Strength and Power
- 8 to 12 reps: Muscle Gains (Hypertrophy)
- 12 to 20 reps: Endurance
So if you want to bulk up, focus on doing 8 to 12 reps per set. Don’t be afraid to push yourself more and try heavier weights, but always make sure that you are still in control of the movement, keeping proper form, and avoiding injury.
Reps In Reserve
Reps In Reserve refers to the number of reps you have ‘in reserve’ at the end of each set. That is, how many extra reps could you do if you really wanted to push yourself?
The number of reps in reserve varies from person to person, but as a general rule of thumb, aim for 1 or 2 reps in reserve. This will ensure you are pushing yourself hard enough to make progress, but not so hard that you risk injury.
Consider that you’re working out at least 4 days a week, should you really be pushing yourself to the maximum? Probably not.
Rest During And After Training
Rest days are just as important as your workout days (4). Not only do you need to rest between sets, but also between workouts. Your muscles need time to heal and recover in order to get stronger.
During a workout, resting in between sets is essential. This gives your muscles time to recover and build up more energy for your next set. Aim for a rest period of around a minute or two in between sets.
As for after your workouts, make sure to give yourself enough time to fully recover. It could be anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. This will help your muscles grow, and also give them time to heal any potential soreness or damage.
Having a workout split is a great way to make sure you don’t overwork any particular muscle group. For example, working out your chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, chest on Wednesday, and so on. This helps to spread out the muscle workload and gives time for recovery.
The mind-muscle connection is the link between your brain and muscles. When you focus on a particular muscle group whilst performing an exercise, you can actively engage and contract those muscles more than if you weren’t focusing (1). Some people may find this easier than others, and it can take some practice to get the hang of it.
A good way to start building that connection is to think about the muscles you are targeting, and mentally feel them contracting whilst performing the exercise. This will help you engage those muscles more effectively, leading to increased strength and size.
Our first port of call when it comes to building muscle should always be a good diet and an effective workout plan. However, there are certain supplements that can help take your muscle-building to the next level.
The most popular supplements for muscle gain are whey protein, creatine, and BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids). These are all designed to help increase muscle growth and improve recovery. Throw in some multivitamins and fish oil for some added health benefits, and you’re good to go!
Go for quality in your supplements, as there are a lot of inferior, low-grade brands out there. Do your research, read through reviews, and try to find the best quality product for you.
Building muscle as a skinny guy can be challenging, but with the right diet, workout plan, and supplements, it can be done. You don’t have to exhaust yourself in the gym in order to bulk up, just focus on progressive overload, rest, and the mind-muscle connection. It’s going to take time and effort, but if you stick to the basics and put in the hard work, you can make gains.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training (2016, nih.gov)
- Muscle growth and exercise (1990, nih.gov)
- Physiology, Metabolism (2022, nih.gov)
- Rest days are essential to your fitness journey. Here’s why. (n.d., news.fiu.edu)
- THE 3 SOMATOTYPES (n.d., uh.edu)