What equipment should you buy if you're trying to build a barbell home gym to train for size, strength and aesthetics

How to Build a Barbell Home Gym

Let’s say your goal is to build muscle, and you want to do it at home. If you don’t have a spare room or garage available, you can build a dumbbell home gym, and that’s great. But if you have room for it, a barbell home gym is the ideal way to train. You can do all of the best compound lifts, all of the best accessory lifts, and you can gradually add a little bit of weight to those lifts every workout. Not only that, but barbell training is by far the most efficient way to train. You’ll stimulate a ton of overall muscle mass with every repetition.

The problem is, building a barbell home gym can get confusing. I help people build muscle for a living and I still found it confusing. There are so many different brands, setups, and pieces of equipment. Even when picking a barbell, there are many different types, ranging from power to bars to weightlifting bars. And each type of barbell can have various coatings, ranging from zinc to cerakote.

So what we’ve done in this article is outline a basic setup that’s ideal for building muscle. Then we’ve recommended the best brands and pieces of equipment, going from the most affordable options to the best quality options. I’ll also show you my own barbell home gym and give you links to each piece of equipment I bought.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder building bigger arms.

How to Build Bigger Arms (For Skinny Guys)

I’ve successfully gained 5.5 inches around my upper arms, bringing my biceps circumference from 10 inches up to 15.5 inches. But I got off to a rough start. During my first two years of successful lifting, I gained 40 pounds at 11% body fat, bringing my bench from 65 to 225 pounds and working up to chin-ups with 50 pounds around my waist. And yet, despite all of that progress, I only had 12-inch arms. My arms were still 1.3 inches smaller than the average man’s. And the average man doesn’t even exercise, let alone lift weights.

That was when I realized my mistake. I wasn’t training my arms with the same fervour as the muscles in my torso. I focused on the big compound exercises, yes. But I failed to add in the proper arm exercises. Then, when I finally added those exercises in, my arm training was too haphazard. There was no structure. No plan. You can do much better.

This article will explain how to build bigger arms, starting with a dead-simple overview of the muscles in our arms. Next, we’ll talk about how big the average man’s arms are, how big you should build your arms, and how long it will take. Then we’ll stab into the heart of it: the best arm exercises, the best rep ranges, training volumes, and arm training methods. We’ll even give you some sample arm workouts.

Once I added these arm-training principles to my workout routine, my biceps circumference shot up from 12 inches to 15.5 inches, catching right up to the rest of my muscles. To my surprise, the extra triceps training added fifty pounds to my bench press, too, helping me bench 315 pounds for the first time. My lack of proper arm training had been holding back my overall strength.

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Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder eating a bulking diet.

The Conventional Bulking Diet: How to Eat for Muscle Growth

This bulking diet guide will teach you the basics of eating for muscle growth. This is how bodybuilders have traditionally bulked up, how athletes go about gaining lean mass, and what modern science shows us is the most effective way to build muscle.

We aren’t just regurgitating theory, either. I’ve personally used these methods to gain 65 pounds at 11% body fat. Marco has used them to gain over 70 pounds at an even lower body-fat percentage. Marco then gave these recommendations to the college, professional, and Olympic athletes he trained. And since creating Bony to Beastly, it’s the advice we’ve given to our millions of readers and the 10,000 naturally skinny members who’ve done our programs.

There are three parts to this guide:

  • How much to eat. (And how to adjust.)
  • What proportion of protein, carbs, and fat to eat.
  • What actual foods to eat.

Don’t prepare to be shocked or thrilled. There’s nothing edgy or controversial here. And this isn’t the one and only True way to eat for muscle growth. These are indeed the most effective methods, having been refined by both research and tradition over several decades, but you can modify most of them and still pack on slabs of muscle.

What we’re trying to do with this guide is give you the best default bulking diet, the best foundation to build upon. From there, you can then adjust it as you see fit.

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Illustration of several different bulking foods

The Best Macros for Bulking: How Much Protein, Carbs & Fat to Eat

When figuring out our ideal bulking macros—how much protein, carbs, and fat we should eat—there are a few things we need to consider. First, we can look at the research to see which macros allow us to build muscle the fastest. Second, we can see which macros help us avoid gaining fat while bulking. Third, we can look at which macros make it easier to get into a sustainable calorie surplus.

But a lot of us care about more than merely building muscle. We also want to improve our general health as we do it. So we can also look at which macros have the best impact on our health as we bulk up.

So, what are the best macros for bulking?

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The best chest exercises for mass

The Best Chest Exercises for Building Muscle

A few compound lifts have earned a reputation for being the best chest exercises: the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, weighted dip, and push-up. And it’s true, all of these are great lifts. But there’s a bit more to it than that. These are big compound lifts, working several different muscles at once. Depending on how you do them, you can be limited by your chest, shoulders, or triceps, changing which muscles get most of the growth stimulus. And if you’re trying to build a bigger chest, you need to make sure that your chest’s strength is what limits you.

A few isolation lifts are commonly used to bulk up the chest, too: the dumbbell fly, the cable crossover, the chest fly machine, and the pec deck machine. Again, all of these are great exercises. All of them will help you bulk up your chest. But you can speed up your muscle growth by quite a bit if you focus on working your chest under a deeper stretch, and some of these lifts are better at that than others.

Finally, we have the upper chest, which is often treated as a whole separate beast. What are the best lifts for building a bigger upper chest, and what kind of priority should you give them in your workout routine? For example, should the incline bench press be your main chest lift? Or should you favour the flat bench press?

So, what are the best exercises for building a bigger chest? What are the best lifts for building a bigger upper chest? And how should we organize them into a workout routine? Let’s dive in.

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Before and after illustration showing the results of a man building a bigger chest.

How to Build a Bigger Chest (Even If It’s Lagging Behind)

The chest is one of the biggest and most powerful muscles in our bodies, but it’s also notoriously difficult to grow, and many people find that it lags behind. In fact, if you’re a naturally skinny guy with narrow shoulders or a shallow ribcage, building a bigger chest may seem downright impossible. I’ve been there.

There are a three principles that reliably improve chest growth:

  • Choose exercises where your chest the limiting factor, ensuring that it gets most of the growth stimulus. And if your upper chest is lagging behind, the same rule applies: choose lifts where your upper chest is the limiting factor.
  • Challenge your chest under a deep stretch, improving how much muscle growth you stimulate with every set. As we’ll cover below, this can double your rate of muscle growth.
  • Make sure that you’re achieving progressive overload, getting stronger over time, gradually lifting more weight or doing more repetitions. This includes eating enough protein and calories to recover and grow from your workouts.

If you can get stronger at lifts that are limited by the strength of your chest, then your chest will grow. And if those lifts challenge your chest under a deep stretch, it will grow much faster.

So, which lifts are best at challenging our chests through a deep range of motion? And how can we make sure that our chests are the limiting factor? Let’s dive in.

Dive In
Illustration of a skinny guy flexing his forearm muscles.

Forearm Training: How to Build Bigger Forearms

When you first start lifting weights, it’s a good idea to focus most of your energy on the big compound lifts. Your workouts start with lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift, chin-up, and row. These are the biggest lifts that build the most overall muscle mass. After that, we add in some isolation lifts. Curls for our biceps, extensions for our triceps, lateral raises for our shoulders, and maybe some exercises for our abs. These train the muscles that aren’t properly stimulated by the big compound lifts.

As you gain weight, build muscle, and get stronger at these lifts, you’ll probably notice that your grip is getting stronger, and your forearms are getting bigger. This is because the rows are training your elbow flexors, the biceps curls are training your wrist flexors, and the lateral raises are training your wrist extensors. They aren’t the main muscles being worked, but since we’re new to lifting weights, they grow.

The thing is, as you continue getting bigger and stronger, you’ll probably notice that your forearms stop growing. That’s because your forearm muscles have gotten both stronger and tougher, and these compound lifts aren’t challenging them enough to provoke any growth.

So how do we get bigger forearms? We train them directly. Here’s how.

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Illustration of a skinny guy doing a lean bulk, gaining no visible fat.

How to Do a Lean Bulk

One of the most common issues that us skinny guys run into while bulking is gaining too much fat. For someone who’s already muscular, gaining some fat makes them look beefy. Not a big deal. But for someone who’s still fairly thin, it can make us look skinny-fat. It can make us look worse than when we started. Better to bulk more leanly, right?

Thing is, when you look up how to do a lean bulk, you’ll hear about how you need to gain weight very slowly—just a pound or so per month. You might hear about how you need to restrict certain foods or eat a cleaner diet. And sure, those can be factors. But one of the best ways to build muscle more leanly is to stimulate more muscle growth. After all, the faster we’re building muscle, the more calories are being invested in lean mass, leaving fewer that can spill over into fat storage. This is especially powerful for us skinny guys, given how much more muscle mass our frames can hold.

So in this article, we’ll cover why people gain fat while bulking, how to gain muscle faster, how to minimize fat storage, and how to do a proper lean bulk.

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Illustration showing a skinny ectomorph flexing his lanky arms.

What’s An Ectomorph? Is That Even A Real Term?

Is “ectomorph” a real term? Is it a real thing? Is that an accurate way of describing a naturally skinny person with a small bone structure? These are surprisingly controversial questions, it’s a controversial word, and over the past ten years, we’ve gotten a lot of flack for using it. And I understand why, too.

It’s true that the word “ectomorph” is rooted in the bogus science of William Sheldon. But it’s also clear that different people have different struggles, and those struggles are often rooted in their genetics. Some people find themselves gradually growing overweight, whereas other people find themselves thin as rakes. Why is that?

You’ll also find a lot of questionable ads advertising “the ectomorph diet” or the “ectomorph workout.” They might claim that endomorphs need intermittent fasting, whereas ectomorphs need to eat more carbohydrates. Or that endomorphs need more cardio, but ectomorphs should avoid cardio at all costs. All of that stuff is questionable. But at the same time, should we really be telling the skinny guy who’s trying to gain fifty pounds of muscle to eat the same diet as the overweight person who’s trying to lose a hundred pounds of fat?

So, what is an ectomorph? Is it even a real term? Is there a better word to describe naturally skinny guys? And how should we be eating and training to accomplish our rather rare goal of bulking up?

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Illustration of an ectomorph who bulked up and built a Hollywood physique.

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Building a Hollywood Physique

In this article, I want to talk about realistic physique goals, both in terms of understanding the timeframe that it takes to build muscle, as well as how good you can expect to look by the end of it. Perhaps it’s our audience, being largely made up of skinny guys who actively seek out information, but we tend to see things differently than a lot of other fitness professionals.

Can you look like the sex icon from the latest Hollywood movie? Well, you can’t transform your face, and building muscle won’t automatically make you more charismatic, but can you have physique of Brad Pitt from Fight Club, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Will Smith in I Am Legend, Gerard Butler in 300, or Daniel Craig in James Bond? Yes, you probably can.

None of those actors have great muscle-building genetics. All of them are naturally skinny—so-called ectomorphs. Some of them are naturally lean, yes, but so are many of us. And believe it or not, most of them didn’t even routinely lift weights until a few months before shooting for those films. These aren’t just realistic physiques, these are physiques you can probably build with just a few months of dedicated weight training.

I realize this might sound crazy, but hear me out.

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