If you’re a skinny guy who’s new to lifting weights, it’s possible to build muscle incredibly quickly. Lifters call this phenomenon “newbie gains,” and it lasts for about a year.
During that first year alone, the average man will often claim to gain around 20 pounds of muscle. Skinny guys often claim to be able to do even better, gaining upwards of 40 pounds in just a single year. Can beginners really build muscle that quickly?
However, although newbie gains seem to allow some beginners to build muscle unbelievably quickly, research shows that other lifters fail to gain any muscle when they first start working out. When that happens, they’re dubbed non-responders. Do non-responders really exist? And if they do, how do you know if you’re a non-responder?
Why are some guys able to build a lifetime of muscle in a single year, whereas other guys spend an entire lifetime unable to build a single year’s worth of muscle?
Struggling to bulk up as a naturally skinny “hardgainer” can be confusing. We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic, surrounded by people who gain weight by accident, and yet no matter what we do, we can’t budge the scale. Why is it so hard for us to gain weight?
We’re skinny guys, too. When we first started trying to bulk, we failed to gain any weight, and so we failed to build any muscle. We each gave up several times before finally succeeding. After figuring out how to eat enough, Marco gained 63 pounds while getting his health sciences degree and training certifications, and then went on to help college, professional, and Olympic athletes bulk up. When I started blogging about my weight-gain attempts on my design blog, I was referred to Marco. With his help, I was able to gain 55 pounds in around two years, with our readers getting similar results. We then created a program that’s helped over 10,000 other skinny guys build muscle.
This is all to say that it’s hard to bulk up as a skinny guy, but it’s not impossible. In fact, we have a number of genetic advantages that can allow us to gain muscle more quickly and leanly than the average person. We just need to combine hypertrophy training with a proper bulking diet and a good lifestyle. If we can do that, we can build muscle, and we can build it fast.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Do we really have faster metabolisms?
- Do skinny guys have smaller stomachs?
- Why do we resist weight gain?
- What’s the best bulking diet?
- What’s the best type of training for hardgainers?
- Why stress management and sleep are so important.
- How fast can hardgainers build muscle?
Different people bulk in different ways, and so depending on how we approach it, it can be either good or bad for our general health. However, as a general rule, bulking involves habitual weight training, eating a lot of whole food, eating plenty of protein, getting an abundance of good sleep, and gaining muscle mass, all of which are incredibly healthy.
One of the main reasons that Marco and I are so passionate about helping skinny guys bulk up is because we’re so confident that it can profoundly improve your health, as it did for the two of us.
Still, there are some things to watch out for, as well as some things we can do to make bulking even healthier, so let’s go into more detail about how we can bulk up in a way that’s good for our general health.
Most people build muscle with weight training, and that’s certainly an easy way to do it, but it’s also possible to bulk up with bodyweight workouts (aka calisthenics). If we put enough mechanical tension on our muscles, they will grow. That’s just as true with bodyweight training as it is with free weights.
The catch is that if we want to see good muscle growth, we still need to do dedicated hypertrophy training, and that can be confusing. After all, most calisthenics workouts are designed to help overweight people lose fat, improve their general fitness, and become healthier. The workouts may stimulate a bit of muscle growth as a byproduct, but it’s not enough to do a bonafide bulk. That won’t cut it for us skinny guys, ectomorphs, and hardgainers.
So in this article, we’ll go over how to do a bodyweight hypertrophy workout that’s designed specifically to help skinny guys build muscle, bulk up, and gain mass.
Given that we specialize in helping skinny guys bulk up, we often get asked how to build a thicker neck. And I can relate to that. I always hated how skinny my neck was. When I first started bulking, my neck circumference 14 inches—a long way from the average man’s 16-inch neck. And even after gaining a full 60 pounds, my neck had only gone up to 14.5 inches. Clearly, building muscle overall wasn’t doing anything for my skinny neck.
That’s where neck training comes in. Doing muscle-building exercises to bulk up the muscles in our necks is a fairly new thing. It’s not common in either bodybuilding or strength training. But neck training has a long history in contact sports and martial arts, given that it reduces the risk of concussions, knockouts, and brain trauma. We can look at that research and then modify it for our own goal of building thicker, stronger, and better-looking necks. And, as a bonus, our necks will grow tougher, too.
Given the paucity of research, I was skeptical about how well a neck bulking routine would work. But within a few months of doing neck training while resting between sets, I was able to add over an inch to my neck circumference. We were then able to reproduce those results with members of our community.
What’s the ideal male leg size? How often should we be squatting and deadlifting? How much emphasis should we put on leg training if our goal is to improve our health, general strength, and appearance? What’s interesting is that there are popular views at opposite ends of the spectrum:
- Some aesthetics-oriented approaches have us spending more of our time doing upper-body training: more incline bench pressing, chin-ups, overhead pressing, and biceps curls. If lower-body training is included at all, it’s often lighter stuff, such as one-legged squats and Romanian deadlifts.
- Some strength training programs tell us that we should focus our energy on getting stronger at the Big Three lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. In those circles, it’s common for every single workout to start with a few sets of strenuous back squats. Is that a good way to build a strong and attractive physique?
If we’re trying to build strong, healthy, and attractive physiques, how big should our legs be? How often should we train them? And what lower-body lifts should we choose?
We have an article about how to build a barbell home gym and we’re about to publish one about how to build a much smaller, cheaper home gym with just dumbbells or kettlebells. Our motto has always been that we can help you build muscle with any sort of weights, whether that’s a full gym membership, a barbell and some plates, some adjustable dumbbells, or a couple of old kettlebells.
One question we often get, though, is why we don’t recommend resistance bands. Now, it’s not that we discourage people from getting them. We just don’t actively recommend them. And that’s weird, right? I mean, resistance bands are cheap and portable, and aren’t they just as good for building muscle? After all, to stimulate muscle growth, all we need to do is challenge our muscles … right?
So, what results can we expect from resistance bands?
Most of us know that working out, eating a good diet, and getting plenty of good sleep will improve our health. So why, then, whenever we start working out, do we keep getting sick. Isn’t working out supposed to make us healthier? Is getting sick every time we try to bulk up just an unavoidable part of our skinny curse?
Nothing can ruin the momentum of a good bulk like getting a cold, the flu, or—every skinny guy’s worst nightmare—the stomach flu. I can’t tell you many dozens of pounds I’ve lost to the stomach flu over the years. Getting sick while leading a sedentary life is bad enough, but it feels all the worse when we’re in the middle of a bulking routine. We lie there in fear, breathing through our mouths, certain that our muscles are being eaten away, but unable to muster the willpower to shovel down enough food to maintain our body weight.
Our bulks eventually resume, those pounds come back, and regaining muscle is a total breeze compared to gaining it in the first place. But still, better to never get sick in the first place.
Nothing will guarantee that we won’t get sick, but there are a few things we can do to reduce our risk.
Most skinny guys are eager to gain muscle size. I don’t blame them. I was the same way. Back when I was 130 pounds, I wasn’t interested in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or chiselling out my abs for a bodybuilding show, I was interested in not being skinny anymore. Plus, gaining overall muscle size is the best way to gain overall strength. And it’s healthy, too. There’s no real downside.
Problem is, skinny guys are different. We don’t naturally overeat. We aren’t muscular by default. Gaining weight can be hard, and we might need to gain a lot of weight.
The good news is, once we start lifting weights and eating enough food, we can often gain muscle more quickly than any other body type. We’re far enough away from our genetic potential that our bodies are primed for muscle growth. The average guy would be lucky to gain ten pounds of lean mass in a year. We’ve seen skinny guys gain up to forty, obliterating their skinny genetics in a single year.
So how do you train for muscle size? With a style of training called “hypertrophy training.” Let’s talk about how to do that.
Deadlifts are one of the only true full-body lifts, challenging our muscles from our fingers down to our toes, stressing our bodies from the skin on our palms all the way down to our bones. They’re hard, tiring, and absolutely amazing for building muscle, gaining strength, improving our fitness, and becoming much better looking.
When it comes to bulking up, the only lift that can rival the deadlift in terms of sheer muscle growth is the squat (and especially the front squat). Even then, the deadlift has a few unique advantages:
- Deadlifts bulk up our traps, spinal erectors, and glutes, as well a number of other muscles in our upper backs, all of which is great for improving our aesthetics.
- Deadlifts are one of the best ways to increase the density of our bones and the health of our spines, making them great for our health and longevity.
- The strength we develop with deadlifts transfers near-perfectly to our daily lives, making us look strong because we are strong.
- Squats and deadlifts train different muscles, with the front squat emphasizing the quads and upper back, and the deadlift emphasizing the hamstrings, glutes, and entire back.
As with all the big lifts, though, there are several different ways of deadlifting, each with different pros and cons. And given how many different sorts of adaptations deadlifts provoke, it’s not surprising that some ways of deadlifting are much better for building muscle than others.
Most guys who are interested in strength favour the conventional deadlift, which is wise—and we’ll explain why—but they deadlift for low reps and drop the bar to the ground after every repetition, making it worse for building muscle mass.
The most heinous sin, though, belongs to the bodybuilders who forego the deadlift altogether, thinking that it’s not a good lift for gaining muscle, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.