The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Bulking Habits
Maybe you know that skinny guy who gets totally amped up to gain some weight and build muscle. He’s tried and given up in the past but blames his failure on not trying hard enough—on not having enough motivation. He starts off strong: hitting the gym 5 times a week, eating 100% clean (whatever that means to them), and spending hundreds of dollars on bizarro supplements that he read about on the Internet that even the supplement salesman is confused by.
A few weeks go by and after sacrificing so much in his life: time, energy, money… the scale hasn’t budged. Or maybe his weight even dropped because he cut out the easy calories he was getting from junk food.
Feeling disappointed and burnt out, he slowly stops going to the gym and throws in the towel.
Why does this keep happening? Some people might say that he didn’t have the grit or willpower to tough it out. But honestly, this guy has incredible willpower and motivation—that’s a brutal routine that many professional fitness models couldn’t even keep up. His willpower isn’t the problem. Anyone with that routine will either reach capacity and burn out, or switch their energy to something else—something new and exciting (new job, holidays, new relationship)… and then there’s no room left for the crazy muscle-building routine.
I’ve been that guy too many times to count. (And not just with building muscle, either.)
Us skinny guys aren’t even having a hard time building muscle because we’ve got bad genes, although that was an excuse I once used. No, us skinny guys are actually pretty great at building muscle!
In the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, partially thanks to a phenomenon called newbie gains, the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three months. You can see some examples of their muscle-building transformations here.
While this may sound crazy, especially if, like us, you’ve tried and failed to bulk up in the past… these results line up well with what’s found in research. The largest and most thorough muscle-building genetics study found that skinny guys build muscle faster than anyone else (study). Some guys in the study added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just the first three months.
Because we’re so far away from our genetic muscular potential, we’re able to build muscle at an accelerated pace.
So why do so many of us skinny guys fail at building muscle over and over again?
- Bulking Habits Are Free
- Setting Realistic Bulking Goals
- The Willpower to Eat & Work Out
- Kickstarting New Habits With Willpower
- Shrinking the Change, Swapping, And Realizing You’re Only Human
- Shrinking the Change
- Swap—Don’t Add or Remove.
- Change Your Surroundings
- Exhaustion and Laziness are Different
- Make Building Muscle More Enjoyable
- Sleep Builds Muscle & Replenishes Willpower
- How to Replenish Your Willpower
- How Glucose Affects Willpower
- Celebrating Small Wins
- Emotional Fuel For That Final Push
- Muscle-Building Habits
- Workout & Diet Accountability
Dan Ariely, our favourite behavioural economics researcher, believes that New Years Resolutions are an important marker for change because they offer us a fresh start. Perhaps we were skinny, skinny-fat, weak, or low-energy last year. But not this year. This year we’ve got a clean slate.
But our slate won’t stay clean for long. We’re all going to slip; we’re all going to “fail.” And that’s okay. That’s part of the process. What separates those who succeed from those who don’t is how we think of those failures. Do we think of a failure as a death blow, or is it just a setback that we need to overcome?
Is failure at the end of or in the middle of your story?
If we think of failure as a setback, then it’s just an opportunity for us to figure out what went wrong, what needs adjusting, and how to move forward more effectively.
Failure isn’t even the right word for it. The moment we stop thinking about change as binary—either as success or failure—but rather as a process that’ll evolve, the more likely we are to actually reach our goals.
So when looking at our bulking routines, we need to analyze them objectively. If our routine was failing, which part of it is holding us back? What piece is missing?
If our routine is working but is tough to maintain, what part was enjoyable and sustainable? What’s the part that’s actually responsible for our results? What’s useless filler that just wears us down?
If a routine is too hard to maintain, that doesn’t we should abandon it. Instead, we should trim it down into something we can manage. Keep what’s working, get rid of what isn’t.
Depending on what you’re doing, there’s a good chance there’s a bulking workout that’s less tiring but does a better job of stimulating muscle growth. (And if you’re curious about what makes a good bulking workout, check out our article about hypertrophy training.)
Similarly, being full doesn’t mean we ate enough calories, just that we ate a filling meal. Maybe there’s a less filling meal that provides more calories and nutrients or less filling snacks that we can have between our bigger meals.
Failure isn’t the end, it’s just a point that we pivot from.
This is how we gradually develop lifestyles that work for us—making things more effective, more enjoyable, easier. This is how we get to consciously decide who we want to become. Then eventually those habits become what we do automatically—subconsciously.
Can you imagine if every single day you subconsciously made good longterm decisions for yourself? What if working out and eating well was so easy that you didn’t even think about it? What if being muscular could be your natural comfortable way of being?
In the first part of this article, we’ll teach you how to adjust and overcome the challenges you’ll face in your first few weeks of building muscle. In the second part, we’ll teach you how to develop them into an enjoyable lifestyle so that you can still be rock-solid, huge and healthy ten years from now.
Bulking Habits Are Free
Think of establishing good habits as free goodness. They don’t tax your energy levels at all because they’re decision-free. If you turn something into a habit, that means it becomes unconscious, automatic, and that it no longer stresses you. It’s just something that you do on autopilot.
Admittedly, selling the idea that habits are your one-way ticket to muscleville isn’t very exciting. Many of us would rather search for the revolutionary bulking workout or magic bulking supplement to make us look like Wolverine in 72 hours instead.
What’s interesting is that even if you found a radical bulking routine that got you quick results, you’d still be selling yourself short. James Fell, a writer for TIME Magazine, recently interviewed Hugh Jackman, and it turns out that his routine is so brutal—several hours of intense training and 7,000 calories every day—that he’s only able to maintain it while filming. He lets his physique go to pot as soon as the filming stops. By the time Wolverine hit the theatres, Jackman was no longer a jacked man.
Now, you might look at that and think that in order to get those results, you need to put in that same amount of effort. Fortunately, that’s not true.
As a naturally skinny guy, you can bulk up with a few months of hard but reasonable work. Maybe three challenging bulking workouts every week, each about an hour long. Maybe a 500-calorie surplus, bringing your calorie intake from 2,500 up to 3,000 calories per day.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something that almost all of us can reasonably manage. It’s realistic.
Then, once you’ve bulked up, maintaining that physique is even easier. You can likely maintain your new physique with just a couple of workouts per week, maybe 45 minutes long, and they won’t need to be that challenging—you can lift within your comfort zone. After all, you won’t need to provoke new muscle growth anymore.
A maintenance diet is even easier. Bulking up usually means eating more calories than you want to eat. But maintaining a muscular physique means eating according to your appetite. (It might take a few months of consciously maintaining your weight while your body establishes a new “set point,” but once that’s done, you’ll naturally maintain your higher weight.)
When you run into a muscle-building setback—and you will—you’ll need to strategically adjust what you’re doing. Over time, if you adjust cleverly, you’ll gradually weed out the bad habits while adding new positive ones. You can take the more enjoyable, convenient and successful parts of your routine and cement them into lifelong habits. Being jacked becomes totally natural. And all your friends start complaining to their other friends about how easy you have it—about how you’re all ripped and energetic and don’t even seem to try.
There are a couple of necessary parts to consciously creating a new habit. It all starts with:
- Defining a concrete/tangible/reachable goal. (Perhaps gaining twenty pounds of muscle before summertime.)
- Using your willpower and motivation to lay down the foundation for a new habit.
- Honest and brutal accountability.
- Learning to strategically adjust your plan if needed.
Setting Realistic Bulking Goals
How Much Muscle Do You Want to Build?
Before you take a step forward towards reaching your goals, you need to figure out which direction is forward. The clearer, more concise and concrete your goal is, the better.
It’s not enough to say you want to build muscle. How much muscle? 15 pounds? 20 pounds? 30 pounds? Once you know, you can make a clear and detailed plan on how to get there.
Let’s say you want to gain 20 pounds in 20 weeks. Great, so you need to gain one pound every week. And every week, you can weigh yourself to see how you’re doing. If you gained a pound, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you gained less than a pound, you know you need to find a way to eat more calories the following week.
Think of your goal as a mountain in the distance. If the weather is clear, you know exactly which direction to head to keep making progress. Introduce a bit of fog and you’re doomed. Even a small bit of fog can obscure the goal, allowing you to veer off the path.
The problem is, if your bulking goal is vague, like “get strong” or “become muscular” or “get abs”—how do you measure that? How do you know when you’re progressing and should stay the course? How do you know when you need to re-evaluate your workout routine, or diet, or lifestyle? How do you know when you’ve reached a huge milestone and should reward yourself for a job well done?
How Long Will it Take to Build That Muscle?
If you feel like you know everything you need to about building muscle but haven’t really started, you need to get clearer with your goals. In the incredible book Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath, they make a great point: what’s sometimes seen as resistance is just a lack of clarity. Clarity dissolves resistance.
You can apply these same principles to building muscle.
- No weight gain this week? You aren’t in a calorie surplus. You need to consume more calories.
- Gained some fat this week? You’re consuming too large of a calorie surplus for your lifestyle. Perhaps you need a better training program, better nutrition choices, more protein, or a smaller calorie surplus.
- Couldn’t make it to the gym for all three workouts? Maybe you need to workout in the morning to make sure it happens, build a simple home gym instead, make your workouts more efficient, or introduce some accountability.
- Haven’t started because you have no idea where to start? Think about buying a good muscle-building workout and diet program that takes care of all that for you.
When you’ve made your goal defined and concrete, there’s nothing left but to just do it.
Don’t let endless research or decision paralysis wear you down or kill your motivation. You’ve probably already spent too much time reading about this stuff—time that could have been spent doing this stuff. Keep researching after you’ve started. This stuff will all make far more sense then, and you’ll be motivated by what you’re seeing in the mirror to keep learning and keep lifting.
The hardest yet most important thing when it comes to exercising and eating well is to actually start doing it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to start happening.
Make a clear goal that you can reach relatively soon, write it down and put it on your fridge to remind yourself every day. Some ideas to start are:
- Train 3x a week for one month.
- Gain twenty pounds of muscle in five months.
- Literally explode your pants into pieces with a simple flex of your glutes.
The Willpower to Eat & Work Out
Kickstarting New Habits With Willpower
You’re going to need to make some changes to your current lifestyle to reach your goals. Making those changes will require some effort—some willpower. Doing the same thing over and over again (a habit) is easy, but making these changes is tough. It’s easy to put off building a home gym or scouting out the neighbourhood gym. It’s easy to put off finding a good bulking program. It’s easier to go to the grocery store tomorrow.
Willpower is how you override desires that aren’t in line with your longterm goals. For example, maybe you need to use willpower to stop playing video games and go to the gym. It’s also how you motivate yourself to do something that you feel too tired to do, such as going to the gym after a long day at work.
According to Switch, every single decision you make—even ones as small as what to wear in the morning—slowly deplete your willpower. This explains why even relatively simple things, like shopping, can be draining.
If you haven’t hit the gym before, you’ll need to sign up for one even if you think you’ll feel out of place there. Or build a home gym. And try not to get your home gym from the side of the road, as Shane did:
If you’re not currently gaining weight, you’ll need to scheme up a way to eat more food (article on that here).
If you don’t feel good or feel low energy, you may need to eat more micronutrients (whole foods containing vitamins, minerals and fibre), eat more carbohydrates or get some more quality sleep.
Shrinking the Change, Swapping, And Realizing You’re Only Human
While 46% of people making New Years Resolution are keeping up with them after 6 months (study) another study by the same researcher, John Norcross, found only 19% of people were still with them two years later (study).
It’s not because their goals weren’t worthwhile or because they were unattainable. It’s because we assume that since we’re motivated now that our willpower will last forever.
It won’t, and we need to anticipate that.
We’re hyper-aware of where we need to improve. It can be easy to make a list of 15 items that need to change now. But we really only have space in our life for one major lifestyle change at a time—if that. Sometimes people even need to deprioritize another area of their life to make room for new priorities.
So what can you do when you’ve only got so much willpower?
Shrinking the Change
If you want to gain 50 pounds of muscle while losing a tiny bit of fat around the belly while doing cardiovascular exercise 5 times a week… those are all great things, but will likely end in failure.
Prioritize and shrink it down to just one goal, fully achieve it, progress to the next step. That way you can accomplish everything in succession rather than failing at everything all at once.
Let’s say you decide to order a pair of dumbbells from Amazon and start lifting three times per week in front of the TV. Next month, when that is easy and part of your life, then start adding in a bunch of calories. Once that’s easy, worry more about the quality of your lifting and the quality of your calories. A couple of months and a couple of dozen pounds of muscle later, you could start adding in some more off-day activities like sports or swimming. By the end of the year, you’ll be a lean mean health machine.
Change takes time and the more you realize the limits of your body and how to stay within them, the better chance you’ll have to stick with it. Once you can learn to actually accomplish lasting lifestyle changes that aren’t taxing your willpower, that’s when you’ll see results that effortlessly last forever.
(Maintaining muscle is also 1,000% times easier than building muscle, so don’t expect being perma-full and sore and all that stuff to be a lasting part of your life—it won’t be. You wouldn’t even need to lift three times per week.)
When Shane and I were planning our “Lean to Mean” experiment the idea of losing three hours a week to lifting heavy things and chugging protein shakes didn’t sound like fun to the sedentary and skinny version of me.
So we set a 30 day limit on eating well and working out which made the commitment way less daunting. I wasn’t giving up my entire future life, just a few hours a week for a month.
At the end of that month, I’d gained over 30 pounds, felt amazing, and was eager to keep going. The next month was much easier. Soon we started finding ways to streamline our plan—making it more fun, more efficient, more delicious. Nowadays it’s easier to be muscular than to not be muscular.
Swap—Don’t Add or Remove.
Let’s say you like to snack on junk food (Doritos anyone?) before bed—a behaviour you’ve been meaning to change. Let’s say you also have trouble eating enough to build muscle. And let’s say you also eat too little protein to build muscle well. A clever way to accomplish all of your goals would be to swap something muscle-buildy into that junk food habit cycle.
Since you’ll need more calories, removing the snack—in this case, Doritos (an easy source of calories)—from your diet isn’t going to help you. Instead, you need more healthful calories and more protein. You need a better snack. So an option would be to dip your Doritos into a small bowl of plain Greek yogurt for some added calories, protein, micronutrients, and deliciousness.
If you like drinking milk and need some more calories, just swap out that regular 1% or 2% for a higher fat whole milk. Need even more calories and micronutrients? Mix in some cocoa.
For swaps like these ones almost no willpower is needed. This leaves willpower available to focus on the harder stuff—like waking up early to go to the gym before work or training in your basement after a long day at school.
Change Your Surroundings
Some people can’t eat wholesome foods unless all the junk foods are removed from their house. Other people don’t make it to the gym because it’s too long a drive.
If you’re running low on willpower, why not change your surroundings instead of yourself? If signing up for a gym membership is too inconvenient or too stressful, buy some adjustable dumbbells and lift at home.
If you feel too tired to cook every night, cook in bulk Sunday afternoon. If you can’t handle large serving sizes, snack more during the day. If you forget to snack (as is common for us skinny guys), put a big bowl of delicious nuts or dried fruit on your desk, making it instinctive to snack throughout the day. Even better if it’s in a clear bowl (study).
Once you change the environment, these changes will be willpower-free, leaving your willpower available for other things.
Exhaustion and Laziness are Different
If you feel lazy, maybe you’re exhausted. You will need to honestly judge yourself, but when you’re feeling lazy… are you actually lazy or just completely exhausted?
If you’re exhausted, something in your life needs to change. You may need to eat more wholesome foods to give your body what it needs to function properly, you may need more restful sleep (members, great post on that here), or eliminate useless stressors in your life.
Don’t beat yourself up by thinking you’re too lazy to get off your butt when it could be the complete opposite. Get smart about it instead.
If you’re already feeling low-energy, lifting weights may seem like another energy-sapping activity… but people who exercise develop more energy and more willpower than people who don’t. To start it might take a bit of energy to develop the habit, but once you’re used to it, you cash in on the energy investment. This is why lifting makes such a great first step.
Make Building Muscle More Enjoyable
You need to develop a lifestyle that includes solid exercise and good foods. But that doesn’t mean you need to eat bland, expensive or inconvenient superfoods all day long. The meals you cook should be quick to prepare and fit easily inside your schedule, they should be made up of foods you already enjoy, and they should be well within your budget.
Sleep Builds Muscle & Replenishes Willpower
When you wake up after a good sleep you have 100% willpower. The moment you make a decision like deciding between eating a bowl of cereal or having a protein smoothie, you’ve already used up a small piece of your willpower for the day. This is why many successful people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Obama wear/wore the same outfit every day to make their mornings as decision-free as possible.
Some people have very taxing jobs that require them to make a lot of decisions, and they understandably feel completely drained by the time they get home. If you fall into that camp, one option is hitting the gym before work. That way you’ll have full willpower to draw from to ensure you get there. Not only that but there are some mental clarity benefits you’ll get throughout the day from exercising (study).
There’s an age-old saying that you should sleep on big decisions. This makes sense, as it allows you to make decisions with full willpower. At the end of the day, when your body is exhausted you will always pick the short-term option. This affects any important decision you’ll make in your life: eating well, working out, saving money, quitting drugs, quitting smoking, etc.
In Willpower by Tierney/Baumeister, the authors share that research has found that sleep deprivation has been shown to impair your willpower. Baumeister believes that in order to get the most out of your willpower, you should use some of it to set aside time for quality sleep.
As a bonus, getting enough good sleep will help you build muscle around 30% faster, and it will keep your gains leaner, too. So not only are you getting extra willpower, you’re also getting better bulking results.
How to Replenish Your Willpower
If you’re feeling drained, how can you replenish your willpower? Getting more sleep is the best method. But aside from sleeping—calories!
Your brain uses a lot of energy. Researchers think that upwards of 20% of your daily calorie intake is used up by your brain (study, article). More specifically, your brain uses glucose. Glucose is just a simple energy unit—the type of sugar our body likes to use and store (in the form of glycogen). Some foods are also made out of glucose—dextrose, maltodextrin, potatoes, rice, etc. Glucose delivery is an essential part of willpower. Researcher Todd Heatherton famously found that consuming glucose reversed the brain changes wrought by depletion (article).
So what happens when you don’t have enough available glucose in your system? Your brain doesn’t just shut off when it’s not getting the energy it needs from food (thankfully). Rather, it switches into “energy saving mode”, which basically means you’ll resist doing any high-energy stuff—you’ll probably default to watching something on Netflix. When you’re exhausted, this allows your body to keep up with your deeper processes, like breathing.
This means that when you’re exhausted you won’t feel like hitting the gym, you can’t write your best chapter for your novel or learn a new instrument, and even insignificant decisions become hard to make. Like whether you want to eat frozen pizza or chicken strips.
How Glucose Affects Willpower
There are many examples from Willpower about how important your body’s ability to deliver steady delivery of glucose is. In one study they reference, below-average glucose levels were found in 90% of juvenile delinquents just taken into custody.
Even driving while sick is more dangerous than driving while mildly intoxicated. This is because taking care of your body takes precedent over your activities, so your body dedicates glucose/energy to fight off the germs… leaving less for your brain. (Evidently our immune systems don’t understand the dangers of driving.) The reason we sleep so much when we have a cold is perhaps to reserve the glucose in our system for fighting germs.
Now here’s the cruel catch-22 for most of the Western world. They want to lose weight, so they need to eat less food, and they need willpower in order to do it… but because they’re eating less food, they have less willpower. Our bodies can also grow “addicted” to junk food laced with sugar since it knows it’s a great hit of instant energy. So we’ll actually start to crave sweet things when we’re feeling exhausted. This is why people become grouchy while they’re cutting—they don’t have as much self-control as they normally do.
As skinny guys, though, this is amazing news. We need to eat more to fuel our muscle growth but those extra calories won’t just turn into bigger guns, they’ll give us the fuel we need to keep up with our new routines. This makes it easier to make healthy choices like cooking our own food and hitting the gym.
If you know you need some willpower in a pinch, have a Coke or a Gatorade. Generally, though, the best way to ensure a dependable and predictable amount of willpower is to eat lots of nutritious bulking foods with lots of good nutrients in them and maintain a healthy body-fat percentage (not really much concern there for us skinny guys) for a steady stream of willpower and energy throughout the day.
Celebrating Small Wins
There will be rough patches in whatever you pursue. Plan for it, brace yourself, and always remind yourself how far you’ve progressed. If you gain ten pounds, but then catch a cold and lose two pounds… you’re still up eight pounds!
It’s important to remind yourself that what you’re doing is worthwhile and that if you don’t reach your goal, that it has nothing to do with your self-worth. If you slip or lapse, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure—it just means something in your plan needs to be strategically adjusted.
If during your first week of working out you only make it to the gym twice… that’s still two more workouts than normal, and more than enough to grow. Realize that you can’t reach 100% compliance overnight and instead focus on what’s working (keep doing that) and continue to tweak what you’re doing.
When you reach a big goal that you have, like gaining 20 pounds, don’t bail on the celebration part! Follow through with the reward. Otherwise, you’re just manipulating your willpower into something more like a torture device—perpetual denial of pleasure in the present moment.
Emotional Fuel For That Final Push
When your willpower is nearly empty and you’re feeling drained, you’ll have less self-control and become more emotional. Your emotions affect you both positively and negatively, but you can turn them into fuel for your physical pursuits.
You can lean on positive emotions like hope, enthusiasm, happiness, surprise, joy, contentment, pride and love to motivate yourself to reach your goals. Positive emotions encourage learning and curiosity—perfect for new experiences and change. You can start by believing you’re up to the challenge of creating a better, stronger, healthier future and to remind yourself of the blessing that you have a healthy able body that you can train to grow bigger and stronger.
Understandably, people don’t like using “negative” emotions for motivation—emotions like pain, anger, fear, dismay, disgust, shame, etc. But we need them to be a well-rounded human. They help us navigate the world safely. They can be like putting blinders on—forcing us to become extremely focused and determined. No one is thinking about what they’re eating for dinner when they’re they’re lost in a dangerous neighbourhood in the middle of the night.
Using emotions like anger can help motivate us to adapt. For example, if we hit the gym consistently yet our weight stays the same on the scale at the end of the week (argh, again) you can use that anger to help you add a protein shake to your breakfast, eat a bit more past fullness than you normally would, or track your calories more diligently.
Martin Seligman, a famous psychologist, puts it this way: “If you have a stone in your shoe and it hurts, you’ll fix the problem.”
Automating the Good Things in Your Life
Many people don’t choose their habits. Rather, they just sort of “fall” into them because they’re the easiest route in the short-term. One study found that we spend about 45% of our day executing habits – almost half of our lives are spent doing regular ol’ things that we likely didn’t decide to do and aren’t even thinking about!
One of the reasons we naturally fall into our habits is to reduce the number of daily decisions in our lives. This is good—very good. It frees up willpower and decision-making power for other things. If you go to work as a habit, you can use your willpower to motivate you to go to the gym. When going to the gym becomes a habit, you can then use your willpower for something else.
Yet we often hear people talk more about bad habits rather than good ones.
This makes sense. Bad habits are a huge deal. Five of the top health risks in the US are from repeated, habitual actions: drug abuse, obesity, smoking, risky sexual behaviours, and not exercising enough (study).
Establishing good habits is the only way you will find success long-term. You can build muscle quickly at first, allowing you to make very rapid and encouraging progress during your first few months of (smart) lifting and nutrition… but depending on your ideal fitness goals, it could take several years of smart, focused training to reach your ultimate goals.
To reach the physique of a natural bodybuilder like Eric Helms, for example, it could take upwards of a decade of lifting, eating and sleeping well.
Your motivation, however strong it is right now, will surely wane before then. Instead of using your motivation poorly (doing weeks of intense research without beginning a routine, doing a super intense training program that fully depletes your willpower, etc), use your motivation, starting today, to help set up a manageable, enjoyable and sustainable lifestyle that you can carry on for a few weeks and gradually turn into an enjoyable habit-driven lifestyle.
That is how you accomplish an enormous transformation that spans months and even years.
Converting Willpower Into Bulking Habits
In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he writes that researchers from MIT discovered the neurological loop for habits. The loop is: Cue, Routine, Reward. He has a great PDF for free on his website that delves deeper.
It’s generally very hard to break bad habits, so it’s best to program new better ones to replace them. The cue is what tells your body to do this action. According to Duhigg, a cue could fit into one of these categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, etc. It could be something like “I always hit the gym after having a coffee”, so once you’re done with the coffee, that’s the cue. Some people work out in the morning and set up their gym bag by the door at night, that way when they wake up and see the gym bag by the door, it’s their cue to initiate the habit—to head to the gym.
The routine is the actual action—in this case, the lifting part.
The reward is necessary for the habit to stick. Over time, working out will become its own reward. The endorphins from working out, energy boosts, feeling better, the strength improvements, looking better—these will be the reward. But all of us know that starting to work out can be difficult. You feel physically tired from the exercise, you feel mentally tired from having to use your willpower, your muscles become sore since your muscles aren’t used to working out, and you lose some time in your day. Having a reward is important to keep you going strong until the longer term benefits start to kick in.
Here are a couple of ideas for a post-workout reward, but pick something specific for yourself that you really love:
- Having a snack that you love but don’t normally eat, like cookies or ice cream
- If you love movies, watching a movie to relax post-workout
- If you’re a naturally very-busy guy, give yourself some time to rest like having a bath after training. (The man version of a bubble bath is an epsom salt bath, but any kind of bath will do!)
Habits Glue Us to Our Bulking Routines
Habits are like glue. They help us stick to our routines, but they also take a while to set. How long do we have to consciously will ourselves to do something before it becomes a habit? A 2009 study found the average amount of time to establish automaticity was 66 days, with 18 days being the shortest time. Every time you go through the habit loop, it’ll get easier and easier to repeat.
In that sense, a habit is like glue—the longer you’ve kept it up, the harder it is to pull off. This is why it’s so hard to break bad habits… and why our good habits never seem to stick. Sometimes we lose motivation and burn out before the glue can set into a habit.
For those wondering, doing something every day is not necessary to form a habit, so sticking to the three hour-long weightlifting workouts per week that we recommend is perfectly fine.
Workout & Diet Accountability
The Ulysses Contract
Let’s say you had a particularly tough day at work. Your willpower has been momentarily exhausted. Normally you can use your willpower to hit the gym, but today you don’t have any left. If you had the choice, you’d just order in some take-out food, sit back and watch something on Netflix. Most people do have a choice, so they skip the gym.
But you don’t have a choice. You can’t sit back and skip the gym. A few days ago when you had more willpower, you gave your buddy Dave $50 in cash and told him that he was free to spend it if you didn’t hit the gym 3x a week for a month. If you meet that goal at the end of the month he gives the money back.
Now you’re faced with two options. Do you go to the gym even though you’re tired, or do you go through the pain of losing 50 bucks? You’ll probably choose the less painful option—the gym. And good on you, for you’ll be sacrificing present mediocrity for longer-term health, strength & happiness. After a good night’s sleep, with your willpower fully replenished, you’ll be glad that you made the right choice.
Without the accountability of the cash in place though, when we’re exhausted we’ll always default to the less painful route. Usually, this means lazing around at home eating junk food that’s easy to prepare (or order). Many studies found that even people who are extremely disciplined when it comes to their future, once you wear down their willpower to the point of exhaustion, they will always favour the present moment.
This accountability system is called a “Ulysses contract”. It’s when a person freely makes a decision to bind their future self.
We used accountability in the Lean to Mean Experiment—my first 30 days of (successful) muscle-building. Shane and I were roommates, and, because we’re huge fans of Dan Ariely’s research, we set up an accountability jar. If we missed a workout it meant we had to put $10 in the jar. A missed meal was $5. Then we set a 30-day deadline for the contract so that we knew the pain wasn’t going to last forever, allowing us to go a little harder on ourselves.
I failed to have a couple of meals on super busy days (we were starting our design business at the same time) and ended up losing a bit of money. But the pain of the cost was enough to get me to hit the gym 3x a week and finish my half-eaten bowls of chili that I normally would have abandoned.
The next month, fifty pounds heavier between us, both Shane and I signed up for continuing on with the jar for another 30 days. During that second month, we didn’t fail once. Our big eating and gym-going had already transformed into a habit. We decided to keep going with our transformation for another month, but we abandoned the jar because we no longer needed it.
Make your goals public. It’s a lot easier to rationalize another slip as “not too big a deal” if you’re the only person who knows about your muscle-building challenge. It’s awesome when our members post introductions and their goals on the forum. We even have some guys checking in with one another to see if they’re following through.
Don’t make the amount too little or it won’t motivate you. You want it to be just high enough to hurt a bit. (But don’t make it so pricey it’ll ruin your life!)
If you take one thing away from this article, it’s to stop thinking about change as being an all or nothing kind of thing. Change is not like an Oreo. If you’ve missed a few workouts in a row, that’s the perfect reason to get back in there, not a reason to label your muscle-building efforts a failure.
If you’ve failed to gain weight the past few weeks, that’s common. Most skinny guys have a hard time gaining weight. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you need to find a way to add more calories into your diet. We’ve all been there, struggled, and fought past it. You can, too.
To recap, here’s how you build good bulking habits:
- Pick one tangible & realistic goal. For the average skinny guy, a good bulking goal is to gain 20 pounds in 20 weeks. That’s fast enough to produce a remarkable change, but slow enough that your muscle gains will be fairly lean. (Or, if you’ve been struggling with being skinny-fat, try gaining 10 pounds in 20 weeks instead.)
- Make it easy to start towards your goal, and make gradual changes—not radical ones. The very first step is to start lifting weights 3 times per week. Your workout routine doesn’t need to be perfect. Neither does your exercise technique. Just start working out. It’s okay to be a beginner. You’ll get better over time.
- Change things in your environment to make it easier to stick to your goal. Fill your cupboards with trail mix, keep a supply of protein powder and protein bars on hand, and fill your glove box with snacks.
- Focus on getting enough sleep. The more good sleep you get, the more willpower you’ll have, and the easier it will be to establish good workout and diet habits.
- Aim to do whatever it takes to make your lifestyle change automatic and habitual. Instead of waking up every day or two and trying to motivate or convince your self to work out, just follow a plan. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you go to the gym. Every day, you hit your calorie and protein goals. Every night, an alarm tells you when it’s time to gear down for bed. Automate it. Build bulking habits.
- If you’re tired of being skinny and desperate to build muscle, take this seriously. Use an accountability tactic. Bet on yourself. If you miss a workout, that means giving a dear friend or bitter enemy $20. Or $50. Or $100. Whatever makes it hurt enough that you won’t skip your workouts. Do the same thing with your calorie and protein goals. Hell, do the same thing with your bedtime.
- Every time you gain weight, every time you successfully add weight to the bar, every time you finish another good month of bulking—celebrate! You’re winning! You’ve got this! Enjoy your success.
One final bonus tip is to use the ‘Seinfeld’ trick. Jerry knows he didn’t invent this one, but it’s a great tip he’s credited with. Go buy a physical calendar and pin it up where you’ll see it every day. When you accomplish your goal for the day, make a big red X on the day to cross it off, and never break the chain. If you’re working out 3x a week, you can mark your rest day with a nice big red X if you continue to reach your calorie/protein goals for the day.
If there is any way we can help you reach your goals, let us know. Our program may help. We wish you the best of luck with your ongoing beastly journey—we’re all rooting for you! 🙂
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Wow! Shane was right, this article came just in time. I’ve fallen off the wagon for a few weeks now – not going to the gym, not eating enough, not sleeping enough – and I’ve been beating the crap out of myself mentally for it. This week after getting some encouragement on the forums, I decided that enough is enough. Next week it’s time to get the routine back (I’m taking this week to recoup from exhaustion and adjust my diet a bit). I remember my first week of the program when I calculated my calorie needs wrong and ended up losing a pound, I was devistated! “Should I just give up? I thought I was doing everything right! Stupid metabolism.” I remember thinking to myself as I drove to work. Then it hit me… “No,if I you quit now you will have failed. Keep pressing on, adapt, up your calories , gain the weight back and then keep going on, you’re not going to die if you reach your goal a week later than originally expected. Things in life seldom get finished by the original deadline.” I got myself pumped back up and gained 10lbs in the next 5 or 6 weeks. It’s easy to get depressed when things don’t go according to plan and just give up, but it’s better to realize that it’s not the end of the world, dust yourself off, and keep on trekking, after all lessons are learned from the mistakes we’ve made.
Hey Daniel, that’s awesome that you realized that and picked it back up to gain those 10 pounds! Really inspiring. It took me many years to give the gym another shot. Norcross who I referenced above with the resolution studies said that is one large issue with resolutions is that some people who fail to reach their goals, self-blame and actually feel worse. Those who didn’t self-blame were normally able to pick things back up after a temporary lapse. So not letting your goals dictate your self-worth is huge! It’s fine to value doing good work but also we need to realize our successes and failures don’t need to define us.
One other thing you can do is try and pinpoint when you fell off the wagon and see if you can see why. For me, the first year of Christmas holidays breaking my routine really tested how strong my habits had become. So when the next round of holidays came up I was prepared to keep my habit going by even doing some simple bodyweight exercises alone in my room of wherever I was to keep the habit going strong. Nothing fancy and likely didn’t do much on the muscle side of things but kept the habit going.
Good luck man with starting right back up again! Pumped to see how you do.
I was sceptic my entire life and skinny guy. I bought this programme a year ago and I am 12 kg heavier. 6 muscle, 5 kg (litres) of water, 1 kg fat. I got from 68 kg to 80 kg in 8 months of training. People tend to tell me I am “athletic” looking now. No more sickly skinny. And of course I also smile more 🙂
Always a pleasure having you a part of the community Daniel! Congrats on your 12kg, really badass 🙂
As a ‘graduate’ of B2B I really appreciated this article. Reflecting on my gains throughout 2014 (health gains, mental acuity gains and energy gains as well as the anticipated gains in weight, strength and fitness) I can see now that the period at the end of the year where I wound down just to get through the ‘busy season’ was really the time I could have benefitted the most from sticking with thr great routines that I had set up. After gaining about 10kg lean muscle through the program, I’ve lost about a quarter of it through six weeks of inaction, partly due to a nagging elbow injury but mostly due to not getting the injury sorted out.
This article crystallizes some of the metacognitive processes going on so that I can more easily focus on getting back into it. I’m very thankful that muscles have memory and look forward to seeing results quicker this time around as I get back into some good eating and exercising routines. Jared, I love the way you and Shane write, always backed up by evidence-based research.
Keep at it.
You’re changing lives.
Hey Scott, props on your original 10kg gain! It should be easier to hop back into it knowing you can already succeed, and you’re right about muscle memory – shouldn’t take you too long to pop those pounds back on. It’s weird how taking some time for your own health and well-being, while sometimes it feels like it’s piling on even more, can be super helpful to tackling everything else.
Thanks so much for sharing that Scott, I really appreciate it. Makes me really happy to know you’ve found it valuable. Best of luck with your training this year 🙂
Is this only for skinny guys?
The program is written with a skinny guy mindset, in that it’s too hard to get in enough food, etc. So we have a ton of tricks to beat skinny stomachs, etc.
However, if you’re skinny-fat or already fairly fit and just looking to build some new muscle the program is still a well-balanced muscle-building program and should still suit those goals fairly well! Keep in mind we have a no fine print 60 day money back guarantee, so you can check it out and see if it’s a good fit for you 🙂
When I read this article among the others that are already on this site, I got further insight to the type of guys you (the founders) are.
– You don’t take no for an answer.
– You research thorough
– You write in detail
– You have original ideas, but you also are not afraid to learn from others
– You get it that content and presentation, both matter.
– Your site is easy on the eye, easy to navigate, but also the content you write and provide on this site (including the videos), comes from a clean place and from a place of wanting to help and share.
Among the thousands of bulk up sites and blogs, your site stands out due to the above (among other things, including your own success stories).
Don’t change the above for any reason!
Cheers and Happy New Year
nKash, thank you so much for sharing that 🙂 It really means a lot to me (and to all of us) and you’ve totally made my day!
I wish you the best for this year and good luck with all your upcoming goals!
This has got to be one of the raddest comments on the site. Thank you so much for the kind words, nKash! 😀
Happy New Year!
Do you guys have any sort of payment plan option? I have wanted to start your program but am always broke from bills so the upfront cost is a little much for me at this time. Hope to hear back soon!
Glad to hear you’re gunning to sign up! Normally people will ask us about a payment plan when they get a few pages into the blog and see all the comments on this post. It’s become the official way to request a payment plan. Ahaha here is good too though 🙂
I’ll send you an email with details about a payment plan we could offer ya.
Well since this is the new official request line – I would be grateful if you could forward on that payment plan email my way as well 🙂
You guys are the best – been working out for a few months in my slowly growing home gym but I think I need some structure/guidance.
Ahaha done! 🙂
Could I jump on that bandwagon as well? I’ve been on the fence for months pretty much due to the money, otherwise I think you guys have a great thing going here I am excited to join either way. Payment plan would be perfecto!
Excellent. Email sent 🙂
I am also in the same boat cash wise. Could I also be extended the payment plan option?
I’m quite interested in that payment plan as well. As a 6′ foot tall and 124lb ‘heavy’ guy who’s been trying to “bulk up” for years, and failing, I found this site very motivational and thought that your program might be the program for me. The problem, as usual, is the money. So I would be grateful if I could get that payment plan as well.
Hey Jim, glad you’re digging the site. At 6′ and 125, you’re exactly who we’re writing to.
I shot you an email about the payment plan 🙂
Shane, can I check the payment plan too? I need this program!
Surething, Caue. Sent 🙂
Hey, Shane, what is your arm workout like? I mean, do you separate triceps and biceps on different days and hit them super hard or do you do it all in one day?
For me, I don’t have all week to work my arms so I do it all in a day. But sometimes, I don’t feel I’m gaining as much as I would have like. I’m wondering if it has something to do the fact that I don’t hit the particular muscle such as bicep or tricep hard enough. I never tried doing bicep or tricep workout only in a day.
Is it worth trying? Or is it all just the same? Something like workout smart rather than hard?
I work my arms three times a week. Mostly I work them with compound lifts (chin-ups, bench press, rows, push-ups, etc), but it’s not uncommon for me to finish off a workout with a couple sets of higher rep bicep curls and tricep extensions, or to start a workout doing a circuit of heavy deadlifts and heavy curls or something.
If your arms are failing to grow despite your getting growth elsewhere, you could try hitting them more than once per week. Increasing the volume and frequency like that should direct more growth their way 🙂
(If you aren’t growing steadily elsewhere then the issue may not be your arm training in particular, but your overall lifting/nutrition approach. It may be wiser to take a step backwards in that case.)
I hope that helps. Good luck!
I second that. You can work in the gym as hard as you want but you need to eat accordingly. I trained real hard, all I saw was strength gains. Not much size. Once I started eatin A LOT OF FOOD, … in a month I gained in size. No big deal, you need to watch calorie intake.
This is a great read. I completely agree with your points on habits. Over the past year I have been able to get myself into more good habits. It allows me to live a much healthier lifestyle without having to think to much. I don’t consider whether to go to the gym on a certain day or drink my protein shake at a specific time. I just do them because I’m used to it now.
Good habits can really change your life.
Agreed Charles. Gym. I was afraid of it a year ago. Now when it became a habit, part of my life really, I do it and enjoy it. That energy I needed to go to gym is now back in positive way and helps me to focus on other areas of my life and keeps me going. Good habits definitely help to develop your path for a better life.
Awesome, really glad to hear that Charles!
Hi Shane, I have a question for you guys. I and other ectomorph friends have noticed the same problems regarding about beard, and we want to know if some of you have this same problem, or it’s just a coincidence. I am 22 years old and my friends are around this same age and we have patchy beards, mainly in the goatee area, too few hairs in the moustache and no hairs under the mouth, and also weak growth in the cheek. We all know that this problem must be related to genetics,but as I have researched the great majority of people who are unable to have beards(no beard at all, or very few beard) problems are from asian and amerindian ancestry. I and my friends are from european ancestry, and I can say for myself that I am 100% european, because I traced my family line as far as it’s possible and found no other etnical groups. And europeans are known to be able to grow full beards, so I could say that genetics must not be the problem.
But I want to know if being ectomorph, and having less testoterone and less other hormones, makes you have less beard. My brother is mesomorph, and he has a full beard since he was 20, so that makes me wonder…
Have any of you guys noticed this same problem? If yes, doing this program which has the right exercices for ectomorphs and boosting testosterone helped with that?
Thanks in advance.
This made me laugh 🙂
Same here. Same problem. Also European.
Before I started this program, like 10 years ago when I was 20 I was like “man I can never have beard”. Testosterone. I actually had this confirmed by a doctor because I was as a kid sick, ill, at home or at hospital for almost 7 years of total time. He, the doctor, confirmed that sickness and lack of physical activity lowers the testosterone levels. Well and of course I was eating crap food, not healthy.
Now hear me out.
I am definitely at level where I could grow a beard, not that I care anymore, but, ever since I started this program, I have to shave like 2x a day ! Morning, evening. Before that ? I was like “duh, I might shave today, my face is like … still nothing”. I was shaving like maybe every other day or every third day ? Just crazy. Now imagine, and I had hormone levels and testosterone tests done, those levels more than doubled prior to my records like 5 years ago. They increased in such a way during 6 months into my training.
And by doubled I mean it got to a level of normal, healthy, adult man 😀 The point is. It can get better 😉
My beard grows good in the neck, also in the sideburns and its brown-red coloured, my chin is blond-red and its thick, but my moustache its very thin, no conectors to the goatee and no hairs under the mouth until the beginning of the chin. Had you this same peculiarity?
I’ve always kind of been a hairy guy but my beard was not full when I was in my early twenties. In fact, when I was 22 years old I lost a piece of my beard. The doctor said I had alopecia which can happen for a variety of reasons, one of them was stress. I was 23 years old and still had the patchy beard, I was 130 pounds and had tendinosis in both arms. Once I started working out and gained some weight my beard started to fill in. Hair is often an indicator of health.
After I started working out and eating better, my beard filled in quite a bit…as did some more body hair. Here’s my beard a few years later:
Your particular genetics will mostly determine if and how you’ll grow a beard. But I also believe good nutrition can help fill in whatever your beard shape and style is. Whatever it ends up being, just embrace and own it. No one else can grow your particular beard 😉
Out of curiosity. How long does it take to grow such a beard ?
I’ve been growing this about 6 months but it’s gone through a couple unfortunate trimmings…
That’s one crazy big beard!!!! Looks good on ya…also a great place to hide/store some food for those afternoon snacks! 🙂 LOL
Thanks nKash! Haha, yes. I try my very best to keep food out of there (although it has happened here and there…).
Thanks for the answer. I also have problems with acnes, I think that can also disturb the beard, the pimples clog the hair follicles. I went to many doctors but none of them were able to diagnose the reason why I have too much acne. I also had hyperthyroidism (the biggest enemy of ectomorphs). I really would like to have a full beard in some point of my life and no more patches.
For those already bearded I recommend to check out the “Beard Baron” on youtube. He has great stuff on beards, moustaches and all related to grooming and facial hair care.
Eating more nutritious foods and veggies might help with the acne too but it’s hard to comment on your exact situation. You’re right, Beard Baron has good videos, I stumbled across a couple when I was just starting out 🙂
As best I can tell, regularly eating a healthy diet fixed up my acne. My guess is that in the past I was eating too many fats and too little vitamin K (found in leafy greens). It could also be an inflammation thing, which vegetables (and fish oil) also help with. Now that I’m starting the day with a fruit/veggie smoothie a few times a week it’s very rare that I get a pimple, whereas before I’d always have several.
Like Jared said though, every situation is different.
I have some muscle imbalance problem. Of course, it’s my shoulders. My left shoulder feels tighter, than the right, and i also noticed that one of them has more developed muscles than the other one. Also, i train my chest now less, then my back, still, i dont feel like things would be fixing itself. I do pullups/chinups for back and dips for chest. Interestingly, I can do few more reps with weighted dips, than with weighted pullups (it’s like 10-12 to 4-6 reps dips to pullups ratio). If i continue a 2 back 1 chest routine, will it even out? And also, should i pack in 2-3 sets of shrugs? I feel like my shoulders rotating forward and downward too in relaxed mode. It might be because of a less developed trap?
If you’re like 90% of guys out there, if you look in the mirror you’ll notice that one shoulder is higher than the other, one is more internally rotated, one pec looks a little smaller, your abs/hips are a little asymmetrical, and you’re putting a little more weight on one foot than the other. There are a lot of reasons why we’re asymmetrical—our organs are asymmetrical, we have a dominant hand, we lift things asymmetrically in our day-to-day lives, etc. That asymmetry package stems from the hips. First one side tilts forward a little (and then sometimes both sides tilt forward more to create anterior pelvic tilt) and then your upper body jigs around into a compensation pattern. Your head is still upright, but everything below it is all crooked 😛
There are a lot of things you can do to fix it, and we have a little thread in the member community about it so that guys can fix it up while doing the program.
Oftentimes lifting weights with good form and symmetrically can help a ton. It sort of just gets everything back to baseline. That depends on the quality of your training program though. In this case, if you do shrugs you might worsen your shoulder rotation, since it’d be your mid and lower traps (I think—this is more Marco’s specialty) that would help pull them back, whereas the upper ones—the ones trained with shrugs—may be part of the problem. Instead, you could try racked position carries, reverse flys, working on your chin-up and row form, maybe even some external rotation exercises at the end of your workouts.
Does that make sense / help?
I’ve been looking around for a work out that would fit me when I stumbled across this. I’m a 5’8″ 124lb. Junior in high school and I havent been able to put any weight on since the 8th grade.
When I saw this was made for skinny guys trying to gain muscle, I was very intrigued.
Do you think this would work for me? I’ve read several articles on here and it all sounds like my experiences.
Any thoughts? Thanks.
I also don’t have access to a gym due to living in a rural town. Will that affect time to gain muscle, or…?
this program works. I am myself a member and I managed to put on 12 kg. Living in rural town. Man would I give for that 🙂 You need to eat healthy and workout. Time is not the question. You will get there one day, trust me 😉 As for not having access to a gym: https://bonytobeastly.com/how-to-build-a-badass-home-gym/
You rock, Daniel 😀
And Levi, stoked to hear you’re interested, man. You sound like a great fit 🙂
Another thing. I play basketball and run track for my school. Will that mean I have to up my calorie intake even more than normal or will that be an issue? Thanks again. I definitely have to try this out.
You should adjust your calorie intake on more demanding days. Eat more. Eat how you feel so you are not hungry or lacking strength. The more you exercise the more you need to eat.
Let’s say you go to GYM = workout takes energy right ? So you need to eat. I bet you are hungry when you finish some physical activity. So for example some other day you go to GYM + play BASKETBALL + you go to RUN. Very demanding day. Would you eat only after the gym and stay hungry for rest of the day or rather eat after every single training ? 😉
I do not see any. You are young, active, already fit guy if you manage to play basketball (B) and running (R), on top of that you choose a gym. Good determination man. There is no issue here. B + R what it does to you is CARDIO, which helps you during gym session as well. It builds your condition. And running. If you choose to and buy B2B programme you will do great.
What running does it SUPER CHARGES your metabolism, well it does in my case anyway 🙂 I love to run. You will burn calories, no worries, eat more, but you will also burn fat. So once you hit the gym you will be gaining muscle but LEAN and fit.
Does that make sense ?
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” ~ MASTER YODA 😉
I guess,thinking back on it, I really don’t eat a lot, and I’m never really hungry, even after basketball or running, so hopefully lifting will help me get some appetite. If not, I guess I’ll have to figure that out.
I will see you in the forums, because I’m going from Bony to Beastly. No more skinny for me.
You are welcomed. Feel free to contact me once in forum in case of any questions. I will answer and help if I can. Cya.
I’m like you. When I train my appetite doesn’t really go up—at least not right after training. And basketball and track will increase your calorie needs, yeah… but not by much. We’re talking, like, have a banana and a glass of milk afterwards (in addition to what you normally eat) and you’re set. 🙂
Same here Levi. After the gym, I really just want to come home and sit on the computer or relax. Eating never crosses my mind. It just takes a little reminder to have something like a protein shake, etc. in the meantime, while my body works on developing some sort of appetite.
Hi there. Good article, I will have to read it carefully when I have more time.
But now I’d like to ask about something somewhat unrelated.
So when I read your FAQs this one game me a good laugh:
“Let’s be real here. I’m a skinny guy. I suck at eating. Food is going to be a problem.”
That is so me. And apparently I’m not alone, which feels great in this fat world full of weigh-loss programs. I haven’t felt connected like this before. So thanks.
But more importantly: what if I only wanted to get the nutrition part of the program? I know this is not ideal, but I guess the principles should work with a different exercise program too, right? I have started working out 2-3 months ago, but haven’t gained any weight and that’s probably because I don’t eat that much more (it’s probably lucky I didn’t loose weight). Currently I do a cross-fit like work out with a trainer, together with a friend. I like it and it’s good in several ways, so I wouldn’t like to abandon it. I also see some results in strength and endurance so I think that means we are doing _something_ right.
So yeah, but I’d like help with the eating. I was thinking about maybe taking some kind of supplement (protein+carbs) to help with extra calories, but I’m sure my whole diet could use an over-haul and that would be overall more healthy.
So would there be a way for that?
Ahaha glad you dug it, Galev 🙂
You could sign up for the program and then train however you like! You’re right—if you’re already following a good lifting plan, combining that with our approach to nutrition would likely give you solid results. We have a few members who train their own way, or mix and match this and that. If you want the results we promise though I’d do the program as is, but it’s not like signing up for the program means you need to follow it 100%—you can do whatever you like with it!
As for a CrossFit style approach to training, check this article out. That’s something called High Intensity Power Training. Definitely fun, definitely brutal! It’s not designed for building muscle, but rather for general fitness / sport. That’s not the end of the world though, and many guys do build muscle while doing it. You can see the pros and cons of it 🙂
I hope you decide to join us!
Glad you liked it Galev! Shane answered your question perfectly. That’s nice that you have the social element of lifting with a friend, it seems pretty rare!
Thanks for the answers, guys.
Jared, yes, it’s really great to have a friend along. I think it helps a lot. It was far easier to start out, it gave a sense of safety going into this whole new world of working-out with someone I know. And it’s very helpful in not stopping, because it’s not just work-out, it’s something we do together and well, you can’t let down a friend.
We even created a little habit that each session one of us brings a chocolate bar and we share it after the work-out. Now that I read the article I realize it’s probably a good “reward” that helped us to make work-out an habit. It also some glucose for our drained muscles.
So yeah I strongly recommend to everyone to find a work-out buddy. If you can’t start out with one, then getting to know people at the gym can help too.
Wow, what a epic article! I’m a long time reader but never been one to comment. This is amazing. I was expecting to read a quick list of reasons why people fail at gaining muscle.
I have something to add though. I’ve noticed a lot of guys set goals, but don’t really change their lifestyle to gear themselves to succeeding these goals. Some guys can’t set goals at all because it would be pointless. It’s nice having a target. But once they aim and shoot at it, they either miss and give up, or hit it on point.
So I’d like to suggest that perhaps a system should be put in place in your life. If you’re working out, that’s great, but have a system. Have a system that enhances your lifestyle and supports your vision. For example if you choose to workout 3 times a week, then make a system that will have you doing simple things like packing up your bag the day before and slipping on your shoes just before the workout. Small things like this will support your habits and system and it’ll help you reach your goals. Without making excuses.
If you know you’re going to make an excuse to avoid the gym, then just tell yourself that you’re just going to put on your shoes. Then get in the car, or start making your way to the gym, and before you know it, you’ll develop yourself a system/ritual that’ll have you training without thinking twice.
Great article and write up though!!
you are right.
Change the lifestyle is essential. Lot of people make excuses but are not willing to really change their life. What I here most is I DO NOT HAVE TIME. … I was the same, so I looked at what is not necessary in my life, that can make space for my training, cooking.
I stopped watching TV shows, movies (only go to cinema) and playing video games (only once a month now). I gained lots of free time which dedicated to training.
Same with forming a habit. I always, at the beginning put my sport bag near my door so in the morning it reminds me I should go to gym. If it was not there I might forget.
I agreed with what you wrote.
Glad you liked it Nader! I agree. Most people think they can ‘add’ something into their day…but we’re already busy enough as it is. We really need to make priorities and investing your time into lifting and eating well is one of the best ways to spend your time since it’ll reward you back.
Since our days are already full, that’s why I really love the idea of swapping from Chip & Dan Heath which I covered in the article. This is why we have the drawing of swapping out a snack like Doritos for Doritos + Greek yogurt.
Packing up your bag the day before is a great idea! Charles Duhigg would say seeing a packed bag is like the ‘cue’ part of a habit, starting the process to get you to the gym. Chip & Dan Heath would say you’re making the path straight and easy (since everything is ready to go). Definitely a good tip!
Thanks for taking the time to read it and to share your thoughts/tips 🙂
Again, such a nice read! Appreciate guys like you who put in time to put up some legit info. Ive been at your faq section and read about skinny fat. Right now im about 200 calories over my maintenance level. I am building muscle but not losing the belly fat. Everything else is pretty good in shape. I also do light cardio one time a week. I was wondering how many calories i should be in deficit as mentioned skinny fats can still build muscle when in deficit?
All the compound exercises are going great and im progressively overloading my muscles. Althoughmy arms wont seem to follow..hmmm. I wonder why? I do 3 x 8 rope pulldowns and hammer curls. Two times a week. Am i overtraining? Ive been at this weightlifting thing for two years. Ive gotten heavier..but not leaner. Still sticking to my routine though! Thanks for the information again. Appreciate it. What does it cost to beocme a member and read the skinny fat stuff?
Greetings from europe
I will try to respond inline.
= = =
M > I am building muscle but not losing the belly fat. Everything else is pretty good in shape. I also do light cardio one time a week. I was wondering how many calories i should be in deficit as mentioned skinny fats can still build muscle when in deficit?
D > From my experience you can be in deficit and still gain fat / not get rid of fat. How ? Calories are the energy right ? So let’s say you eat something that has 1.000 calories and ZERO gramms, none, nothing fat in it. You change the food, eat like 500 calories but that food has HIGH % fat in it,what happens. You get fat in the body you are trying to lose.
= = =
M > Although my arms won’t seem to follow..hmmm. I wonder why? I do 3 x 8 rope pulldowns and hammer curls. Two times a week. Am I overtraining?
D > For us skinny guys that is usual. Arms grow very slow compared to other muscle parts in our bodies. There are many factors in training. Like how often you train, if you rest enough = let the muscles to recover. Also the reps and weights have huge difference no how your body develops. You can train for STRENGTH, SIZE or ENDURANCE. … All this and much more is covered in the program in B2B and its ebooks.
= = =
M > What does it cost to become a member and read the skinny fat stuff?
D > $197. More info here: https://bonytobeastly.com/the-program/ … before you say it is too much, hey I thought so too, ok ? Do not be sceptic. It works. I am member myself and I gained 12 kg in 8 months of training, all lean. Your body adapts, evolves and whatnot.
= = =
Hey but I am no expert but I definitely recommend the program, it is life changer 🙂
Glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂 It’s best to either focus on shedding fat or building muscle—not both. If you decide to drop into a calorie deficit to cut some fat, you may still build muscle but you should treat it as a bonus and not as an expectation.
As for your arms, when you say triceps and biceps there are many different heads belonging to those muscle groups. It’d be good to play with volume, swap in some other exercises to target the specific heads, etc. Daniel linked out to our program page with more details, we’d love to have you join us in the community!
Plus. Ive done some research myself and a lot of the time its stated that building a caloric plus (lean bulk) will make muscle tissue, which in return burns mor fat. So why go deficit? Im afraid ill burn muscle i spent hours earning it…
Calorie surplus = indeed means bulking up. When focusing on muscle and not losing it, you need to be careful about your protein intake which helps to build / maintain muscle. There is info about this in B2B program and ebook. Also once you sign up there is a lot of additional info in our forum.
The muscle you build will in fact burn more calories. But it won’t be substantial enough to burn fat off your body like dropping your dietary calories and adding in some cardio will.
You can burn fat while maintaining your muscle, you just need to be smart with your training and nutrition. In our community forum, Shane has posted a mini-guide on doing fat loss.
Pretty hungover right now, and not really in the state of mind to finish reading the article , but the introduction vid totally sold me.Ive been trying to gain weight for 5 years, i actually packed on 10-15 pounds but it was mostly fat and now im back on square 1 lol. This will be my last endeavor so fingers crossed that you guys are not ripping me off with excellent sales skills hah! tmrw im ordering the whole program, i am so F´ing tired of looking like a bitch so im excited !!
Shane is rather convincing isn’t he ? 🙂 The video made the difference for me to buy the program 352 days ago and as almost 1 year long member of this community I can tell you that this program is a life changer. No gipsy magic involved 😀
Looking forward to seeing you around in the forum.
Awesome! Im excited..updates will come! Have a good day
Glad you’ll be taking a step towards getting stronger this year! Might I warn you not to already deem this your last attempt? In the article we shared the idea that we need to stop seeing fitness as a success/fail mentality but rather as a progression or process. We hope you join us but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get everything perfect on your first try in your first week. When you run into problems,and you will, it’s important that you take a closer look the obstacle, figure out what you need to adjust (we can help a bit there), and then continue on 🙂
Never thought of it like that, but you raise a good point ! thanks
Thanks for your reply daniel.
Im thinking of buying the program. I hope it comes as an e book or something? Im from overseas and not really fond of books being shipped to me. Im from europe so i guess recalculating to canadian dollars will happen on paypal? I just hope there is a way to get lean muscle and lose fat through the program. That would be the #1 reason for me to buy it as a long and skinny and a liiiiitle bit of fat guy. Thanks again
there are 3 ebooks, in PDF format, not printed version, no shipping, no worries. And they get updated from time to time with new stuff, which is cool as well.
1. Bony to Beastly — the eBook
2. Bony to Beastly — the Program
3. Bony to Beastly — The Recipe Book
Info here: https://bonytobeastly.com/the-program/
I paid via PayPal myself and the invoice says: -$197.00 USD.
You can gain muscle, lose fat, the program will teach you how to eat and work out in order to achieve what you need.
I for instance, for you as example, I gained 12 kg = 6 kg lean muscle, 5 kg water, 1 kg of fat in 6 months.
So it works 🙂
There are lots more details on the program page as Daniel has helpfully shared: https://bonytobeastly.com/the-program/
There’s a lot more to it, including the training videos and the members’ community forum. Lastly, we have an ‘FAQ’ page now on our menu which should hopefully clear up any lingering questions. You can also always give us a shout via email 🙂
I am also in the same boat cash wise. Could I also be extended the payment plan option?
Can you send me details on the payment plan options?
Definitely. Sent 🙂
My name is Omar. I’ve always been lanky and bony, and I also suffer from posture issues. Your program looks awesome, I think that your program will be my answer, it’s just about perfect. I am willing to pay and all of that, but I need to know, if it’s suitable for my age, I’m 14 and I weigh 48 Kgs. Thanks in advance.
Fourteen is probably about the youngest you could be for this kind of thing, but I think you’d really enjoy it and get a ton out of it—so we’d love to have you. Just make sure to get cleared by your doctor and to have full permission from your parents! Weightlifting is fairly safe as far as sports and activities go, but it’s still best to go about it responsibly and make sure everyone is on board 🙂
If that all checks out, when you get inside the program stick with the original version. (We’ve got a revamped version up in the community that’s for more experienced lifters.) I think it will be a very good fit for you.
I hope to see you on the other side!
Hey there Shane.
While I’m far from the target audience of this site since I’m your typical endomorph who already has his weight loss journey behind him, I still appreciate the hell out of these great, lengthy articles, especially because so much of them tends to apply not just to skinny people, but health-/fitness-conscious people in general. The habit-part in particular rang very true and I’m so glad that I instinctively managed to execute a lot of the things you suggest, but I’ll also happily refer friends of mine to it in case I need to give some guidance. Thank you very much.
Also, as a copy-editor on the side, I can’t help but point out a few typos (and still a ridiculously small amount relative to the vast amount of words in this article):
“It shouldn’t been seen as a failure” -> be seen
“there’s no wiggle room left but to just to do it.” -> -to
“it might take a bit of energy to to develop the habit” -> -to
“This makes sense, as get to make the decision with full willpower” -> as you get to make the decision
“you can use your willpower to motivate you to go the gym instead.” -> to go to the gym instead
“so once you’re done the coffee, that’s the cue.” -> done with the coffee
“Every time you go through the habit loop, it’ll get easier and easier to to repeat.” -to
“In that sense, a habits is like glue” -> a habit is like glue
It’s apparent that you’re very diligent about your writing, grammar and orthography and these really are a rare occurence, so I thought that maybe you’d appreciate it. Keep up the otherwise stellar work.
I’m glad you’re getting a lot of value from the articles 🙂 That’s great to hear that you’ve already instinctively picked up on a lot of these principles. No doubt those skills have helped you on your own fitness journey! Sending the articles along to your friends is the best compliment we can get—thank you so much.
And thank you for taking the time to send along the notes about the typo’s, I’ve just updated the article 🙂
Hey guys another great article. I’ve gained 20pounds of muscle following your advice. You guys have really changed my life (less depressed, more self confident). I’m currently experiencing a weight gain plateau and I am hoping this article can help me isolate the issue!
That’s awesome to hear about your 20 pounds! Congrats 🙂 If you’re having trouble gaining more weight, it looks like it may be time to get more creative with the foods you’re eating so you can eat more (check out our article on the skinny on eat more if you haven’t yet). Perhaps it is a consistency thing as well, tracking your weekly calories with a free app like MyFitnessPal may help you spot the weak spots in your diet.
Thanks man, I’ll be sure to check it out. Yeah I am loosley tracking calories so it may be the time to step up my game a little bit.
I’ve always been the smaller guy in my fam my father is short and stocky my older brother is around 200 pounds of muscle I’m 130 59 I’ve worked and quit countless times because I would see almost no gain I even tried p90x with little success I have a son who is built like me and I want to be able to teach him early on so he doesn’t have the same struggles I did I saw a guy mention a possible payment plan can u help me as well
Yeah, being surrounded by more naturally muscular people can be pretty demotivating when you see them see success that you’re unable to replicate. It just takes a different approach though, and I think you’ll soon be feeling a lot better about your genetics 🙂
I love how your goal is such a noble one! Doing this for your kid is great.
I’m going to send you the payment plan info now. I hope you decide to join us!
Great article Jared! There are few points I can even use in my business. 🙂 And yes, currently I am eating so less that it should embarrass even the ectomorphs. As a result, I am feeling too sleepy and tired. The article it now telling me that probably I should make use of the money invested in this awesome program to get my enthusiasm back. Ok! Tomorrow I am going to start working out, eat more and see my brain submerged in glucose, helping me make more money with business in coming months.
Haha, you shouldn’t be drinking straight glucose. Eating healthy, whole carbs in a good diet will provide you the sustained energy you need throughout the day without a crash.
There is a study where researchers found that judges deciding whether to grant parole or not to a prisoner (for the same crime and sentence) will make the riskier decision of letting them go right at the start of their day and right after they finish lunch. If they are too tired, they make the safe decision of saying no. I wish the study had included what they ate at lunch. But it seems like eating is a great way to keep you focused.
Likewise, I just read an article that Warren Buffett drinks 5 Cokes a day. Perhaps that is how he keeps his willpower full to the brim for smart financial decisions? (I am not recommending this!)
Thanks Jared! Regarding Warren Buffet, I feel that 5 cokes a day is really helping him make money. We both share the same profession. I am also working in the stock market. And will power and alertness is extremely important in this profession.
Does drinking 5 cokes a day keeps one alert? If yes, then probably I should give it a try. But I don’t know if the side effects of so much coke can be overcome with the money one makes. But you have made an incredibly great point here and I shall incorporate lot of whole carbs in my breakfast, right before my work starts.
Very interesting article first of all! Glad that such a website like this exists 🙂
Maybe it’d also be a good a idea to make an article in the future about ectomorphs and arm size.
Ecto’s usually have small arms due to a skinny wrists. I’ve been bulking from 145 to 180+ lbs and now have like 18.5 % body fat according to a weighing machine.
My wrists are like 6.5″ (16.5 cm) and my arms just can’t get bigger than 14.4″ (36.5 cm), very frustrating. It has become an obsession on its own, them guns…
@ Shane: I’d rather be an ectomorph like you, one that’s nearly almost lean and one who started lean. May I ask you the following things:
-What’s the highest % of bodyfat that you’ve ever had?
-What are your wrist circumference, current waist and arm size?
Just wondering. I always like to compare 🙂
Hope to hear from you!
Glad you dug Jared’s article, man! And congratulations on having gained 35 pounds!!
You’re very right. Ectomorph wrists are definitely smaller, and this is definitely a disadvantage when it comes to building up burly biceps. There are other limiting factors too, like having long tendons and small muscle bellies (which I have), and being more torso dominant in compound lifts (which describes me as well). My arms were without a doubt the hardest part of my body to grow. Unfortunately, it sounds like your arms came from the same pipe cleaner package as mine.
Coincidentally, like you, I have 6.5 inch wrists. I’m not sure how tall you are, but for example, and to put this into perspective, the average wrist size for a guy my height (6’2″) is 7.7 inches.
With a wrist size of 6.5 inches Casey Butts, the best guy in the business of determining genetic muscular potential, would guesstimate that your maximum arm size after a lifetime of optimal training would be about 15.5 inches. More like 15 inches if your genetics aren’t so good.
However he pointed out that for me in particular, since I’m quite tall and my tiny wrist size is an outlier situation, as may be the case for you, then the formula breaks down a little. He suspects that my potential may actually be a fair bit larger than that. At maybe 10-12% bodyfat my arms are usually around 15″ and I suspect I’m a fair bit away from my genetic potential still. I’ve only been lifting for a few years, and most of that time was not spent bulking/building muscle. I’m still a newbie in this game 🙂
With 14.4″ and 18% bodyfat, you’re surely very far away from your genetic potential as well! I suspect you’ve got a good inch left to grow, if not far more.
That doesn’t cover HOW to get burly arms though. We talk about that a lot in the member community, and we even have an advanced guide for members that covers just that. Given that it’s such a popular issue, I think writing up a blog post on it is an awesome idea. A really awesome idea.
Until then, if you arm growth has plateaued, I’d recommend occasionally training them with a fair bit of volume, taking a break from that high volume every month or two for a month or two. And in general I’d recommend training your biceps and triceps with at least a couple lifts 2-3 times per week. In the Bony to Beastly program we train biceps and triceps three times per week, with a mix of heavy compound lifts and lighter isolation lifts. We alternate between periods of high arm volume and high torso volume.
1. Highest bodyfat percentage? Maybe 20%? You can see me at my beefiest here. I was 200ish pounds on the left. Luckily by then I had enough muscle on me that the fat didn’t look so bad. (I also had a period where I was still skinny and chubby, due to a very poor bulk as a total beginner.)
2. 6.5 inch wrist size. Maybe 31 inch waist? My arms hover between 14.5-15 inches.
I hope that helps! Good luck!
Im very glad I stumbled on to this site, very informative
I guess you can say im in the research phase, very interested in the program, just a bit apprehensive since Ive tried the whole putting on muscle thing before with little to show for it[with the exception of much too much left over muscle milk powder]
Im a 29 year old, 5’5 103 lb engineer with measurements similar to Jared’s[im going by that 30 day video on youtube]. I started tracking my calories this week with the my fitnessPal app; Im averaging 2400 calories a day as long as I remember to eat my egg sandwich in the morning[2 egg whites,2 whole eggs, white bread].
Ive been keeping this 2400 cal avg for the past week, but I know I havent done it consistently in the past; I often skipped meals…never had a big appetite, also im noticing soda is much more filling than water; also a bit of a picky eater, introducing milk tommorow with a bit of nesqick since ive never been a huge fan of the taste.
Im wondering if I can handle the calorie intake if I take up the program, last plan I was on involved 3 protein shakes a day, after a few weeks I began having issues keeping them down, which upset my calories for the day,which began a snowball effect where I couldnt keep up with the calories, felt sick, lost the will power to even go to the gym,
Obviously not a recipe for success.
im just wondering, if the goal is 130-140 lbs, will I be able to handle the calories everyday? keeping up and keeping it down, im anticipating 4000 cal per, a lil intimidating.
I’m sorry to hear that man. I failed a great many times myself, so I know how frustrating and discouraging it can be.
(Ahahah oh no. I’ve been down the weight gainer path too. Check this article on supplements out.)
We deal pretty much exclusively with guys who struggle to eat enough. Believe it or not, it’s your type of appetite that we had in mind when putting the program together. That’s how Jared and I feel about food as well. We can help make it much much easier. You’ll be able to do it 🙂
(I doubt you’d need as much as 4,000 calories per day. It’s hard to say without knowing more, but 2,400 per day eaten consistently might even be enough to gain weight. If it’s not, and your weight is holding steady, then maybe as much as 2,900. And keep in mind that’s just when bulking. When maintaining your gains, you can go back to eating much less.)
You sound like a pretty perfect fit. I hope you decide to join us!
I am 25 years old but i cannot grow a full beard especially under the mouth. My mustache is thin and my beard is patchy. i have no hair at all under the mouth although i have hair under the neck . Can you please tell me what to do??will working out with the proper calorie intake help. BTW i am 5 foot 9 and weigh 70 kgs. Please help….
Something that has worked really well for a lot of our members is sleeping with this website open next to their bed. Just letting the light from the site shine on their face. Hypertrophy researcher Eric Helms calls this “anabolic proximity”, where simply being close to such a good source of muscle-building information causes masculinization.
Not sure of any studies that have directly looked into this, but speaking anecdotally, Jared spends a lot of time working on this website and his beard is ridiculous.
I hope that helps!
@Jared, @Shane It’s such a relief to know that somebody understands the problems of us skinny guys. Your blog posts are always spot on, insightful and inspirational. The last week for so tough for me that I was ready to throw the towel in. But somebody out there must have taken pity on me, cos I landed on this blog and have been reading the posts and the comments and drawing inspiration from them. Thanks. I will be using the advice and get back on track. You guys are amazing.
Really glad we could help, Mike 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to share that with us Mike! We really appreciate the kind words and wish you the best of luck getting back on track 🙂
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Why most skinny people end up losing motivation is due to lack of nutrition knowledge. Eating without tracking is the most common mistake. You will never know how many calories you consumed in a day without actually writing down or tracking your calories. In order to build muscle and gain weight one needs to eat more calories than what their body burns and this can only be achieved once you start tracking your calories.
That’s definitely one reason 🙂 As Chip & Dan Heath wrote in Switch, clarity dissolves resistance. So if they’re feeling a little lost in the nutrition department, that can definitely contribute to falling out of the habit. I agree that tracking is often a great tool for when weight gain isn’t going exactly as planned, but it’s not something that needs to be kept up with forever for most people.
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These tips are awesome, I was looking for something like that. Thanks!