In this article, we’re reviewing the five best bulking programs for skinny guys. To get this list, we started by surveying our readers, the vast majority of whom have successfully bulked up. They’re naturally skinny, they’ve tried different bulking programs, and they know firsthand what worked for them. From there, we critically reviewed the top five programs, taking their experiences and success rates into account.
We’re also bulking experts ourselves. Marco is naturally skinny, he has a degree in health sciences, he has over a decade of experience as a full-time strength coach, and he’s helped a wide variety of clients bulk up, ranging from everyday skinny guys all the way up to college, professional, and Olympic athletes. I’m naturally skinny, too, and I have over a decade of full-time experience helping over ten thousand skinny guys bulk up. We live and breathe this niche. Nobody knows more about this than us.
Note: we aren’t reviewing our own bulking program. We’re much too biased.
Note: there are no affiliate links.
As you can imagine, we get asked all the time what we think about various bulking programs. We don’t mind answering those questions one by one, but it made us realize how confusing this entire niche can be. It’s hard to tell which programs will actually work. It’s hard to separate the muscle-building experts from the marketing experts.
We wanted to write this article because the most popular muscle-building programs tend to be made by the most popular influencers. That’s not the end of the world. Any program that encourages you to exercise, eat less junk food, and get enough sleep can be good for you. On the other hand, some of these programs are needlessly complicated, needlessly difficult, and riddled with pseudoscience. Some of them are run by guys secretly abusing performance-enhancing drugs, creating unrealistic expectations. Plus, many of them promote fad diets that make it harder for skinny guys to gain weight.
There are good bulking programs out there, though. That brings us to the second problem. Most reviews are written by regular guys. That’s good. They have firsthand experience going through these programs. They’re coming at it from the perspective of a skinny beginner. However, they aren’t always fully informed. Skinny beginners don’t know what’s producing their results. They don’t know why they’re failing. And they can’t know if they could be doing even better. That’s why critical reviews from experts are valuable, too. We need both perspectives.
We have a reasonably large newsletter (25,000) full of formerly skinny guys who bulked up using various muscle-building programs, including ours, but also including other programs. We asked them what their favourite bulking programs were. We also asked them which bulking programs didn’t work as advertised.
From there, we can bring in our own expertise. Marco and I are naturally skinny, we’ve each succeeded at gaining 70 pounds (naturally), we’ve got the relevant education, we’ve read through all the relevant research, and we have over a decade of full-time experience helping thousands of naturally skinny guys bulk up. All of our clients are naturally thin. Our brand is Bony to Beastly. This is exactly what we do best.
These five bulking programs were chosen by our readers and reviewed by us. We’re including their opinions in our reviews. We’ve tried to clearly spell out the best and worst aspects of each program. These are the five best programs, mind you, so expect far more praise than criticism. All of them are good.
We aren’t including programs that are no longer active. That means programs by Vince Delmonte, Anthony Ellis, Scrawny to Brawny, and Eric Cressey aren’t featured here. This is a list for 2023. We’ll update it if a great new bulking program for skinny beginners comes out.
Feel free to let us know about programs you feel should be on the list. This is a resource for you guys. We’ll update it accordingly.
Our Program Isn’t On the List
What you’re “supposed” to do is review a few competitors, highlight their flaws, and then present your own program as the golden angel of muscle growth. Obviously, that’s bullshit. I understand why that format works. It’s great for selling copies of your program. But I’m guessing you’re here because you want an unbiased recommendation, not an underhanded sales pitch.
So here’s what we did: we surveyed our audience, asking them to tell us their favourite bulking programs, not including ours. We’re not on this list. I think that should do a good job of mitigating our bias. The fitness industry is big enough for many good brands to succeed. We all benefit from having more trustworthy sources of information.
We aren’t including any affiliate links, either. We aren’t affiliated in any way with any of these companies. We have no financial or social motivations behind any of these recommendations.
Okay, now let’s cover the best bulking programs for skinny guys (not including ours).
The Best Bulking Programs for Skinny Beginners
These are the bulking programs that were highly rated by skinny guys who succeeded at bulking up. All of these programs will teach you how to train for muscle growth, eat a good bulking diet, and live a healthy lifestyle. If you’re able to follow the advice properly, they will work.
Here’s the catch: most skinny guys have a really hard time gaining weight. I struggled with that for many years. I wasn’t able to ingest more calories than I was burning. That made it physically impossible for me to get bigger. That’s very common.
All of these programs will advise you to eat enough calories. Not all of them will give you advice about how to eat more calories. In fact, some of them prescribe diets designed for overweight people. Those diets will make it harder to gain weight. That isn’t good or bad, it’s just something to consider. If you struggle to gain weight, you’ll need to be wary of that. We’ll tell you what to watch out for.
The other component of a bulking program, of course, is the workout routine. All of these workout routines will help you gain muscle mass. Beyond that, they’re each designed with different goals in mind. Some are designed to be efficient, some are designed to be easy, some are designed to make you look better, and some are designed to improve your strength and athletic performance.
Finally, each program includes different things. Some include exercise tutorial videos, recipes, meal plans, or customer support. Some are online courses. Others are books. We’ll break it all down.
NerdFitness is run by Steve Kamb, a skinny guy who successfully bulked up. It seems like he now struggles to avoid overeating. Almost all of his content is for overweight people trying to lose weight, but you can find some muscle-building content sprinkled throughout.
When we surveyed our audience, NerdFitness got mixed reviews. Some guys absolutely loved their programs. Others said the brand wasn’t a good fit for them. A few guys said they struggled to get good results. I think I know why there’s so much disagreement.
The NerdFitness brand name implies a nerdy approach to fitness, but there are a few different definitions of “nerd.” NerdFitness is evidence-based, and their advice is quite good, but the “nerdiness” refers to all the comic book and movie references, not an academic obsession with the science of building muscle. If you’re looking for muscle nerds, you’ll probably prefer Stronger by Science, run by two guys who critically review strength and hypertrophy research.
Here’s how NerdFitness approaches building muscle:
- They sell an online membership, not a bulking program. There isn’t a specific guide or workout program. Instead, you pay a monthly fee, and you have access to everything, at least 90% of which is for people trying to lose weight. There’s an active community on Facebook. Almost everyone in the community is trying to lose weight, but still, it’s nice.
- All the advice is designed to be simple and casual. You’ll be given advice like “don’t drink as much soda” or “try to visit a new city this year.” It’s all about baby steps.
- The membership system is kind of confusing. I can’t find a search bar, and the content is organized in a way that makes specific information difficult to find. For example, I can’t find any information about bulking at all.
- “Health” is conflated with “weight loss.” I understand why that is. Most people could stand to lose a few pounds. Skinny guys are the exception. Most of us can improve our health by gaining weight.
- The diet advice is designed to help you lose weight. You’ll be told to drink fewer calories, avoid snacking, stop eating rice, and so on. If you’re having trouble gaining weight, this approach will make it harder. After all, smoothies are incredibly good sources of nutrients, snacking is great for guys with small stomachs, and rice is an easily digestible source of healthy carbs.
- They recommend a bunch of fad diets—intermittent fasting, keto, paleo, and so on—but they’re pretty reasonable about it. It’s true that some guys can benefit from skipping breakfast or eating a low-carb diet. Not skinny guys, but some guys.
- They recommend three full-body workouts per week. This is great. This is the best default workout schedule for a skinny beginner trying to bulk up.
- Strength training workouts. NerdFitness recommends strength training instead of hypertrophy training. Strength training is great, but it’s not the type of training designed to stimulate muscle growth. You’ll build muscle faster and more easily with hypertrophy training.
- There’s a focus on compound lifts. Their workout program has you focusing on exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, dips, and chin-ups. These lifts stimulate the most overall muscle growth. This is great.
- There aren’t any isolation lifts. Depending on your goals, this could be a problem. For example, most skinny guys want bigger arms. You can bulk your arms up TWICE as fast by adding 2–3 sets of biceps curls and triceps extensions after your compound pressing and pulling movements (study, study). It will only add five minutes to your workouts, and it will give you faster muscle growth, more versatile strength, and a better-looking body.
- I think NerdFitness has your best interests at heart. I get the feeling this company makes money to help more people, not the other way around. I don’t see even a hint of greed here.
Overall, I recommend NerdFitness to overweight guys who want a meme-based approach to improving their general health. Their programs aren’t perfectly optimized, but that’s not what the brand is about. This is a brand for sedentary Marvel fans who want to tentatively dip their pinky toes into living a healthier lifestyle.
I don’t mean any of that in a negative way. There are times in my life when all I want to do is run this business, hang out with my wife and son, and still have enough time to play video games. During those periods, I do minimalist workouts at home to maintain my muscle mass, strength, and fitness. I like that this is a brand for everyday dudes.
Mass Made Simple by Dan John
Dan John is a world-class strength athlete who competed in Olympic lifting and the Highland games. He’s earned a legendary reputation coaching athletes. He’s also highly respected among other strength coaches. For example, he’s famous for popularizing exercises like goblet squats and farmer carries, both of which are fantastic. Marco has met him at conferences. He’s a super nice guy.
Mass Made Simple is Dan John’s minimalist bulking program for skinny guys who want to get bigger, stronger, fitter, and more athletic. If you’ve heard of Starting Strength or StrongLifts 5×5, you know the vibe: keep it simple, keep it big, do lots of squats, and focus on progressive overload.
Here are the basics of Mass Made Simple:
- You can buy this program as a book or PDF. It’s very simply formatted. It isn’t flashy. But don’t be fooled: the content is good.
- This is a program designed specifically for skinny guys. Instead of being taught how to eat less food, you’ll be taught how to eat more food. For a simple example, you’ll be told to eat more snacks, not fewer. That’s great. Bulking diets can be big. Skinny stomachs often aren’t. Eating more often can help keep our meals from being oppressively large.
- The diet is simple. He recommends simple meals like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s nothing sorcerous about sandwiches, but they’re easy to make, easy to eat, and they’re good for building muscle. For snacks, you’ll be eating foods like cottage cheese and apples. You’re free to eat more complicated meals, but he gives you some easy default options. I like that.
- The workout program isn’t simple. There aren’t any tutorial videos teaching the lifts. There aren’t any beginner progressions of the lifts. Some of the lifts are pretty complex. The complexes are definitely complex. It seems like a program for athletic skinny beginners who are working with a coach.
- There’s a focus on the front squat, barbell bench press, and one-arm overhead press. These are fantastic lifts, and they put a heavy emphasis on your chest, front delts, and quads. These are the muscles you need for Olympic weightlifting, shotput, the Highland Games, and a bunch of other strength-oriented sports, including football.
- The volume comes from “hypertrophy complexes,” where you do circuits of rows, cleans, squats, overhead presses, and good mornings. This kind of thing isn’t ideal for building muscle, but it will get you fit in a hurry. It will also give you the specific kind of barbell fitness that will make you better at lifting weights. The downside is that they’re kind of complicated.
- No goblet squats or loaded carries. Dan John is famous for popularizing goblet squats and loaded carries, both of which are amazing for helping skinny guys bulk up, and neither of which is in this program. Dan John missed a good opportunity to bring his own style into his own program.
- Get plenty of sleep. That’s great. Getting more sleep will absolutely improve your muscle growth and strength gains, ward off fat gain, and give you more willpower for your workouts.
- No gimmicks. No weird diet fads, no secret tricks, and no misleading marketing. You’ll come away with a healthy attitude towards muscle, strength, and fitness.
This program wasn’t as popular as some of the others. I included it on this list because it’s one of the few programs with purely positive reviews. Everyone who mentioned it recommended it. It’s also the only program on this list designed specifically for naturally skinny guys.
Overall, I recommend this program for skinny guys who want to bulk up for strength-oriented sports. This program puts a huge emphasis on fitness and conditioning, but instead of coming at it from the perspective of the typical overweight person, it’s for skinny guys trying to bulk up. I love that. It will probably work best if you combine it with some in-person coaching.
Superior Muscle Growth by A Workout Routine
Superior Muscle Growth is a program made by the mysterious “Jay.” Despite his anonymity, he’s earned a reputation for writing high-quality free guides on his blog, A Workout Routine. I’ve been a fan of it for many years now. There’s a ton of great information there.
Jay sells several different programs, including a muscle-building program: Superior Muscle Growth. It isn’t specifically for skinny guys, but many of our naturally skinny readers rated it highly. Nobody rated it poorly. I bought it and read through it. I really liked it. It’s a great bulking guide, and it’s definitely appropriate for beginners.
Here’s what Superior Muscle Growth is all about:
- The program is well-written and well-presented. It’s entertaining and informative. The design of the guides makes the program even easier to understand. There are plenty of graphics. The recipe book is full of great photographs. Nothing is confusing.
- Three full-body workouts per week. That’s perfect. This is the best default workout schedule for skinny guys trying to bulk up. You could argue that other schedules work equally well, but there’s nothing better.
- Hypertrophy training workouts. These workouts are specifically designed to help you build bigger muscles, making this the first conventional bulking program we’ve covered so far.
- Three compound exercises per workout. That’s it. As a beginner, you alternate between two minimalist workouts. The first workout has squats, bench presses, and rows. The second workout has deadlifts, overhead presses, and pull-ups. It’s a similar format to Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5, but it’s designed for gaining muscle size.
- There aren’t any isolation exercises. There aren’t any exercises for your biceps, triceps, side delts, or hamstrings, none of which are properly stimulated by this selection of compound lifts. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but your arms will only grow half as quickly (study, study).
- Eat in a small calorie surplus. That makes sense for this program. You’re only stimulating a moderate amount of muscle growth, and you’re only focused on bulking up some of your muscles. It makes sense to slow your rate of weight gain to match your slower rate of muscle growth. That’s how you keep your bulk lean.
- Eat a high-protein, moderate-carb, moderate-fat diet. You’ll be eating somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.2 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day. That’s a bit high for a minimum target, but Jay justifies it by saying he prefers building in some insurance. He accurately presents the research and then gives his own recommendation. I think that’s the correct way to go against the grain. No issue here.
- The diet is perfectly sensible. Jay recommends eating healthy, minimally processed foods. You can build muscle and improve your health by eating this way. This simple but accurate advice is surprisingly rare in the fitness industry. All of the programs we’ve covered so far are unusually good in this regard.
- The program includes a recipe book! Eating is a big part of bulking, so it’s wise to include a recipe book. This one features healthy recipes like high-protein salads, smoothie bowls, and omelettes. All of the recipes are good for building muscle. They look tasty, too. However, few of them are particularly easy on the appetite, and there isn’t much advice about how to eat more calories.
- There are tons of plant-based recipes. There’s a vegetarian recipe book and a vegan recipe book. Two plant-based recipe books. The recipes look really good, too. Incredibly good value here.
- The guides are detailed and extensive. Every topic is covered. Every question is answered. Every recommendation is explained and justified. It’s easy to see how much care went into making this program.
- As far as I can tell, there aren’t any exercise tutorial videos. That’s understandable. Jay is anonymous. However, I think teaching people how to lift weights is a crucial part of teaching people how to build muscle. Otherwise, this is an impressively complete package.
Overall, I recommend this program if you want a simple (but comprehensive!) program that will ease you into building muscle at a slower pace. The beginner bulking program is good for developing general strength and competency on the big compound lifts. The diet and lifestyle recommendations are healthy, sensible, and good for building muscle. If you’re patient, this program will deliver.
Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Mike Matthews
Mike Matthews is the founder of the supplement company Legion Athletics. He built a great body with a bodybuilding routine, hit a plateau, and got stuck there for years. To start making progress again, he added strength training principles into his training. He still lifts like a bodybuilder, but the weights are heavier, and there’s a much greater emphasis on progressive overload.
Mike Matthews’ muscle-building book is Bigger, Leaner, Stronger. It’s a program for intermediate lifters, but many skinny beginners like it, too. When we surveyed our readers, many of them spoke fondly of it. Mind you, many of them did it after they’d already gained their first 20–30 pounds.
Here are the basics of Bigger, Leaner, Stronger:
- You can buy this program as a book or PDF. It isn’t flashy, but everything is clearly organized, and the content is good. Nothing is confusing.
- Mike Matthews runs a supplement company, but he doesn’t overhype supplements. He tells you straight up that you don’t need supplements to build muscle. That’s true, and I appreciate the honesty. I get the impression he has integrity.
- The workout program is a bodybuilding split. You’ll need to train 4–5 days per week to get optimal results. This program includes 3-day, 4-day, and 5-day workout routines. All of the workouts are body-part splits, meaning you only train some of your muscles each workout. This type of routine works best when you train almost every day. In this case, the 4-day and 5-day workout routines are better than the 3-day routine.
- The workout routine includes compound and isolation lifts. Every muscle has at least one exercise that trains it properly. This is the first program on the list that aims to fully develop your physique (except for your neck).
- These workouts are quite heavy. You’re supposed to do 4–6 repetitions for most sets. Doing 6–20 repetitions per set tends to be slightly more efficient, but this program isn’t about being efficient; it’s about maximizing your rate of muscle growth. And it will, especially if you’re doing the 4-day or 5-day workout routine. I like this approach. As a skinny guy who was desperate to bulk up, I wanted a program that took my muscle-building goals seriously.
- You’re taught “flexible dieting.” You’re supposed to get most of your calories from whole foods, track what you eat using an app, and aim for a specific amount of protein, carbs, and fat. This is an effective way to bulk up. It’s what most bodybuilders do. If you don’t like tracking your calories, though, you might not like this approach.
- This program isn’t designed for beginners. It will work for beginners, but there aren’t any tutorial videos teaching the exercises, and the workout program is a bit overbearing for a newbie. Novice and intermediate lifters can get equally good results with a simpler and more efficient program. I’m sure Mike Matthews will disagree with me on that, but his willingness to disagree with people is part of why I like his brand.
- This program isn’t specifically for skinny guys. On the one hand, there isn’t much advice about how to eat more calories. On the other hand, there isn’t any weight-loss advice masquerading as muscle-building advice. I appreciate that. No issue here.
- This is a complete walkthrough guide. It includes more than just workout and diet advice. It includes guides about how to build a home gym (if you want to train at home), how to take progress photos, and how to adjust what you’re doing based on the results you’re getting.
- The book is well-written and evidence-based. It’s common to see influencers who are great at making entertaining or informative content, but then when you buy one of their programs, it’s underwhelming. That isn’t the case here. Mike Matthews is known for this program, not for his hot takes on social media (although he has plenty of those, too). It’s a good book.
Overall, I recommend this book to guys who used to be in the habit of lifting weights but never quite built the physique they wanted to see in the mirror. It will reintroduce you to all the old lifts you knew and loved. It will teach you how to eat for continued muscle growth. You’ll build a physique that’s strong, healthy, and looks great.
Beginner Build by Jeremy Ethier
Jeremy Ethier runs Built With Science (not to be confused with Stronger by Science). He has a degree in exercise science. He’s famous for running one of the most popular muscle-building channels on YouTube. He’s great at covering popular fitness topics in a way the average guy can understand.
Jeremy’s used some of my illustrations in his articles and videos, and he’s always seemed nice when we’ve exchanged emails. Many of our readers enjoy his free content. Several said they enjoyed his paid muscle-building programs, including his Beginner Build bulking program. All of the feedback was positive.
Here’s what the Beginner Build program is all about:
- It’s an online muscle-building course. You’ll create an account, watch videos, read articles, and complete lessons. You’ll also get a series of emails. It’s all organized clearly.
- The marketing is extreme. It feels like walking into Raya Lucaria and being blasted by a million Glintstone Pebbles. Everything is in limited supply but permanently on sale. When you try to buy one thing, you’ll be asked to buy ten more. If you survive the checkout gauntlet, you’ll get six emails. When you open the program, it’s full of upsells. I don’t particularly mind this stuff, but some people might.
- The workout program has three full-body workouts per week. This is the best way for a skinny beginner to build muscle. Other training schedules can be similarly good, but this is easily the best default. Great.
- There’s an emphasis on the “Big Six” movements: the bench press, incline dumbbell bench press, standing overhead press, pull-up, deadlift, and squat. These are great lifts. Half of them are upper-body pressing movements, which might sound extreme, and it is, but that’s okay. The workouts themselves are actually quite balanced.
- This is a true hypertrophy training program. It’s carefully designed to stimulate muscle growth. You’ll be doing the right number of sets and repetitions. You’ll be training each muscle hard enough and often enough. You can tell a lot of thought went into this.
- This is a bodybuilding program. It focuses unapologetically on aesthetics. With that said, bodybuilding also tends to be quite healthy. It’s good for developing general strength, too. And it’s very safe. There’s no real downside to it. It’s a good default way to train, especially as a skinny beginner.
- There are exercise tutorial videos! Very few beginner programs bother to teach people how to actually lift weights. I understand why. Teaching a beginner how to do deadlifts, squats, and push-ups isn’t nearly as easy as it looks. It often requires years of practice teaching real-life clients, learning all of the common issues and how to coach people through them. Plus, it can take several weeks of work to film, edit, upload, and organize all of the videos. Jeremy did a good job here. He can teach a complicated lift at a beginner level with a simple 3-minute video.
- There’s a list of exercise alternatives. You aren’t supposed to fiddle with the workout program, but you are allowed to swap out exercises for alternatives that suit you better. That’s a really good approach to take with beginners. They get a clear program and some simple customization options.
- You have to track your calories. There’s a heavy emphasis on weighing your food and using a calorie-tracking app. This isn’t good or bad. Some people like tracking their calories. It can definitely be a good learning experience. Other people prefer to eat similar meals at similar times every day, adding a little bit more food to their diet whenever their weight gain stalls. Both approaches work similarly well.
- You’re supposed to get about 80% of your calories from whole foods. This is great advice. It’s exactly what you’ll hear from most bulking experts (including us). It’s just strict enough to provide fully optimal results.
- The program is well-rounded and complete. You get good diet advice, a good workout program, tutorial videos for all the exercises, and an extensive amount of information about building muscle, all organized into an online course. The only thing missing is a recipe book. (You can buy a recipe book separately. It’s one of the upsells. But it’s for weight loss.)
This is the most comprehensive of all the programs. It’s the only one of these programs that will teach you how to lift weights.
So, Which Bulking Program is Best?
All of these bulking programs are good. All of them will work. And all of them were highly rated by our readers. It’s impossible to say which one is best. They all have different pros and cons, and they’re all designed for different people:
- NerdFitness is a benevolent company that makes meme-filled workout and diet programs for overweight people. Their workouts will get you in and out of the gym quickly. Their content is good for beginners but not for skinny guys. They don’t sell a specific bulking program.
- Mass Made Simple by Dan John is a bulking program for skinny guys that emphasizes conditioning and sports performance. The workout routine is a bit complicated and assumes some baseline athleticism. If you’re a skinny athlete, I recommend giving this book a read.
- Superior Muscle Growth by A Workout Routine takes a slow and progressive approach to building muscle. It’s a great muscle-building program for beginners. The PDF guides are thorough, and you even get a recipe book. The only thing missing are videos teaching you how to lift weights. The program isn’t specifically for skinny guys, but nothing here is bad for skinny guys, either.
- Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Mike Matthews is a bodybuilding program for intermediate lifters struggling to get past a plateau. The workouts are balanced. The diet advice is sensible. The book is well-written and detailed. There aren’t any tutorial videos. Nothing here is bad for skinny guys.
- Beginner Build by Jeremy Ethier is a beginner muscle-building program. The online course is comprehensive, and it even includes tutorial videos teaching the lifts.
There’s surprisingly little overlap between these programs. None of them are specifically designed for skinny beginners, but all of them can work for skinny beginners. We know this because many of our readers successfully bulked up with these programs when they were skinny beginners.
Alright, that’s it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free muscle-building newsletter. If you want a full workout and diet program, including a 5-month workout routine, a diet guide, a bulking recipe book, tutorial videos teaching every lift, a community full of skinny dudes, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Program.
Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's gained seventy pounds and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in design, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.