Frequently Asked Questions

Bony to Beastly—Frequently Asked Questions

We read every single email we get and try our very best to answer all of them. Over the past couple years we’ve gotten several thousand questions—many of them similar to one another. Around 90% of the questions we get are about the Bony to Beastly Program, and whether or not we’re a good fit for one another. We’ve covered those questions in the last section 🙂

However, to make things a little more interesting, we’ve decided to answer the common questions we get in the member community too—questions about being a skinny guy, weightlifting, nutrition and supplements. That way this isn’t just a giant advertisement for our program (although let’s be real here, you should definitely sign up for the program).

Oh—and as per usual, this is not medical advice, or even advice at all. Always consult your doctor about any questions related to exercise, nutrition and health.

Okay, here we go:

Health & Wholesomeness

Bulking can be either good or bad for your health, depending on how you do it. Bulking usually means lifting weights, building muscle, and becoming stronger, which is incredibly healthy.

However, there a few ways that bulking could be bad for your health:

  • Bulking means that you need to more food, which increases your risk of gaining fat. If your body-fat percentage rises too high, that can be unhealthy.
  • If you make poor food choices while overeating, such as by eating too much saturated fat or fructose, it can cause you to store a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, which can also be bad for your health.
  • If you train recklessly, you can increase your injury risk, which can make it harder to be active as you age.
  • You could train so hard or so often that you suppress your immune system.

So, bulking can absolutely be healthy, and it usually is, but you need to do it properly.

Let’s go into more detail about how to bulk up in a way that’s good for your health.

Can Bulking Be Healthy? Yes

The first health benefit of bulking is that it allows you to build muscle. Having more muscle reduces your chances of dying for any reason, including from heart disease and cancer (study, study, study). There are a few reasons why having more muscle mass is good for your health:

  • Reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar
  • Better insulin sensitivity
  • Higher metabolism

The second health benefit of bulking is from the workout routine. Most people who bulk will lift weights, which is officially recommended by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. Strenuous weightlifting is also great for the health of your brain, promoting brain adaptation and growth, improving brain function (study).

To summarize, lifting weights is good for your health for a few reasons:

  • It improves your memory, concentration, mood, and ability to learn .
  • It improves cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness
  • It improves strength and posture
  • It increases bone density
  • It improves mobility

However, to be clear, most major health institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend lifting weights and doing cardio. WHO recommends doing 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength-oriented workouts every week.

The third health benefit of bulking is that it makes you stronger. A study from Harvard Medical School found that push-ups “were an even better predictor of cardiovascular disease than a submaximal treadmill test.” These findings have been replicated using different measures of strength (such as grip strength). Men with stronger grip strength also tend to live longer in general (studystudy).

This is all to say that you should follow a strenuous workout routine that helps you gain muscle and strength. Here’s our article on which types of exercise are best for gaining muscle.

Can Bulking Be Unhealthy? Yes

Bulking can be unhealthy if you gain too much fat. If your body-fat percentage rises above 20%, it’s going to worsen your health overall (study). There are a few reasons that a high body-fat percentage can be unhealthy:

  • It suppresses testosterone and increases estrogen (study)
  • It increases stress and anxiety (study)
  • Increased risk of developing diabetes (study)
  • Greater risk of cardiovascular disease (study)
  • Greater risk of heart attacks (study)
  • Joint degeneration (study)
  • Reduced fertility and performance (studystudy)

The main reason that people gain fat while bulking is because they eat too many calories, gaining weight too quickly, and causing the excess calories to be dumped into fat storage. There are a few other reasons that people gain too much fat while bulking, though:

  • Not following a good bulking workout routine
  • Not working out often enough (about 3 times per week is ideal)
  • Not eating enough protein (getting at least 0.8 grams per pound bodyweight per day is ideal)
  • Not getting enough quality sleep
  • Eating too much fat

Sometimes people gain fat because of their diet choices, though. For an example of that, if you raise your fructose too high while bulking, it can increase body-fat storage even if you’re following a good workout program, eating a reasonable amount of calories, and eating the right proportion of protein, carbs, and fat (study).

There are also ways that bulking can be unhealthy that aren’t quite as simple as gaining fat overall. For example, if you raise your saturated fat intake too high while bulking, it can cause you to accumulate visceral fat in and around your organs, which makes it harder for them to function properly (study). However, since bulking also involves strenuous weightlifting, which improves your heart health and reduces your storage of visceral fat, that isn’t normally a problem (study).

If you’re trying to improve your health while bulking, it’s important that your bulking diet is healthy while also allowing you to gain weight and build muscle. Here’s our article about how to eat more calories so that you can gain weight more easily.

Summary: So is Bulking Healthy?

Bulking is considered healthy by almost every major health organization, ranging from Harvard Medical School to the American Heart Association. However, those are the benefits of lifting weights, gaining muscle mass, and becoming stronger. If your bulking routine doesn’t involve strenuous weightlifting, if you aren’t gaining much muscle mass, and if you aren’t gaining much strength, then you’re going to fail to get those benefits. Furthermore, if you’re gaining too much fat or if you’re eating a poor diet, then bulking can become unhealthy.

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but if you want to get the health benefits of bulking, you need to become significantly bigger and stronger without getting significantly fatter.

If you bulk properly, bulking is incredibly good for your health.

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1. Skinny Guy Problems

Sort of. It’s more like a fancy way of saying “naturally skinny.” But skinny isn’t a trait, it’s a state. Marco was skinny, he gained 63 pounds, and now he’s a pretty strong looking dude. However, he still has a bunch of the same traits that he did back when he was skinny—a small stomach capacity, a small appetite, small muscle bellies, narrow bones, etc. That’s because he’s an “ectomorph”—someone who’s naturally skinny.

I’m the same. I’m 6’2 and I have the wrist size of the average 5’4 man.

Not surprisingly, many of us assume that being an ectomorph is a disadvantage. We struggle to gain weight, people often feel like they can push us around, and our skinny-boy muscle-building goals are so uncommon that they’re rarely covered by the mainstream media. Only 3% of people in North America are looking to gain weight (study).

But being an ectomorph isn’t a disadvantage, and it doesn’t mean we can’t build muscle. A 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics—the largest and most thorough study of its kind—found that, on average, skinny guys can build muscle more rapidly than anyone else (study). Some guys added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just 12 weeks.

Since then, another study has come out with similar findings (study).

This seems crazy, I know. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel like you suck at building muscle. But after running this program for a couple years we’ve seen it first hand so many times that it seems obvious. The majority of members in the community  are able to gain at least 20 pounds in their first three months. Good luck finding a guy who isn’t skinny who’s able to build that much muscle that quickly.

Moreover, many of us are extremely resistant to fat* (study). We aim to have our members leave the program with just as much ab definition as they came in with. Since we’re a community of ectomorphs, we’re usually able to do just that.

So we aren’t trying to overcome being an ectomorph. Being an ectomorph is sweet. Our goal is more so about finally providing you the (science-based) information that you need to take full advantage of your body type. We’re here to help you get strong and build a bunch of burly muscle.

I suspect you’ll find that you’re actually pretty good at it.

*Even “skinny-fat” ectomorphs tend not to struggle with obesity, which is arguably the biggest health problem the First World is facing right now. We talk a little bit more about skinny-fat ectomorphs down below.

Should a skinny-fat guy try to gain muscle and bulk? Or is it better to cut and lose fat first? Or is body recomposition effective for skinny-fat guys?

Most skinny-fat guys have the awful experience of bulking up and seemingly just gaining fat, or trying to lose weight and just winding up even skinnier.

We’ve written a full guide for skinny-fat guys here.

Long story short, what’s going on here is that when you’re bulking up, your fat cells are more insulin sensitive than your muscle cells and you’re gaining fat instead of building muscle. I mean, you’re probably building some muscle too, but you wouldn’t notice, because it’s being hidden by the fat.

The same is true when cutting, except the inverse. You’re losing both muscle and fat, so you never seem to get leaner, just smaller. Since our stomachs are the last place men store fat, this leaves you with a belly instead of biceps.

Nutrition plays a role here, but most of the guys that we see who are struggling with this are doing cardio or p90x style programs when trying to lose fat. These are programs designed for your average person looking for weight loss. And weight loss is what they get. They lose some fat, they lose some muscle.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Cardio can be very effective, but it needs to be combined with lifting weights. If you start doing some cardio alongside your lifting routine, that can be a good approach for skinny guys. Burning those extra calories and raising your metabolism a little higher tends to help with body recomposition.

Still rather than trying to train for fat loss, what tends to work better is trying to eat for fat loss while following training for muscle size. Your diet will take care of the fat loss, and your training will ensure that you don’t lose muscle. In fact, you may even build muscle while cutting. Not everyone can accomplish that, but skinny-fat guys are pretty much the only people out there who can sometimes build muscle and lose fat simultaneously (studystudy).

Check out what happened in a 2014 study comparing weightlifting with aerobics when in a calorie deficit:

  • The aerobics group lost 7 pounds of fat while also losing 6 lbs of lean mass. (13 pounds lost overall.) If you were a 170 pound man with 20% bodyfat, this would bring you down to 157 pounds with 17% bodyfat. You’d have lost a fair bit of muscle and still wouldn’t be anywhere close to having abs.
  • The heavy weightlifting group lost 22 pounds of fat and gained 4 pounds of lean mass. (18 pounds lost overall.) If you were a 170 pound man, this would bring you down to 152 pounds with 8% bodyfat. You’d have fitness model abs, a few pounds more muscle, and could begin bulking leanly from there.

Okay, I’ll end this one here. Here’s where to go next:


Illustration of a lean man holding his stomach

If you’re a skinny guy who prides himself on having great ab definition, the idea of bulking up can be intimidating. The same is true for skinny-fat guys who have fought hard to lose fat and are now faced with the prospect of gaining it back.

Frankly, most people who bulk up do wind up gaining some fat. That’s not because they’re doing anything wrong, either. When gaining weight, you need to eat in a calorie surplus. And when you eat in a calorie surplus, there’s always the risk of some of those extra calories being stored as fat.

The good news is that as a naturally skinny guy—even if you’re naturally skinny-fat—you’ll probably have a small number of fat cells than the average overweight person. Because of this, ectomorphs tend to be a bit more resistant to gaining fat than the other male body types (study). If you bulk cleverly, you should be able to build muscle quite leanly.

There are also a few things you can do to reduce your risk of gaining fat while bulking:

  1. Follow the best bulking program you can find. The better your bulking workouts are, the more muscle growth they’ll stimulate, and so the more calories your muscles will soak up. It’s usually better to skip the bodyweight workouts and strength training programs, focusing instead of on bonafide bulking routines.
  2. Keep your calorie surplus relatively modest. With a good workout routine and a good bulking diet, most skinny guys are able to build muscle quite quickly and leanly during their first few months of training. During this period, we normally recommend gaining around a pound per week. However, if you’re worried about gaining fat, eat in a smaller surplus and gain weight more slowly. Gaining 0.5 pounds per week will give you a better shot of avoiding fat gain while bulking.
  3. Eat enough protein. Protein is the raw material that muscle is built out of. In order to build new muscle mass, we need to be consuming enough protein to build that muscle with. Unless you’re bulking on a vegan diet, getting enough protein from whole foods isn’t that difficult. If you’re finding it difficult, though, try getting a protein powder.
  4. Eat a higher carb diet for leaner gains. This one is surprisingly controversial, especially now that ketogenic diets are becoming more popular. However, keto isn’t designed for bulking, it’s designed for weight loss. The same is true with low-carb diets. Most guys are able to build muscle more leanly if they get up to around 50–60% of their calories from carbohydrates. (Having a little bit of sugar in your bulking diet is usually okay, too, provided that it’s not more than 10% of your total calorie intake.)
  5. Eat mostly whole foods for general health. Whole foods tend to contain more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and dietary fibre. That’s going to help you build more muscle, and it’s going to help reduce the amount of fat you gain (study). Now, it’s true that foods that are higher in fibre are also more filling, which can make it hard for us skinny guys to eat enough calories. But there are ways to eat more calories while still eating a diet that’s healthy overall.
  6. Add in some cardio alongside your bulking workouts. If you’re new to exercising, lifting weights will probably improve your cardiovascular health. Even then, though, you’ll probably be able to build muscle a little bit more leanly if you add in a little bit of dedicated cardio to your bulking routine.
  7. Bulk up your abs. Most overweight people are naturally muscular in their abs and lower bodies. After all, they need to carry around their extra bodyweight with them everywhere they go. This gives their abs a ton of stimulation as they go about their everyday lives. This isn’t true for ectomorphs. Our lighter bodies don’t require as much core strength, so unless we train our abs directly, us skinny guys will often wind up with fairly skinny abs.

There’s more good news, too. Lifting weights will improve the insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells, making it more likely that the food you eat will go to muscle instead of fat (study). Plus, having more muscle mass on your body will further improve your insulin sensitivity, making it easier to be lean and muscular in the longer term (study, study).

There are tons of things that affect how lean your gains are—we’ve written an entire book about it. However, if you keep these principles in mind, you should do pretty well.


There are a lot of reasons for that! We’re good at building muscle, but we’re not necessarily good at gaining weight. The 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics—the one that found that skinny guys had a genetic gift when it comes to building muscle—well, they disqualified all the participants who weren’t gaining weight, since without weight gain you can’t build muscle (study).

Gah.

Us naturally skinny guys are great at building muscle when gaining weight, but as you know all too well… weight gain is really damn tough when you’ve got a skinny guys stomach and metabolism.

This is made harder still because every single popular mainstream diet was created for chubby people trying to lose weight (97% of the population). Even most of the diets masquerading as manly muscle-building diets are weight loss diets!

For example, Paleo is all about lean muscle, but it restricts the types of foods that are easy to overeat (grains, dairy, sugar, carbs), making it hard for us to get into a calorie surplus. Another good example is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is also seemingly all about muscle, but it restricts the number of meals you get to eat, making it nearly impossible to squeeze enough calories into an even shorter timeframe (study).

If you want to learn more about why our stomachs are small, our metabolisms are monstrous, and what you can do about it, check this article out: The Skinny on “Just Eat More”

The other challenge is working out. What skinny guy wants to go a gym? That’s, like, the only place in the world where you’re judged solely based on the size of your muscles. That’s our worst nightmare. So we instead tend to prefer types of exercise that we feel we’re better suited for.

The problem is that those types of exercise will only result in a muscular physique if you’re naturally muscular—if you already have the muscle on your body, perhaps hidden away under layers of fat.

Endurance training (e.g. jogging) causes endurance adaptations—more blood vessels, better oxygen delivery, better glycogen storage, a higher red blood cell count, etc. Great things, but they aren’t at all related to muscle size/strength.

General fitness training marketed to a general audience—p90x, Insanity, callisthenics, tough mudder-y stuff, CrossFit—is still mostly weight loss training, because 97% of people are trying to lose weight. With these programs there’s more emphasis on general fitness, not just muscular endurance. Still, these adaptations are mostly related to oxygen delivery. Capillary density and blood flow—that kind of thing. When you feel tired—even when your muscles feel tired—this is more of a central nervous system “fitness” thing, not an indication that you’ve stimulated your muscles in a way that will cause muscle growth.

If you want to learn more about what types of exercise will cause you to adapt by building muscle, check this article out: The Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy”

The good news is that if you combine a hearty muscle-building diet with a hearty muscle-building weightlifting program, you’ll be able to build muscle more rapidly than any other body type (study).

How to build muscle and gain weight as a skinny guy / ectomorph


3. Exercise & Weightlifting Questions

Bodybuilding won’t negatively affect your speed or flexibility provided it’s well-designed.* In fact, a bodybuilding program will probably help. Here are a few benefits that a good bodybuilding program will leave you with:

  • It will cause your muscles to grow bigger and stronger… and longer (study), improving mobility and flexibility.
  • Your posture will improve, as your muscles become strong enough to hold you in proper alignment.
  • Speed and power is a muscular strength thing, not a muscular endurance thing. To the extent that you become stronger, you’ll also become faster. (Bodybuilding is not the best way to become stronger, but it will still make you stronger.)

However bodybuilding isn’t the best way to develop speed and mobility.

If speed and mobility are important to you, I’d recommend going above and beyond bodybuilding. You’ll still want to do some bodybuilding, since it’s great for developing muscle size and strength, but you’ll also want to work in some foundational strength and power training principles.

You’ll thus want to build a program out of deep heavy squats and deadlifts, which are excellent for sprint speed, vert, agility, balance on stable surfaces, and lower body mobility. You’ll also want to include heavy bench presses and pull-ups, which will do the same thing for your upper body.**

If you wanted to go really advanced, you’d also want to include a power development phase, where you incorporate plyometrics and ballistics, like jump squats and box jumps and such. And some metabolic conditioning so that you aren’t just fast, but also able to do a bunch of successive sprints without winding up wheezing on the floor after 5 minutes.***

*Provided that volume is properly balanced across all muscle groups, a large range of motion is used, and a wide variety of exercises are used for each muscle group.
**This is what we do, and it’s also the best way to build up muscle size/strength in the longer term.
***We don’t include specific athletic training like this, since it doesn’t result in more muscle size or strength. Besides, most of the athletes doing our program generally already do this stuff as part of their sports-specific training. What they want from us is more muscle mass and more muscle strength.

Of course you can. If you wait for circumstances to be perfect you’ll be waiting forever. But things don’t need to be perfect in order to make progress. If you start today—like right now—it might take you ten months instead of two to gain twenty pounds, but you’ll still get there.

The tricky thing is that you need to know the most important stuff so that you can cut the fluff.

If you can’t make it to the gym three times per week.

  • Do full body workouts. That way you’ll stimulate all of your muscles each week even if you only get one workout in.
  • Do more sets and reps. Doing the right amount of sets each week (lifting volume) is more important than doing the right amount of sets and reps each workout (lifting frequency). Doing fewer workouts? Do a couple more sets of each exercise.
  • Go closer to failure. Lifting to failure requires dramatically more recovery time without dramatically increasing the amount of muscle growth, so you’ll usually build more muscle by avoiding failure and training more often. But if you won’t be training again for a while anyway… may as well go a little harder.
  • Only bulk when your muscles have been stimulated. Go back to eating a maintenance diet if you haven’t been lifting in four days or so. By that point the insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells will be back to normal, and they won’t be grabbing all those surplus calories and using them to build muscle. (Same thing if you’re cutting. You don’t want to be losing weight if you aren’t lifting heavy, otherwise you may lose some muscle.)

Then, when your schedule eases up, transition back into a more optimal routine where you’re lifting more regularly. Hopefully by then you’ll be a dozen pounds burlier.


We’ve got an in-depth article about whether bodyweight exercises are good for gaining muscle size, but in this post I want to go over something a little bit different: the idea of building muscle without getting a gym membership or building a barbell home gym.

We get a lot of skinny guys writing in who confess that they’d rather not have to go to the gym. I understand that. The gym can seem like a place where people are judged based on the size of their muscles, and as skinny guys, that’s not really our area of expertise (yet). Or at least that’s how I felt, anyway.

Whatever the reason, many skinny guys would prefer to train at home, and they’d prefer being able to do it without needing to buy a bunch of lifting equipment—at least at first. That makes sense. Why invest in equipment before you know if it will even help you build muscle? You don’t know if it’s going to be a longterm habit yet.

Besides, most of us aren’t interested in becoming bodybuilders anyway, we’re more interested in building a strong, lean physique. A physique more like Frank Medrano’s:

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

And if you aren’t trying to turn into a bulky bodybuilder, calisthenics can seem like a great way to go. If you want to look like a calisthenics athlete, best to use calisthenics, right?

How much muscle can you build with calisthenics?

First, some background. In the photo above, Frank Medrano is 5’9, around 160 pounds, and around 5% bodyfat. This about the maximum musculature that a bodybuilder his size could hope to naturally achieve at that body-fat percentage—at least in his upper body. So Frank Medrano actually has musculature comparable to most bodybuilders, he’s just got a really slender bone structure (small wrists, narrow shoulders, narrow waist and such), making him look less bulky.

Under normal conditions he looks a little more human… but still has a pretty exceptional degree of muscularity and leanness.

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

I know he doesn’t look that big at first glance, so to put his size into perspective, here’s me after gaining fifty pounds (130 to 185ish at 6’2). I still have much less muscle mass (for my size) than Frank Medrano.

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

I think as skinny guys we’re seeing ourselves in Frank Medrano’s bone structure, and that’s why we’re drawn to naturally slenderly structured physiques like this. Without experience building muscle, though, it’s tough to gauge how much muscle mass someone has, how difficult it is to get those results, and what the best way to get there is.

The good news. A very lean and quite muscular physique is actually achievable for a lot of ectomorphs. We tend to have slenderer bone structures, and we also tend to be able to get quite lean. Combine some hearty bulking workouts with a good ectomorph bulking diet, and we’re well on our way.

The not-so-good news. Frank Medrano built his physique over several years through a combination of good genetics and incredibly, incredibly hard work. He’s risen to the very top of the callisthenics world because he’s built for it, and he also spends all day training for it. That’s a far cry from doing bodyweight workouts a few times per week.

Moreover, Frank Medrano isn’t doing simple bodyweight home workouts, he’s using gymnastics equipment. There’s a big different between doing hours of chin-ups every day versus doing push-ups a few times per week.

If you wanted to build muscle with a minimal amount of effort, it’s much easier to use weights. That’s why it’s relatively common for casual lifters to become as muscular as Frank Medrano within a couple years, whereas it’s actually quite rare for people to become that muscular with bodyweight exercises unless they make it their full-time jobs.

All the best calisthenics guys lift weights

And besides, the most muscular callisthenics guys also lift weights. They aren’t trying to build muscle with no equipment, after all, they’re just trying to become as good as possible at gymnastics. If you look at guys like Chris Heria, from Then X, you’ll see that they specialize in calisthenics but still routinely lift weights in order to build bigger and stronger muscles.

If you want the best of both worlds—badass calisthenic abilities combined with big and strong muscles—then it’s best to do calisthenics and lift weights.

If your goal is simply to become big and strong, though, then you’ll likely have better success by doing a good bulking workout program. For an example of the results you can expect to achieve by lifting weights, here’s what Eric Helms—a naturally skinny bodybuilding researcher—was able to accomplish naturally over the course of a few years:

Eric Helms—calisthenics versus weights for naturally building muscle as a skinny guy / ectomorph

How to build muscle at home. If you don’t want to hit the gym though, that’s totally cool—I get that. I gained my first twenty pounds in the privacy of my own home. I did that by buying some simple second-hand lifting equipment, but you don’t have to take that approach.

If you’re ready to invest in lifting equipment, here’s our guide for building a simple home gym. But also keep in mind that if you get just a couple heavy adjustable dumbbells, you’ll even be able to do our full Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. You don’t need a fancy or expensive setup to build muscle. You just need weights that you can load progressively heavier every workout.

If you want to ease into building muscle a bit more gradually, getting some results before needing to buy anything at all, Jared has wrote a article on Outlive about how to build muscle at home without any equipment. He even includes a free bodyweight workout program.


A compound lift is one that uses two or more joints. For example, the chin-up works your biceps, upper back, forearms, and even your abs. All of those muscles contribute to the lift, stimulating a ton of muscle growth all at once. And since all of the muscles are helping each other, you tend to be able to lift quite a bit of weight, which is great for improving your cardiovascular system and bone density.

If you’re trying to build muscle, you won’t find better exercises than squats, chin-ups, presses, rows, and deadlifts. Each of those lifts stimulates growth in hundreds of muscles, strengthens your bones, and improves your cardiovascular fitness.

An isolation lift doesn’t isolate a muscle, it isolates a joint. If we use the example of a biceps curl, the elbow joint is being “isolated,” but a number of different muscles still contribute to the lift: your biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, and all of your other elbow flexors. However, in order to isolate your elbow joint, other muscles, such as your upper back muscles, are going to need to hold your body in place. This makes a biceps curl great for building up bigger upper arms, forearms, and even your upper back. Still, a biceps curl won’t work nearly as many muscles as a chin-up. Even just for bicep growth, chin-ups are the better exercise.

So far, it probably sounds like compound lifts are better for building muscle, and in many ways, they are. However, there’s a lot of mythology surrounding compound lifts.

For example, there’s the idea that compound lifts produce more testosterone and thus cause muscle growth throughout your body. It’s true that strenuous lifting is going to increase your testosterone production, which is great, but there’s no reason to think that doing chin-ups will allow you to build more muscle in your legs or that squats will allow you to build more muscle in your arms (study, study). Better to focus on training the muscles you’re actually trying to grow.

Isolation lifts cause extra muscle when compared against just doing compound lifts

Some people also claim that isolation lifts don’t produce any extra growth, which is false, but I see where the error comes from. If we look at this study that measured arm growth while doing compound lifts or compound+isolation lifts, we see that the participants who did the isolation lifts built much larger arms.

However, if you read the study’s abstract, you’ll notice that it says: “This study showed that the inclusion of single-joint exercises in a multi-joint exercise training program resulted in no additional benefits in terms of muscle size or strength gains in untrained young men.”

Why is the study saying that isolation don’t help when, in fact, the study found that they did help? The answer is that it was a small study and the effect sizes were small (muscle growth is slow), which means that they couldn’t guarantee that the extra muscle growth was due to more than just random chance. The isolation lifts were producing tons of extra growth, it wasn’t enough to overcome the small sample size.

Now, of course, we can’t look at this study and come to the conclusion that isolation lifts definitely produce extra muscle growth. After all, it might be due to random chance. However, over the years, multiple similar studies have been conducted, and every single one found that adding in isolation lifts produced a ton of extra growth (study, study, study, study, study, study).

What’s nice about having so many similar studies is that we can pool the results together and create a systematic review. Greg Nuckols, from Monthly Applications in Strength Sport, conducted an informal review of all seven studies and found that adding in isolation lifts caused 27% more muscle growth in the target areas.

So, yes, isolation lifts do cause extra muscle growth.

Isolation lifts have some other benefits while bulking as well:

  1. By adding some isolation lifts in your workout routine, you’ll stimulate a wider variety of muscle fibres, causing you to develop fuller muscles (study) and more strength (study).
  2. You’ll be able to bring up lagging muscle groups (studystudy). If your biceps aren’t growing from doing chin-ups, adding in biceps curls will allow them to catch up. If your chest isn’t growing from doing the bench press, adding in chest isolation lifts (such as chest flyes) will allow your chest to catch up.
  3. Since isolation lifts aren’t as heavy as compound lifts, they aren’t as fatiguing, allowing you to do add in extra work for the muscles you’re eager to grow while still recovering fully between workouts.
  4. You can focus on getting a “pump” in the muscles that you’re isolating stimulating extra muscle growth via metabolic stress (study).
  5. Using a wider variety of exercises means your muscles will grow in a more balanced and versatile way. This will help you avoid injury, both in and out of the gym (study).
  6. Some muscles, such as your side delts (which make your shoulders wider), aren’t properly stimulated with compound lifts. If you want to develop them properly, you need to do isolation lifts (such as lateral raises for your side delts).

So unless you have to keep things simple, you’ll probably benefit from adding in isolation lifts.


4. Aesthetics & Size

There may be two distinct types of hypertrophy—sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy. It’s been theorized that moderate intensity (10-20 rep) training would improve a muscle’s ability to perform series of repetitions by adding fuel (sarcoplasm) to your muscles, whereas heavy (1-5 rep) training would cause the muscle to improve its strength by increasing the contractile elements (actin and myosin) of the muscle.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy=fluid

Myofibrillar hypertrophy=muscle fibres

Both adaptions would cause your muscles to grow bigger, but moderate rep bodybuilding would theoretically cause you grow by increasing the amount of fluid in your muscles, whereas strength training would theoretically cause you to grow by developing new muscle fibres.

A 2014 study by Schoenfeld found that bodybuilding does indeed cause sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (study), so this may actually be true.

The practical implications of this are pretty neat. Bodybuilding leads to “chronic increases in intracellular fluid status”, which means perpetually inflated muscles, and perhaps more interestingly, there’s a large body of preliminary research that indicates that this could mean an increased ability to build even more muscle as well as greater resistance to muscle atrophy.

What we still don’t know is whether this increased muscle hydration would happen with other types of weightlifting. Another study published by Schoenfeld found extremely similar muscle growth between both powerlifters and bodybuilders, even though their training routines were extremely different (study).

We also don’t know whether sarcoplasmic hypertrophy would look or feel any different from other types of hypertrophy. It’s indeed possible that myofibrillar hypertrophy would result in harder muscles… but that’d just be guessing.

If being big, strong and functional is your goal though, doing both strength training rep ranges and bodybuilding rep ranges is the way to go. (Higher rep ranges than bodybuilding and your muscles wouldn’t really grow any bigger in either way.)


Bodybuilding is the type of weightlifting that’s designed to make you bigger, more symmetrical, leaner, and every other aesthetic goal. So if by bulky you mean muscular… then yes. Bodybuilding is the best way to build muscle. It’s also the best way to maintain your muscle mass while losing fat.

Will you all of a sudden morph into an Italian-sausage-like pro-bodybuilder with a spray tan? No.

I know, I know—some bodybuilding programs do result in a rather distinct look. For example, a 2002 study by Gundill found that the front of a typical bodybuilders shoulders (front delts) are 500% bigger than the average person’s, the middle of their shoulders (lateral delts) are 300% bigger, and the back of their shoulders (rear delts) are just 15% bigger. This is probably due to lots of time spent bench pressing, which works just the front of the shoulders. As you can imagine, this would make your shoulders look a little weird. (This is why lifts like TYIs, reverse flys, rows and full range of motion chin-ups are important.)

So if you train in the typical bodybuilding bro fashion you may wind up with a bodybuilder bro bod’, but this is due to bad bodybuilding, not because bodybuilding inherently makes you look funky. Bodybuilding is supposed to be the type of weightlifting that focuses the most on symmetry and aesthetics, after all.

Note: We aren’t a bodybuilding program per se, because we don’t just focus on aesthetics—we also focus on strength, mobility, posture and health—but since we are a program designed to make you bigger and stronger, we use a ton of bodybuilding techniques. However, most guys come into the program wanting to look like Brad Pitt, not Jay Cutler. And the spray tan sessions in Phase Five are totally optional 😉

My left shoulder has been higher than the other for as long as I can remember. I always thought of it in a superficial way, and figured it must be because I always carried my backpack slung over my right shoulder, pushing it down. Marco had the same thing, but thought it had to do with his skateboarding habits.

We were both sort of right… but mostly wrong.

Both are caused by the same thing: the fact that our bodies are innately asymmetrical. Our brain has a left and right side, and both perform different functions. Our hearts and livers are on just one side of our bodies. The right diaphragm is bigger than the left and has a longer attachment on the spine. Our left and right lungs expand to different degrees. One hand usually possesses more find motor control than the other. We usually favour one leg over the other as well, as Marco discovered when he was skateboarding.

It’s no wonder that over the course of our lives we fall into patterns of asymmetry, and that these effects can be seen when we look in the mirror.

If you go and look at the mirror right now, you will probably notice your left knee rotates out and your right knee rotates in. You may also notice that one shoulder sits higher than the other—usually the left. Another common compensation is a right rib hump. Your right rib on the backside will be more filled with air due to this twisting of the ribcage. One pec might thus grow bigger than the other and sit on your rib cage a little differently. If you don’t have a mirror handy, this pelvis/rib twist usually looks something like this:

Why one shoulder is higher than the other (common postural issues and what to do about it)

For most people this isn’t a problem. The links between posture, performance and injury are iffy, since our bodies are so good at creating functional compensation patterns. It’s hard to tell whether they really have a large impact on one another, especially when we’re not currently injured or in pain. Better posture and better symmetry could theoretically improve your mood, your confidence, your breathing, your anxiety, your strength. It’ll certainly make you look better too. And if you’re currently in pain, it might help you get rid of it.

A good weightlifting program will do a good job of this, provided you develop good habits, train in a balanced way, and lift symmetrically. Even just learning how to squat well and squat heavy can work wonders.

Sometimes it can take a little extra work though. Here’s a good drill to help you learn to hold your hips in a good position while moving. Since most postural issues stem from the hips, mastering this will usually address the asymmetry at its root and allow you to develop a more balanced upper body.

Take it away, Marco:


One reason could be that you’re “skinny-fat”. Masculine hormones generally cause us to store fat in our stomachs, so it’s actually pretty common for skinny guys to start developing a bit of a belly—and only a belly—if they aren’t eating very well or doing much to encourage muscle growth (like lifting weights). The solution to that would be to start eating and training for muscle growth.

…However, many of the skinny “pot bellies” we see have nothing to do with fat at all—they’re postural. More specifically, they’re caused by an anterior pelvic tilt. This is incredibly incredibly common. I’d guess that around 80% of the skinny guys coming into our program have them. So around here we affectionately call this postural pot belly issue “ecto-belly.”

Here’s what I mean:

neutral spine, ideal posture, ecto-belly, skinny-fat, and typical ectomorph posture

In the first image you’ve got a typical skinny guy with ecto-belly. His pelvis is tilted forward, perhaps from years of spending a lot of time sitting and not a lot of time developing strength or working on mobility. This creates an arch in his lower back (lordosis). In order to keep his upper body upright, his ribs then need to flare upwards. This creates a flat zone in the mid back. In order for his head to remain upright, his upper back rounds forwards and his neck juts forward. This creates rounding (kyphosis) in his upper back and something called “forward head syndrome.”

This arsenal of postural compensation patterns isn’t that bad. Many skinny guys go through their entire lives without ever addressing it and nothing all that horrifying happens. This posture also boosts the perceived size of your tush, making it a create choice when taking belfies*.

How to Take the bootyful Belfie

Most men try desperately to get out of it though, and there’s good reason for that. It can make it dangerous to lift weights overhead, it could potentially reduce athletic performance, it gives you the appearance of a skinny dude with a pot belly, and it also makes you look a whole lot less co

nfident. In fact, it mirrors a timid posture so perfectly that your brain will respond to it by reducing your actual confidence levels.

Luckily it’s very fixable. Learning how to do deadlifts, squats push-ups and planks properly will go a long way to fixing it, so a good strength training program (like ours!) will help a tremendous amount even if you don’t pay that much attention to your posture. You can also work on building up better glute strength, doing planks, and practicing maintaining a neutral pelvis and strengthening that position with lifts like the dead bug:

Postural stuff can take time. If you’re lifting well though, you’re well on your way. You’ll be standing a little taller and more confidently each week.

*Butt selfies


5. Health & Wholesomeness

Bulking can be either good or bad for your health, depending on how you do it. Bulking usually means lifting weights, building muscle, and becoming stronger, which is incredibly healthy.

However, there a few ways that bulking could be bad for your health:

  • Bulking means that you need to more food, which increases your risk of gaining fat. If your body-fat percentage rises too high, that can be unhealthy.
  • If you make poor food choices while overeating, such as by eating too much saturated fat or fructose, it can cause you to store a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, which can also be bad for your health.
  • If you train recklessly, you can increase your injury risk, which can make it harder to be active as you age.
  • You could train so hard or so often that you suppress your immune system.

So, bulking can absolutely be healthy, and it usually is, but you need to do it properly.

Let’s go into more detail about how to bulk up in a way that’s good for your health.

Can Bulking Be Healthy? Yes

The first health benefit of bulking is that it allows you to build muscle. Having more muscle reduces your chances of dying for any reason, including from heart disease and cancer (study, study, study). There are a few reasons why having more muscle mass is good for your health:

  • Reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar
  • Better insulin sensitivity
  • Higher metabolism

The second health benefit of bulking is from the workout routine. Most people who bulk will lift weights, which is officially recommended by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. Strenuous weightlifting is also great for the health of your brain, promoting brain adaptation and growth, improving brain function (study).

To summarize, lifting weights is good for your health for a few reasons:

  • It improves your memory, concentration, mood, and ability to learn .
  • It improves cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness
  • It improves strength and posture
  • It increases bone density
  • It improves mobility

However, to be clear, most major health institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend lifting weights and doing cardio. WHO recommends doing 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength-oriented workouts every week.

The third health benefit of bulking is that it makes you stronger. A study from Harvard Medical School found that push-ups “were an even better predictor of cardiovascular disease than a submaximal treadmill test.” These findings have been replicated using different measures of strength (such as grip strength). Men with stronger grip strength also tend to live longer in general (studystudy).

This is all to say that you should follow a strenuous workout routine that helps you gain muscle and strength. Here’s our article on which types of exercise are best for gaining muscle.

Can Bulking Be Unhealthy? Yes

Bulking can be unhealthy if you gain too much fat. If your body-fat percentage rises above 20%, it’s going to worsen your health overall (study). There are a few reasons that a high body-fat percentage can be unhealthy:

  • It suppresses testosterone and increases estrogen (study)
  • It increases stress and anxiety (study)
  • Increased risk of developing diabetes (study)
  • Greater risk of cardiovascular disease (study)
  • Greater risk of heart attacks (study)
  • Joint degeneration (study)
  • Reduced fertility and performance (studystudy)

The main reason that people gain fat while bulking is because they eat too many calories, gaining weight too quickly, and causing the excess calories to be dumped into fat storage. There are a few other reasons that people gain too much fat while bulking, though:

  • Not following a good bulking workout routine
  • Not working out often enough (about 3 times per week is ideal)
  • Not eating enough protein (getting at least 0.8 grams per pound bodyweight per day is ideal)
  • Not getting enough quality sleep
  • Eating too much fat

Sometimes people gain fat because of their diet choices, though. For an example of that, if you raise your fructose too high while bulking, it can increase body-fat storage even if you’re following a good workout program, eating a reasonable amount of calories, and eating the right proportion of protein, carbs, and fat (study).

There are also ways that bulking can be unhealthy that aren’t quite as simple as gaining fat overall. For example, if you raise your saturated fat intake too high while bulking, it can cause you to accumulate visceral fat in and around your organs, which makes it harder for them to function properly (study). However, since bulking also involves strenuous weightlifting, which improves your heart health and reduces your storage of visceral fat, that isn’t normally a problem (study).

If you’re trying to improve your health while bulking, it’s important that your bulking diet is healthy while also allowing you to gain weight and build muscle. Here’s our article about how to eat more calories so that you can gain weight more easily.

Summary: So is Bulking Healthy?

Bulking is considered healthy by almost every major health organization, ranging from Harvard Medical School to the American Heart Association. However, those are the benefits of lifting weights, gaining muscle mass, and becoming stronger. If your bulking routine doesn’t involve strenuous weightlifting, if you aren’t gaining much muscle mass, and if you aren’t gaining much strength, then you’re going to fail to get those benefits. Furthermore, if you’re gaining too much fat or if you’re eating a poor diet, then bulking can become unhealthy.

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but if you want to get the health benefits of bulking, you need to become significantly bigger and stronger without getting significantly fatter.

If you bulk properly, bulking is incredibly good for your health.

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6. Can I do the Program?

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat

No lift is mandatory. You can bulk up without squatting, without deadlifting, or, in extreme cases, without doing biceps curls. So long as you’re stimulating some of your muscles, then some of your muscles will grow. So the worst thing you could possibly do as a skinny guy is avoid lifting weights simply because you can’t do a particular movement or lift.

How to Bulk Without Squatting

Squats tend to be easy to skip. If you skip your squats, you’ll probably get away with it. People don’t really look at your legs, and they don’t play a large role in male aesthetics. I mean, this survey about the ideal male body doesn’t include a single leg. Not even one leg. Most of the research about how male muscularity relates to attractiveness doesn’t include legs either.

But on the off chance that anyone ever asks why you never squat, you can just tell them that you have cranky knees or some other common injury. Cranky knees are quite common, and not just in people who are trying to avoid squatting. Another good excuse is to just blame your small legs on the squat rack always being busy.

If neither of those excuses do the trick, try claiming to have early-onset arthritis from doing too much squatting in the past.

If all else fails, just pick the best squat variation for your needs. Some are easy on the knees, some load the spine less heavily, and some are better for guys with pre-existing lower back injuries. I know it’s not ideal, but if you have to squat, there will almost certainly be a squat variation that works well for you.

How to Bulk Without Deadlifting

Skipping deadlifts is a little harder. Small legs are easy to hide by wearing loose pants or by filling your pockets with paper-back books. The problem is, deadlifts train the entire posterior chain. Yes, you could build your upper back with front squats, rows, and even chin-ups, but there’s no getting around the fact that the deadlift is by far the best exercise for bulking up your upper traps and thickening up your torso.

Illustration of sumo barbell deadlift

Still, there are a couple good excuses you could use. The main excuse for not doing deadlifts is having a sore lower back. Yes, it’s true that deadlifts are often an effective way to rehab a sore lower back, given that they strengthen the spinal erectors, but most people don’t know that. And besides, on the off chance that someone points out that deadlifts are good for bad backs, you can rightly respond that you’d need to talk to a physiotherapist before doing them. (It’s wise to talk to a physiotherapist if you have a chronic injury. They’ll probably recommend that you eventually do deadlifts to fix a bad back, as mine did, but back injuries can vary in type and severity, and you may want to ease into them.)

Another good excuse for avoiding deadlifts is that you don’t want to bang up your shins or ruin the smoothness of your hands.

If all else fails, you can probably find a deadlift variation that suits you and your goals. Perhaps a sumo stance if deadlifts make your lower back overly sore. Or perhaps a dumbbell sumo deadlift if you’re working on overcoming a chronic back injury. Or maybe a conventional deadlift if your main goal is to build a thicker torso.

Can You Bulk Without Biceps Curls?

What about skipping curls? Skipping biceps curls has gotten quite common in the strength training community. The most obvious excuse for skipping biceps curls while bulking up is by doing chin-ups “instead.” If you do chin-ups with an underhand grip, they’ll train your biceps just as well as biceps curls would.

Illustration of a man doing biceps curls

However, that excuse fails because of the word “instead.” There’s no reason for it. Doing biceps curls in addition to chin-ups would help you build even bigger biceps, so I can’t think of a good reason not to do both. That’s why some lifts are easier to skip that others.

What Lifts Do You Need to Do While Bulking?

Bulking programs can be quite flexible once you know the rules. If you want a good framework for what lifts to include in your bulking program, here’s our article about how to structure an ideal bulking workout, and here’s our article about the “Big 5” Bulking Lifts. You don’t need to do every lift, and your workout routine doesn’t need to be perfect. So long as you lift weights and eat a good bulking diet, you should be able to make good progress.

If you can’t squat, that’s fine. There’s probably a variation that will suit you, but meh, not squatting isn’t the end of the world. The same is true with deadlifts and, really, any other lift.

The only lift you really can’t skip is the biceps curl. Curls are what bulking is all about.

Illustration of a bodybuilder flexing


You can absolutely bulk on a vegan diet. Many of the longest-living cultures in the world eat a mostly or fully plant-based diet. Furthermore, vegans tend to be in better health than the general population. So compared to the average man, in many ways vegans are starting off at an advantage.

Here’s our full vegan bulking article.

In this post, let’s quickly talk about some common criticisms that vegans face when they try to bulk up.

Vegan Protein Sources

One common criticism of vegan bulking diets is that it’s hard to eat enough protein. However, most people vastly overestimate the amount of protein that’s required to build muscle. Vegans only need around 0.9 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day. For a 150-pound man, that’s around 135 grams of protein per day. That might sound like a lot, but many plant-based foods have some protein in them, and given that bulking requires eating so much food overall, protein tends to accumulate pretty quickly. Plus, you can always get a plant-based protein powder.

Another common criticism is that the protein quality of plant-based foods is poor. The idea here is that since plant-based protein sources aren’t “complete” protein sources (i.e. they don’t contain all the essential amino acids) that they won’t be as good for building muscle. However, a good vegan diet will include a variety of different foods, each of which will be bringing different amino acids to the table. So long as your diet includes a mix of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, peas, and soy, you won’t have any problems with protein quality at all. Plus, pea protein powder is extremely rich in the amino acid leucine, which is great for stimulating muscle growth. (It has even more leucine than whey protein.)

Sometimes you’ll also hear the argument that soy protein is going to raise estrogen and lower testosterone. In large quantities, it might, and we go over that research in our vegan bulking article, but for the most part, no, soy won’t negatively impact your hormones, especially if you consume a balanced diet. (Although you may want to stick to about one serving of soy per day, just to play it totally safe.)

Getting Enough Vitamin B-12, Zinc, and Iron

Finally, there’s the criticism that vegan diets are lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. It’s true that vegan diets tend to be low in low in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B-12. It’s also harder to get enough iron and zinc, among a few others. If you aren’t getting enough of these nutrients, it won’t directly impact your ability to build muscle, but it’s going to negatively affect your health, which can indirectly affect your ability to bulk up. However, most vegans have a pretty simple solution for this: take a multivitamin designed for vegans.

The same can be said about DHA, which can be gotten from algae oil. And creatine, which most people supplement with while bulking up anyway. And protein powder, which is available in plant-based variants (such as pea + rice protein blends.)

Vegan Ectomorphs Can Bulk with the Best of Them

Overall, so long as you’re taking care to eat a balanced and healthy plant-based diet with adequate protein in it, vegans are able to bulk up just as quickly as anyone else. The basic bulking principles are the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to eat the exact same diet. In fact, when comparing different diets, plant-based diets lend themselves quite well to bulking up, given that they’re high in nutritious carbohydrates. (Higher-carb diets tend to be ideal for building muscle.)

As far as our bulking program goes, we practice something called “flexible dieting”, which allows people to eat in a way that best suits them while still getting optimal results. We teach you the principles of a good bulking diet, we give you some sample meal plans, we teach you some good bulking recipes, and then it’s totally up to you what foods you eat. (And yes, our program includes plant-based recipes.)

So, anyway, eating a vegan diet is great for bulking.

Walter's before and after photos from bulking on a plant-based diet


Marco started at 16, I started at 20. By the time I gained my first pound, Marco had gained 63. If I could go back in time, I would have started even younger than Marco. It would have been amazing to be a stronger, healthier and burlier teenager… and the benefits of training during puberty are pretty amazing—especially in the longer term.

This isn’t just my personal opinion—the research unanimously agrees that weightlifting is amazing for kids and teenagers (study, study, study, study, study, study, study).

Here are a couple quotes from some of those studies:

“Although in the past resistance and high-intensity exercise training among young children was the subject of numerous controversies, it is now well-documented that this training mode is a safe and effective means of developing maximal strength, maximal power output and athletic performance in youth, provided that exercises are performed with appropriate supervision and precautions.”

“Several studies provide consistent findings supporting the benefits of repeated, intense physical efforts in young subjects. Improved motor skills and body composition, in terms of increased fat free mass, reduced fat mass and enhanced bone health, have been extensively documented, especially if sport practice began early, when the subjects were pubescent. It can be therefore concluded that strength training is a relatively safe and healthy practice for children and adolescents.”

“Not only is regular physical activity essential for normal growth and development, but also a physically active lifestyle during the pediatric years may help to reduce the risk of developing some chronic diseases later in life. In addition to aerobic activities such as swimming and bicycling, research increasingly indicates that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised.”

“These results emphasize that resistance training provides an effective way for enhancing motor performance in children and adolescents.”

The cool thing about starting young—before and during puberty—is that your body is still growing and adapting. By starting to train like a beast young, you can come out of puberty permanently adapted for the better. Better motor skills, greater bone density, greater muscle-building potential, more brainpower, more willpower, better health, etc.

But you need to do it right. None of those studies recommend just jumping in without any guidance. Here are some tips:

  1. Start with moderate rep ranges in order to give your tendons and ligaments time to adapt. If you’ve never lifted weights before, I wouldn’t go lower than 10 reps for a couple months. Bodybuilding and mobility work first, not straight up strength training. You’ll still build muscle size optimally, but the emphasis on strength will come along in the coming months. (We have introductory phases for beginners that do just this.)
  2. Use progressions. No need to back squat, barbell bench press and barbell deadlift on your first day. I’d recommend starting with simpler progressions, like goblet squats (or split squats), dumbbell bench presses (or push-ups) and dumbbell sumo deadlifts (or rack pulls). They’ll allow you to build muscle quickly and safely, while also developing the strength, mobility and stability to progress.
  3. Use mostly bodyweight and free weights, not machines. Barbells, dumbbells and your own bodyweight allow your body to distribute the load properly and move in a natural way. Machines can force unnatural movement patterns and weird load distributions, making them more dangerous. They aren’t “bad”, just not quite as good at building muscle and not quite as safe.
  4. Ask your parents and doctor.
  5. Choose a good program. I recommend ours 😉

I’ll leave you with Dallas, one of our now-burly high schoolers:

How Old Do You Need to be to Lift Weights / Build Muscle / Become a Beast?


That’s fine—just make sure your old folks’ home has a weight training room. More seriously, age doesn’t play that large a role here. A 2005 study by Hubal found no age-related differences in the ability to build muscle between the ages of 18 and 40—the oldest age they studied (study). They speculate that difficulties in building muscle mass wouldn’t occur until the age of 60.


The fundamentals of building muscle are more or less the same for both men and women. However, it’d sort of be like wearing a man’s clothes. I mean it’d work—you wouldn’t be naked anymore—but it might not produce quite the effect you’re going for.

I’d suggest our sister program, Bony to Bombshell—the weightlifting program for skinny women looking to gain weight and build muscle.


Yes, yes it will. We’re naturally skinny guys too, so believe me, we know! Among your friends you may be the odd one, but around here food is a problem for 90% of us. You’re going to find a community full of picky eaters, fragile digestive systems, unbelievably small stomachs, and people who already eat inhuman amounts and have even more superhuman metabolisms (study, study, study, study, study).

Our job is helping you come up with a solution. We’re good at that. Very very good.


2. Nutrition & Supplement Questions

You can absolutely bulk on a vegan diet. Many of the longest-living cultures in the world eat a mostly or fully plant-based diet. Furthermore, vegans tend to be in better health than the general population. So compared to the average man, in many ways vegans are starting off at an advantage.

Here’s our full vegan bulking article.

In this post, let’s quickly talk about some common criticisms that vegans face when they try to bulk up.

Vegan Protein Sources

One common criticism of vegan bulking diets is that it’s hard to eat enough protein. However, most people vastly overestimate the amount of protein that’s required to build muscle. Vegans only need around 0.9 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day. For a 150-pound man, that’s around 135 grams of protein per day. That might sound like a lot, but many plant-based foods have some protein in them, and given that bulking requires eating so much food overall, protein tends to accumulate pretty quickly. Plus, you can always get a plant-based protein powder.

Another common criticism is that the protein quality of plant-based foods is poor. The idea here is that since plant-based protein sources aren’t “complete” protein sources (i.e. they don’t contain all the essential amino acids) that they won’t be as good for building muscle. However, a good vegan diet will include a variety of different foods, each of which will be bringing different amino acids to the table. So long as your diet includes a mix of grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, peas, and soy, you won’t have any problems with protein quality at all. Plus, pea protein powder is extremely rich in the amino acid leucine, which is great for stimulating muscle growth. (It has even more leucine than whey protein.)

Sometimes you’ll also hear the argument that soy protein is going to raise estrogen and lower testosterone. In large quantities, it might, and we go over that research in our vegan bulking article, but for the most part, no, soy won’t negatively impact your hormones, especially if you consume a balanced diet. (Although you may want to stick to about one serving of soy per day, just to play it totally safe.)

Getting Enough Vitamin B-12, Zinc, and Iron

Finally, there’s the criticism that vegan diets are lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. It’s true that vegan diets tend to be low in low in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B-12. It’s also harder to get enough iron and zinc, among a few others. If you aren’t getting enough of these nutrients, it won’t directly impact your ability to build muscle, but it’s going to negatively affect your health, which can indirectly affect your ability to bulk up. However, most vegans have a pretty simple solution for this: take a multivitamin designed for vegans.

The same can be said about DHA, which can be gotten from algae oil. And creatine, which most people supplement with while bulking up anyway. And protein powder, which is available in plant-based variants (such as pea + rice protein blends.)

Vegan Ectomorphs Can Bulk with the Best of Them

Overall, so long as you’re taking care to eat a balanced and healthy plant-based diet with adequate protein in it, vegans are able to bulk up just as quickly as anyone else. The basic bulking principles are the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to eat the exact same diet. In fact, when comparing different diets, plant-based diets lend themselves quite well to bulking up, given that they’re high in nutritious carbohydrates. (Higher-carb diets tend to be ideal for building muscle.)

As far as our bulking program goes, we practice something called “flexible dieting”, which allows people to eat in a way that best suits them while still getting optimal results. We teach you the principles of a good bulking diet, we give you some sample meal plans, we teach you some good bulking recipes, and then it’s totally up to you what foods you eat. (And yes, our program includes plant-based recipes.)

So, anyway, eating a vegan diet is great for bulking.

Walter's before and after photos from bulking on a plant-based diet


Effectiveness. Creatine does work, but it’s often hard to get an idea of exactly how well it works, since every study has slightly different findings. It seems like if you lift weights well and eat well, creatine can accelerate your gains. That’s important to keep in mind: it will not help you gain muscle if you aren’t already gaining muscle.

For an idea of how well it works, a 2004 study found that the group of participants taking a placebo increased bicep size by 6% over the course of six weeks, whereas the group taking creatine increased their bicep size by 10% (study). A 2010 study had similar findings—creatine increased muscular gains by about 20% (study). These studies are a dime a dozen—there are hundreds confirming the effectiveness of creatine.

It’s not just water weight or anything either—these size increases come along with significant strength increases, and these muscular gains will stick around even if you stop using creatine.

Safety. The only known side-effect of creatine is stomach cramping, which just means that you aren’t digesting it properly. Taking smaller doses and/or drinking more water usually seems to fix that. There are no long-term health issues or anything, and it’s been rigorously and critically studied for several decades now.

Health. Creatine seems to be pretty great for general health in a number of ways, although research is still limited. It’s both cardioprotective and neuroprotective. As for being good for your heart, it seems to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity in guys who exercise (study) and it may help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides (study). For your brain, it may help prevent and treat depression (study) and it’s currently being researched for prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s (study).

This research is all still preliminary though. Most of the research done into creatine has to do with muscle strength, size, power and speed.

If you want a more thorough explanation of creatine, check our article on muscle-building supplements for ectomorphs out.