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:

← Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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