Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat

Do Skinny Guys Need to Squat or Deadlift to Bulk Up?

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

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.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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