Illustration of a skinny man building muscle.

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Newbie Gains

If you’re a skinny guy who’s new to lifting weights, it’s possible to build muscle incredibly quickly. Lifters call this phenomenon “newbie gains,” and it lasts for about a year.

During that first year alone, the average man will often claim to gain around 20 pounds of muscle. Skinny guys often claim to be able to do even better, gaining upwards of 40 pounds in just a single year. Can beginners really build muscle that quickly?

However, although newbie gains seem to allow some beginners to build muscle unbelievably quickly, research shows that other lifters fail to gain any muscle when they first start working out. When that happens, they’re dubbed non-responders. Do non-responders really exist? And if they do, how do you know if you’re a non-responder?

Why are some guys able to build a lifetime of muscle in a single year, whereas other guys spend an entire lifetime unable to build a single year’s worth of muscle?

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

How Quickly Can a Skinny Beginner Gain Muscle?

During my first five weeks of bulking, I gained twelve pounds. My roommate gained 22. But then, after posting our results online, we discovered that what we’d just done was considered scientifically impossible.

The skeptics had a point. That rate of muscle growth is virtually unheard of, even for beginners making newbie gains. For example, here’s a quote from Vice Magazine’s article about how quickly beginners can build muscle:

How fast can you gain muscle naturally? If all the muscle-building stars are aligned—you’re new to lifting weights, eating enough food, lifting weights 4-5 times a week, and in your twenties with a relatively low-stress lifestyle—the average guy can hope to gain around eight or nine pounds of muscle after three months of hard training.

There’s a small mistake there. A single full-body workout will usually stimulate 48–72 hours of muscle growth in a beginner (study). That means that there’s no need for a beginner to work out more than three times per week. In fact, given how sensitive beginners are to muscle damage, extra workouts may slow down muscle growth. It’s only advanced lifters who benefit from training 4–5 times per week (study, study).

But that’s beside the point. Their claim is that a newbie would be lucky to gain 8–9 pounds of muscle during their first three months of lifting. If we look at the research, that’s not quite the case:

  • This study on beginners found that guys were able to gain 9 pounds of muscle during their first 8 weeks of working out.
  • In this study, a group of untrained beginners were able to gain an average of 12 pounds of muscle during their first 10 weeks of working out.
  • In another study, beginners were able to gain 15 pounds of muscle during their first 12 weeks of lifting weights.

The average beginner in these studies is gaining more than a pound of lean mass per week for several months in a row. This clearly shows that it’s not only possible to gain muscle at an extremely rapid rate, but that by implementing certain training and dietary interventions, we can reliably produce these rapid rates of muscle growth in the average beginner.

On that note, these rates of muscle growth are the average of all the participants. We’re not looking at case studies of people who were able to gain muscle quickly, we’re just taking a random sampling and looking at the average rates of muscle growth.

If the stars were aligned for a particular person, we’d expect them to gain muscle even more quickly than that. After all, even if their circumstances are the same, genetics must play a role in how quickly a beginner can build muscle, right? To see whether that assumption is true, we can look at the research on how rates of muscle growth vary between individuals. For example, this study found that:

  • The average beginner was able to add 2 inches to their biceps in 12 weeks
  • Some beginners were able to add up to 5 inches to their biceps in 12 weeks
  • Other guys lost muscle, despite following the exact same workout routine

There are a couple of interesting things about this study. First, it shows that some beginners can gain muscle almost three times as quickly as others. Second, it shows the phenomenon of “non-responders.” Some beginners don’t gain any muscle whatsoever when they start lifting weights.

Now, if you’re like me, you might assume that as naturally skinny “hardgainers” or “ectomorphs,” we have poor muscle-building genetics, right? After all, the term hardgainer makes it sound like we should have a hard time building muscle, right? But that’s not the case. Hardgainers have a hard time gaining weight, not a hard building muscle.

This is where things get interesting:

  • Skinny guys can build muscle more quickly than the average person. Our bones can only support a certain amount of muscle, and as we get closer to that limit, our rate of muscle growth slows. That means that the less muscle we have on our bones, the more quickly we can fill our frames out. Because we’re starting out less muscular, we can build muscle more quickly.
  • The “non-responders” in these studies don’t necessarily have bad muscle-building genetics. The rate that we build muscle is limited by the rate that we’re gaining weight. After all, if we aren’t eating enough calories to gain weight, how can we expect to gain muscle? That’s even more true if we’re already lean. For instance, the only way to go from 130 pounds up to 150 pounds is to gain weight, and so if we aren’t gaining weight, we won’t build muscle. This can create the illusion that we have poor muscle-building genetics when in fact we’re merely struggling to gain weight in general.
  • Non-responders aren’t necessarily skinny. As a skinny guy who was having trouble building muscle, whenever I would hear the term “non-responder,” I’d assume that they were talking about skinny guys like me. But that’s not the case. A lot of the non-responders in these studies are guys who gain fat instead of muscle when gaining weight. As a result, non-responders are more likely to be skinny-fat guys. These aren’t the guys who have trouble gaining weight, they’re the guys who have trouble with nutrient partitioning. (And there are solutions for that, too.)
Illustration showing a skinny hardgainer rapidly building muscle.

The first reason that I was able to gain twelve pounds during my first month of lifting weights wasn’t that I had exceptional muscle-building genetics, it’s because I was skinny. When I first started lifting weights, I had a BMI of 16.7. I was clinically underweight, and my doctor was urging me to bulk up for the health benefits. My roommate was in the same situation, with his doctor prescribing him pain medication for various weakness-related issues, such as tendonitis.

When we started hypertrophy training, eating a big bulking diet, and improving our sleep, our bodies exploded into growth. We were so underweight that our bodies were desperate for that extra muscle mass. Our newbie gains were so dramatic because our lanky frames still had so much room for muscle growth.

David Epstein, the author of The Sports Gene, found that each pound of bone can support five pounds of muscle. So if right now you’re shaped more by your bone structure than your muscle mass, you’ve still got plenty of room for muscle growth, allowing you to have more extreme newbie gains.

The second reason that I was able to gain muscle so quickly was that I was eating a good bulking diet. I was making sure to eat enough protein, I was getting most of my extra calories from carbohydrates, and I was eating close to a thousand extra calories every single day (which may have been overkill). I wasn’t just in a calorie surplus, I was in a huge calorie surplus.

The third reason, of course, was that I was following a good workout program. The quality of our workout program (and how consistently we follow it) has a huge impact on how quickly we can build muscle. Most studies that produce great newbie gains put beginners on a great workout program and then force the participants to follow it with perfect consistency.

There’s an important caveat to mention here. The studies that succeed in getting these insane rates of muscle growth aren’t the ones using generic fitness routines or strength training programs, they’re the ones where the participants are put on programs designed to stimulate maximal amounts of muscle growth—hypertrophy training routines.

Within four months, I’d gained over twenty pounds of muscle while losing a significant amount of fat:

The science of newbie gains, and how quickly a beginner can gain muscle when they first start lifting weights

I wasn’t even a total beginner during this transformation. I’d already gained twenty pounds, going from 130 up to 150 pounds. This set of progress photos was from the middle of my transformation, showing me going from 150 up to 170 pounds.

Here’s the entirety of my newbie gains, showing 55 pounds of drug-free muscle growth over the course of a couple of years:

Newbie Gains Explained: How quickly can a beginner build muscle when he starts working out?

Now, a common objection that people make when guys claim to gain muscle this quickly is that it’s not all muscle. They argue that a huge proportion of the weight gain is fat or other tissue. In my case, I got a DEXA scan showing that I had a body-fat percentage of 10.8%, which seems to be even lower than when I started:

When someone gains weight quickly, is it muscle or fat?

However, it is true that not all of our lean gains are muscle. If we’re speaking totally accurately, we’d be talking about gains in “fat-free mass” rather than gains in muscle mass. Our organs can grow, our skin needs to cover a greater area, our bones grow denser, and a bunch of other great things. It’s true that it’s not all muscle, even if it looks that way.

The next thing to keep in mind is that newbie gains aren’t linear. Rather, as we build more muscle, our rate of muscle growth gradually slows. The closer we get towards your genetic potential, the more our growth will slow. So when people talk about how it’s unrealistic to gain muscle this quickly, they’re mostly right. During most periods of our training, this isn’t possible. It’s only possible when we’re beginners, when we’re far away from our genetic potential, or when we’re recovering lost muscle mass after a period of weight loss or detraining.

But if you’re a skinny guy who’s desperate to build muscle, none of that matters. Because skinny guys are starting so far away from their potential, their newbie gains are more dramatic and last quite a bit longer. We are able to go through a rapid period of growth.

For an example of how this works, let’s compare ourselves against the average man. The average man starts off with roughly eighty pounds of muscle on his frame. If we imagine a skinny guy who’s starting with just forty pounds of muscle on his frame—which isn’t uncommon for skinny guys—then he’s essentially starting off behind the starting line, and so his newbie gains will look more like this:

Regardless of where you’re starting, though, your first workout will produce the most muscle growth, your second workout will produce slightly less, and so on. By the time you get to your hundredth workout, you’ll be gaining muscle at a noticeably slower rate. Your newbie gains will have gradually run dry. (Mind you, this assumes that you’re actually building a little bit of muscle every week. If you aren’t making any progress, then you aren’t “using up” your newbie gains, you’re just spinning your weight plates. We only “use up” our newbie gains as we inch closer to our genetic muscular potential.)

Because the rate of muscle growth slows even in the midst of our newbie gains, we can divide newbie gains up into two stages:

  • Early-stage newbie gains (months 0–3): the average newbie can expect to gain up to 15 pounds of muscle within their first three months of working out, but if you’re a naturally skinny, you can expect to gain even more. We often see skinny guys gaining upwards of 20 pounds within three months. Sometimes more.
  • Late-stage newbie gains (months 3–12): as you become more muscular, you’ll start to gain muscle more slowly. It might take another 6–9 months to double that initial amount of muscle mass that you gained. For the average guy, that might bring his newbie gains to 20–25 pounds within his first year of lifting weights. For a skinny guy, that would bring his newbie gains to upwards of 40 pounds within his first year.

Just to reiterate, though, all of this depends on how skinny you are right now. If you’re only a little bit more skinny than average, then your newbie gains will be more like the average man’s. If you’re like me, though, where you’re starting off quite underweight and under-muscled, then you can expect to build muscle far more quickly.

Also keep in mind that these rapid rates of muscle growth assume that right from your very first workout, you’re following a near-perfect bulking program. In real life, it’s rare for a beginner to know how to bulk. It usually takes a lifter a few years to get his newbie gains as he gradually learns how to train, eat, and adjust his lifestyle for muscle growth. In fact, some guys spend entire lifetimes weight training without getting their newbie gains. They still have an incredible potential for rapid muscle growth, they just never figure out how to do it.

For instance, if we look at something like sleep, we see that simply learning how to improve our sleep can speed up our rate of muscle growth by 30%:

Graph showing faster muscle growth with sleep optimization.

It’s also fairly common to go through a period of accidentally gaining too much fat—dreamer bulking—which can mean spending a couple of months trimming off that extra fat. I’ve certainly gone through that phase. That can be frustrating in a different way. If you do enough things incorrectly, you can wind up gaining too much fat while bulking, losing too much muscle while cutting, and getting stuck in skinny-fat purgatory, where you never figure out how to become lean and muscular.

Again, if we look at something like sleep, we see that it can have a huge impact on the rate of muscle-to-fat gain. Look at these differences in fat gain simply from differences in sleep optimization:

Graph showing fat loss from improved sleep.

You can imagine how the quality of someone’s training program could have a massive impact on their rate of muscle growth, especially since hypertrophy training combines together so many different factors: which lifts we do, how we do those lifts, how long we rest between sets, how many sets we do, how often we train each muscle group, and so on.

So this idea of quickly and leanly building muscle hinges upon proper hypertrophy training, eating a good bulking diet, and making the proper lifestyle adjustments, and a beginner who’s trying to put these pieces together by themselves probably won’t do a very good job. And that’s okay. Most of them improve over time. But you can see how the rapid rates of muscle growth we see in the research don’t necessarily apply to the average person putting together their own bulking routine.

Newbie gains explained: how much muscle can a skinny beginning gain in a year

But if you’re starting out skinny and you jump right into a professionally programmed bulking routine that teaches you how to do proper hypertrophy training, how to eat a good bulking diet, and how to make the right lifestyle changes (such as our bulking program), then it’s realistic to gain a full forty pounds during your first year of bulking.

Can You Still Make Newbie Gains?

One of the most common questions we get asked is about whether people can still make newbie gains. Oftentimes, people are worried that by training inefficiently in the gym, they’ve used up their newbie gains without building very much muscle.

Fortunately, that’s not how it works. Newbie gains have nothing to do with how many times you’ve tried to build muscle, they only have to do with how much muscle you’ve actually built. So if you’re training inefficiently or failing to eat enough calories or protein, you can stay a newbie for several years—even an entire lifetime.

The reason I say “fortunately” is that you can’t “use up” your newbie gains that way. They’ll be waiting for you when you start training and dieting properly for muscle growth. No need to worry about not having gotten off to a strong start.

Before I succeed at gaining my first twenty pounds, I had tried and failed to build muscle six times. That was irrelevant to my newbie gains, though, because failing to build muscle wasn’t bringing me any closer to my muscle-building potential. When I finally started bulking properly, all of a sudden I started building muscle quite quickly.

If you aren’t muscular yet, you can still make newbie gains. To understand why newbie gains work this way, we need to look at what’s going on inside our muscle fibres.

Why Do We Get Newbie Gains?

If you haven’t gotten your newbie gains yet, your muscle fibres are thin and only have a few nuclei in them. Even though your muscle fibres only have a few nuclei in them, though, that’s already quite remarkable. Most cells in our bodies have just one nucleus, which puts a strict limit on how big they can get.

Muscle fibre diagram for newbie gains

To understand how these special “myonuclei” work, the researcher Greg Nuckols uses the analogy of a wifi router. The wifi router can project an internet signal a certain distance. Once you get too far from the signal, your device can no longer connect. Myonuclei function the same way. Each one can only handle an area so big. That area is called the maximum myonuclear domain.

Our muscle fibres are made to adapt, though. These extra nuclei allow our muscles to grow quickly based on short-term needs, and then in the longer term, we can add nuclei to our muscle fibres, allowing us to build even more muscle. That means that building muscle, at least as a newbie, comes down to:

  • Filling out your nuclear domains with muscle.
  • Adding new nuclei to expand your domain.

Now comes the question, how do we fill out our nuclear domains and add new nuclei? Our muscles get a growth stimulus when we lift things. We can get this growth stimulus from carrying groceries, carrying around boxes at work, running up flights of stairs, and from certain types of physical activity, such as gymnastics and wrestling.

However, if we’re trying to build muscle quickly and efficiently, we can stimulate muscle growth much more effectively with resistance training, which ranges from bodyweight training to resistance bands to weight training, all of which are designed to cause muscular adaptations. Of these types of training, weight training generally makes it easier to build muscle, but all can work.

Even within the realm of resistance training, though, there are several different ways of training. The style that’s designed to stimulate a maximal amount of muscle growth is called hypertrophy training. (“Muscle hypertrophy” simply means muscle growth.)

Illustration showing a man doing a snatch.
Olympic Weightlifting.

Hypertrophy training is its own style of training. It’s different from strength training, such as Starting Strength and Stronglifts 5×5, which are designed to help us contract our muscle fibres more forcefully. It’s also different from power training, such as Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, which are designed to teach us how to contract our muscle fibres more explosively. Now, to be clear, these different styles of weight training do stimulate muscle growth, just not as much growth as hypertrophy training.

Illustration of a geared powerlifter doing a barbell back squat in a squat suit and knee wraps.

With hypertrophy training, we’re not only trying to make our muscle fibres stronger (by adding contractile tissue), but we’re also trying to increase their work capacity (by adding sarcoplasm). So with Olympic weightlifting, we might do sets of three quick and explosive reps. With strength training, we might do sets of five reps, slowly grinding through the sticking point on the final reps. With hypertrophy training, we often spend most of our time doing sets of 6–20 reps. There are two reasons for this:

  • The more repetitions we do per set, the more overall weight we lift. For instance, if we do five reps with 225 pounds, that’s 1250 pounds lifted. Someone who can do five reps with 225 pounds is typically able to lift 175 pounds for twelve reps, which is 2100 pounds lifted. That’s 68% more weight being lifted. A systematic review of the research found that this appears to increase the amount of muscle growth we stimulate per set, perhaps simply due to greater amounts of overall mechanical tension.
  • The more overall weight we need to lift without rest, the more fuel our muscles need to store. Our muscles aren’t just made up of contractile tissue, they’re also made up of sarcoplasm—fuel. When we lift in moderate rep ranges, our muscles adapt by storing more of this fuel, which is often referred to as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This gives our muscles greater strength endurance and makes them much bigger.

For an example of how rep ranges can affect muscle growth, a study by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, found that doing 2–4 reps per set increased quad muscle size by 4% over ten weeks, which is great. But doing 8–12 reps increased quad size by 10% over that same ten-week period. By lifting in the proper rep range for hypertrophy, muscle growth was more than doubled.

Graph showing varying rates of muscle growth.

With hypertrophy training, we’re also choosing lifts that are designed to stimulate muscle growth throughout our bodies. We’re favouring larger ranges of motion, keeping constant tension on our muscles, and challenging them in a stretched position.

Graph showing the difference in muscle growth when training with long and short muscles lengths.

For an example of why that matters, a meta-analysis found that challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulates nearly three times as much muscle growth as challenging our muscles in a contracted position.

Graph showing triceps muscle growth from the bench press and triceps extensions.

For a final example, if we look at triceps growth, we see that we can build twice as much muscle mass by doing triceps extensions after the bench press as we would with just the bench press alone. (This is because the long head of the triceps crosses the shoulder joint and thus doesn’t activate very well in pressing movements.) With a smart combination of exercises, again, we can radically increase our rate of muscle growth.

So different styles of weight training favour different lifts, different rep ranges, different lifting tempos, and different training volumes, all designed to yield different adaptations. And so when we’re min-maxing every factor to stimulate faster rates of muscle growth, we can build muscle at an impressive pace, especially as skinny beginners.

Okay, so this explains a little bit about what’s going on inside our muscle fibres, why different styles of training provoke stimulate amounts of growth, and why a good hypertrophy training program can be so powerful. But why does our rate of muscle growth start off so fast and then slow down over time?

Early-Stage Newbie Gains: Claiming Your Domain

When you first start bulking, your muscle fibres quickly expand to the limit of their nuclear domains, as shown below. You can expect your muscle fibres to grow 15–27% before hitting that limit (study).

Newbie gains science diagram

Going back to the analogy of the wifi router, you can build muscle within your current wifi range without needing to make any real structural changes. Since beginners aren’t near the end of their range yet, this makes the first phase of building muscle quite quick and easy. In fact, this early stage of newbie gains is so quick and explosive that it’s described as steroid-like growth. 

This stage will last until you’ve maximized your nuclear domains. At that point, if your muscle fibres were to grow any bigger, your nuclei would lose control of them, and so your body halts muscle growth until it can install new wifi routers—add new nuclei. As you can imagine, it’s common for people to hit a plateau at this point.

This first plateau can be confusing. The methods that helped you gain your first ten or twenty pounds might not be enough to stimulate further muscle growth. For example, if I want to use wifi from the balcony, I can sit right next to the door and get a signal. Working from there is no problem. But if I want to work from the far side of my balcony, well, there’s no signal there. I’d need to go to the store and get a new router, which is a bit of a pain. Nothing has forced me to go through that effort, and so I haven’t ever bothered.

This same sort of thing happens with muscle growth. Your body doesn’t want to go through the effort of adding new nuclei to your muscle fibres unless you give it a strong enough incentive. That’s why the quality of our workout programs, how much effort we exert when training, and how consistent we are becomes ever more important as we continue building muscle.

But let’s say your workout routine and diet are good enough to stimulate more muscle growth. At that point, you’ll start making a new kind of adaptation: adding new nuclei to your muscle fibres.

Late-Stage Newbie Gains: Expanding Your Domain

Once you’ve reached the edge of your wifi range, the low-hanging fruits are gone, and it’s time to install new routers so that we can build your muscles even bigger.

Now, if you’ve been following good hypertrophy routine, your body will have been doing this all along. These processes can blend together. Right from your first workout, you’ll begin adding new nuclei to your muscle fibres (study). However, during the early stage of newbie gains, since all of your domains weren’t maximized yet, there was almost no limit to how quickly you could build muscle. You were adding new nuclei, yes, but you weren’t being limited by them yet.

Now that you’ve maximized those domains, from this point forward, every pound of muscle you gain will need to be preceded by gaining new nuclei:

Newbie gains science diagram

You add new nuclei to your muscle fibres by growing satellite cells and then fusing them into your muscle fibres. When your muscle fibre consumes a satellite cell, it gains that satellite cell’s nuclei. Muscle growth via cannibalism, but in a wonderful way.

This allows for even more muscle growth, and this is where most of your overall muscle growth will come from. At first, this growth can be quite quick. This is the stage of newbie gains is where guys gain another 10–20 pounds of muscle over the course of another few months.

And this is where the magic happens. The growth isn’t quite as quick, no, but the changes in your body are far more exciting. By adding new nuclei to your muscle fibres, you’re improving your ability to turn protein into muscle, you’re improving your insulin sensitivity, and you’re improving your ability to clear sugar from our blood, making you naturally leaner and more muscular. Best of all, these changes are permanent. You’re essentially improving your genetics.

You aren’t just carrying your computer to the limit of your wifi signal anymore, you’re installing new routers (that last forever) and expanding your domain. This allows you to make your muscle fibres much bigger (study).

This is when building muscle really starts to have a profound impact on our long-term health and appearance. This is how you build a strong and healthy body that lasts.

The End of Newbie Gains: Growing Tougher

As you push deeper into building muscle, you’ll start to notice that your muscles are adapting in two separate ways:

  1. Lifting makes your muscles grow bigger: This first adaptation is the one we all know and love. After a good workout, your muscles will rebuild themselves bigger so that next time, they are strong enough.
  2. Lifting makes your muscles grow tougher: This new, second adaptation is more nuanced. After a good workout, your muscles will rebuild themselves in a more durable way so that they won’t be as easily damaged next time. This is called the repeated bout effect (RBE).

The first adaptation is what newbie gains are all about: we build bigger, stronger muscles. The second adaptation is the opposite of that: our muscles grow more resilient, harder to stimulate, and more resistant to growth. You’ll notice this happening, too. As a beginner, it’s common to be brutally sore for a full week after a hard workout. During that time, your muscles will be so inflamed that you’ll feel like a cripple. After a year of lifting, though, you’ll be lifting twice as much weight, doing far more sets, pushing closer to failure, and yet your workouts will barely even make you sore. At best, you might feel a massage-like soreness deep within your muscles. It’s not the same as the soreness that prevented you from getting out of bed in the morning.

Growing tougher is technically a good thing. Your muscles are gaining the ability to do more work without sustaining as much damage. You can carry heavier things for greater distances and wake up feeling fresh the next day. Without a doubt, this is an upgrade to your body and your health. You are no longer fragile. However, if your goal is to continue building muscle, this can be a big problem. Your body is (literally) making itself immune to your workouts.

You’ve gone from gaining over a pound per week (early-stage newbie gains) to gaining around a pound per week (late-stage newbie gains), and now even that pace is impossible. Your newbie gains are grinding to a halt.

The good news is that by the time newbie gains end, the average lifter will have gained a good twenty pounds of muscle over the course of a year. By the time a skinny guy finishes making his newbie gains, he’ll have gained a whopping 40–60 pounds of muscle over the course of a couple of years, depending on how skinny he starts.

By this point, you’ll have quite a muscular physique. And that brings us to the final and most brutal stage of adaptation: building new muscle fibres.

What Happens After Newbie Gains?

As we mentioned earlier, these stages all blend together. You can continue adding nuclei to your muscle fibres for quite a long time, just with increasingly diminishing returns. If you’ve been bulking steadily, by the time you finish your second year of serious hypertrophy training (including training, diet, and lifestyle), you’ll probably be about 80% of the way to your genetic muscular potential. Again, most people don’t build muscle anywhere close to that efficiently, and even the people who bulk properly often take some breaks here and there, but it can happen.

Diagram of muscle fibres splitting into multiple fibres

At this point, your muscle fibres will be as large as those of an athlete, strongman, and bodybuilder (study). You won’t be quite as big as them yet, though, and the reason for that isn’t totally clear. They might have more muscle fibres, but it’s hard to say for sure.

We’re at the advanced muscle-building stage now, which is beyond the scope of this article. That’s a good thing, too, because this advanced muscle growth science is highly theoretical. We know that elite powerlifters have more muscle fibres than intermediate lifters, and we also know that animals are able to create new muscle fibres. With those two facts, we can infer that men are able to build new muscle fibres. But we don’t know for sure.

But the good news is that by this point, you’ll be muscular. And not just more muscular than average, but impressively muscular. You’ll have a strong physique that looks great. Continuing to make progress will be slower and harder than ever before, but you’ll already have a physique that you can be proud of.

And let me tell you, weight training when I was skinny, underweight, and out of shape was a very different experience from lifting weights now that I feel fit and strong. I like this tougher, fitter, stronger body, and so it’s fun to lift weights.


When we first start lifting weights, our muscles are sensitive to the stress of lifting weights. It doesn’t take much to stimulate a ton of muscle growth or cause crippling muscle soreness. As we adapt to that stress, we grow bigger, stronger, and also tougher. This process of growing tougher is called the repeated bout effect (RBE), and it allows us to handle harder training, but it also makes it harder to continue stimulating muscle growth. This is one reason why beginners are able to build muscle so quickly.

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

But the main reason that beginners are able to gain muscle so quickly is because of how far away from our genetic muscular potential we are. When our frames have plenty of room for muscle growth, our bodies build muscle extremely fast. This period of rapid growth is often referred to as newbie gains.

What’s interesting about newbie gains is that because our rate of muscle growth is determined by how far away from our genetic potential we are, it means that skinnier people are starting further away from their genetic potential, and are thus able to gain muscle even more quickly than the average beginner:

Before and after photo of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular.

As a result, skinny beginners are often able to bulk much more aggressively, gaining muscle much faster (and often more leanly) than the average beginner. This accelerated rate of muscle growth slows as we become more muscular, but by then we’re no longer skinny.

However, these rapid rates of muscle growth hinge on following a good hypertrophy training program, eating a good bulking diet, and making the proper lifestyle changes. Most beginners, understandably, don’t know how to do that very well. It takes the average beginner a few years to learn how to combine the various variables together. That’s why you’ll often see such differing rates of muscle growth between research participants, people following dedicated hypertrophy programs, and people winging it in the gym.

If you want to learn how to train, eat, and adjust your lifestyle for muscle growth, along with a full 5-month hypertrophy workout routine, videos teaching all of the lifts, and personal guidance from us in the member community, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. The workout routine and exercise videos are made by Marco Walker-Ng, BHSc, PTS, PN, a professional (and certified) strength and diet coach with a health science degree, who has helped college, professional, and Olympic athletes bulk up, as well as nearly 10,000 naturally skinny guys.

We’re totally confident that you can do this by yourself. Many skinny guys do. But if you want help, we can help you build muscle faster.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. Ashish on December 16, 2016 at 2:02 am

    Nice article. You are being blessed by so many skinny people. Keep it up.
    I can relate it to many things but still there are some questions roaming around in my mind.

    I am training since 3 years. The first 2 years I did weight training. I even hired an online coaching and followed 3 day full body workouts. My strength increased but unfortunately no change in body measurements or the mirror.
    So since last 1 year I started with progressive calisthenics. Again my strength keeps increasing gradually but no change in measurements. Although I look better in mirror now and specially my arms feel “filled” at the same size. Still no vein can be seen on arms. Whatever I try to do I cant seem to gain size.

    During the entire 3 year period I tried to eat more. But at one point if I try to eat even more, I feel bloated and gassy.

    What could be the reason behind this? And can “The Bony to Beastly program” help with it??

    Thanks in advance and sorry for the long post.

    • Shane Duquette on December 16, 2016 at 10:48 am

      Hey Ashish, the reason why you’re gaining strength but not size with both strength training is that strength training is designed to make us stronger for our size. Lifting in lower rep ranges does a better job of improving our motor unit recruitment and “neural gains,” but it’s not very good for stimulating muscle growth. Calisthenics can be good for building muscle, and we have a bodyweight hypertrophy training article, but a lot of bodyweight workout routines do a better job of improving our coordination, balance, or cardiovascular fitness than stimulating muscle growth. If you’re trying to stimulate muscle growth, it’s better to train directly for muscle growth: hypertrophy training (aka bodybuilding).

      The reason why you didn’t gain weight even after two years of lifting, and even after your coordination gains surely plateaued, is because you weren’t eating enough calories to gain weight. If there isn’t a consistent calorie surplus, you won’t gain weight. If you aren’t gaining weight, you can’t really add much muscle mass. In addition to training for muscle growth, we also need to eat for muscle growth. But, yeah, force-feeding yourself is a miserable way to live. Like you noticed, it just makes us feel bloated, gassy, and tired. Even though we don’t need to bulk forever, we do need to bulk for a few months in a row to see lasting and remarkable changes. That means finding a way to eat more calories that doesn’t make you feel awful. We’ve written about that extensively.

      Can the Bony to Beastly Program help? Absolutely! The program is written by skinny guys who struggle to eat enough for skinny guys who struggle to eat enough. Most of us have tried to build muscle and failed for the same reasons you have. I sure have.

      • Ashish on December 22, 2016 at 8:32 pm

        How to know whether one is gaining muscle or fat while gaining weight? Thanks.

        • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 9:58 am

          Getting a DEXA scan is one of the more accurate ways of measuring your body-fat percentage, but it’s expensive and a hassle. As a result, most bodybuilders use a skinfold caliper to measure their skinfold thickness. There’s a learning curve to that, but it works quite well for tracking changes in body-fat percentage.

          But most recreational lifters are mainly interested in their body-fat percentage because of how it affects their appearance. If that’s the case, it’s usually best just to gauge your body-fat percentage by looking at your appearance. That’s what we care about, right? So that’s what we should measure. We talk about how to do that in our article about body-fat percentage.

          • oscar on March 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

            I can see my abs in good lighting, else it disappears lol, but there is no bulge either way. So do I assume it’s less than 15% at least?

          • Shane Duquette on March 18, 2017 at 10:55 am

            Sounds like you’re in that sub-15% neighbourhood, yeah 🙂

  2. Nate on December 20, 2016 at 3:13 am

    How would one know if they have spent some or all of their newbie gains ?
    Since they are dependant on nutrition surplus one would not expect gains in a cut, even though fat loss can look like gains.
    I measure nearly 100% exactly the same as day one. Aside from losses in pants size. So I expect I still have most of not all my potential gains ahead of me assuming I hit my feeding goals when I do begin a ‘bulk’

    • Shane Duquette on December 20, 2016 at 10:26 am

      Heya Nate! You’re getting the other benefits of being a newbie: being able to build a little muscle while losing fat. For every pound of muscle you gain, that’s a little bit of newbie gains you’re using up, but I suspect by the time you lean out to your liking, you’ll still have some easy gains when you transition to your bulk 🙂

      • Nate on December 22, 2016 at 5:00 am

        It was a good article. With good news.
        I’m curious if there are examples of this in connection with age.
        But I’m game to find out from practical experience myself either way.

        • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 9:55 am

          There are some differences with age, and also with how long you’ve been inactive. So a guy who hasn’t been exercising for 40 years is in a different situation from a guy who hasn’t been exercising for 5 years. However, the best study to date found no differences in the rate that men built muscle between the ages of 18–40, suspecting that it would carry on that way up until about 60.

  3. Luke on December 20, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    How many pounds do you think you should put on (on average) before you start to ‘lean’ bulk (lower caloric surplus). I ask because I’ve gained about 20lb over the last 12-14 weeks while staying relatively lean, however I’m struggling to maintain gaining 2lbs a week, it seems every time I put on an extra 2-3 pounds I have to up my calorie intake, but at what point should I start expecting to put on more fat than muscle?
    Ideally I would like to gain about 10lb in the next 5-6 weeks leanly and then slow the bulk down to 1lb a week maximum, or do you think trying to force 2lb for the next few weeks would just cause fat gain?
    Thanks guys.

    • Shane Duquette on December 20, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Hey Luke, congrats on the 20-pound gain! That’s awesome 😀

      I would gear down your caloric surplus and start gaining around 1 pound per week at around the +12 point. You’ve gone further, and that’s great, but that’s generally the point where we at least need to start really making sure the gains are lean. So at +20 now, I think it’s probably time to slow down. We’ve seen guys go further, so I won’t say it’s impossible, but that would be my advice.

      So yes, I think trying to force it during these next few weeks is more risk than it’s worth. Better to arrive at your goal a few weeks later but with way better muscle definition.

  4. Clarke on December 23, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Hey guys!
    When doing half kneeling landmine presses, i feel my triceps wprking instead of my shoulders. What may i be doing wrong?

    • Shane Duquette on June 9, 2020 at 1:10 pm

      That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s a compound lift that works both your shoulders and your triceps. It’s normal for one of those two muscles to be worked harder than the other. However, you might want to make sure that you’re getting your range of motion in your shoulder joint, not just in your elbow joint. It’s a little bit hard to explain with just text but bring your elbows all the way down, back in line with your torso, before pressing the weight back up again.

      Push-ups and the bench press (especially with a narrower grip) also train the fronts of your shoulders, so don’t worry too much if the landmine press is mainly a triceps exercise for you 🙂

  5. Tony on December 24, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Do you think gaining muscle has any effect on the skin? I don’t know why but the pictures B2B members posted show not only a muscle gain but also a healthier skin. A more tanned skin if that makes sense haha
    I wonder if it has anything to do with that too.

    • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 10:04 am

      I’m not sure if having more muscle mass would have any effect, but the diet and exercise that goes along with it sure is. When we exercise and eat well, it improves the balance of red and yellow in our skin tone. For example, one way that regular exercise helps is by leading to a higher level of oxygenated blood, giving us a healthier tone.

      You could probably build muscle without improving your skin tone, though, or improve your skin tone without building muscle. Depends on the manner in which you do it. In our program we take a pretty health-conscious approach to it, so most guys look and feel healthier by the end of it, not just bigger and stronger.

      Even then, some of the difference in skin tone that you see might be lighting or an actual tan. Someone might start the program in the winter and finish in the summer (or vis versa).

  6. Erick on December 28, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    What should someone do if he finishes your program, but would like to grow even more? Start it again from the beginning with heavier weights, or what?

    Is it just me, or you, naturally skinny guys doesnt look broad from the side, even after bulking up a lot? My friend has a bmi of 27, has flat stomach, but still looks somewhat lean and skinnyish at his lats..? Only steroid users will have full looking shoulders and back?

    • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Hey Erick. Some guys have gone through the main program a few times, but there are other options too. When someone graduates from the program, we give them another 5-week bonus phase. Just for being a member in the community, though, and a yearlong membership comes with the Bony to Beastly Program, we give you advanced workouts. You’d pick an advanced program based on your goals, and then every month you’d get a new 4-week phase that has you progressing through that new program. When you finish it, you pick a new one.

      You can become quite a lot thicker by developing your entire back (including spinal erectors), entire bore and your chest. However, there’s only so much you can do. Many naturally skinny guys have thin ribcages. We’re shaped more like a deck of cards than a barrel. No amount of bulking (or steroids) will affect this. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter that much. You can become very strong and very attractive without needing to worry much about the shape of your ribcage. For some recognizable examples, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale—all guys with thinner ribcages.

  7. S on December 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Just to confirm, if you have been training consistently for many years, but have not even gained 1 KG on the scales then you can still gain ‘newbie gains’ in the same way someone who follows the B2B program has never really lifted before and is a ‘newbie’.

    Just concerned that my body thinks I’m an experienced lifter and won’t be fooled into getting newbie gains if that makes sense.

    • Shane Duquette on December 28, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Hey S.


      If you haven’t built any muscle mass yet, you haven’t maximized your myonuclear domains any more than a beginner has. So yes, your newbie gains are still waiting for you 🙂

  8. nate on December 29, 2016 at 2:05 am

    was wondering if you guys have a sale going on this month for the bony to beastly program? i just came across your site on the internet and found your site to be very informative

    • Shane Duquette on December 29, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Glad you’ve been liking the site, Nate! We’ve only ever run one sale in the history of our company… but if you get on the newsletter asap, you might get an email with some good news in it in a few days.

  9. Krsiak Daniel on January 7, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Love this article, great read! As usual but I really liked this one 🙂 Wish I read something like this when I started but I can relate so much now. Mostly on the failing part 😀 But as you said it is true, over time, gains do come and show. Keep up the great articles guys 😉

    • Shane Duquette on January 7, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      Thank you, Daniel! “Mostly on the failing part” Lol! Ahaha but your progress updates also tend to have happy endings. You must’ve done that prototypical hero’s journey like a dozen times by now.

  10. Max on January 10, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Hey Shane,

    I’m a former NCAA cross country athlete on a mission to go from bony to beastly. I’m not running 80 miles a week anymore, tired of having the body of an 11 year boy and want to gain some weight/muscle. However, I’m a bit confused. In this article you mention that we need to aim for protein rich meals for each meal, but I also read in another article on Bony to Beastly that most of our diet should come from carbohydrates (70% or something like that?). I tried a protein-dominate diet a few months ago where I was eating heavy protein meals like every 2-3 hours and… it didn’t work. I gained about 10lbs but plateaued right there and couldn’t get above 150lbs. Without making this a long story, I took a break after failing but now I’m giving it another shot and this time with the carbohydrate approach (based off one of your articles).

    If my goal is to gain 20-25 lbs, could you clarify where the bulk of my diet should come from? (Carbs or protein)

    Thanks in advance and sorry for the long post!

    • Shane Duquette on January 11, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Hey Max,

      Both are true, and not conflicting at all. Ideally you want roughly 0.8–1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day, 20+ grams of protein in each meal, and 50% or more of your calories coming from carbs. That all fits. If you have 4–5 meals per day, that’s just 80–100 grams of protein if you have 20 grams of protein with each meal. That’s not very much protein, and you’ll actually probably want a little more. Still, all of those meals can be at least half carbs.

      Eating too much protein won’t stall progress directly, but it might make it harder to eat a lot, and that will make it harder to get into a calorie surplus. Not being in a calorie surplus will always plateau your gains. A good solution for that, as outlined in the other article, is to consume more macros that are easier to eat in bulk, like carbohydrates: rice, dried fruit, bananas, pasta, maltodextrin, milk, beans, grains, smoothies, juice, etc.

      Good luck on your bulk!! 🙂

      • Max on January 11, 2017 at 2:08 pm

        Okay, so what you’re saying is my daily diet should roughly consist of at least 50% from carbs, 20% (or more) from protein, and the remaining 20% in healthy fats, etc. Is that correct? (I started using the myfitnesspal app so I’m kind of using the daily pie charts from Calorie and Macronutrient goals feature to better understand)

        Seriously, thank you so much for being available and willing to answer our questions. You are the man!

        • Max on January 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm

          *** sorry for the math typo… Obviously 50+20+20 does NOT equal 100! I meant to write: at least 50% from carbs, 20% (or more) from protein, and the remaining 20-30% from fats etc… (I promise I graduated college! Haha)

        • Shane Duquette on January 12, 2017 at 11:01 am

          That sounds like a good approach, yeah 🙂

          I’m glad I could help!

  11. Zack on January 31, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    I have been bodybuilding on and off for 7 years. When I left the Army, I was 6’2″ 221 16% bodyfat and ending a bulking period. When I stop working out, I get skinny.. fast.
    I started working out about 4 weeks ago, weighing 180 or a little less. I only weigh myself every 6 weeks, but I weigh around 195 with decent fat gains and a 34″ waist. My working out bench weight has gone from 135 – 205, I expect to be working out with 225 in two weeks. My form is perfect, my diet is right, and my beginning routine is spot on. I’ll swap to my regular bulking routing at 8-12 weeks depending.

    I Do Not Get Very Sore. Not even my first day back into the gym. If I do it’s very slight, and lasts 2 days max.

    So I have two questions.
    1.Is this Muscle Memory + Noob Gains?

    2.What happens to your myonuclei when you stop working out? It would seem they condense and are in waiting.

    • Shane Duquette on January 31, 2017 at 7:31 pm

      Nice work, man! Sounds like you’re doing a real rad job with this. That’s a really astute pair of questions, too.

      Yes, it’s muscle memory. Yes, your myonuclei condensed but stayed inside your muscle fibres even as your muscles shrunk. (They seemingly only disappear if you starve yourself.) And yes, it’s essentially the same thing as newbie gains… except you’re filling out a much larger myonuclear domain because you have far more myonuclei in your muscle fibres than a beginner would.

      So, your history of bulking up drew more myonuclei into your muscle fibres (intermediate gains), then you lost some muscle mass but the extra nuclei remained, and now you’re filling up your huge myonuclear domains that you painstakingly developed in the past (newbie gains+).

      Does that make sense? Sounds like you totally understood the concepts and put them together exactly right.

  12. […] by increasing the rate at which muscle fibres can pull in new myonuclei from satellite cells (more on that here). Calories are then directed into the muscles to feed this growth. Taking testosterone also greatly […]

  13. […] than half a year by capitalizing on the extreme response that our bodies have to new stressors. (The science of newbie gains explained here.) This allows a skinny guy to very quickly move into the “fit” category—often in a […]

  14. adam wild on March 23, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I think you were a great inspiration to me and many skinny people out there. The thing is that when i was 11 years old, i was only 130 pounds at 5ft 7 but after many years of training, i experienced a huge and enormous huge growth spurt. When i reached 16 which is how old i am, im currently 330 pounds and 6ft 2, so that means i put on 200 pounds in 5 years and went 7 inches taller. Everybody is different, you might be skinny but have similiar genetics to Ronnie coleman, or even Thor Bjornnson who is 6ft 9 and 430 pounds, he gained like 200 pounds in two years, but if you dont try u will never know. My advice is to just lift big, and eat big, because by no9t doing that, u will never know your fantastic potential in weightlifting, respect brother

    • Shane Duquette on March 27, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Congratulations on gaining such an incredible amount of weight, Adam! Amazing! 😀

  15. Jim on April 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Newbie gains are the best! It truly is a great time when you start seeing your body transform and motivation is sky-high! This is a very detailed post on the topic- nice job!

    • Shane Duquette on April 22, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks, Jim 🙂

  16. K on June 21, 2017 at 9:28 am

    After many years of failing at lifting, I finally learned about proper diet. I started a heavy lifting routine and for the first time ever began eating like someone who was really trying to gain weight. I suppose this flew over my head before because gaining weight had never been my goal, despite my ectomorph form – strength was.

    I couldn’t believe how fast I gained weight. I had never had noticeable weight gain in my life, always stuck at ~150. Suddenly, 3 months into this, I was 185 pounds and it was all muscle (well, almost all). Like you, as I read more, I began to see all this stuff about how what I did was impossible. I’m glad I came across this article, because those massive initial gains had perplexed me. Very informative and it all makes sense now.

    • Shane Duquette on June 27, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story K, and congratulations on gaining 35 pounds! That’s amazing, dude!

  17. Bony to Beastly—The Skinny on Clothing & Style on August 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    […] of us to look great in a t-shirt. If you’re curious about how that’s even possible, check out our article on newbie gains. If you’d like to actually do it, I’d recommend our Bony to Beastly […]

  18. […] can grow extremely quickly due to a phenomenon called newbie gains, and beginners also experience the most muscle soreness, which leads most people to assume that […]

  19. […] NOTE: if you’re skinny, take this as an encouragement—but this will be the only time that you’ll be able to get steroid-like gains naturally. You can build a lot of muscle, very very quickly (called newbie gains.) […]

  20. […] you read our newbie gains article, then you know that the further away from our genetic potential we are, the faster we’re able […]

  21. […] process is helpful for all skinny guys, and we explain it in our newbie gains article. What makes it especially helpful for skinny-fat guys, though, is that these nuclei improve […]

  22. Killerdone on August 2, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    I can gain 2 pounds per week for 3 month with creatine or without creatine?

    • Shane Duquette on August 3, 2019 at 12:18 pm

      If you want to gain at the quickest possible rate, you’d want to take creatine, yeah. It’s the best supplement for improving the rate that you can build muscle, and especially during the first few weeks, it can really cause your muscles to swell up. It pairs great with making newbie gains.

      And to be clear, we aren’t recommending that you try to gain 2 pounds per week. There’s a high risk of gaining a lot of fat if you do that, so we generally recommend limiting your weight gain to around a pound per week.

      In some cases, if a guy is skinny, lean, and not scared of gaining fat, we put the upper limit at 2 pounds per week during the first 5 weeks of his bulk, and in most cases, that works out great. That’s the approach I personally took, and I loved it, but it’s not for everyone. If you want lean gains, safer to gain a pound per week during that first 3-month period of early newbie gains.

      • Killerdone on August 3, 2019 at 9:53 pm

        So if I am gaining 1 pound per week (500 calorie surplus) and with creatine i gained 1.5 pounds. Either do I need to have a 750 calorie surplus to turn .5 fat and water into muscle gaining total of 1.5 lbs a week with creatine or I can gain 1.5 with 500 calories surplus with creatine?

        • Shane Duquette on August 4, 2019 at 8:44 am

          In some people, creatine will draw a few pounds of water into their muscles over the course of the first month. That wouldn’t require an especially large calorie surplus, just adequate water intake.

          However, the main benefit of creatine is that it allows you to build muscle more quickly, and building muscle more quickly will require eating more calories, yeah.

          So the answer is yes to both.

          But you should adjust your calorie surplus based on how much weight you gain each week anyway. If you bulk for a week and gain 1.5 pounds, but you were trying to gain 1 pound, then try removing 200 calories per day, and vice versa.

  23. […] and it absolutely is, but that alone doesn’t make this study suspect. As we covered in our newbie gains article, there are plenty of studies showing tremendous amounts of muscle growth, especially in untrained […]

  24. What's the Best Type of Lifting for Skinny Guys? on August 15, 2019 at 10:06 am

    […] good news is that once we start training for muscle growth, we can gain muscle more quickly than any other body type. We’re far enough away from our genetic potential that our bodies are primed for muscle […]

  25. Zihe on August 18, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Hello, I’ve been doing exercises with 5kg dumbells for the past 7months, once a week. I have not gained any weight on the scales, however I am positive I’ve lost fat as I’ve been eating on a slight deficit and I can start to see my abs. Have a utilised my newbie gains yet, or do I only utilise it when I start bulking?

    Thanks so much

  26. Hans on August 28, 2019 at 3:52 am

    Hi, I just noticed from your article that you seemed to equalize the quantity of muscle mass growth with the quantity of body mass. Shouldn’t they be differed? When I look at the formula of lean body mass calculator that calculate the muscle mass, the growth of muscle mass is pretty affected by body fat percentage. But when I compared to my own body data, the percentage growth of my muscle mass and my body mass is linear and almost equal as the growth of body fat percentage is so small that it doesn’t seem to affect the calculation. So I wonder if you try to equalize them in the same manner esp. for skinny guys and hardgainers as they seem to be hardly get an increase of body fat? And do you think it is necessary to differentiate them esp. when we talked about the average guys as to decrease some confusion perhaps of many readers including myself..:D I hope for your kind explanation. Thank you in advance.

    • Shane Duquette on August 28, 2019 at 9:17 am

      You’re right. I always try to talk about weight gained, not muscle gained. But sometimes I use “muscle” as a shorthand, and I probably shouldn’t. In our transformation photos, you’ll notice that we just list X pounds gained. And when I talk about my own transformation, I try to say “55 pounds gained at 10.8% body fat.”

      As for fat gains being negligible, yes and no. My body-fat percentage is the same as it was before, but I also gained 55 pounds, and if 11% of that is fat, then that’s 6 pounds of fat. So that leaves 49 pounds. And is all of that muscle? Surely not. My bones and tendons grew denser, my stomach may have gotten bigger (which I’m very thankful for), and, of course, I also gained quite a bit hair.

      So you’re absolutely right that if I ever accidentally claim to have gained 55 pounds of muscle, that’s incorrect.

      I see what you’re saying about this article, too. We talk about 40 pounds of muscle gain and the we show a photo that represents 40 pounds of weight gain. That’s a really good point. I’ll fix that.

  27. Stew on September 4, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Shane I’ve been lurking around the site for a while. I’m an older guy..48 to be exact and I’m in reasonable shape. 5ft 9in and 165lbs. I estimate from a visual that I have about 15-16% body fat. Im also an ecto. I’m struggling to put on muscle. I’ve been at it for months. I’ve made some small gains but not much for the effort. I’m wondering if your program would work for older ecto’s or whether I should look elsewhere. I’m very concerned about gaining fat when bulking at my age. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Shane Duquette on September 4, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Hey Stew, congrats for sticking with this even though it hasn’t given you the results that you want yet. There’s that fine line between sticking with something that clearly isn’t working versus trying to improve upon your approach until it finally starts yielding results.

      Muscle growth is pretty similar between 18–60. Strength gains seems pretty similar between 18–70. I know that might sound crazy, but building muscle isn’t like a lot of professional sports, where people peak early and retire young. The current Mr Olympia is 44, for example, and he’s still not at his peak. Not that we should be copying professional bodybuilders or anything. I just mean that even at the highest echelons where people push their bodies the furthest, even then it’s not dominated by younger guys.

      Yeah, the program definitely works for older guys. Mind you, I wouldn’t call you old yet. Here’s EddiB’s 3-month progress update, who bulked up very leanly with our program at 60-years-old. Here’s JohnnyD’s 5-month progress update. He wanted to lose fat and build muscle. They’re quite a bit older than you and still getting results that are comparable to our younger members, as the research would predict.

      The main thing with older guys is that they often want assurances that they can work around old injuries while avoiding making new ones. Older guys generally have enough wisdom to care about that stuff, whereas younger guys will sometimes brush that stuff aside. Mind you, that’s still important with younger guys, it’s just that they haven’t learned to care about it yet.

      As for building muscle without gaining fat, yeah, we can absolutely help you do that. Our program talks about how to bulk aggressively (more muscle) versus cautiously (less fat). You’ll just want to take the more cautious approach to bulking 🙂

      Does that help / answer your questions?

      • Stew on September 4, 2019 at 3:45 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply Shane. Yeah you’ve definitely answered my questions and what you’ve said is very encouraging. I think I’m getting ready to take the plunge. I’ve been putting in a lot of effort and want to see more results. I think I need some fresh insight and some help.

        • Shane Duquette on September 4, 2019 at 4:47 pm

          My pleasure, Stew! I hope to see you on the other side 🙂

  28. Hans on September 4, 2019 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Shane, thanks for your generous answers and for accepting my feedback. I know it might sound unimportant, but I am very thankful that you hear me too as I am now becoming more of an avid follower and reader of your articles, they are indeed very helpful. 😀
    So to make it clear, all in your articles are basically saying that the weight gain is a gain that includes muscle mass, body fat and everything in between incuding the gain of denser bones, tendons and hairs, not to forget the bigger stomach you are very thankful for. XD
    I hope for the best of you, your family and also your website and programs.
    Mind you if I may ask something again in the future when I get confused.

  29. […] But again, regardless of your situation, if cardio is making it impossible to eat enough calories, just save it for later. You can always add in some cardio after you’ve gotten your newbie gains. […]

  30. The Male Body Types: Ectomorph, Endomorph, Mesomorph on September 17, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    […] Having narrower bones limits how muscular we can become, so this will often get us pegged as “hardgainers.” However, that’s a misnomer. The rate that people can build muscle is mostly determined by how far away from our genetic muscular potential we are. Since ectomorphs tend to start out thinner, that puts us further away from our genetic ceiling. As a result, when we first start training and dieting for muscle growth, we tend to build muscle more quickly (an…. […]

  31. Why Ectomorphs Should Lift a Little Differently on September 22, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    […] So squatting deeply is generally a good thing, especially for us ectomorphs who are trying to bulk up as quickly as possible. […]

  32. As I website owner I think the content material here is real superb,
    appreciate it for your efforts.

  33. […] for naturally skinny guys, these proportions are often realistically achievable, and usually within just a couple of years, […]

  34. […] the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, partially thanks to a phenomenon called newbie gains, the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three […]

  35. […] When someone first starts bulking, they go through a period of rapid muscle growth. This phenomenon is called newbie gains. […]

  36. […] a nutshell, when you lift weights, special stem cells called “satellite cells” donate their myonucle…. That extra nucleus helps the muscle support a slightly larger area, and your muscles get bigger. […]

  37. […] Newbie gains: how quickly can a skinny guy build muscle? […]

  38. What BMI is skinny? — Outlive on February 7, 2020 at 9:48 am

    […] Now, this may seem unbelievable at first, but skinny guys and gals can build muscle so fast, that it’s almost on a steroid-like level — the reason why is because they are very far from their genetic potential in terms of muscle mass. Their body is practically begging to build muscle, and just need the right stimulus (resistance training), the right nutrition (such as lots of protein), and the right amount of quality sleep. If you want to learn more about this phenomenon, check out this nerdy article on the science of “newbie gains.“ […]

  39. Harold on May 19, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Hi! Would just like to know if this still applies to guys almost 50 years old?

  40. Manuel on May 27, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    Hey Shane, i am 21 years old, 5ft8 and 58kg (127 lbs). I have always been skinny, though at the moment although i am lean i don´t consider myself to be in bad shape. It´s just that i would like to have more mass to at least not be considered skinny and be considered “normal” type. The problem is that i also want to do boxing, so i was wondering myself: Could i do the bulking workout (following your program for example) for let´s say 4/5 months to have this “newbie gains” for the summer, and then get back to boxing and try to mantain at least some of that through eating too much to then repeat the cycle the next year before summer?
    Thank you!!!

    • Manuel on May 27, 2020 at 6:35 pm

      Also i wanted to say that i believe my weight is a bit low because i have the thinnest bones you can imagine. Like really, i have never met another person, woman or man that have a wrist as thin as mine.

      • Shane Duquette on May 27, 2020 at 8:16 pm

        Hah, I can relate to the thin bone comment. I’m the same. That’s actually pretty common for ectomorphs. It’s one of the defining features of our body type. But, yeah, the degree varies. Even when I compare myself against other naturally skinny guys, my wrists are always thinner.

        There are some muscles along the backside of your forearms that you can bulk up by doing wrist extensions. It will make your wrists a little bit thicker. And lifting weights and boxing will make your bones denser. They’ll weigh more and be tougher. (But they’ll still be thin.)

    • Shane Duquette on May 27, 2020 at 8:13 pm

      Hey Manuel, yeah, totally! That’s pretty common with athletes. They do sports-specific training during part of the year, then go through a bulking phase in the off-season. That’s perfectly fine. Any muscle you do lose during the boxing season will pop right back on as soon as you start lifting, so no real problem there.

      With that said, in an ideal world, you’d probably want to do at least a little bit of lifting during the boxing season. That could even be a single workout per week, or a couple quick 20-minute sessions. Banging out a few sets of squats, bench, Romanian deadlifts, and chin-ups would allow you to maintain virtually all of your muscle during your body season. You don’t have to, though.

      Also, if you’re boxing, make sure to check out your neck bulking article. You’ll definitely want to build a bigger and stronger neck.

      • Manuel on May 29, 2020 at 1:13 pm

        Thank you for responding Shane!!! you made my day with the answer, i thought i would not be able to do that. I will definitely try then, i´d look forward to your program for the bulking. Regarding the neck building article i have also checked it because obviously i have a thin neck too, haha, so i´ll also try to bulk it a little both for boxing and for aesthetics. Thank you!!

  41. kirubel on September 3, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Ok guys, I haven’t started working out yet but I will very soon. I have one question, though. Do I need a protein shake, like whey protein, to bulk up? I don’t know what to do. Protein shakes are expensive in our country, and I really need to bulk up. I get that you all were skinny before, but I am still so skinny. I hate my body. You don’t even need an X-RAY to see my bones, you can see them with your eyes!

    I need answers please. Save one ectomorph today!

    • Shane Duquette on September 8, 2020 at 10:05 am

      Hey Kirubel, we’ve got an article on bulking supplements for skinny guys. In it, we explain the pros and cons of various supplements, including protein powders, and whey protein specifically. Long story short, no, you don’t need to use any supplements. You can reach your genetic muscular potential simply through resistance training, eating enough good food, and eating enough protein.

      Where protein shakes come in handy is for people who are having trouble getting enough protein from whole foods. In that case, it can be handy to whip up a quick protein shake. It’s not that the protein shake is better than food, just a convenient way of eating more protein. Another simple way to get more protein, though, is simply to have some milk along with your meals, or eat more beans, or more peas, or whatever source of protein best fits your budget and your preferences 🙂

  42. Jason on September 4, 2020 at 10:29 am

    I’m in a situation that I can’t tell if I lost actual muscle mass or just extra water. I’ve trained while in a calorie surplus and noticed some size gains with close to a 10 pound gain (flexed biceps increased by 0.5-1.0 inch, thighs increased by 1.5 inches). However, afterwards I lost most of that weight and the resulting size gains that I had when some busy things came up in life, wasn’t doing much training, and was probably in a small caloric deficit. I’m trying to see if it’s possible that glycogen increases from being in a surplus and training played that much of a role in the size increases, or if it’s more likely that this was from actual muscle that I later lost.

    For months now I’ve since picked back up training to about 80% of the weekly volume that I had before. As a percentage of my diet, my carb intake is just as high as it was when I was in a surplus. However, my weight is still holding about 6 to 7 pounds lower and my muscle measurements are still down. (I obviously haven’t really been in a surplus since I lost weight). My strength is very close to what it was at the point when I came out of a surplus; some lifts are like 90%, while others I’m at 100% or even higher. So I don’t think I’m necessarily low on glycogen based on my training and carb intake. I’m sure a little bit of the initial weight gain was fat, and some of what I lost would have also been fat, but I’m thinking most of what I lost was LBM. Do you have any thoughts as to whether it is realistic if this was actual muscle mass or just extra water? I should also note that I am small-framed; currently I’m at 5’8″ 123 lbs so the weight range at which I maintain at would be smaller than most other people.

    • Shane Duquette on September 8, 2020 at 10:10 am

      Hey Jason, if you lost weight while you weren’t lifting weights, it’s likely that you lost some muscle mass. But, like you’re saying, it’s probably just that you’ve lost some of the fluid in your muscles—the glycogen/sarcoplasm. The more permanent changes, such as adding new nuclei to your muscle fibres, won’t have been affected. So it’s simply a matter of getting back to working out and regaining that lost weight. You’ll inflate right back up in a jiffy 🙂

      And, yes, lifting weights and being in a calorie surplus both increase glycogen storage in our muscles. Simply going into a calorie deficit can cause our muscles to lose glycogen, which can make them smaller and flatter.

      Also keep in mind that, yeah, some of your weight loss was likely fat, and also some of that weight loss was gut contents. If you were eating more food before, then there was more food in your digestive system, and that food can often weigh a good couple of pounds.

      If your strength is doing well, I think your muscle mass is probably fine. Once you regain that weight, you’ll be more muscular than ever 🙂

      • Jason on September 9, 2020 at 9:41 am

        Thanks, Shane. That makes sense. I’ve also read your article on muscle memory. Considering that I’d only gained a few pounds of muscle, I think what you wrote there about newbie gains not having a permanent feel and disappearing fast explains what I have going on here. Sounds like I just have to get back to a similar training volume and a calorie surplus to get back the gains.

  43. AM on February 21, 2022 at 1:59 am

    Hi Shane 🙂

    Very grateful to you and the team for all the effort you put into what you do, truly helping transform so many lives. Still can’t believe you give away all this info for free! Thank you so much!

    Reading this article made me curious about something you don’t explicitly mention here, though it seems fairly logical: would newbie gains be ‘site-specific’? Consider someone who has never trained abs or legs (or some other specific muscle group), although they’ve been training the rest, arms, chest, back etc for more than a year. The day they decide to finally begin to train this much neglected muscle group, would they find newbie gains waiting in store for them for those specific muscles, even though they’ve reached a more intermediate and slow growth phase when it comes to their other more well-trained muscles?

    Thanks a million again for all that you do! 🙂

    Warm regards


    • Shane Duquette on February 22, 2022 at 2:11 pm

      I can’t say I know for sure, but I think your logic is good, yes. For example, if you only train your legs, you might see newbie gains when you finally train your upper body. We see that kind of thing all the time. I’ve experienced it myself, too. I started training my neck years after I started training the rest of my body. I got newbie gains in my neck.

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