May 2010—the month that two skinny guys decided they were fed up with being skinny. Did we know how to lift weights? Did we know how to eat a bulking diet? Nope. We didn’t know anything about building muscle. All we knew was that we were underweight, weak, and fed up with feeling so scrawny. That was how “Muscle May” began. That’s how our entire Bony to Beastly business began.
That first day of May, the two of us made a bulking pact: we would do thirty days of whatever it took to gain muscle—naturally, of course. It’s not like we were going to take steroids or anything. Hell, we were even scared to take creatine. But skinny genes be damned, we were growing out of our skinny jeans.
At the end of those thirty days, we had gained over thirty pounds between us, which was, well, maybe a bit much! But it was working. We were finally gaining weight! So we doubled down on our efforts, extending our bulking pact for another three months. And by the end of those three months, we had built enough muscle that we weren’t skinny anymore. And we haven’t ever been skinny again.
Here’s the story of how we went from skinny to muscular.
The “Before” Photos
As a skinny guy, my biggest pet peeve was looking at “muscle-building” transformation photos and seeing guys who already looked quite muscular in the before photos. Oftentimes, there would be a photo of a somewhat overweight guy who cut off a lot of body fat and came out looking ripped. And that’s super cool. Kudos to them. But that’s not a muscle-building transformation, that’s a fat-loss transformation.
As I learned more, I only became more skeptical. With a lot of these bulking transformations, guys would lose weight for some reason or another—travelling, sickness, stress—and then take a photo at their lowest point, using it as a before photo. Then they’d regain the muscle they’d lost and call it a muscle growth transformation. In reality, it was a muscle regrowth transformation.
A famous example of that is when Tim Ferriss lost muscle mass while travelling and then regained all of it in a single month:
Now, it’s not always deceitful. Tim Ferriss clearly outlined his training history. He was always upfront about the fact that he was just regaining lost muscle mass. So that’s fine. And I like Tim Ferris. He seems like a good guy. But as a skinny guy looking at this before and after transformation, I couldn’t relate. It wasn’t for me.
Another trick that’s popular in the fitness industry is to manipulate before and after photos to make transformations look more impressive. Not always dishonestly. There are some Photoshop scandals, but most of the time, people just take an unflattering “before” photo and then take their “after” photo in better lighting with pumped-up muscles. It’s not dishonest, per se, it’s just that they want to show off their progress in the best possible light.
We were tired of all of that. We wanted to see what would happen if two everyday skinny guys—graphic designers working desk jobs—decided to document their progress as they bulked up. We decided to take our photos clinically:
- Same lighting.
- Same poses.
- Same time of day (first thing in the morning).
- Same stomach contents (first thing in the morning, after peeing, with one small glass of water).
- No pumping up our muscles.
- No tricks at all.
So, first, before we talk about our 4-month bulking transformation, let’s give a little backstory. Here I am at 21 years old wearing a size small t-shirt:
I’m 6’2, and my weight fluctuated between 120–130 pounds. On the very best of days, that put my BMI at 16.7, which is considered clinically underweight. If you’re curious about your own BMI, you can check yours here.
I wasn’t just skinny in the sense that I wasn’t muscular. At 18, I’d been diagnosed as having a high risk of heart disease, and both my family doctor and my cardiologist had been encouraging me to start exercising, eating better, and gaining weight.
At 21, I bought a muscle-building program for “ectomorphs” and put on 20 pounds of muscle during a three-month bulk. That brought me from 130 pounds up to 150 pounds. From a BMI of 16.7 up to a BMI of 19.3. I was no longer clinically underweight! I was still thin, sure, but I wasn’t dangerously underweight. I wasn’t “skinny” anymore, just thin.
So, why am I telling you all of this?
- First, my “before” photos show me in peak condition—the fittest, strongest, and most muscular I’d been in my entire life. When I started this 4-month bulking transformation, I’d already gained 20 pounds. There’s no muscle regrowth happening here.
- Second, I’d already gotten my “newbie gains.” If you haven’t heard that term before, newbie gains is the rapid period of muscle growth when people first start training and dieting for muscle growth. I was already lifting weights and had already gained 20 pounds.
The other nice thing about having already gained 20 pounds was that I knew a little bit about how to bulk up. I promised my roommate, Jared, I could teach him how to build muscle. He’d been living with me while I gained my first twenty pounds, so he believed I could help him do it, too.
Here are our official “before” photos. I weighed 150 pounds. Jared weighed 130. This was the heaviest we’d ever weighed, the best shape we’d ever been in. And we were fully grown, adult men who’d already been through puberty.
Shane’s measurements at 6’2 and 150 pounds:
- Neck: 14.25 inches
- Shoulders: 43.5 inches
- Biceps: 12.25 inches
- Chest: 37 inches
- Waist: 30 inches
- Hips: 36 inches
- Thigh: 18.75 inches
- Calf: 13.5 inches
Now, keep in mind that I’d already gained twenty pounds. At 130 pounds, my neck had been just under 14 inches, my biceps had been just under 10 inches, and my shoulders had been just under 39 inches. As you can see, I’d spent more time on my shoulders, chest, and arms than on my legs. I had tried squatting and deadlifting, but my technique was horrible… and I had given up on it.
Jared’s measurements at 6 feet and 130 pounds:
- Neck: 13.75 inches
- Shoulders: 38.75 inches
- Biceps: 11 inches
- Chest: 33.75 inches
- Waist: 27.5 inches
- Hips: 35.5 inches
- Thigh: 18.75 inches
- Calf: 13.75 inches
Jared’s measurements were similar to how mine had been the year before, except with slightly bigger arms and legs. (We later discovered that my torso grew more easily, making me “torso dominant,” whereas Jared’s arms few more easily, making him “limb dominant.” When we figured that out, we were able to adjust our isolation lifts to yield more balanced muscle growth.)
Finding a Bulking Program
Now that we had our “before” photos, we had to figure out how to get “after” photos. We needed a muscle-building routine to follow. We had to find a workout program designed to stimulate muscle growth and a good bulking diet designed for gaining weight. We also had to learn how to fix our unhealthy lifestyles.
At first, it was a little discouraging because all of the online information at the time was targeted at overweight people looking to lose fat, not at skinny guys trying to build muscle. It took me quite a while to even figure out what our body type was. I knew we were skinny, of course, but in the fitness industry, naturally skinny guys are called “ectomorphs.” I also knew that we had a lot of trouble gaining weight, which is called being a “hardgainer.” And the type of training that’s designed to help people gain muscle size is called “hypertrophy training.”
Some guys don’t need a smart plan. In every muscle-building study, you’ll see “hyper-responders.” These are the guys winging it in the gym and still building muscle, certain that their method is superior because it’s working. But then you’ve got naturally skinny, ectomorph, hardgainer guys like us. We’re the guys who need to do things more methodically to get consistent progress. We’re the guys who need to train more specifically for muscle growth.
On that note, let’s talk about “non-responders” for a second. Most studies comparing workout routines don’t standardize the diets. This creates a problem because a lot of naturally skinny guys don’t intuitively eat enough calories to build muscle. As a result, most skinny guys fail to gain weight, and so they fail to build muscle, and so they assume they have poor muscle-building genetics. That’s not the case. We just need to combine a good workout program with a good bulking diet. We need to focus on both aspects at once.
There is a genetic component to muscle growth, though, as you’ve surely realized. For instance, the normal range of testosterone in men is 170 to 780ng/dL. One guy can have 4.6x the testosterone production of another guy, and both can still be within the healthy range. There are also differences in bone structure. The thicker someone’s bones, the more muscle they can build. Someone with thicker bones in their arms can build much bigger biceps and triceps. And the longer and wider someone’s frame, the longer their muscles are. Someone with longer collarbones can build a wider chest.
So the takeaway is: muscle will come easier to some than others, and everyone will look a bit different in the end, but everyone can build muscle. Not everyone can become a famous powerlifter, bodybuilder, or fitness influencer, but everyone can look great. And you won’t look like your goal body. You’ll look like a muscular version of yourself. And it’ll look and feel awesome.
Our First Taste of Muscle Growth
We treated all of this as an experiment. Partly because that gave us an excuse to track and photograph everything. But mainly because we were too ashamed to tell our friends and family that we were actually, genuinely trying to build muscle. We figured “we’re doing an experiment” wasn’t quite as embarrassing, especially if we wound up failing. But to our surprise, we didn’t. We were building muscle quite fast.
As we gained more and more muscle, we started getting a lot of attention on YouTube and in fitness forums. Plenty of people were building muscle, but it was rare to see such skinny guys gaining weight so quickly, building muscle so leanly.
Some of the attention was good, some bad. On the bad side, I realized that wearing “daisy dukes” (cut-off jean shorts) in my progress photos wasn’t an appropriately masculine choice in the eyes of bodybuilders and powerlifters. But on the good side, we also got (falsely) accused of taking steroids, proving that something masculinizing was happening. And other skinny guys started emailing us, following along, bulking up with us. It was really cool!
A couple of months into our bulk, even the personal trainers at the gym were starting to notice how quickly we were growing. We had been fairly embarrassed during our first few trips to the gym, so getting congratulated by the staff felt amazing. We had started off as these skinny, nerdy outsiders, and now we were being applauded by the college football and basketball players who used the university gym.
We may not have had the best form, and we may not have been doing the best exercises, but we were persistent. No matter how busy we were, we always found a way to get our workouts and meals in. It wasn’t anything crazy. We only lifted weights three times per week, and each workout only took about an hour to complete.
Our bulking diets weren’t perfect, either. There was this old mass gainer supplement called Myoplex that was popular at the time. We were running our graphic design firm back then, and I remember driving to meetings with servings of Myoplex in the glove box. If we were too busy working to sit down for a real meal, we’d just mix the powder into a bit of water before our meetings. It wasn’t ideal, but it did the trick. It gave us the protein, carbs, and calories needed to build muscle and gain weight.
We were determined not to miss our workouts, either. One week the gym shut down for renovations, so we made a makeshift home gym in our little design office (aka our living room) out of a rickety bench press and non-Olympic barbell that we found on the side of the road.
Our hard work was paying off. We were building muscle. In the above photos, you can probably see that we’ve already gotten quite a bit bigger. I remember looking at these and thinking that my arms looked insane. They’re only about 13 inches here, but still, I hadn’t thought that I would ever be able to build such big arms.
However, we were gradually realizing that the bodybuilding program we were following wasn’t very good. It was working, yes, but only through sheer force of will. The muscle soreness was crippling, we felt lethargic from perpetually overeating, and our muscle and strength gains were already beginning to plateau.
Bodybuilding Versus Hypertrophy Training
Most bodybuilding programs are popularized by professional bodybuilders. These bodybuilders aren’t only genetically gifted at putting on muscle, they’re also pharmaceutically gifted at putting on muscle! Not only can they get away with bending the rules, but they aren’t even playing by the same rules in the first place. For example, back in 2010, the most popular type of workout routine was something called a push/pull/legs split routine, where you train a different area of your body every workout:
- Monday is for your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Wednesday is for your back and biceps.
- Friday is for your legs and abs.
But is that an effective way to train? Not really. When we stimulate a muscle, muscle-protein synthesis rises for around 48 hours (at least for beginners). That means if we stimulate our chest on Monday, it will grow until Wednesday. And then the growth will stop until we train our chest again. So if we want to stimulate maximal muscle growth, we should train each muscle around three times per week. So why were these bodybuilding routines only stimulating our muscles once per week?
In a 2000 study by McLester, the researchers took experienced male lifters and put them on a workout routine made up of three workouts per week. Both groups did the same exercises, the same number of sets, and the same number of repetitions per set, giving them identical training volume. The only difference was that one group had their lifts organized into full-body workouts, whereas the other group was doing a chest day, back day, and leg day. After twelve weeks of working out, the participants doing the full-body workout routine increased their muscle mass by 8%, whereas the group doing the push/pull/legs split only increased their muscle mass by 1%.
We had been doing a push/pull/legs split, so reading this study was a real game-changer for me. By training each muscle three times per week, these study participants got steady growth throughout the week. By doing fewer sets per workout, the muscle damage was no longer crippling, resulting in less muscle repair and more muscle growth.
Now, to be fair, more recent research by Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., has confirmed these findings, but the differences he found weren’t nearly as extreme. The participants doing full-body workouts did get significantly greater muscle growth, but not eight times more. And a third study, again, favoured full-body workouts. We were excited to improve our training, and we thought this could be a good way to do it.
Interestingly, in the 40s and 50s, all the best bodybuilders, strongmen, and athletes were doing full-body workout routines three times per week. These push/pull/legs bodybuilding splits only became popular in the 1960s when steroids came into vogue. This new era of bodybuilders didn’t need to pay any attention to increasing their testosterone production or stimulating muscle protein synthesis because they were doing it with performance-enhancing drugs. This kept their bodies permanently primed for muscle growth even though they weren’t stimulating their muscles often enough.
The other reason that push/pull/legs splits worked so well for these massive bodybuilders was that their muscles were so big and strong that it took a long time to recover between workouts. They couldn’t train every second day, they had to wait several days. And so they started splitting up their workouts to allow for longer recovery periods. So by copying these bodybuilders benching 300+ pounds, we were training as if we were already muscular, not in a way that would make us more muscular.
The next question was whether doing more than three full-body workouts per week could speed up muscle growth. In some circumstances, it can. But for skinny guys who are still relatively new to lifting weights, training a muscle group more than three times per week seems to reduce muscle growth (study, study).
So after learning a bit more, we decided we wanted to follow a full-body hypertrophy routine instead of the bodybuilding routine we’d been following. The problem was we couldn’t figure out how to do that.
Finding a Bulking Diet
On the bright side, as we were learning about the problems with our workout routine, our bulking diet was going quite well. We were stuffed to the gills, yes, but we were gaining weight like clockwork—something that we’d struggled to do for our entire lives.
- We were eating enough calories to gain weight at a good pace. with 500-1000 extra calories per day, we found that we were gaining somewhere between 0.5–2 pounds per week, depending on the week. We weren’t perfectly precise, but it was enough to result in steady growth.
- We were eating enough protein to build new muscle tissue at a maximal rate. Our workouts were stimulating muscle growth, but we needed to make sure that our protein intake wasn’t a limiting factor. Most research shows that 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight is enough to maximize muscle growth, but we rounded that up to one gram per pound. It’s common for protein supplements to exaggerate their protein contents, and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t accidentally undershooting our protein targets.
- We got most of our calories from whole foods. We did have some weight gainer shakes, we added some maltodextrin to our workout shakes, and we took a break from our bulking diets on Sunday, but for the most part, we were eating minimally processed whole foods—oats, ground meat, trail mix, legumes, rice, milk, yogurt, potatoes, chicken, and so on.
- We ate often and made sure to have protein with each meal. Back in 2010, intermittent fasting hadn’t become popular yet, and thankfully so—fasting isn’t good for building muscle, eating is. We were eating 4–6 meals per day, each containing at least twenty grams of protein. Modern research has shown that this increases our rate of muscle growth, but back then, we just kind of lucked into it. Bodybuilders found it easier to digest smaller meals and snacks, so they ate often.
- We ate plenty of carbs. Low-carb and ketogenic diets weren’t popular yet, and again, that was a good turn of luck. Eating plenty of carbs is great for muscle growth, as you can see in this study, as shown here:
So, largely due to good luck, our bulking diet was pretty good. We had picked up a few weird restrictions. We had completely stopped drinking alcohol, and we weren’t eating any processed sugar whatsoever. That probably wasn’t necessary. But whatever. Avoiding alcohol and sugar certainly wasn’t harming our results.
We had also stumbled upon a few tricks that helped us eat more calories without feeling as awful:
- We started most days with a bulking smoothie, which is easy on the appetite and easy to digest. By blending food, we break it into smaller pieces that digest more quickly.
- We ate lots of ground meat, which is similarly easy to digest. Ground meat is essentially pre-chewed. Our main bulking meal was chili, and so along with the ground meat, we also got plenty of carbs and fibre from the beans and corn.
- We snacked between meals, eating things like homemade protein bars, small servings of trail mix, or yogurt.
We also made our meals in bulk, cooking a big pot of chili or casserole on Sunday and reheating it during the week. We’d do the same thing with our homemade protein bars. That made our bulking diet a little easier to follow. These bulking recipes were so helpful that we include an entire bulking recipe book in our Bony to Beastly Program.
Anyway, because our bulking diet was so good compared to the diets most beginners follow, it helped to make up for our subpar workout program. That’s one of the nice things about being a beginner. It’s still fairly to stimulate muscle growth. Combined with a good bulking diet, even our mediocre training program was yielding fairly good muscle growth.
Marco Joins the Team
As Jared and I had been bulking up, we’d been blogging about our progress on our design blog. Eventually, an old friend from high school told me that I should reach out to the strength coach his university football team had hired. He was telling me that this guy was naturally skinny, had gained over sixty pounds of muscle, and was known for being able to help athletes bulk up in a hurry. He’d only just graduated with his health science degree, and he’d already helped college, professional, and Olympic athletes build muscle.
I laughed. Me? Call a university strength coach? That sounded like a ridiculous idea. And then I realized that I already knew him! My friend started laughing, “Yeah, it’s Marco!”
Turns out that one of my acquaintances from high school, a gentle giraffe of a guy named Marco, had bulked up to 205 pounds and was now building his reputation as a top strength coach.
While Jared and I had been studying design, Marco had been studying health sciences and working as a strength and conditioning coach. Not only that, but he’d also studied under the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world, such as Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. That expertise had launched him into a career coaching college, professional, and Olympic athletes.
When Marco and I first spoke, he congratulated us on having gained so much muscle. He didn’t point out our mistakes, he was just happy for us. He’s a remarkably kind person. He’s always had that reputation. It’s why calling him had seemed like a good idea. But when I asked him if we were doing anything wrong, that opened Pandora’s box.
For about an hour, Marco broke down our routine and explained how we could make it better. Better in the sense that we could gain more muscle mass and strength, which is what we were interested in, but also better in the sense that we could keep our joints healthy, avoid injury, and do a better job of improving our health and posture. He explained that he’d seen too many athletes wear their bodies down to get bigger. After all, his job was to help athletes bulk up quickly and efficiently while also helping them have a long careers.
He made a few interesting changes, such as:
- He put us on a full-body workout routine. And since I’d already read about those benefits, I was stoked to try it.
- Every workout started with a pair of compound lifts, such as squats and chin-ups, or deadlifts and push-ups. One exercise generally required some sort of weight (dumbbell or barbell), whereas the other could be done with minimal equipment. This allowed us to create small circuits, giving our muscles plenty of rest between sets, but keeping our heart rates high and allowing us to stimulate more muscle growth in a shorter amount of time.
- He chose lifts that matched our experience level. Marco saw that we couldn’t do a lot of the big barbell lifts properly yet, so he gave us easier variations to start with. For instance, we switched from back squats to goblet squats, which are much easier to learn and, at least for a beginner, stimulate even more muscle growth—especially in the upper body. We’d stop 2–3 reps shy of failure to better practice our technique and reduce fatigue.
- We were still doing isolation lifts. Unlike a lot of strength training programs that were popular at the time, such as Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5, Marco had us doing plenty of isolation lifts, especially for our arms. He explained that lanky guys like us need extra arm work if we want to build muscular arms. Plus, as beginners, doing simple lifts is an easy way to reliably challenge our muscles without being limited by coordination, balance, cardiovascular demands, or technique. We could take these smaller lifts to failure, learning to push ourselves.
- Everything was “periodized.” Our entire training program was broken into five-week routines called “phases.” Each phase started with a lower training volume, preventing excess muscle damage and crippling soreness, and worked its way higher, finishing with a high-volume week. With each new phase, new exercises and techniques were cycled in to stimulate a new round of muscle growth before hitting a plateau.
These new bulking workouts were great. We were even doing loaded carries and a few other athletic bulking techniques, which we loved. Our upper backs and shoulders started getting a lot bigger. Our posture was noticeably improving, too, and our strength was going up in leaps and bounds.
This new way of working out also made me realize how important our training was. The more muscle growth we can stimulate with our workouts, the higher our muscle protein synthesis rises, the more insulin sensitive our muscles become, and the faster we can build muscle. And the faster we can build muscle, the more calories we can invest in muscle growth, warding off fat gain.
Our Three-Month Bulking Results
Our first month had started off a little rocky, but with our continued research and Marco’s help, we were building muscle faster than we had thought was physically possible. We had thought that people could only gain twenty pounds of muscle in their first year. It seemed like we were about to double that.
Jared had started at 130 pounds and had bulked up to 163 pounds. In three months, he’d gained 33 pounds without gaining a noticeable amount of fat. His posture improved, too, and he was no longer suffering from tendonitis when doing graphic design work at his desk.
I had already gained twenty pounds before we even started, and in three months, I’d already gained another 25 pounds, bringing my total weight gain up to 45 pounds without any visible increase in fat. I was flabbergasted. It seemed like our genetics had gone from terrible to terrific overnight. We couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real.
It turns out that because we were starting so far away from our genetic potential, we could gain muscle more quickly before running into the laws of diminishing returns, like so:
The average man starts off with roughly eighty pounds of muscle on his frame. Imagine a skinny guy (like me) starting with just forty pounds of muscle on his frame. He’s starting off behind the starting line. We aren’t defying the laws of muscle growth or anything, we were just catching up to the muscularity of the average guy (and then eventually moving beyond, but with normal rates of muscle growth from that point forward).
Finishing With A Cut
Our bulk had gone well, and we were by no means feeling fat, but we had initially planned to do a traditional bulking and cutting cycle, as bodybuilders do. The idea was to spend a few months slowly building muscle while gaining fat, then strip off that fat with a quick cut.
Things had been going great our bulk, so we were eager to keep the “experiment” going, but we were also sick of overeating and eager for a change of pace. Even though we hadn’t gained as much fat as we expected, we decided to gear into a cut anyway.
So during the next four weeks, we combined our hypertrophy training workouts with a bit of extra cardio, and we radically reduced our calorie intake, going from gaining 1–2 pounds per week (a calorie surplus of 500–1000 calories) to losing 1–2 pounds per week (a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per week). And to be completely honest, it wasn’t so bad. We were so sick of overeating that feeling hungry was actually kind of nice.
Our “After” Photos
I had started this bulk at 150 pounds, bulked up to 175 pounds, and then cut down to around 167 pounds. I weighed 37 pounds more than I had the year before, and I was leaner than I’d ever been in my life. My chest, traps, shoulders, and legs had exploded.
Also, fun fact, check out the difference in the length of my shorts. At the start of my bulk, I thought they were a fairly respectable length, but by the end, they were tiny. It almost looks like I cut them shorter, but I didn’t. What happened is that my butt grew a lot bigger, pulling them up higher in the back. If you look closely, the crotch of the shorts rose much higher, but the legs are still clearly the same length. This was my first hint of the peculiar pros and cons of building bigger legs.
Anyway, here are my “before” and “after” bulking measurements:
- Body Weight: 150lbs to 167lbs (+17 pounds)
- Neck: 14.25″ to 14.5″ (+0.25 inches)
- Shoulders: 43.5″ to 47.5″ (+4 inches!)
- Bicep: 12.25″ to 13.25″ (+1 inch)
- Chest: 37″ to 38.25″ (+1.25 inches)
- Waist: 30″ to 29.25″ (-0.75 inches)
- Hips: 36″ to 37.25″ (+1.25 inches)
- Thigh: 18.75″ to 21″ (+2.25 inches)
- Calf: 13.5″ to 14″ (+0.5 inches)
Jared started at 130 pounds and bulked up to 167 pounds, then cut down to 163 pounds, gaining 33 pounds overall. He started with a faint hint of abs and finished with well-defined abs.
- Body Weight: 130lbs to 163lbs (+33 pounds)
- Neck: 13.75″ to 14.25″ (+0.5 inches)
- Shoulders: 38.75″ to 41″ (+2.25 inches)
- Bicep: 11″ to 12.5″ (+1.5 inches)
- Chest: 33.75″ to 35.25″ (+1.5 inches)
- Waist: 27.5″ to 29.25″ (+1.5 inches)
- Hips: 35.5″ to 37″ (+1.5 inches)
- Thigh: 18.75″ to 22″ (+1.25 inches)
- Calf: 13.75″ to 15″ (+1.25 inches)
The Birth of Bony to Beastly
When we posted our progress photos on our design blog, they blew up. This was back in 2010, and the online fitness community was still fairly young. There weren’t many resources for naturally skinny hardgainers and ectomorphs.
We started getting even more emails from other skinny guys desperate to bulk up. They saw our progress photos and wanted to know how we had done it. It wasn’t just online, either. Our friends, families, and even strangers at the gym were coming to us for bulking advice.
I spent an entire year doing my design work from 9–5 PM and answering emails from 5–10 pm. Not every day, but a good 4–5 days per week, spending over twenty hours per week coaching these other skinny guys through their bulks.
To make coaching these guys easier, I had put our plan into a little PDF guide, including the workout routine, the diet, the lifestyle changes we’d made, and how to adjust everything based on the results we’re getting. Everyone loved it, and it was producing great results:
During this time, I wanted to take a break from bulking, so Marco switched me over to a strength training routine. I went from being able to bench 135 pounds for a half rep to being able to bench 225 pounds all the way down to my chest—for a set of five. My lifetime goal had been to do a single rep with 185 pounds. I couldn’t believe it.
Turns out that once you’ve gained an appreciable amount of muscle size, learning how to lift heavier weights in lower rep ranges is actually fairly straightforward. My strength skyrocketed without my needing to even gain any extra muscle mass. (This suited my goals at the time, but just proved to me that strength training with the goal of gaining muscle size is a bit misguided.)
After having coached a few dozen clients together during that year, Jared, Marco, and I decided to go all-in, creating The Bony to Beastly Bulking Program and building this business around it.
Once we had a prototype of our official bulking program, I tested it. I gained another eighteen pounds, bringing me from 167 up to 185 pounds. In just a couple of years, I’d gained 55 pounds:
I little while later, when I got a DEXA scan to test my body composition, I learned that I was 10.8% body fat. Somehow, I’d managed to gain 55 pounds and finish even leaner than when I started:
I had spent my whole life thinking that my body was too skinny to ever become strong and muscular. In a few months, I realized that my potential was far higher than that. I could become as strong and muscular as I wanted.
I also felt healthy and athletic. I no longer felt clumsy and tired, and my doctor was blown away by how much my health markers had improved. I was no longer at high risk of having a heart attack. All of my blood markers were fantastic. I started sleeping better, too. A lifetime of insomnia disappeared with some exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes.
Here’s one of our very first Bony to Beastly members, Albert. He’s a doctor who was working 80 hours per week while going through the program, often needing to rely on the hospital vending machines for his meals. But he wanted to set a good example for his patients, he was determined to go from skinny to muscular, and he managed to gain 25 pounds while finishing even leaner than when he started:
Our bulking routine was five months long, but just to be clear, Albert took longer than five months to finish it. He took a few breaks from exercising when work got hectic. But the above photo shows five months of doing the bulking routine.
Here’s another great example from GK, showing how quickly and leanly ectomorphs can build muscle:
And here’s one of my favourites, Klaus, who started out skinny-fat and totally transformed his body-shape by building muscle and losing fat. Imagine how much muscle he must have built in order to finishing weighing 22 pounds heavier while also losing so much fat:
Here’s Ariel’s skinny to muscular transformation, showing that ectomorphs can indeed build broader shoulders:
Over the years, we’ve improved and refined the program. Based on the feedback and results we got with our first few thousand members, as well as new research that has since come out, we recently remade the program from the ground up, including shooting over a hundred new tutorial videos with Marco teaching all of the lifts.
We still try to walk the walk. I’ve gotten married, just had my first son, and I’m still feeling grateful that I took the effort to bulk up. It’s helped me live a productive and healthy life, and I get to feel like a strong husband and father.
If I compare my physique at 31 to how I looked at 21, the difference blows me away. I remember how I used to feel so weak and ashamed, how I’d lie in bed for hours with onset insomnia, and how everyone knew me as the “skinny guy.” I thought I was getting started as a graphic designer. I didn’t realize that building muscle would launch me into a career helping other skinny guys do the same.
At the start of Muscle May, I was too lanky and awkward to bring the barbell all the way down to my chest. I couldn’t do a single repetition on the bench press. My shoulders were too weak and unstable. And now I can bench three plates. I didn’t realize that was possible for someone like me to do naturally.
Anyway, that’s the story of how we went from skinny to muscular, with Jared ultimately gaining fifty pounds, me gaining sixty pounds, and Marco eventually gaining seventy. It’s also the story of how Bony to Beastly came to be, and why we’re so passionate about helping other skinny guys bulk up.
If you’re a naturally skinny guy and you want help building muscle, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. We’ve been doing this full-time for almost ten years, with over 10,000 satisfied clients. I think you’ll love it.
- Hypertrophy training: we’ll teach you how to lift for muscle size and give you a detailed routine to follow. Marco will teach you every single lift and progression with tutorial videos.
- Bulking diet: we’ll teach you how to eat for weight gain. Instead of restricting foods to facilitate weight loss, we’ll teach you what to add to your diet, what macros to emphasize, teach you the best bulking recipes, give you sample meal plans, and teach you how to build your own perfect bulking diet.
- Lifestyle optimization: even just improving your sleep can speed up your muscle growth by 30% while radically reducing fat gain. By combining hypertrophy training with a bulking diet and a healthy lifestyle, you can bulk up quicker, more leanly, and with better improvements to your health.
But perhaps most of all, there’s our online coaching community. We’ll teach you how to take proper progress photos and do a “before” assessment. We’ll help you adjust the program to suit you better, give you feedback as you post progress updates, and help hold you accountable. And you’ll be surrounded by other skinny guys working towards the same muscle-building goals as you are. For me, that was what finally allowed me to build muscle consistently.
If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. If you want a full bulking program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want an intermediate bulking routine, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program.
Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's gained seventy pounds and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in design, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.