7 Best Exercises For Skinny Guys (to build muscle fast)

Exercises for skinny guys

Bulking up is a common struggle for many skinny people. But with the right exercise selection and workout routine, the task becomes much easier. So what are the best exercises for skinny guys to build muscle fast?

Compound exercises are ideal for skinny people to gain muscle. These are complex movements that involve different joints, activate multiple muscle groups, and allow for heavy weights to be lifted. This makes them ideal for beginners to quickly get bigger and stronger.

In this post, I reveal my 7 favorite exercises, a 3-day full-body workout plan, and 10 essential tips to start gaining muscle.

Before and after phots showing the results of doing these exercises for skinny guys.
The 7 exercises mentioned in this post helped me to bulk up fast as a skinny guy.

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7 Best Exercises For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle Fast

The 5 big compound lifts are some of the best exercises for skinny guys to get bigger and stronger fast. These include the bench press, overhead press, row, squat, and deadlift. These movements combined will work the full body.

With that being said, the 5 big lifts aren’t the only way for skinny people to gain muscle mass fast. In fact, all forms of compound lifting are great for packing on lean mass and increasing strength.

Here’s why:

  • Activates multiple muscle groups. Unlike isolation lifts, compound lifts target multiple muscles simultaneously. For example, where the dumbbell fly only hits the pecs, but the bench press hits the pecs, shoulders, and arms.
  • Allows the heaviest weights to be lifted. By activating multiple muscle groups at once, compound lifts also allow for the heaviest weights to be lifted. Heavy lifting in low rep ranges (5-8 reps per set) is essential for skinny guys to build strength fast, which in turn builds muscle.
  • Ideal for progressive overload. Since compound lifts allow for the heaviest weights to be lifted, they’re also perfect for progressive overload. Regular overloading is essential to gain muscle. Simply lift progressively heavier weights to get bigger and stronger fast!
  • Functional. Compound lifts build functional strength since they’re all either pushing, pulling, or squatting movements. This translates into better athletic performance which many skinny people can benefit from.

Here are the 7 best compound exercises that helped me achieve my skinny-muscular transformation.

1) Barbell Bench Press

How to do the barbell bench press which is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to build upper body muscle.
Bench pressing is a great way to work the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

The barbell bench press is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to build horizontal pushing strength and upper-body muscle mass.

In fact, not doing enough bench pressing in a workout routine is a common reason why a chest won’t grow.

This powerful upper-body exercise targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Your abs, biceps, forearms, and back are also recruited for stabilization.

Top Tip:

As a skinny beginner- start your bench press progression plan with barbells before switching to dumbbells.

Here’s why:

The best way to build muscle is to lift heavy and elicit the greatest muscle activation possible.

Whilst, barbell bench pressing is the best way to lift heavy and quickly build a strength foundation, it’s not as effective as dumbbells for pectoral activation.

For example, this 2016 study consistently found the dumbbell bench press to elicit ~5% greater pectoral activation compared to using a barbell.

But the downside to dumbbell pressing is that less weight can be lifted (you can check out my other post for a dumbbell vs barbell bench press weight calculator).

The best way to incorporate the benefits of both into your workout routine is to start with the barbell bench press, and when you’re able to press 1x your body weight, switch to using dumbbells.

2) Chest Dips

How to do the chest dip which is a good alternative exercise to work the upper body without bench press equipment.
Chest dips work the chest, shoulders, and triceps (emphasis on the lower chest).

The chest dip is a great alternative exercise for skinny guys to work the chest build muscle at home without bench-pressing equipment.

All you need are dip bars.

This powerful upper-body exercise targets the same muscles as the bench press muscle, but with an emphasis on the lower pecs.

The best thing about the chest dip for skinny guys is you don’t need much external weight. Lifting your body weight is sufficient to bulk up the upper body and make noticeable strength gains.

Of course, holding a dumbbell or weight between your legs will give you even better results!

Top Tip:

The bodyweight dip can be difficult for beginners. A good progression plan is key to mastering the chest dip and maximizing muscle and strength gains as a skinny guy:

  1. Use a band weight that allows you to do 12 consecutive reps of assisted dips that are challenging.
  2. Move onto progressively lighter bands every 1-2 weeks to increase difficulty. Stay in the 12-rep range.
  3. When you are ready, remove the bands altogether and do 8 consecutive reps of bodyweight dips.
  4. Add a light weight between your legs when ready.

3) Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press

How to do the overhead barbell shoulder press which is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to build shoulder muscle.
Shoulder pressing is a great way to work all three deltoid heads in the shoulders as well as the triceps.

The overhead shoulder press is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to gain shoulder muscle mass fast.

This exercise targets all 3 deltoid heads in your shoulders (anterior, lateral, and posterior), as well as the triceps. It also engages the core, back, and biceps for stabilization.

Furthermore, this 2020 study demonstrates that the shoulder press leads to an overall greater activation of all 3 deltoid muscles compared to the lateral raise (another popular shoulder exercise).

All in all, the shoulder press is an essential exercise for skinny guys looking to build a V-tapered physique and gain upper-body strength!

Being a compound movement, it allows you to lift heavy and it’s great for regular progressive overload.

Top tip:

It’s often difficult to work in moderate-high reps with vertical pressing movements. Instead, it’s generally better to lift heavy and work in a lower rep range of 5-8 reps per set (use a weight that challenges you for the chosen rep range).

Additionally, opt for the seated shoulder press over the standing variation.

The seated shoulder press is more stable, allows you to lift heavier weights compared to standing, and is overall better for skinny guys to build muscle mass and strength fast.

4) Bent-Over Barbell Row

How to do the bent-over barbell row which is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to build back muscle.
Rowing is a great way to work the back and biceps.

The bent-over row is an effective exercise for skinny guys to target the back muscles for growth.

Rows target all of the back muscles including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, and posterior deltoids, as well as the biceps. Additionally, the spinal erectors, core, and hamstrings are engaged for stabilization.

Overall, the row is a fantastic exercise to build functional pulling strength and build the V-shape muscles required to broaden your back.

As always- lift heavy and progressive overload by increasing weight over time.

Top Tip:

Good lifting form is critical to achieving the best muscle-building benefits from the row.

More specifically, the angle of your back in relation to the floor is important for hitting the different back muscles.

Generally speaking, you should keep your back between 0-45° relative to the floor (0° being flat and parallel to the floor).

This leads to balanced activation of all of your back muscles. Exceeding the 45° threshold will shift emphasis away from your mid back and onto the upper back and shoulders.

5) Pull-Ups

How to do the pull-up which is one of the best lifts for skinny guys to build back muscle.
Pull-ups work the back and biceps without weights (emphasis on the lats).

If there’s any exercise that proves bodyweight alone can build muscle, it’s the mighty pull-up. This is one of the best exercises for skinny guys to build back muscle and increase functional pulling strength.

The pull-up targets the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, posterior deltoids, and biceps. It also recruits the abs, shoulders, and chest for stabilization.

The main difference between the pull-up and row is that the former is a vertical-pulling movement whilst the latter is a horizontal-pulling movement.

This means the pull-up shifts the emphasis onto the lats, making it a great movement to build a defined V-shape.

Top Tip:

Most people struggle to do pull-ups. A good progression plan and patience are key:

  1. Start by mastering 12 reps of band-assisted pull-ups and progressively use lighter bands each week.
  2. Remove the bands altogether when you are ready and master 8 reps of unassisted bodyweight pull-ups.
  3. Hold a 5lb dumbbell between your legs to do weighted pull-ups when you are ready.

For more pull-up tips, you can check out my beginner’s guide on how to master the pull-up.

6) Barbell Squat

How to do the barbell squat which is one of the best lifts for skinny guys to build upper body muscle.
Squats are an essential lift for skinny guys to build leg muscle.

The squat is an essential exercise for skinny guys to bulk up.

It works all of your lower body muscles including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. It also engages the core and lower back for stabilization.

Skinny guys often neglect lower-body training in favor of building the mirror muscles (chest, arms, and shoulders).

Do not make this mistake.

Strong legs are essential for developing a balanced physique and improving athletic performance.

Additionally, a 2018 study demonstrated a correlation between heavy squatting and the release of anabolic hormones which stimulate muscle growth and help you to build strength in almost all of your other compound lifts.

You can check out my other post for the full benefits of squats for skinny people.

Top Tip:

Many variations of squats exist. Skinny beginners should get comfortable with the high-bar back squat as soon as possible.

This is the best all-round squat variation to build bigger and stronger legs.

Additionally, there are important form cues to gain the most benefits from the squat:

  • Keep the knees pointed out and do not let them cave inwards.
  • Use a shoulder-width stance that isn’t too wide or too narrow.
  • Do not open the feet more than 45° relative to an imaginary straight line running from your spine to your navel.
  • Thighs should reach parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat.

This creates a stable squatting foundation, relieves knee stress, maximizes muscle activation, and helps you to squat heavier weights.

7) Barbell Deadlift

How to do the deadlifts which is one of the best movements for beginners to build full-body muscle and strength.
Deadlifts are another essential exercise for skinny guys to build full-body muscle.

Heavy deadlifts are another functional and essential exercise for skinny people to bulk up.

This exercise primarily works the posterior chain muscles which comprise the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back (some of the largest muscles in your body).

But all of the major muscle groups are engaged to some degree to deadlift a barbell off the ground.

Deadlifts and squats alone can drive some of the fastest muscle and strength gains for a skinny guy.

Top Tip:

There are two main variations of the deadlift; sumo vs traditional.

Both are effective full-body muscle-builders and you should experiment between the two to find the most comfortable variation for your body type.

Generally speaking, sumo is more suitable for skinny people whilst traditional is more suitable for stocky physiques.

Regardless of your chosen variation, lift heavy (>85% of 1RM) in low rep ranges of 3-6 reps per set for the biggest benefits.

45-Minute Workout Plan For Skinny Guys To Bulk Up

Here’s a free 3-day workout program for a skinny beginner to start building full-body muscle and strength fast:

Day 1:

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Between SetsWeight
Barbell bench press563 mins85% of 1RM
Bent-over barbell row563 mins85% of 1RM
Barbell shoulder press353 mins80% of 1RM
Barbell squat483 mins80% of 1RM

Day 2:

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Between SetsWeight
Barbell shoulder press553 mins80% of 1RM
Pull-ups583 minsBodyweight
Barbell squat583 mins80% of 1RM
Deadlift253 mins85% of 1RM

Day 3:

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Between SetsWeight
Barbell bench press563 mins85% of 1RM
Bent-over barbell row563 mins85% of 1RM
Barbell shoulder press353 mins80% of 1RM
Barbell squat583 mins80% of 1RM

As a beginner, you may want to practice each movement with dumbbells before progressing to a barbell. For more information, you can check out my favorite dumbbell lifts for skinny people.

10 Tips For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle Fast

Here are 10 essential training and nutrition tips for skinny guys to gain the most from the exercises mentioned in this post.

1) Optimize training frequency and rest

Skinny guys should workout to build muscle and strength. But be careful not to overtrain. Ensure at least 24 hours of rest between workouts to allow your body to recover.

2) Work in the 5-8 rep range

Low to moderate rep ranges are ideal for building muscle and strength. But make sure you lift heavy. And make sure that the weight chosen is sufficient to fatigue you within the allotted reps.

3) Do 3-5 sets per exercise per workout

This 2016 study showed that exceeding 6 sets for a given muscle group per workout does not confer added hypertrophy benefits. These are called “wasted sets”. Stay safe and put a cap on 5 sets.

4) Lift heavy weights

How heavy you should lift to build muscle depends on your strength levels. But generally speaking, aim to lift weights that are at least 80% of your 1RM.

5) Keep workouts short and intense

An effective workout for a beginner should not last much more than 45 minutes (that’s 45 minutes of active reps and resting between sets). Overtraining can impair muscle recovery and growth.

6) Workout when you feel fresh

The best time to train is when you’re fully alert. This is when your nervous system is in the ideal state to fire on all cylinders and complete a high-intensity workout.

7) Eat a calorie surplus

Skinny guys should go on a bulking diet in conjunction with heavy-weight training to ensure muscle growth. Determine your daily maintenance calories using an online calculator and add 5-15% to establish your total calorie intake.

8) Track macros

Your macros include protein, fats, and carbs. Protein is essential to fuel muscle repair and growth. Skinny guys can use protein powders as a convenient and cost-effective source of protein. Do not forget carbs and fats are also essential for fuelling your workouts.

9) Eat multiple meals per day

This is not essential. But eating 4-6 smaller meals per day rather than 3 large ones can help you to reach your daily calorie targets without feeling overly bloated.

10) Set realistic targets

It usually takes around 3 months to see the first signs of muscle definition, and 6 months to see significantly noticeable changes in muscle size. Be realistic with your goals to avoid disappointment.

You can check out my other post for a timeline of how fast skinny guys can gain muscle (includes photos).


Compound lifts are the best exercises for skinny guys to build muscle fast.

These include, but are not limited to the 5 big lifts; bench press, shoulder press, row, squat, and deadlift.

As a beginner trying to bulk up, focus on these movements and apply good training and diet practices to get bigger and stronger in the incoming months!

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printables) I used to go from skinny to ripped!


I'm Kal (B.S, M.S)- a health & fitness writer and owner of Kalibre Fitness. I love to nerd out on weight training and nutrition. My primary interests are in muscle hypertrophy mechanisms and strength development. You can connect with me in the "Contact Us" section below!

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