Go From Skinny To Buff: 19 Ninja Tips From A Hard Gainer

Go from skinny to buff.

If you’re tired of your skinny physique? Want to build muscle, increase strength, and achieve an athletic-looking physique? If so, then keep reading. I’ll share all the tips you need to learn how to go from skinny to buff.

Building a buff physique as a skinny person requires intense resistance training combined with a bulking diet. Focus on heavy compound lifting with progressive overload. And combine this with a 5-15% caloric surplus and high protein intake.

My 19 practical and actionable tips will cover everything you need to know to undergo a skinny to muscular transformation.

So let’s get started on your journey to building a toned and buff physique!

Before and after photos showing my skinny to buff transformation.
Before and after photos from my muscle transformation.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on the main compound lifts (bench press, shoulder press, row, squat, deadlift) to work the full-body.
  • Aim for 9-15 sets for each of the above exercises to hit each major muscle group for hypertrophy (growth).
  • Work in the 5-12 rep range for optimal strength and muscle gains
  • Lift heavy and remember to progressive overload by adding weight over time.
  • Lean bulk by eating 5-15% more than your daily maintenance calories.
  • Eat at least 1g of protein per lb of body weight.
  • Liquidized meals, meal preps, and pre-/post-workout meals can help you achieve your nutrition targets.
  • It realistically takes around 6-12 months for a skinny to truly get buff.

Why You Can Trust My Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff

First, let me explain my own credentials. After all, you want tips from someone who has achieved their own skinny to muscular transformation right?!

I weighed a measly 130lbs at 14% body fat for most of my teen and early adult years. You could say I was your typical skinny hard gainer…

I used to be a skinny guy and hardgainer.
I’ve been a skinny guy for most of my life.

This was an incredibly frustrating period. It felt like no matter how I trained or what I ate, I just couldn’t gain any noticeable muscle.

Not even the expensive tub of protein powder that I bought did the trick!

But I was a skinny guy on a tunnel-vision mission to get buff and muscular! So I researched the heck out of bodybuilding, hypertrophy (muscle gain), and strength-building.

Long story short; I used my newly-gleaned knowledge to devise a PROPER training and nutrition plan.

This started with a calisthenics (bodyweight) routine that quickly transitioned into a dumbbell routine supplemented with resistance bands.

I started lifting heavy weights to build muscle and get buff as a skinny guy.
My skinny to muscular transformation started with bodyweight, dumbbell, and resistance band workouts.

By this stage, I was addicted to lifting progressively heavier weights.

It wasn’t long before I switched to a full-blown barbell strength training routine (by the way this is when I made the most progress in my journey going from skinny to buff).

Heavy barbell workouts helped me to build muscle and strength fast.
I eventually switched to barbell training and this helped me make muscle gains and get buff fast.

Fast forward 3 years of dedicated training and dieting; I’ve packed on almost 40lbs (20kg) of lean muscle.

My skinny-to-buff transformation is complete.

Below, I share the essential tips that I’ve learned from my muscle transformation story.

10 Ninja Training Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff

If you want to learn how to go from skinny to buff, you need to know how to train effectively for strength and hypertrophy.

This may sound obvious to some.

But speaking as an ex-skinny guy, it can be very easy to overlook the basic principles. The last training tip in this list is the most important!

1) Prioritize The 5 Big Lifts

5 compound lifts (bench press, shoulder press, row, squat, and deadlift) to achieve a skinny to muscular transformation.
These 5 compound lifts are the best exercises for skinny guys to build muscle.

One of the biggest mistakes made by skinny beginners trying to go from skinny to buff is to focus on the small isolation-type lifts like the bicep curl.

Isolation lifts have a place for getting jacked. But they should not be the main focus of your training program if you’re looking to get buff fast.

Instead, you should focus on the 5 big compound lifts:

  • Bench press.
  • Row.
  • Shoulder press.
  • Squat.
  • Deadlift.

In fact, the 5 compound lifts alone are sufficient for a skinny guy to get jacked.

Unlike isolation-type movements, compound lifts recruit multiple muscle groups in a single movement. This allows you to:

  • Lift the heaviest weights.
  • Recruit the most muscle fibers.
  • Quickly build overall muscle mass and strength.
  • Work the core and arms whilst working the primary target muscles.
  • Build functional strength with push/pull movements.

Trust me, the 5 exercises mentioned above are the best lifts for skinny guys to get buff.

2) Use Isolation Lifts As Accessories

Use isolation lifts such as bicep curls to tone and define specific muscles.
Isolation lifts such as bicep curls are ideal for toning and defining specific muscles.

If you’re looking to get muscular fast, focusing on compound lifts is recommended.

But that doesn’t mean isolation lifts are useless.

Far from it.

Isolation lifts emphasize single muscles and they have a place in a skinny-to-buff workout program. My favorite isolation lifts include:

Isolation ExerciseTarget Muscle
Dumbbell curlBicep
Overhead extensionTricep
Lateral raiseSide deltoid
Weighted sit upAbs
Leg extensionQuadriceps
Leg curlHamstrings
Calf raiseGastrocnemius

These movements are great for defining the mirror muscles like the arms, chest, and abs (you can check out my other post to find out why you should train the abs).

So include them should you wish (they aren’t essential to go from skinny to buff).

But don’t let them become the focus of your program.

I recommend a 75% compound vs 25% isolation lifts in your workout plan.

3) Focus On Building Strength…FAST

Use heavy compound movements like the bench press to gain strength and build muscle fast.
I recommend skinny guys lift 5 sets of 5 reps on the compound lifts using a challenging weight to build muscle strength and get buff fast.

Studies like this 2020 review continue to demonstrate that muscle size and strength follow a strong correlation. Generally speaking, the stronger you get the bigger you get, and vice versa (though not always).

This is a concept that skinny beginners often overlook.

Avoid bodybuilder-style workouts that focus on higher rep ranges and lighter weights. These programs are great for seasoned lifters with an established strength foundation to get a good muscle pump.

But they can be quite ineffective for skinny beginners with a relatively low-strength foundation.

Instead, adopt a strength-style program like the Stronglifts 5×5 that focuses on lower rep ranges and heavy weights. These programs are great for building muscle and strength FAST.

You need to lift heavy to get big! And to lift heavy, you need to be strong…

4) Follow A Full-Body Workout Split

How to work the full-body as a skinny person.
Example of a 3-day full-body split. Each workout day you train the whole body and each muscle receives 24-48 hours of rest between workouts.

Following a workout split is essential for skinny people looking to get buff.

You can’t just train when you feel like it and expect to succeed. Similarly, training every day is a mistake commonly made by beginners and one you should avoid.

Your training plan needs to be structured.

A workout split describes the number of training and rest days you allocate in a given week. Following a split is beneficial because it ensures:

  • Adequate rest days. This is essential for getting bigger and stronger. Muscles need time to recover and repair after a workout, which is essential for growth. It is recommended to rest each muscle for at least 24-48 hours of rest between workouts for optimal recovery.
  • Targeting of all muscle groups. It is important to work every major muscle group for a balanced physique. This includes the legs, which are often neglected in beginner bodybuilding routines in favor of working the V-shape mirror muscle. The legs are the largest muscles in your body and training them is beneficial for muscle development in your whole body.
  • Optimal training frequency. A 2016 study recommends hitting each muscle group 2-3 times per week, with at least one rest day in between, for optimal growth. This training frequency allows optimal muscle stimulation whilst also preventing overtraining and injury.

Popular splits include:

  • Full-body.
  • Push-pull-legs.
  • Upper-lower body.
  • Muscle group split.

I recommend following a full-body split. This has you training the whole body (legs, core, arms, shoulders, chest, and back) 3-4 times a week with 1-2 rest days in between.

This is one of the most efficient and time-saving splits for a beginner to start building muscle.

5) Optimize Sets And Rep Range

How many sets and reps skinny guys should do to get muscular.

Lifting weights aimlessly without considering my sets and reps was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a skinny guy, and one that prevented me from getting truly muscular.

A “rep” is short for repetition; a single up and down motion in a lift. A “set” refers to a consecutive number of reps performed without a break.

Optimizing your sets and reps is one of the easiest things a skinny guy can do to start getting buff.

This has been highlighted by numerous studies, including this 2021 study, which consistently demonstrates that training frequency doesn’t even matter as long as you complete the optimal number of sets and reps per week.

So what’s the ideal set and rep range for muscle growth?

Here’s what I recommend:

  • 5-12 reps per set.
  • 3-5 sets per muscle group per workout.
  • 9-15 total sets per muscle group per week.

For example, you could do the following sets and reps of squats for optimal leg growth as a beginner:

Additionally, it’s also important to lift heavy to ensure a sufficient training intensity to promote muscle growth (see next).

6) Lift A Minimum Of 80% 1RM

Heavy deadlifting to build full-body muscle and get buff.

Weights above 80% of your 1RM (for a given exercise) is considered heavy and is ideal for skinny guys to get buff.

Lifting heavy weights is another easy but effective solution for skinny guys to implement in their workout program to get buff.

Studies have shown that putting your muscles under heavy load (also called mechanical tension) is a primary driver for muscle growth.

Of course, the term “heavy” is subjective. A heavy weight for a seasoned powerlifter is likely impossible for a beginner to lift.

So how much weight should a skinny guy lift to build muscle?

I recommend lifting at least 80% of your 1RM.

A 1RM stands for a 1-rep max. Put simply, this is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition on any given lift. The easiest and safest way to determine your 1RM for an exercise is to use a database like Strength Level.

Simply determine your 1RM and take 80%. This is the minimum weight you should be lifting for 8 reps. Working in lower rep ranges means you should increase weight.

7) Overload Weight By 5-10% Regularly

So you know that lifting heavy is the best way for a skinny guy to get buff. But you’ll soon find that even the heaviest weights may become not-so-heavy over time as you get stronger.

And if you continue to lift the same weight for extended periods, then your gains will start plateauing.

That’s why it’s important to apply progressive overload.

Overload refers to the process of increasing exercise intensity over time to keep your muscles constantly adapting and growing.

Combining heavy compound lifting with progressive overload is the best way for skinny guys to get muscular fast.

As a general rule, I like to overload weight by 2.5% to isolation lifts and 5% to compound lifts. for example- I would add around 5lbs/2.5kg to a 20lbs/10kg bicep curl or 10lbs/5kg to a 120lbs/60kg bench press.

8) Reduce Rep Tempo

Most skinny beginners do not usually consider the speed at which they lift their weights. But this can be a crucial factor in determining muscle activation and how fast you build muscle.

Rushing through each rep is one of the worst ways you can lift weights for hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Repetition tempo refers to the speed at which you complete an exercise rep. It impacts the amount of tension you place on the target muscle. The slower the tempo the greater the tension (also called time under tension or TUT) and muscle activation.

Lift slowly and maintain control over your weights for the greatest hypertrophy benefits.

Each rep should last for at least 2 seconds (1 second up and 1 second down). Purposefully lifting slowly and controlled will help you achieve full muscle activation potential.

You can even demonstrate the benefits of TUT in your next workout. Try reducing weight by 10lbs and reduce tempo to 6 seconds per rep (3 seconds up and 3 seconds down). You’ll feel a massive muscle pump by the end of your set!

9) Invest In Good Equipment (If Training At Home)

Home vs gym membership for skinny guys to build muscle.

Joining a good gym means you have all the equipment needed to go from skinny to buff; barbells, dumbbells, racks, benches, and weight plates.

Similarly, decent home equipment should provide you with enough weight to continue overloading and building muscle. A pair of 50lb adjustable dumbbells are the bare essentials. If you can get a barbell rack setup then even better.

Yes, skinny guys can build muscle at home without equipment. But having good equipment on hand will make it much easier.

Flybird bench and powerblocks to build muscle at home.
I found the Powerblock Elites and Flybird adjustable bench to be an affordable and effective home setup to get buff as a skinny guy.

I found the PowerBlock adjustable dumbbell and Flybird adjustable bench to be a great starting setup for beginners. You can follow each link for my hands-on reviews.

Regardless of your chosen route- gym membership or home gym- the equipment doesn’t necessarily have to be the most premium.

It just needs to be durable and give you enough weight to efficiently challenge your muscles for growth!

10) Simplify Your Training

Speaking from my own muscle gain transformation experience, the biggest lesson I learned was this:

Avoid the fancy over-the-top exercises you see on social platforms.

These are mostly for show and to garner views. They often do not even activate the proposed muscle groups.

The tips mentioned above provide you with everything you need to know (training-wise) as a skinny guy looking to get buff.

As a beginner, you have the benefit of newbie gains which makes it easier to build muscle as a beginner compared to a trained lifter.

To capitalize on newbie gains and build muscle fast, focus on:

  • Heavy lifting on the basic compound movements.
  • Progressive overload.
  • Slow and controlled reps.
  • Lifting enough weekly number of sets and reps.
  • Giving your muscles enough time to rest.
  • Eating a bulking diet (see next).

9 Ninja Nutrition Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff

Going from skinny to buff isn’t just about working out.

Far from it.

Half the battle lies in your diet. You need to be overeating on calories and protein (also called bulking) to fuel muscle growth.

And speaking from experience and research, bulking is actually the most difficult aspect for most people trying to achieve a skinny to muscular transformation.

Below, are 9 of my best bulking tip to build muscle fast.

11) Calculate And Track Bulking Calories…PROPERLY

A skinny guy should bulk to get buff and gain muscle.

Surplus calories are used to fuel muscle growth, whilst surplus protein serves as the raw material for building lean mass.

So you better make sure you eat enough of both if you want to get muscular!

In fact, not eating enough calories and protein is one of the most common reasons why skinny people stay underweight.

It’s so easy, especially as a chronic undereater, to overestimate the amount of food you’re eating.

This is why it’s important to calculate and track your daily bulking calories.

To calculate your bulking calories- determine your maintenance calories and then add 5-20% to create a surplus (see next point, #12).

To track your calories- use a bulking app like Myfitnesspal to log food intake. Alternatively, you can use a spreadsheet or notepad to manually calorie count by looking at the nutrition info labels on the foods you eat.

I prefer manual calorie counting because nutrition values for the same food items can vary a lot depending on where they are sourced from.

12) Avoid Bulking Too Much

Bulking is a science as much as it is an art. If you’re looking to go from skinny to ripped and buff, you need to go on a sensible caloric surplus.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that bulking simply means eating as much food as physically possible. This can put you in an extreme caloric surplus and lead to excessive fat gain, which most people want to avoid.

Remember, it’s good to be muscular. But too much body fat is unhealthy and generally not considered to be aesthetic.

So how do you avoid “over bulking”?

First, you should know that there are two types of bulk that vary in their caloric surplus:

Bulk VariationApprox. Calorie SurplusResult
Lean bulk5-15% (mild)Moderate muscle gain and low fat gain
Dirty bulkOver 20% (extreme)High muscle gain and high fat gain

I recommend lean bulking for 3-6 months to build muscle with minimal fat gains (remember to train hard as you bulk).

The benefits of lean bulking have been highlighted by this 2013 study. In this study, the authors showed there are only so many calories your body can use to build muscle before storing the rest as fat.

That’s why you should stick to a sensible calorie surplus; the goal is to build as much muscle as possible with the least fat gains. This can help you stay lean as you bulk.

13) Track And Log Macros

Macronutrients include protein, fats, and carbs.

“Macros” stands for the macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

If you’re a skinny guy looking to get buff fast, then it’s a good idea to track your macros.

In other words, keep a record of how many grams of protein/carbs/fats you’re eating every day. Getting the right ratio of macros can help you minimize fat gain whilst you build muscle. And this is important for building a ripped physique as opposed to a bulky physique.

Here are the macro ratios that worked to help me go build lean muscle as a skinny guy:

MacronutrientApprox % Of Daily CaloriesApprox Daily Grams Per Lb Bodyweight

Don’t fret too much about micromanaging the exact gram count for carbs and fats. They’re not too important since they’re usually already accounted for in your calorie intake. You can reach close to your daily recommended intake and still build muscle efficiently.

The most important macro to focus on is your recommended daily protein intake.

14) Aim For 1g Of Protein Per Pound Bodyweight

Reaching your daily recommended protein intake is essential for any skinny person trying to get buff. In fact, beginners often fail to build muscle, despite intense training, because they aren’t eating enough protein.

It is the most important macronutrient for muscle growth and repair.

When you perform intense resistance training (e.g. heavy weight lifting), you cause microscopic damage to your muscle fibers. Protein is then used to repair and rebuild these fibers. As a result, you’ll see your muscles get stronger and larger in the process.

Recommended protein intake for optimal hypertrophy and strength varies between sources. But numerous studies propose the number generally lies in the region of 1g per lb of body weight.

For example; a 140lb skinny guy should eat 140g of protein every day to maintain muscle growth.

15) Do not Neglect Fats And Carbs

Avoid the mistake of not including enough- or even completely cutting- fats and carbs from your diet. This can be especially tempting for skinny-fat guys looking to build muscle, lose belly fat, and get buff.

But fats and carbs are essential for supporting muscle growth and building a muscular physique. Here’s why:

Role Of Fats In Muscle GrowthRole Of Carbs In Muscle Growth
Energy for intense workoutsEnergy for intense workouts
Anabolic hormone productionGlycogen production and storage
Fat-soluble vitamin absorptionFuel for post-workout muscle repair

Generally speaking, fats and carbs give your body the energy required to train hard and fuel post-workout muscle repair and recovery.

The type of fats you include is also important. Avoid processed saturated fats and instead opt for healthy unsaturated fats such as oily fish, vegetable oils, and nuts.

If you’re reaching your recommended daily bulking calories, you shouldn’t worry too much about having to micromanage your fat/carb intake. You should already be getting enough!

16) Prep Meals In Advance

High-protein meal prep example to gain muscle and get buff as a skinny guy.
Nutritious muscle-building meals can be prepared in advance to help you reach nutrition targets.

Meal prepping is a simple but effective hack for skinny guys undergoing a muscular transformation.

Meal preps help you stick to your nutrition plan. This is especially important if you don’t have time during the day to prepare nutritious meals.

Preparing your own meals also helps you to control your portion sizes and ingredients. And this ultimately helps you to hit the macros and calorie targets required to build muscle.

Additionally, my favorite thing about meal prepping is the time-saving and money-saving aspects. Bulking can be expensive and require a lot of cooking time without planning. Instead, you can bulk-cook a meal on Sunday and batch them up into Tupperware containers for the freezer.

These containers can be microwaved whenever you need them, and you’ll get a much cheaper and more nutritious meal compared to takeouts.`

Ultimately by having healthy and nutrient-dense meals consistently available, you can ensure you hit your calorie and macro targets for muscle growth.

Beginners can check out my 140g of protein-a-day meal plan for inspiration!

17) Eat Pre- And Post-Workout Meals

Efficient muscle growth and recovery are important for skinny guys trying to get buff. And meal timing is something you can do to support this process.

Pre- and post-workout meals are especially important.

A pre-workout meal is eaten 1-2 hours before training. It provides you with the energy and nutrients required to lift heavy and train hard. Without a nutritious pre-workout, you may find your workouts to be slow and lethargic.

A post-workout meal is eaten 1-2 hours after training. It provides you with the carbohydrates required to replenish glycogen stores and protein to facilitate muscle repair and recovery. This will help your muscles rebuild themselves in time for the next workout.

Pre- and post-workout meals should include high amounts of carbohydrates (~50g minimum), protein (~30g minimum), as well as vitamins and minerals

18) Liquidize Calories

Liquid calorie shakes are ideal for skinny guys to bulk up.
How to make a liquid calorie shake.

By now, you should realize the importance of going on bulk for achieving your muscle transformation.

But eating in a caloric surplus is easier said than done. In fact, skinny people often find it extremely difficult to overeat without feeling uncomfortably bloated.

That’s where liquid calories come in. These are simple meals that are blended into shakes and smoothies that are easy to consume, fast to digest, and often nutrient-rich.

Typical liquid-calorie meal ingredients include:

  • Oats- a good source of complex carbs.
  • Milk- a good source of fats and protein.
  • Honey- delicious and calorie-dense.
  • Fruits- contain lots of natural minerals and vitamins.
  • Olive oil- easy way to increase calorie intake.
  • Protein powders- ideal high-protein foundation for a shake.

You can check out my other post for my favorite liquid calorie shakes to build muscle as a skinny guy.

19) Have A Realistic Timeframe

Before you undertake your own skinny-to-buff transformation, you should have an idea of the expected timeframe for results.

This can save you a lot of disappointment and prevent you from giving up too early.

Here’s a realistic estimated timeframe of muscle-gain results for skinny guys looking to build muscle:

1-3First signs of muscle growth and definition.
3-6Significantly broader upper body, thicker legs, and bigger arms.
6-12Skinny to buff transformation.
12-24Skinny to jacked transformation.

It takes a beginner around half a month to gain 1lb of lean muscle. And 10lbs of muscle gain is when noticeable results really start showing. That means it can take up to 6 months before the fruits of your labor start showing.

Of course, the exact timeframe of results can vary between people. And some beginners, with the help of newbie gains and a good program, can see results much faster.


I’ve shared 19 essential tips on how to go from skinny to buff. Each tip ultimately revolves around undertaking a good training and diet program.

As a skinny guy looking to get muscular, you should focus on heavy compound lifting and overload when you can. It’s also important to lift with good form to achieve maximal muscle activation.

Additionally, eating a caloric and protein surplus is equally essential. Go on a lean bulk by eating 5-15% more than your daily maintenance calories and ensure a protein intake of 1g per lb of body weight.

This should allow you to get buff in about 6-12 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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