As a hard gainer, you may feel like it’s impossible to gain muscle and pack weight onto your skinny frame. And the problem often feels compounded without a gym membership either. But fear not. Here’s a dumbbell workout designed to get skinny guys bigger and stronger at home.
- 3-day training split that includes enough rest days for optimal muscle recovery.
- Full-body workouts promote muscle growth in the chest, shoulders, back, arms, abs, and legs.
- Each workout can be completed within 30-45 minutes.
- Prioritizes compound lifts to gain overall muscle mass fast.
- Lift heavy and apply progressive overload for optimal muscle growth (hypertrophy).
This dumbbell routine helped me to gain my first 10lbs of muscle as an ex-skinny guy (without having to join a gym. So whether you’re “skinny-fat” or just “scrawny”, I know it can do the same for you.
Best Home Dumbbell Exercises For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle
Compound exercises are ideal for skinny people to put on muscle at home using dumbbells. Examples include squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, and rows. These exercises combined will all the muscles in the body.
If you didn’t already know- a compound exercise is one that engages multiple muscles at once. This is the opposite of isolation movements like bicep curls that focus on a single muscle.
The best compound exercises for skinny people and the muscles worked:
|Exercise||Primary Target Muscle||Secondary Target Muscle|
|Squat||Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves||Core|
|Lunge||Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves||Core|
|Bench press||Pectorals, deltoids||Triceps|
|Row||Latissimus dorsi, traps, rhomboids||Biceps|
You’ll notice this exercise list targets all of your muscles, including; the chest, shoulders, back, arms, abs, and legs.
Next, I’ll show you it can be structured into a full workout program.
Dumbbell Home Workout For Skinny Guys To Build Muscle
Dumbbells are some of the best investments you can make for a simple home gym. Modern adjustable models are relatively affordable, extremely convenient, and provide enough weight for skinny beginners to build a significant amount of muscle.
Here’s the full-body dumbbell workout:
|Dumbbell Exercise||Sets||Reps||Rest Between Sets||Weight|
|Goblet squat||3||12||1.5 min||70% of 1RM|
|Bench press||4||8||1.5 min||80% of 1RM|
|Bent-over overhand row||4||10||1.5 min||75% of 1RM|
|Overhead press||4||8||1.5 min||80% of 1RM|
|Deadlift||3||12||1.5 min||70% of 1RM|
Time To Complete:
Each workout takes ~30 minutes from start to end. Generally speaking, workouts should not exceed 1 hour. With that said, session duration gets longer or shorter depending on how long you rest between sets. Most people can recover and be ready for the next set in 1.5 minutes. But if this is your first time lifting weights, it’s ok to take a longer rest.
How It Works:
Repeat the same workout 3 times per week. This is a good training frequency for skinny people to start with. It’s important you leave 24-48 hours of rest between training days for your muscles to recover.
The workout is relatively simple.
Speaking from personal experience, less is often more when it comes to building muscle (especially for skinny guys whose muscles are yet to adapt to the high-volume training found in most bodybuilding programs ).
Upper body muscle groups receive 12 total sets each in the week. Lower body muscles receive 18 total sets in the week. Additionally, you’ll work in the 8-12 rep range. This falls within the general training volume guidelines for hypertrophy.
Complete the alotted number of sets and reps. For example, 3 sets of 12 requires you to perform 12 consecutive repetions and resting to complete the first set before moving onto the second set.
Finally, stick to the exercise order detailed in the program. It’s designed to alternate between opposing muscle groups to give your muscles that have just been worked, the time they need to recover before being hit again.
1RM stands for 1 repetition maximum. Simply take the recommended percentage of 1RM. That’s how much weight you should be using for the allotted reps. For example, 70% of a 150lb dumbbell deadlift is 105lbs.
If you need more details, you can check out my article on how much weight to lift for muscle gain.
Optional Exercise Additions:
You’ll notice ab and arm exercises are absent in this workout. That’s because compound movements also work your abs and arms (albeit to a lesser degree than the primary target muscle).
However, you can include exercises directly targeting these muscles should you wish. Good examples include:
- Dumbbell curl variations.
- Overhead tricep extension.
- Tricep kickback.
- Weighted ab crunches.
- Weighted sit-ups.
- Side bends.
Avoid exceeding 10 total weekly sets if you decide to include these exercises. I recommend a maximum 5 weekly sets per muscle group (5 for abs and 5 for arms).
How To Apply Progressive Overload:
Progressive overload is the act of increasing exercise intensity as you get fitter and stronger. It’s essential for skinny guys to continue building muscle regardless of whether you’re following the program at home or at the gym.
How to progressive overload using dumbbells:
- Lift heavier weights (recommended). This is the most popular, and my favorite way, to overload. Add 2.5-5lbs to upper body exercises or 5-10lbs to lower body exercises.
- Increase reps. Another popular method for overloading. Increase 1 extra rep at a time. For example, doing 8 reps of bench press on your current workout means you can increase to 9 reps on the next one. Avoid exceeding 15 reps per set which is not ideal for hypertrophy in skinny people.
- Increase sets. Similar to overloading with reps, you can also overload on sets (again 1 extra set at a time). I don’t like this method because it prolongs the workout. I prefer to just add weight. However, it’s a viable option if you’ve maxed out your dumbbells at home.
- Reduce rest times. This is a good option if you’re a skinny guy with good cardio fitness. Otherwise, stick to the other methods instead.
As a general rule- overload when you feel physically capable of doing so (aim to overload once every 1-3 workouts).
How To Perform These Dumbbell Exercises
A) Goblet Squat
Beginners often don’t enjoy squatting because it can be challenging. But speaking from personal experience, it’s one of the best exercises for a skinny guy to build bigger legs. And the goblet squat is an effective home alternative for people who do not have access to the heavy barbells found in a gym.
One of the main drawbacks of goblet squats is the limited max weight of a dumbbell (compared to a barbell). However, a good pair of adjustable dumbbells, like the PowerBlocks, can provide enough weight for a skinny beginner to safely increase leg size.
You can also add a resistance band to make the exercise even more challenging (see pic). I use the Undersun band set (you can find my full review here).
B) Bench press
The PowerBlock-Flybird bench combination is affordable and effective for bench pressing at home.
The dumbbell bench press is a staple for any skinny guy looking to build a strong upper body. In one fell movement, you hit your pecs, delts, and triceps. It’s an awesome exercise to develop your mirror muscles (chest, arms, and shoulders).
This is a fun exercise that allows for easy overload. Adding weight on a weekly basis is strangely addictive.
My top tip is to focus on bringing the dumbbells together near the top (think of an arc motion), rather than simply pressing them vertically upwards in a straight line. This maximizes pectoral activation.
If you don’t have a weight bench, you can simply lie on the floor. This variation is called a floor press. You won’t be able to get the full range of motion, but it’s still effective for skinny beginners to build a bigger chest using only dumbbells and no bench or gym membership.
C) Bent-over row
The dumbbell row is to the back and biceps, what the bench press is to the chest and triceps. In other words, it’s one of the best upper body exercises for a skinny person to build a bigger, broader, and thicker back.
You can try different grip positions to target different regions of your back and biceps:
- Standard-grip (shown in pic)- balanced back muscle development.
- Wide-grip- emphasis on the posterior delts and rhomboids.
- Narrow-grip- emphasis on the latissimus dorsi.
- Neutral-grip- emphasis on the biceps and latissimus dorsi (if you’re interested, you can check out my other post to learn how to grow your biceps).
I recommend lifting heavy on this exercise. It’s a big movement that recruits multiple large muscle groups. So using heavier weights allows you to gain the full benefits from the row.
D) Overhead press
Vertical pressing is an awesome way for skinny guys to build broader shoulders as well as develop cut triceps.
My number one tip- use a full range of motion (ROM) as opposed to doing half-reps. The dumbbell should reach the neckline and the elbows should go well below the shoulders at the bottom of the movement.
Not using a full ROM- in my personal experience and seeing other people- is THE most common mistake made by beginners. It reduces deltoid activation.
Additionally, you should be careful not to flare your elbows out. The elbows should be tucked in and facing a 45° angle from the torso during a shoulder press. This minimizes the risk of shoulder pain as a result of bad form.
Deadlifts are another staple of a good muscle-building program, hitting all the muscles in your body as you pull the weight off the floor.
Deadlifting is commonly performed with a barbell which allows heavy weights to be shifted and maximum muscle gains to be made. But skinny guys will find heavy dumbbells to be sufficient for a home workout.
A word of caution though- strength can rapidly increase on deadlifts (assuming you’re overloading properly) because it’s such a big exercise. A cheap and effective hack to add more weight is to use resistance bands (see pic).
Expected Results From This Dumbbell Home Workout:
- Build full-body muscle.
- Gain weight (requires a good nutrition plan).
- Increase strength.
- Gain tone and definition.
- Reveal a V-shape torso.
To see the best results, it’s essential to lift heavy (use the recommended weight loads) and apply progressive overload to get bigger and stronger.
Also, remember that building bigger muscles and gaining weight isn’t achieved by training only. You also need to undertake an effective bulking diet (for detials you can check out my skinny guy’s guide to gaining muscle at home here).
How Long Will It Take Skinny Guys To See Results?
Generally speaking, the average beginner can expect the following timeline of results:
|1-3||First noticeable signs of muscle growth and significant strength gains.|
|3-6||Significantly bigger and stronger physique.|
|6-12||Typical “transformation” that can be noticed by other people.|
This is just a general timeline. Success also depends on other factors including program adherence, overloading, and nutrition.
For a more detailed explanation, you can check out my other post on how long it takes a skinny person to gain weight.
This home dumbbell workout will help skinny guys build muscle without having to join a gym.
The 3-day (per week) program focuses on full-body compound workouts, heavy lifting, and progressive overload to drive hypertrophy.
For the best results, you should combine this routine with a bulking diet.
Beginners can generally see the first noticeable gains within 3 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!