How Long Skinny Guys Should Workout (to gain weight)

How long skinny guys should workout

As a “Hardgainer”, it’s often difficult to pack on muscle mass despite your best efforts. And a common beginner mistake is to spend too many hours training. This article explains how long skinny guys should workout to gain weight.

20 to 30-minute high-intensity workouts are sufficient for a skinny person to begin gaining weight. Short workouts prevent excess fatigue and impaired muscle recovery, both of which are bad for muscle growth. Intermediates can increase workout duration to 30-60 minutes.

I used to be a skinny guy myself. Since then, I’ve put on 40lbs of total body weight. And let me tell you; the phrase “less is more” is oftentimes true when it comes to training. The last thing you want to do is waste countless hours in the weight room, like I did, with no results to show.

As they say, work smarter not harder. And that’s exactly what I’ll show you below!

Key Takeaways:

  • High-volume bodybuilding-style workouts take a long time and are not ideal for a skinny beginner.
  • The better alternative is to start with short but intense sessions and increase the duration over time.
  • Progress onto a traditional training split to train for longer when you feel ready.
  • More time spent training does not necessarily equal more muscle growth (aim to complete the recommended training volume instead!).
I found 20 to 30 minute short workouts were more effective than long sessions as a skinny beginner.
I was an ex-skinny guy and found that short intense workouts were more effective than long slogs as a newbie.

Factors Affecting How Long You Should Workout

As a newbie, I fell for the trap of following bodybuilder-style workouts. These programs are often (not always) designed for intermediates and above. In other words, people with well over a year of consistent lifting experience.

Furthermore, they commonly feature a high training volume that takes a skinny beginner far too long to complete, leaving you mentally and physically drained, and unable to recover in time for the next workout.

In reality, the ideal workout duration actually varies from person to person. And 3 main factors affect how long you should work:

  • Current fitness levels. Those who have higher physical conditioning are naturally able to push their bodies harder for a longer duration.
  • Previous training experience. People who used to be at peak levels of fitness are generally more capable of handling higher workloads even when de-trained.
  • Gender and genetics. Men and those who have a naturally high muscle composition are able to train for longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, these factors aren’t in your favor as an ectomorph (a typically skinny person with a pencil-like physique). Therefore it makes sense to tailor your program according to your natural capabilities.

Why Shorter Workout Durations Are Ideal For Skinny People

The muscle repair, recovery, and growth process explains why skinny people should not train for too long.

The main reason why shorter workouts are better for skinny beginners comes down to the principles of muscle recovery and growth.

Muscle is living tissue- the fibers get bigger and stronger the more you train them. This is called an adaptive response to training. Put simply: well-adapted muscles in trained lifters are capable of working harder and for longer, compared to unadapted muscles in newbie lifters.

Furthermore, intense weight lifting induces micro-tears in your muscles. It’s the subsequent repair process that then drives growth (known as hypertrophy).

Thus, recovery is paramount for optimal growth. And a muscle simply won’t get bigger if the workload exceeds the capability to repair and recover post-workout. This is called the maximum recoverable volume.

“Training more than your body can recover from will negatively impact muscle gains because of impaired recovery.”

Dr Mike Israetelli, PhD.

By limiting your workouts to 20-30 minutes per session as a skinny beginner, you give your body the time to safely adapt and grow. After 1-3 months of consistent training, you can increase workout duration (if you feel ready to do so).

Can Skinny People Build Muscle With Short Workouts?

It’s not all doom and gloom for beginners. You may not be able to train as hard or for as long as a seasoned lifter. But you do have one great thing on your side:

Newbie gains.

This refers to the ability of untrained lifters (i.e. skinny beginners) to rapidly gain significant amounts of muscle mass and strength in a relatively short duration of time. Skinny people, in fact, usually find it easier to build muscle compared to trained lifters.

This is because untrained muscles are highly sensitive to most types of physical stimuli. And intense weight training, even when performed for short durations, can be sufficient to promote hypertrophy.

For more information, you can check out my other post for a Skinny Person’s timeline for weight gain.

Example Of A Beginners 20-Minute Intense Weight Lifting Workout

Another big mistake I made as a skinny guy was to focus too much on isolation-type lifts like bicep curls, all the while neglecting the big compound-type lifts like rows.

Isolation exercises target a single muscle at a time. In contrast, compound exercises work multiple muscle groups in a single motion. The latter is therefore more effective for general weight gain and allows you to maximize your workload for hypertrophy in the shortest time possible.

Here’s an example of a 20-minute full-body compound workout for beginners:

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Between SetsWeightTarget Muscles
Barbell Squat381.5 min70% of 1RMLegs and core
Bench Press281.5 min70% of 1RMChest and arms
Barbell row281.5 min70% of 1RMBack and arms
Shoulder Press381.5 min70% of 1RMShoulders and arms

Note: 1RM stands for 1-rep max (the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a given exercise). For more information, you can check out my other post which explains the ideal weight load for beginners.

This is a solid workout for a skinny person who has never lifted weights before. It’s short but relatively intense. Aim to repeat this workout 2-3 times per week with at least 24-48 hours of rest between each session.

Once you feel ready to progress, you can adopt a more traditional training split for beginner-intermediates (see next).

How To Progress With Training Splits

Training split is the fancy term used to describe the working and resting days in a structured program. Most beginner-intermediates follow training programs that can be broadly categorized into the following “splits”:

Workout SplitTypical Workout Duration
Full body45 to 60 minutes
Push-pull-legs (PPL)45 to 60 minutes
Upper-lower (UL)45 to 60 minutes
Muscle group60 to 75 minutes
Stronglifts 5×5 75 to 90 minutes

These programs have a longer duration compared to the beginner’s program I detailed above. However, they’re great because they hit your muscles with a higher working volume per week. They’re also structured in a way that gives each major muscle group the recommended 24-48 hours of rest between workouts for recovery.

This makes them a logical progression for a skinny person whose muscles have already begun adapting to weight training and are ready to increase workout duration.

I personally recommend the Stronglifts 5×5 program for making fast gains. You can find my adapted version here which helped me to go from skinny to muscular.

Why Splits Are Ideal For Skinny Guys Looking To Workout Longer

Another great thing about a good training split is that they incorporate the ideal training volume for a beginner to continue building muscle!

So what is training volume?

Volume is simply the combined number of sets, reps, and weight lifted per week. And hitting a sufficient volume is key for skinny people to build muscle and gain weight. Additionally, the current consensus for the ideal beginner’s volume for optimal hypertrophy is as follows:

  • 10-15 sets per muscle per week.
  • 5-12 reps per set.
  • Lifting a weight that is 70-90% of your 1RM (more reps = lighter weight and vice versa).

All of the splits mentioned in the previous section will get you close to this recommended volume in the shortest time possible.

Potential Pitfall: Longer Workouts Do Not Equal Faster Results!

This is a common misconception that skinny people often have, and one that I fell for too.

It’s true that more workload generally leads to more muscle growth and faster weight gain. But only to a certain extent (hint, read back on the maximum recoverable limit!).

Once you exceed the recommended weekly volume (as described above), the benefits returned begin to plateau. In other words, your muscles stop responding to your workouts. This is not only a waste of time but also an unnecessary mental and physical drain. Furthermore, you also increase the risk of overtraining.

My recommendation- aim for the allotted number of sets and reps in your workout split rather than a set time limit.


Skinny guys looking to gain weight and have never lifted weights before should aim for a 20-30 minute (max) workout duration to begin with.

You can then switch to a traditional split to increase training time and continue driving muscle gains. These programs often last anywhere from 45-90 minutes.

Be careful not to overtrain. Aim to complete the recommended weekly training volume rather than focusing on the time spent working out.

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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