I’ve been that skinny hargainer who found it impossible to build muscle. It’s frustrating to say the least! But through research and (lots of) trial and error, I managed to crack the code to break free from the skinny gene. Here are my best tips to go from skinny to buff.
Skinny people get buff by lifting heavy weights and eating enough food. Weight training should be performed at a minimum of 80% of 1RM. This should be combined with a 5-20% caloric surplus and at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
The tips I share below have been cherry-picked from all the mistakes I had to personally go through in the past.
Hopefully, they can help you to get bigger and gain strength as a skinny guy!
My Skinny To Buff Transformation Story
First, let me explain my own credentials and why you can trust the advice that I’m about to give you.
Here’s an overview of my own skinny-to-buff transformation story:
I weighed a measly 130lbs at 14% body fat for most of my teen years. You could say I was your typical skinny hardgainer.
And my Asian genetics didn’t help much on that front either!
Despite doing all of those garage bicep curls and protein shakes, my arms (and body!) just would not get bigger or stronger.
This was an incredibly frustrating experience to say the least…
It was time to take action.
I refused to believe that there was nothing I could do to transform my physique.
I was a skinny guy on a tunnel-vision mission to get buff!
So I researched the heck out of bodybuilding, muscle gain, and strength development.
After trawling through hundreds of website blogs, Youtube channels, and research papers, I began to understand why I was staying skinny and not gaining muscle.
I used my newly gleaned knowledge to devise a training and nutrition plan.
This comprised calisthenics and s bulking program (you can check out my other post to find out why I think skinny guys should do bodyweight training).
Years later I developed the confidence to hit the barbells (which by the way blew up my gains!)
Long story short: I packed on just under 40lbs/20kg of muscle.
Now I’m hovering around 165lbs at 12% body fat.
I’m by no means the biggest guy in the gym. But I’ve definitely achieved my personal skinny-to-buff transformation!
Below are my best tips to build muscle as a skinny person, and mistakes to avoid!
9 Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff
The biggest mistake I made as a frustrated skinny hardgainer back in the day was to neglect the basics.
Gaining muscle requires heavy lifting and a good bulking nutrition plan.
There’s no way around that!
In other words, skinny guys need to train and eat effectively to get bigger and stronger.
Here are 9 of my best-cherry-picked training and nutrition tips to go from skinny to buff:
1) Focus On Performing Compound Exercises.
Check out Muscle Monster’s 7 exercises for skinny guys to get jacked!
Compound exercises are movements that recruit multiple muscles around multiple joints at once.
Typical examples include the 5 big compound lifts:
- Bench press.
- Shoulder press.
These lifts are the opposite of isolation movements such as the bicep curl which hit single muscles around a single joint.
Compound lifting should be the bread and butter for your skinny-to-buff transformation for multiple reasons:
- Allows the heaviest loads to be lifted.
- Recruits the most number of muscles.
- Great for quickly building overall body mass.
- Simultaneously works the core and arms.
- Push/pull/squat movements build functional strength.
- The fastest and most efficient way to build muscle and strength.
As a skinny guy looking to get quickly get bigger and stronger, I would focus your priorities on the compound movements.
In fact, the 5 big compound lifts (mentioned above) alone are sufficient for a skinny guy to get jacked.
Avoid the mistake I made at all costs; wasting time on isolation movements.
Bicep curls are great for toning the…well, biceps.
But they’re nowhere near as effective as a barbell row for building general upper body mass.
Don’t waste time on ineffective exercises! You can go to my other post for the 9 best lifts for skinny guys to gain muscle and strength!
2) Choose An Effective Full-Body Workout Split.
An example of a 3-day full-boidy workout split. Train the whole body on each workout.
A workout split simply refers to how many training and rest days you allocate per week.
Therefore a full-body workout split has you training your entire body for x-amount of days per week (usually 3 or 4 times).
Choosing a good split is important because:
- Rest days are essential for muscle repair, recovery, and growth.
- Working the full body is more effective than focusing on the mirror muscles only.
Plenty of training splits exist.
But having tried most of them, I would recommend skinny guys follow a simple 3-day full-body split, and here’s why:
- Simple to follow and efficient results.
- Low training volume allows the heaviest weights to be lifted on training days.
- Minimal time spent at the gym.
- Low risk of overtraining.
- Allows for the recommended 24-48 hours of rest between workouts.
- Great for building muscle and strength.
- Works the entire body for balanced muscle growth.
Do not make the same mistake I made as a beginner; skinny guys should not train every day!
It’s tempting to do this in an effort to see faster results.
But trust me it’s counterproductive.
Denying your muscles the time they need to recover can only impair your strength gains.
Instead, skinny guys looking to get buff should work out a few times a week, lift heavy on training days, and rest for the remaining days.
For the exact 3-day full-body workout I used to go from skinny to muscular, you can check out my other post here.
3) Optimize Your Sets And Rep Range.
The term “rep” is short for repetition; i.e. a single up and down motion in a lift.
Similarly, the term “set” refers to an allotted number of consecutive reps performed without a break.
Lifting weights aimlessly in an unstructured manner is insufficient for a skinny person to get jacked.
Instead, you should optimize the number of reps and sets you complete for each exercise.
By doing so, you’re giving your muscles the exact training volume they need to grow bigger and stronger.
Here’s the training volume (reps and sets) I recommend you to aim for as a skinny beginner:
- 5-12 reps per set.
- 3-5 sets per muscle group per workout.
- 9-15 total sets per muscle group per week.
These recommendations follow the general consensus on the ideal training volume for muscle growth.
Here’s an example of what this could look like for squats:
- 5 reps of squats per set.
- 3 sets per workout.
- 3 workouts per week.
This follows the best muscle-building practices.
You’re hitting your legs multiple times a week with just the right number of sets!
4) Lift At Least 80% Of Your 1RM To Go From Skinny To Buff.
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.
1RMs are unique to you and also vary between different exercises.
Having approximate 1RM values is essential for skinny guys looking to get buff.
Heavy lifting is the most effective way to ensure you succeed in building muscle.
But the term “heavy” is different depending on your fitness levels.
That’s why workout programs often recommend starting weights as a percentage of 1RM.
It’s the easiest way to make sure you’re lifting heavy enough loads to build muscle and strength, according to your own abilities.
The easiest way to estimate your 1RMs is through the Strength Level database.
Now you can take 80% of each 1RM – that is how much weight you should be lifting for that exercise for it to be considered “heavy” enough to be effective for your own standards!
You might also be interested in my other post to find out if it is easier or harder to gain muscle if you’re skinny.
5) Add 5-10% Weight Regularly To Progressive Overload.
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.
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 when your muscles adapt they also get bigger and stronger.
Combining heavy compound lifting with progressive overload is a surefire way to build muscle fast as a skinny guy!
As a general rule, I like to overload weight by 5% for upper body lifts and 10% for lower body lifts.
So for example- I would add around 10kg/20lbs to an 80kg/160lb deadlift when I’m ready to do so.
6) Join A Good Gym Or Invest In Decent Equipment.
A good gym has all the equipment you’d need 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 building muscle. A pair of 50lb adjustable dumbbells are the bare essentials. If you can get a barbell rack setup then even better.
I recommend you choose one or the other.
Yes, skinny guys can build muscle at home without equipment. But having good equipment on hand will make it much easier to build muscle and strength.
I found the PowerBlock adjustable dumbbell (link for the cheapest price) and Flybird adjustable bench link for the cheapest price) to be a great starting setup for beginners. It’s durable, and sturdy, and gives skinny people plenty of weight progression to start getting buff at home.
Regardless of your chosen route- gym member or home gym- the equipment doesn’t necessarily have to be the best of the best.
It just needs to be durable and give you enough weight to efficiently challenge your muscles for growth!
7) Establish Bulking Calories To Go From Skinny To Buff.
Training is just half the battle if you want to build muscle.
Skinny guys who want to get truly buff will have to go on a bulk.
“Bulking” simply means you eat more calories than you burn.
This is essential for any skinny guy who wants to get bigger and stronger.
In fact, one of the most common mistakes made by skinny guys struggling to gain muscle is they’re not eating enough.
Surplus calories are what fuel muscle growth. So you better make sure you’re eating enough! As they say- “you need to eat big to get big”.
There are two main types of bulk which vary in their caloric surplus, as follows:
|Bulk Variation||Approx. Calorie Surplus||Result|
|Lean bulk||5-15%||Moderate muscle gain and low fat gain|
|Dirty bulk||Over 20%||High muscle gain and high fat gain|
Having tried both variations, I recommend lean bulking over dirty bulking.
A lean bulk allows a skinny guy to build muscle without the excess belly fat developing. This results in a lean and ripped physique when done properly (great for skinny-fat guys).
However, really skinny guys may want to consider a dirty bulk. You pile on the muscle fast at the expense of more significant fat gains.
8) Track Macros To Promote Muscle Gain With Minimal Fat Gain.
“Macros” stands for the macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
If you’re a skinny guy looking to get buff, 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.
This can help a skinny guy build a buff and lean physique as opposed to a bulky physique.
Here are the macro ratios that worked to help me go from skinny to ripped:
|Macronutrient||Approx % Of Daily Calories||Approx Grams Per Lb Bodyweight|
Disclaimer: don’t fret about getting the exact grams for each macronutrient. That’s not too important. As long as you’re approximately eating the above recommendations, then you’ll build muscle (combined with heavy training of course!).
The most important macro to track is protein.
Exact protein intake recommendations vary, but the consensus hovers at around 1g per lb of body weight.
So 140lb skinny guy would need to eat around 140g of protein every day to get buff!
Remember- protein serves as the building block for muscle growth. So you better make sure you’re eating enough of it!
9) Have A Timeframe For Your Skinny To Buff Transformation.
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 down the road.
Whilst it’s possible to build muscle in 2 months, it most likely won’t be a full-on transformation (depending on your definition of a transformation).
Here’s a realistic estimated timeframe of results for skinny guys looking to build muscle:
|1-3||First signs of muscle growth and definition.|
|3-6||Significantly broader upper body, thicker legs, and bigger arms.|
|6-12||Skinny to buff transformation.|
|12-24||Skinny to jacked transformation.|
Of course, the exact results you see will depend on many different factors including:
- Training program.
But generally speaking, it can take up to a year (and often longer) to go from truly skinny to buff.
If you’re interested, you can check out my other post to find out how long it takes to go from skinny to buff!
Recommended Equipment To Go From Skinny To Buff
If you’re a skinny guy looking to build muscle and get buff at home, then you may be interested in the equipment that I use and recommend.
My current home gym is quite expensive. So I’ve replaced premium items with more affordable options that do the job just as well for a skinny beginner.
A barbell setup is the best for outright muscle and strength gains. A dumbbell setup won’t give you as much weight progression. But it’s much more affordable!
Both are effective!
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||CAP||Heavy-duty steel barbell rack for squats and bench press. Spotter arms maximize safety for solo lifters.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||CAP||20kg/45lbs stainless steel Olympic barbell with 2" sleeves.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Papababe||Rubber-coated Olympic bumper plate set with 2" holes. Fits any Olympic barbell.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top||Clout Fitness||Barbell clamps to secure plates onto the bar.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top||Flybird||Folding weight bench that can be adjusted with flat, incline, and decline settings.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Inc Stores||High-density rubber mats to protect your floor and weights when deadlifting.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Sports Royal||Standalone dips and pull-up tower that does not require drilling. Easy to assemble.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Undersun Fitness||Heavy-duty resistance bands. Great for pull-up and dips assistance, adding extra weight to dumbbells, and for direct band workouts to build muscle on the go.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Everymate||1.25kg/2.5lbs microplate for regular progressive overloading.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Top||PowerBlock||BUDGET alternative to a barbell setup. One of the best adjustable dumbbells on the market. Each dumbbell replaces up to 28 individual weights (using the add-on kits). Newer and cheaper version of the old PowerBlock Elites.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
|Myprotein||Whey protein shake containing 21g of protien per serving. Low-calorie ideal for lean muscle gains.||Prime||Check Amazon Price|
I’ve shared 9 of my best tips to go from skinny to buff.
They basically revolve around:
- Lifting heavy on the big compound lifts.
- Applying progressive overload.
- Optimizing your training volume.
- And eating the right amount of protein and calories.
Doing these things will set you up for success as a skinny person looking to build muscle and strength!
What’s your biggest muscle-building question?
Let me know in the comments!
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 I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)