The Skinny Guy’s Guide To The Gym: What Beginners Should Know Before They Start Working Out

Skinny guy's guide to the gym

For many skinny guys and girls out there, a full-body muscle transformation is something they dream about. I’m here to tell you it’s completely possible. But you’ll need to start gyming! This is a complete guide for how skinny guy’s can start working out at the gym.

Skinny guys should start working out with bodyweight and cardio exercises to build a foundation of fitness. This can then progress onto dumbbell and barbell training to make maximum muscle gains. All 4 workouts can be performed in a commercial gym or home gym.

I use to be a 120lb skinny Asian guy.

Now I weigh 170lbs- some of it fat, most of it muscle.

Below, I explain how I started working out, what to do at a gym, and how to overcome the initial intimidation of buying your first gym membership as a skinny beginner.

How I transformed my body as a former skinny guy.

Can A Skinny Guy/Girl Go Gym?

Joining a gym is recommended for skinny beginners. Going to a gym provides a thin individual with access to all the weight machines, as well as free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells, to effectively build muscle and get fit. Most people do not have this equipment at home.

I'm Too Skinny & Embarassed to Go to Gym

Embarrassed to go to the gym because you’re skinny? Here’s why you shouldn’t be!

Other than for financial and travel limitations, there’s no inherent reason why you can’t get a gym membership as a skinny guy.


“It’s in the interest of most gyms to appeal to people of all training levels.”

Kal, former skinny guy.

Thus, you shouldn’t let inexperience be a reason to prevent you from buying a membership.

Speaking from my 10-year gym experience, I can say that the majority of commercial gyms cater to beginner AND advanced trainees alike.

I can also say this:

Getting past the initial intimidation of buying my first gym membership was the best thing I did to transform my thin physique as a skinny guy.

What Happens When A Skinny Person Starts Working Out?

A skinny person can expect to build muscle, gain strength, and increase cardiovascular fitness when they start working out. Strength and muscle-building workouts are commonly done through weight training. Cardiovascular workouts can be done with activities such as HIIT circuits, running, and rowing.

Your personal goals should ultimately dictate the type of workouts you perform, and by extension the results you can expect to achieve.

As a former skinny guy, my goal was to get stronger and gain muscle.

Here’s my skinny guy transformation:

My skinny to muscular transformation in 2 years.

You can see that I was able to achieve my goals.

And you can expect to do the same if you follow a good workout program, eat well, and remain disciplined!

Despite focusing mainly on heavy weight training, I also noticed my cardiovascular fitness significantly improve.

So if you were to do the opposite of what I did, and focus on cardiovascular activities, I’m sure you would notice huge improvements in your endurance and stamina.

You can check out my other article to find out why it’s better to be muscular vs being skinny!

Why The Gym Is Good For Skinny Guys

Going to a gym is good for skinny guys because it provides a safe, motivating, and well-equipped environment to train in. Additionally, most gyms have classes and personal trainers available to coach beginners on how to train safely and effectively.

As I mentioned before:

Getting a gym membership was the best thing I did as an ex-skinny dude.

But don’t just take my word for it.

According to this Quora thread, 100% of respondents agree that going to a gym is great for skinny guys to get bigger, build muscle, and generally improve their physical fitness.

Quora poll results for should skinny guys go to the gym.

But how does gym membership compare to training at home?

Speaking from personal experience, here are the advantages and disadvantages of training in a gym:

Pros Of Going GymCons Of Going gym
Selection of equipment including machines, barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.Some gyms can be very expensive over the long term.
Wide selection of heavy and light weights.Cheap gyms can get very busy during peak hours.
Personal trainers and enthusiasts can offer tips and advice.Requirement to share and wait for equipment during peak periods.
Dedicated training establishment helps with motivation.Many beginners suffer from gym intimidation.
Readily available classes to help beginners achieve all types of goals.Requirement to travel to and from the gym.
Equipment is usually safety tested.Learning curve required to learn how to safely use barbells and dumbbells.
Climate control helps to create more enjoyable workouts.Budget gyms do not always have the best range of equipment

I’ve spent considerable time doing both home and commercial gym training during my 10-year fitness journey.

My advice?

If you can pluck up the courage to overcome the initial fear as a skinny guy, then go join a gym!

How Skinny Beginners Can Start Working Out At The Gym

Here’s what a 12 month skinny to fit workout plan could look like for a boy/girl:

MonthRecommended Workout For Skinny Beginners
1Basic stretches and cardio on a treadmill, row machine, or cycle machine.
2Practice good exercise form on bodyweight movements.
3Refine form on bodyweight exercises and increase intensity by doing more repetitions.
4Start working on weight machines, practicing good lifting form, and training all major muscle groups.
5Increase weight on machine exercises, practice slow and controlled movements with good form.
6Transition to dumbbell/kettlebell isolation-type lifts.
7Increase weight on dumbbell/kettlebell isolation exercises.
8Transition to dumbbell/kettlebell compound-type lifts.
9Increase weight on dumbbell/kettlebell isolation exercises.
10Slowly transition to barbell compound-type lifts.
11Increase weight on barbell compound exercises.
12Optimize your workout plans for specific training goals.

This 12-month plan is designed for absolute beginners and is considered to be very slow-moving (I always advocate safety first!).

You can fast-track each phase according to your ability and confidence levels.

For example- rather than taking 6 months to move onto the dumbbells, most people really only need 2-3 months before they are comfortable making the transition.

You can also skip the weight machines and move directly from bodyweight training to dumbbells (just make sure you start with a light and manageable weight).

The idea is to slowly and safely build up a base of strength and confidence to begin lifting dumbbells and barbells with good form.

Free weights like dumbbells and barbells are how you’ll make the most muscle gains (assuming you’re a skinny guy going to the gym to get bigger).

It’s also important for skinny guys not to overexert themselves when they go to the gym (i.e. overtrain).

This is especially true for beginners who don’t yet know their own limits of physical fitness.

As a general rule, beginners should spend no longer than 1 hour on weights and 30 minutes on cardio.

Looking to build muscle with nothing but dumbbells? You can check out my other article for a list of the best dumbbell bodybuilding exercises!

Best Exercises For A Skinny Beginner To Do At The Gym

Compound free weight lifts are the best exercises for a skinny person to do at the gym to build muscle fast. Bodyweight and small isolation-type free weight lifts are also suitable for absolute beginners to safely build a foundation of strength first.

Here are some examples of the best bodyweight exercises for a skinny guy to do at the gym without equipment:

Bodyweight Exercise For Skinny GuysMuscles Worked
Pushups with different grip variationsChest, abs, arms
Handstand pushupShoulders, core, arms
PlankFull body
Assisted pull-ups and chin-ups.Back, arms, core
Assisted chest dips.Chest, shoulders, arms, core
Superman back extensions.Back and glutes
Crunches and their variations.Abs
Hanging/lying leg raises.Lower abs
Squat variations.Legs
Lunge variations.Legs
Glute bridge.Glutes
Burpees.Full body

Together, these exercises hit all your muscle groups including the chest, shoulders, back, abs, core, and legs.

How skinny guys can do assisted pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips using resistance bands without a machine.

Many gyms have a machine for beginners to do assisted pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips (3 highly effective exercises). If your gym doesn’t then you can use a resistance band to provide assistance. I recommend bringing your own (they’re cheap) since most gyms only have a limited number of bands and they can be quite popular with other gym-goers.

I use the Undersun resistance bands (see my full review here).

When it comes to free weight training, you have two options:

Here are the best compound free weight exercises for a skinny guy to do with barbells/dumbbells/kettlebells at the gym:

Compound Free Weight Exercise For Skinny GuysMuscles Worked
Bench pressMid chest and arms
Incline bench pressUpper chest and arms
Shoulder pressShoulders and arms
Upright rowShoulders, arms, and back
Bent over rowBack and arms
Barbell back squatsLegs
Goblet squatsLegs
Dumbbell lungeLegs
Barbell deadliftFull-body

Here is the best isolation free weight exercises for a skinny guy to do with barbells/dumbbells/machines at the gym:

Isolation Free Weight Exercise For Skinny GuysMuscles Worked
Chest flyMid pectorals
Incline chest flyUpper pectorals
Lateral raiseDeltoids
Rear delt flyRear deltoids
Reverse dumbbell flyTrapezius, lats, rhomboids
Leg extensionQuadriceps
Leg curlsHamstrings
Dumbbell ab crunchesAbs and core
Bicep curl variationsBiceps
Tricep extension variationsTriceps

Next, you’ll find out how to structure your own resistance training (weight lifting) program to build muscle at the gym as a beginner.

How Skinny Beginners Should Start Bodyweight Training

The great thing about a bodyweight workout is its safety.

There’s no weight to crush you and you can do as many/little repetitions for each exercise based on your personal fitness levels.

With that said, I’d suggest aiming for 20 reps per set for each exercise.

Choose 4-6 exercises per workout that cover all your major muscle groups.

As a beginner, you’ll likely be unable to do 20 continuous reps for all exercises, which is fine.

Just slowly increase the reps each week until you can.

Each workout should take no more than 45-60 minutes.

How Skinny Beginners Should Start Lifting Weights

When it comes to structuring an effective weight training program, it’s essential to consider total training volume.

“Training volume refers to intensity- the specific amount of weight used per set, number of repetitions performed per set, total number of sets in a workout, and how many workouts per week.”

Ace Fitness

Here are my effective training volume recommendations for a skinny person, based on personal experience and research:

How skinny guys and beginners should start lifting weights at the gym.
1) Lift a weight that is 65-80% of your 1RM.

Use a weight that challenges you and fatigues your target muscles by the end of a set. This is usually 65-80% of your 1 rep max (the most amount of weight you can lift for 1 rep for the given exercise). More reps usually mean lifting lighter weights. Use trial and error to determine your 1RM, or use the Strength Level database for an estimated 1RM based on your training level. Also, don’t forget to apply regular progressive overload by increasing weight every 1-2 weeks (or whenever you feel ready). It doesn’t have to be a lot. Adding 5lbs is perfect.

2) Complete 8-12 reps per set.

Aim for 8-12 reps for each set before taking a 1-3 minute rest and starting your next set. Doing 8 reps requires you to lift 80% of your 1RM and doing 12 reps calls for 65% of your 1RM.

3) Do 10-15 total sets per muscle group per week.

Aim to complete 10-15 total sets per muscle group per week (major muscle groups being the chest, shoulders, arms, back, and legs). This usually means exercise should be performed at 3-5 sets per workout (depending on how many training days you complete).

4) Beginners should start with 3 full-body workouts per week.

Completing 3 full-body workouts per week is fine for a skinny guy who is new to the gym. Each workout would require you to choose 1 or 2 exercises that target each of the major muscle groups. Allow 24-48 hours of rest between workouts to recover and build muscle. Once your body has adapted, then you can try a 6-day bodybuilder-style muscle group training split to get jacked. Or bump up to 4 full-body workouts per week to maintain a lean and ripped physique.

You can check out my other post for an example of a home dumbbell bodybuilding program.

5) Prioritize compound lifts.

Once you’ve built a solid strength foundation using bodyweight and isolation-type lifts, you should be confident enough to perform compound lifting. At this stage, you should focus on compound lifts and use isolation-type movements as accessory lifts to highlight specific muscles (should you wish). I follow a 75/25 rule (75% compound and 25% isolation). It’s also important that your selection of exercises covers all your major muscle groups if you want balanced physique development.

You can check out my other post for more tips on how skinny guys can get buff!

Is Running Good For Skinny Guys/Girls?

Generally speaking, cardio activities such as running can benefit a skinny person’s general health and fitness. However, excessive cardio can consume a lot of calories. And this will not benefit a skinny person if their goal is to build muscle and gain strength.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a big fan of the treadmill myself.

But if you’re a skinny guy going to the gym to build muscle, then try to limit yourself to 1 or 2 cardio sessions per week.

You should also be aware of the pros and cons of running:

Advantages Of Running For Skinny PeopleDisadvantages Of Running For Skinny People
Great for improving cardiovascular capacityUses calories that would otherwise be used for muscle growth
Improved enduranceCan make a skinny person even skinnier
Benefits general healthHigh impact movements can cause knee pain for people with skinny legs
Shallow learning curveRisk of overtraining when combined with weight training

Note the third disadvantage.

If you’re a skinny boy/girl, then chances are you also have underdeveloped quads and hamstrings.

This, combined with repeated high-impact movements like running, can cause persistent knee pain (trust me it hurts!)

Low-impact cardio options may be better for skinny guys at the gym:

  • Rowing.
  • Boxing.
  • HIIT bodyweight circuits.
  • Cycling.
  • Swimming.
  • Yoga.
  • Stair climbs.
  • Jump ropes.
  • Crossfit.

What If You’re Embarrassed To Go Gym Because You’re Skinny?

A large portion of the population gets gym intimation or “gym fear”.

For example, this study found that 50% of people without gym membership found the gym to be intimidating.

So it’s completely normal!

Number of skinny people and beginners who get gym intimidation, fear, and anxiety.

Common reasons why skinny beginners are embarrassed to go to the gym include:

  • Insecurities about being out of shape or too skinny
  • Embarrassment over a lack of strength.
  • Lack of knowledge of how to use the equipment.
  • Unsure what exercises to perform.
  • Anxiety from people waiting to use your equipment.
  • Hygiene risks from using shared equipment.
  • Discomfort over using gender-shared spaces.
  • Activity of salespeople.

Here’s how you can deal with gym intimidation as a skinny boy/girl, based on Reddit advice and my personal experience:

  1. Realize that gyms acknowledge fear intimidation. Some establishments actively work on it. Ask them to give you a free tour and see how you feel after checking it out.
  1. Train with a friend. It’s safer, more fun, and you’ll more likely be able to ignore the paranoia of other people watching you.
  1. Know that most people don’t care as much as you think. Trust me. Unless you’re trying to lift a weight that’s clearly way too heavy for you (ego lifting), then most people won’t even be paying attention to what you’re doing.
  1. Hire a personal trainer. If you have the money for it, a PT can help you to overcome the initial learning curve and intimidation of going to the gym as a skinny guy.
  1. Practice lifting weights at home first. Home gym equipment is affordable and convenient to use these days. It’ll help boost your confidence.
  1. Start with a light weight. Allows you to learn the proper form and technique, and build your confidence.
  1. Learn how to use weight machines before free weights. Machines are guided movements and there’s a much smaller room for making mistakes.
  1. Find a suitable training split to boost confidence. Following a structured program can instill confidence. I’ve already given you 2 examples (full-body and muscle-group split). Others can be found online.
  1. Be comfortable with progressing slowly. No one cares how much or little weight you’re lifting. Progress slowly to avoid injuring yourself and attracting attention.
  1. Work on building a cardio base first. Cardio machines are often less busy than the weight room. Build confidence and familiarity there first before moving on to the weights.

Home Gym Alternative For Skinny Guys Trying To Gain Muscle Or Get Fit

Extending on tip #5:

Home gyms are an excellent alternative for a skinny guy who is too embarrassed to go to a commercial gym.

Here are the pros and cons of home workouts:

Pros Of Home WorkoutsCons Of Home Workout
Cheaper in the long termLack of atmosphere
No need to share equipmentNo climate control
No need to queue for equipmentExpensive to buy heavy weights
Faster and quicker workoutsNo access to weight machines
No need to travelFree weights require an expensive upfront cost
Train at your own paceNo access to personal trainers
No gym intimidationEquipment from budget brands may be dangerous

For more information, you can check out my other post for a home workout for skinny guys (with and without equipment). The post also includes a nutrition plan for skinny boys/girls to gain muscle. You’ll learn exactly how much protein, carbs, and fats you should be eating to get jacked.

As a skinny beginner, I would begin with bodyweight training first. These exercises are free and convenient to do.

How to do pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips at home as a skinny guy.

If you have the budget and 9 square feet of space, then a Power Tower like the Sports Royal allows you to do pull-ups, chin-ups, and drips (3 powerful bodyweight exercises).

I also loop a resistance band like the Undersun band around the bar and my bum for assistance (ideal for beginners who aren’t strong enough yet to unassisted).

Dumbbell and bench workout for skinny guys.

After a few months, you may need to get some free weights to keep your muscles challenged and growing.

At this point, a home dumbbell and bench setup are both affordable and highly effective.

Powerblocks are a good value dumbbells for skinny guys to start working out in a home gym

I use the Powerblock Elite adjustable dumbbells with the Flybird adjustable folding weight bench.

Whilst neither provide the same quality as commercial gym equipment, they DO provide good value for money, space-saving designs, good function, and reputable brand names.

Flybird is a good value bench for skinny guys to start working out in a home gym

This setup is more than enough for a skinny person to build substantial and noticeable muscle at home.

You might also be interested in my other posts for 9 of the best heavy dumbbells for skinny guys to build muscle and 7 of the best weight benches for dumbbells.

Can All Skinny Guys Bulk Up And Gain Muscle?

Generally speaking, there is no reason why a skinny person cannot bulk up and build muscle. It requires consistent resistance training performed at high intensities and regular progressive overload. A diet high in calories and protein is also essential for a beginner to bulk up fast.


I was a 120lb skinny Asian dude.

Without meaning to slander my race, we all know the stereotypical Asian…

With that said, even I was able to put gain almost 40lbs of lean muscle weight fast.

And let me tell you this.

I’d still be a skinny guy if I hadn’t started going gym.

Obviously, everyone is different and different timeframes apply.

But if you have access to the right equipment, train well, eat big, and remain patient, then you too can also build muscle (no matter how skinny you currently are).

I first started seeing results at 3 months.

And it wasn’t until 2 years of bulking and cutting that I built the physique I always dreamed of.

For more information, you may be interested in my other article to find out how long it takes a skinny guy to bulk up get big muscles.


I’ve given you a complete guide for how a skinny guy’s can start going to the gym.

First thing is to pluck up the courage to buy a membership. Or you can go down the home gym option.

Both options allow you to follow a simple 3-day full-body workout. Start with bodyweight and cardio exercises first.

Once you’ve built a foundation of strength and confidence, then you can transition to free weight exercises to continue gaining muscle.

And if you want to completely transform your skinny physique, then you can switch to a bodybuilder-style 6-day workout plan.

Dumbbells and barbells are always the best options for a skinny transformation. Just remember to take it slow as a beginner.

Will you be starting a gym routine?

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.

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 printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,


(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)


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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