Skinny To Muscular Workout: Try This 3-Day Program For A Muscle Transformation!

Skinny to muscular workout

Let’s be honest- building muscle as a skinny beginner can be a daunting task. I would know as an ex-skinny guy myself. With so many different programs out there, where do you even begin?! This post shares the workout that I used to go from skinny to muscular.

Skinny guys get muscular through resistance training and dieting. Training requires heavy weight lifting with a focus on increasing weight over time. A muscle-building diet requires a calorie surplus and high protein intake to be consumed daily.

Below, I reveal how I achieved my own skinny to muscle transformation, and how you can do the same!

How I went from skinny to muscular using a modified 5x5 workout.

What You’ll Need For This Skinny To Muscular Workout

Home gym for skinny guys to build muscle.

You’ll see me demonstrating exercises and principles throughout this post using my own home gym barbell setup.

It’s a squat rack and barbell.

But it’s quite expensive and unnecessary for a skinny beginner.

Instead, I recommend beginners join a gym for cost-effective access to all the equipment.

How Skinny Guys Get Muscular

Let’s start this post with the good news- most skinny guys find it easier to gain muscle compared to trained individuals.

How skinny guys get muscular.

Here are the basics on how to go from skinny to muscular:

  1. Lift heavy weights. Anything over 70% of your 1-rep max (1RM) for a given exercise is considered to be heavy. 1RM refers to the maximum weight you can lift for a single repetition. You can find your 1RM estimates on the Strength Level database. Most people lift anywhere between 80-90% of their 1RM to build muscle.
  1. Progressive overload. This simply means increasing exercise intensity over time as you get stronger. The most popular way to do this is to simply add more weight. But some people prefer increasing reps, sets, and training frequency. Yet others prefer decreasing rest time in between sets.
  1. Eat a 5-10% calorie surplus. Find your maintenance calories at the TDEE calculator and add 5-10% for a lean bulk. That’s how many calories you should consume daily as a skinny guy looking to build muscle. For example, 2200 maintenance calories translate into 2300-2400 calories per day to fuel muscle growth.
  1. Consume 1g of protein per lb of body weight. The exact amount of daily protein for optimal muscle gain is hotly debated. But the figure generally lies around 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight (or 1g per lb of body weight). So for example, a 140lb/63kg skinny guy needs to eat around 140g of protein every day to get muscular.

Next, I’ll share the workout program that helped me to go from skinny to muscular!

3-Day Skinny To Muscular Workout Program

This is a workout designed for skinny guys to quickly increase strength and pack on lean muscle mass.

It’s an adaptation of the Stronglifts 5×5 program.

If you’ve never heard of Stronglifts 5×5; it’s a popular workout plan for skinny beginners to rapidly grow stronger and bigger.

The program comprises 2 workouts– A and B- as seen below.

Workout A:

ExerciseSetsRepsWeightRest Between Sets
Barbell back squat5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes
Barbell bench press5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes
Barbell row
5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes

Workout B:

ExerciseSetsRepsWeightRest Between Sets
Deadlift with barbell5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes
Barbell shoulder press5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes
Pull-up or weighted pull-up5590% of 1RM2-5 minutes

Why the original Stonglifts 5×5 is so effective:

The entire program revolves around the 5 big compound movements; squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, and row.

Together, these 5 movements train all the muscles in your body. And this is what most skinny guys need to do to quickly grow.

Additionally, the program is predicated on adding weight asap to quickly build strength. And with strength gains, size gains naturally follow suit.

Why I adapted the original Stronglists 5×5 program:

I’ve tried the Stronglifts 5×5 workout plan as an ex-skinny guy myself and saw brilliant results.

I can confidently say that the program is amazing for quickly gaining muscle and strength.

However, I experienced 2 problems as a skinny beginner:

  1. No vertical pulling. The barbell row provides horizontal pulling. Whilst the barbell bench press and shoulder press provide horizontal and vertical pushing, respectively. But there’s no vertical pulling in the original 5×5 program. So I added pull-ups to fill this gap, fire up the lats, and help skinny guys build a broader V-shaped back!
  1. Too much squatting. The original Stronglifts 5×5 has you squatting heavy 3 times per week. I personally found this too much as a skinny beginner. It was manageable at the start when I was squatting relatively light weights. But it quickly led to burnout as the weight increased (especially combined with heavy deadlifting). So I swapped the squats for pull-ups (as per above).

How To Do This Skinny To Muscular Workout Plan

It’s a 3-day training split (workout 3 days a week) with 24-48 hours of full rest between workouts.

Rest is essential for skinny guys to build muscle.

The program follows a rotating structure where you alternate between workouts A and B each week.

Therefore you’ll be doing the following workouts every week:

  • 2x Workout A and 1x Workout B.


  • 1x Workout A and 2x Workout B

Below, you can see a 1-month example of what this looks like.

Week 1:

Monday (A)Wednesday (B)Friday (A)
Barbell back squatDeadlift with barbellBarbell back squat
Barbell bench pressBarbell shoulder pressBarbell bench press
Barbell rowPull-up or weighted pull-upBarbell row

Week 2:

Monday (B)Wednesday (A)Friday (B)
Deadlift with barbellBarbell back squatDeadlift with barbell
Barbell shoulder pressBarbell bench pressBarbell shoulder press
Pull-up or weighted pull-upBarbell rowPull-up or weighted pull-up

Week 3:

Monday (A)Wednesday (B)Friday (A)
Barbell back squatDeadlift with barbellBarbell back squat
Barbell bench pressBarbell shoulder pressBarbell bench press
Barbell rowPull-up or weighted pull-upBarbell row

Week 4:

Monday (B)Wednesday (A)Friday (B)
Deadlift with barbellBarbell back squatDeadlift with barbell
Barbell shoulder pressBarbell bench pressBarbell shoulder press
Pull-up or weighted pull-upBarbell rowPull-up or weighted pull-up

Now rinse and repeat.

Each time you successfully complete 5 sets of 5 reps for a given exercise, add 2.5kg/5lbs to that exercise on the next workout (or 5kg/10lbs to the deadlift).

You can see the section “progression plan for skinny guys” below for more details.

You may also be interested in my other post which explains why 3-days is the ideal training frequency for skinny guys.

Exercise Tutorials For This Skinny To Muscular Workout

This skinny to muscular workout program revolves around some of the most popular weight lifting movements out there.

But just in case you’re brand new to weight training, here’s how to perform each exercise in the plan.

1) Barbell Back Squat

How skinny people can do the barbell back squat to build muscular legs.

Muscles worked:

  • Quadriceps.
  • Hamstrings.
  • Glutes.
  • Calves.
  • Core (abs).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

The barbell should rest on the small of your back in line with your shoulders.

Your feet should be an inch wider than a shoulder-width distance.

The upper thighs should reach parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat. This is the cue for reaching the required squat depth for the best leg activation (no cheating half reps!).

Keep your head up and lower back straight. To help ensure a straight back, I find it helps to actively think about sticking your butt out as you squat down.

2) Barbell Bench Press

How skinny people can do the barbell bench press to build a muscular chest.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals.
  • Front deltoids.
  • Triceps.
  • Core (abs).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

Grip the barbell using a just-wider than shoulder-width distance.

Do not flare your elbows outwards (this can cause shoulder pain). Instead, tuck them in towards the torso and stack your wrists on top of your elbows.

Arch your back slightly upwards and brace your core as you bench press.

Make sure the feet, buttocks, and upper back are firmly planted onto the floor/bench.

Actively think about pushing with your chest rather than your arms.

3) Barbell Row

How skinny people can do the barbell row to build a muscular back

Muscles worked:

  • Trapezius.
  • Rhomboids.
  • Latissimus dorsi.
  • Rear deltoids.
  • Biceps.
  • Core (abs).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

Deadlift the barbell into the starting row position.

Hold the barbell using an overhand grip that’s shoulder-width distance apart.

Pull your shoulders back, keep your head up, and lean forwards so that your back is at a ~45° angle to the floor.

Bend your knees slightly and stick your butt out to help you keep a straight back.

Now row the barbell towards your navel (belly button) by actively contracting your shoulder blades and pulling with your arms.

4) Deadlift With Barbell

How skinny people can do the barbell deadlift to build full-body muscle.

Muscles worked:

  • Full-body with an emphasis on the posterior chain (back, glutes, and hamstrings).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

Try the traditional or sumo deadlift variations to see which one you find more comfortable.

I prefer the traditional deadlift.

Beginners often find the deadlift starting position difficult to get right. So here are some cues you may find helpful:

  • Your chest should be above the hips. And the hips should be above the knees.
  • The barbell should lie above the shoelace region closest to the top of the shoe.
  • Pull your shoulders back to brace the upper back.
  • Stick your butt out to help keep a straight back.
  • Keep your head up and brace the core as you deadlift.
  • Don’t jerk the barbell upwards. Apply tension first before lifting it up from the ground.

5) Barbell shoulder press

How skinny people can do the barbell overhead shoulder press to build muscular shoulders.

Muscles worked:

  • Front deltoids.
  • Side deltoids.
  • Rear deltoids.
  • Upper pectorals.
  • Triceps.
  • Core (abs).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

Choose between standing or seated shoulder press.

The standing shoulder press is better for all-over body activation but most people usually lift less weight.

In comparison, the seated shoulder press gives you greater shoulder activation and usually allows you to lift more weight.

Hold the barbell using an overhand grip that’s shoulder width apart.

Keep your elbows tucked into the torso and wrists stacked above the elbows.

Brace your core and glutes (clench your butt cheeks) before pressing upwards.

Make sure the barbell reaches your chest on the downward phase for full shoulder activation (no half reps!).

6) Pull-Ups And Weighted Pull-Ups

How a skinny person can do pull-ups to build back muscle.

Muscles worked:

  • Latissimus dorsi.
  • Trapezius.
  • Rhomboids.
  • Rear deltoids.
  • Biceps.
  • Core (abs).

Top tip for skinny beginners:

Make sure your grip is neither too wide nor too narrow.

The best grip width is one that’s around an inch wider than shoulder-width apart.

Retract your shoulder blades before pulling your chest towards the bar.

Actively think about pinching your shoulder blades together at the top of the pull-up for the best back activation.

Resistance bands can help skinny beginners master the unassisted pull-up

Beginners can start with band-assisted pull-ups if you can’t yet do 5 reps of normal pull-ups.

After you’ve mastered 5 pull-ups, you can hold a dumbbell or weight plate between your legs for weighted pull-ups.

Reps, Sets, Rest, And Weight

Here is the training volume (reps, sets, and weight) for this skinny to muscular workout:

  • Reps. Always work with 5-reps as specified in the above workout plan. In other words, perform 5 consecutive repetitions to complete a set, before taking a rest. This does not change regardless of exercise. The 5-rep range is great for balanced muscle strength and size gains.
  • Sets. Always complete 5 sets per exercise before removing onto 5 sets of the next exercise. This does not change regardless of exercise or workout. Decrease weight if you cannot complete the allotted reps or sets.
  • Rest. Take as long as you need to recover between sets. Usually, 2 minutes is enough during the first few weeks of the program because you’re lifting relatively light weights. By around week 16, you may need up to 5 minutes to recover since you’re lifting much heavier weights at this point.
  • Starting weight. Below, are the weights I recommend for a complete beginner to start with. Remember to add weight to each exercise on each workout where you successfully completed 5 sets of 5 reps in the previous workout (see next section for how much weight to add).
ExerciseRecommended Starting Weight
Barbell back squat20kg/45lbs (empty Olympic barbell)
Barbell bench press20kg/45lbs (empty Olympic barbell)
Barbell row20kg/45lbs (empty Olympic barbell)
Barbell shoulder press20kg/45lbs (empty Olympic barbell)
Pull-up or weighted pull-upBand-assisted or unassisted bodyweight pull-up (depending on current strength).
Deadlift with barbell40kg/95lbs (Olympic barbell + 2x 10kg/20lb plates)

A skinny to muscular transformation takes more than just training! You also need to eat right. For more nutrition and meal plan tips, you can check out my other post on how skinny guys can bulk up and stop being skinny!

Progression Plan For Skinny Guys

Progressive overload is a key component for this workout to work.

This requires you to increase weight over time.

When to increase weight:

  • Whenever you succeed in completing 5 sets of 5 reps for a given exercise, then add weight to that exercise on your next workout.

How much weight to add:

  • Add 2.5kg/5lbs on the squat, bench press, row, shoulder press, and pull-up.
  • Add 5kg/10lbs on the deadlift (it’s a bigger exercise than the others).

Example 1-month progression plan:

ExerciseWeek 1 Week 2Week 3Week 4
Barbell back squat20kg/45lbs22.5kg/50lbs25kg/55lbs27.5kg/60lbs
Barbell bench press20kg/45lbs22.5kg/50lbs25kg/55lbs27.5kg/60lbs
Barbell row20kg/45lbs22.5kg/50lbs25kg/55lbs27.5kg/60lbs
Barbell shoulder press20kg/45lbs22.5kg/50lbs25kg/55lbs27.5kg/60lbs
Pull-up or weighted pull-upAssisted x 5Unassisted x 5+ 2.5kg/5lbs+5kg/10lbs
Deadlift with barbell40kg/95lbs45kg/100lbs50kg/110lbs55kg/120lbs

One important point to note: load the barbell evenly.

In other words; to add 2.5kg/5lbs to your squat, you should put 1.25kg/2.5lb plates on each side of the barbell.

How to increase barbell weight for skinny beginner.

Avoid putting a single 2.5kg/5lbs plate on one side just because you don’t have any 1.25kg/2.5lb plates available.

This shifts the center of gravity. As a result, you could develop muscle imbalances where one side of your body is stronger than the other side.

You’ll therefore need 1.25kg/2.5lb microplates for this program to work.

1kg/2lbs micro plate for progressive overload.

You can get 1.25kg/2.5lb microplates delivered quickly from Amazon if your gym doesn’t have them. I use the Lu Xiao Jun plates.

But any brand will do the job.

Almost all gyms will have 2.5kg/5lb plates to progressive overload on deadlifts.

Can A Skinny Guy Get Muscular From This Workout Plan?

Most skinny people can become muscular. It requires the individual to lift heavy weights and consume a bulking diet that is high in calories and protein. The Stronglifts 5×5 workout and its variations are effective programs for skinny guys to gain muscle.

Results of a skinny guy who go muscular from this workout plan.

As mentioned previously, I used the Stronglifts 5×5 program to great effect as an ex-skinny guy myself.

It’s great for quickly building foundation strength.

And muscle size naturally increases with strength development.

I switched to a bodybuilding-style muscle group split at one stage to drive further muscle gains.

But I’m now back on the 5×5 as an experienced lifter, and here’s why:

  • Great for fatiguing the whole body quickly (and promoting growth).
  • Good training volume for relatively little time spent in the gym.
  • Maximum strength gains and good size gains.
  • Does not require me to spend 5 or 6 days in the gym.
  • Focus on functional movements that benefit athletic and daily activities.
  • It’s great fun and highly motivating to add weight on a regular basis.

Give it a go!

If you get your nutrition right, then this is a great workout for skinny guys looking for a muscular transformation!

How Long It Takes To Go From Skinny To Muscular

A lot of factors are in play when estimating how long it takes to go from a skinny to a muscular body.

But generally speaking, you can expect to see this timeframe of results:

TimeTotal Muscle GainedVisual Significance
3-6 months10lbsFirst signs of visible muscle gains and increased definition.
12 months20lbsNoticeably broader upper body, bigger arms, and thicker legs.
24 months30lbsConsidered to be “muscular” relative to the average person.

These are just estimated results.

In reality, actual results will be dictated by:

  • Diet.
  • Discipline.
  • Consistency
  • Correctly following the program.

Thus, you won’t exactly see a 2-month skinny to muscle transformation, but you can expect to get noticeably bigger within your first year of training.

As a beginner it can be frustrating not knowing how long it takes to see results. For more details, you can check out my other post on how long it takes a skinny guy to get muscular.

Prefer Building Muscle At Home Without A Barbell?

PowerBlock adjustable dumbbells are a cheaper alternative for skinny people to get muscular at home.

This post details a barbell workout program for skinny guys to build muscle.

But a barbell/rack/bench/plates are expensive and most people do not have the space at home.

Additionally, some skinny guys prefer training at home rather than joining a gym.

Good news- skinny guys can gain muscle at home using just bodyweight and dumbbell exercises (yup, no barbell required!)

If you’re interested, you can find my post on how to build muscle at home here.


I’ve shared a workout program that I effectively used to go from skinny to muscular.

Give it a go.

I’m confident it can help you to achieve your own muscle transformation!

Just remember to lift heavy, apply progressive overload, and draft up a nutrition plan that’s high in protein and calories.

You’ll start gaining muscle and strength in no time!

Are you a skinny guy looking to build muscle? What do you struggle with most?

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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