I have a lot of experience in being a skinny dude. In the past 3 years, I have made strides in putting on weight and getting stronger. The process by which I made gains was an interesting journey. It involved changing everything I was doing in the gym. In doing so I found myself working out less. Yes that is correct, when I was working out less, I gained more strength and size. Less is more sometimes, but that’s not the whole piece of the puzzle.
If you are a skinny “hard gainer” and are looking to put on some muscle, keep reading!
I’ve been a really skinny guy my whole life. My arms were rail thin and my legs even worse. It wasn’t too bad of a problem because when I was playing football in grade school, kids generally weren’t that much bigger than me. I also did alright despite the weight difference because of a lack of hesitation and all around intensity.
This started to change in high school of course. I was still super skinny and one of the smallest guys on the team. Considering our school had a weight room, I thought I’d give it a try and try to put on some weight. It didn’t work at all, and through my high school career maybe gained 10 lbs. I went from 135 to 145. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a lot going against me.
For one thing, I was a multi sport athlete. I know a lot of guys are also, but my other sport was indoor and outdoor track. I was really good at it and ran long distance. The practice for which was going out on long distance runs around the neighborhood. This wasn’t conducive to putting on weight. I also participated in karate year round.
Another factor was that our football coaches weren’t too great at advising us on weight training. They pretty much just let us do our own thing. That’s usually something I’m all for on this blog, but I could have used a helping hand. Problem is, that they may have been remiss to tell us what to do because they didn’t know anything about weight training themselves.
Finally, when I look back, I wasn’t really eating that much. I’d have a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Then I’d have a sandwich and crackers for lunch. Finally I’d have dinner around 8 and had whatever my mom made, which usually didn’t make up for the fact that I didn’t eat that much during the day.
Once I got to college it pretty much stayed the same. I put on some weight because I wasn’t running as frequently. I still ran on distance runs though because for some reason I thought that I could gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. This wasn’t the best strategy for a skinny guy, but I kept doing it anyway. My school had a weight room and I continued my usual routine of a different muscle group for each day of the week. I’d use all the machines and wouldn’t use free weights. I may have put on 5 lbs from high school.
After college I stopped going to the gym for a few years because it wasn’t getting anywhere and general laziness. Interestingly enough, my weight pretty much stayed the same. At some point in 2007, I joined up for a local gym and started going again. Because I’m insane, I still kept the same routine.
In 2011 I moved to the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia and joined a new gym. Bear in mind that at the time I had been playing co-ed softball for a couple years. I’m an excellent pitcher, but didn’t have any power at the plate. I set to change that. I started reading about different exercises to do and discovered this workout called stronglifts 5×5. It only consists of compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, rows, and bench presses. During this time I also stopped doing any kind of running or cardio workouts.
This was a major discovery for me because my strength started to skyrocket. Not only was I getting stronger, but I was taking less time in the gym. My power at the plate was noticeably increased. I was able to hit more doubles and triples that year. I even got a home run, which I previously thought was impossible. This was all really great, but I was just skimming the surface. I started to plateau in my lifts and was again flustered.
It wasn’t until 2012 that I figured out a missing piece to the puzzle-eat more food. I started to eat a lot more food and again my lifts, strength, and size went up! I got noticeably bigger.
There are 3 areas to focus on in order to get bigger. Each of these areas must be done correctly to achieve maximum gains. You can do alright by doing 2 out of 3, but to really transform your body, you gotta do all 3.
Diet Diet Diet
Before I even get into my diet or what to eat, I’d like to present to you competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi.
If you’re not familiar with Mr. Kobayashi, he’s a dude who regularly eats ungodly amounts of food in one sitting. All you can eat restaurants in Japan were scared to let him eat at their establishments because he’d eat everything.
Kobayashi went from a skinny little guy, to a jacked dude in the span of a couple years. How did he do this? Well the jury is still out on that one, but all indications point to him starting a power lifting routine. The clip isn’t on youtube anymore, but there was an MTV true life that featured him during his jacked period. I remember him doing very heavy rack pulls and squats.
The point I’m trying to make with all this is that the secret to putting on muscle for skinny guys is that they have to actually eat enough food! I think I can speak with authority on this issue as I always thought I was eating enough. I wasn’t eating nearly enough. If you are having trouble putting weight on, I would suggest eating a lot more food.
Think about it, how are you going to get bigger without more raw materials to work with? If your current food intake has only gotten you to a certain level, your muscles won’t start to grow just because you are breaking them down. They grow when they rebuild, and if there isn’t enough food from which to draw the building blocks of muscle, then they won’t grow.
Most people who are skinny keep trying out new routines and assume they are doing something wrong in the weight room. You have to change your attitude and consider your diet as a much bigger part of the puzzle. I’d go as far as saying changing your diet will account for 90% of your results.
You will have to overload your body with calories to start seeing changes. I’m not saying to eat 50 hot dogs in a row like Kobayashi, but start looking at the calories in your current diet. I’ll bet your current caloric intake is severely inadequate. Everyone is different as to how many calories you will need to start seeing results, but just remember that 2000 won’t cut it as your body can burn that every day just by existing.
I would start counting calories even though it’s a huge pain in the ass. Every day start adding something like 500 calories and check to see how your body responds. The goal here is to start going beyond what your body feels is “full”.
Slow and steady wins the race here. You aren’t going to gain 30 lbs of muscle in a month. You will start seeing results though, so stick with it. 2-3 lbs per month is a more realistic goal.
What should I be eating?
If you are totally strapped for cash, I would suggest eating whatever your current diet is and then supplementing with whatever you want. If you are a skinny ass dude, the most important thing is seeing results and affecting actual change. The simplest way to do this is to just start eating more and not worrying about it. This may not be the healthiest, but if you are going hard in the gym, it shouldn’t matter too much. Just be aware that at some point you may want to start going at it a bit healthier.
I’d also recommend getting a Crock Pot. You can buy food for bulk at places like Costco. Throw in a huge roast, vegetables, some lentils, and you have yourself a few days worth of meals that tastes really good. The Crock Pot is an integral part of my lazy eating style. You fill it with a crap load of food in the beginning of the day and you have days worth of food available in the evening. Seriously, if you don’t have one, buy one and put it to use.
As for specifics, you need to certainly be eating enough protein. Opinions vary wildly on the optimal level of protein to get into your daily intake. I would say to at least have 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. This will form the building blocks of muscle when your body is rebuilding. You need this. Don’t want to measure? Just make sure to have some kind of meat or fish in every meal.
Most meat heads will just harp on having enough protein, but you also need fat and carbs in your diet as well. The reason is two-fold. First, it’s 10 times easier to consume more calories if you include a bunch of carbs and fat as they are usually food groups that are caloricly dense. Second, your body needs carbs and fats for ancillary reasons that supplement the recovery process. For instance, carbs are needed as fuel for the body and brain. Fats are needed because they support hormone production such as Testosterone which is integral to staying trim and gaining muscle. I know thats extremely simplistic.
There’s a lot of bulking systems out there on the internet, but I’ll just speak on two systems.
One system that has been touted for a while is GOMAD which stands for Gallon of Milk a Day. I personally think this system is dumb, but it certainly works. I would just steer clear because there’s just way too much sugar in milk. I also think that milk you buy in grocery stores is garbage filled with hormones they pumped in the cow to fatten it up. One caveat to what I’m saying is if you get Raw Milk. Supposedly because certain enzymes weren’t broken down by pasteurization, it’s much better for you. However there is some risk of food borne illness associated with Raw Milk, but I really have no idea, so I guess I’d say if you want to use milk in your diet do it as a last resort.
Another system is eating paleo and adding calorically rich foods to supplement. Foods to supplement could be rice, oats, beans, milk, and potatoes. Another staple that no one talks about is Liver. Not only is it rich in nutrients, but it’s also super inexpensive. This is what I like to do personally. I’ll eat a lunch that consists of fish, couple eggs, rice, vegetables, avocados, and pulled pork. However, when I was really going at this trying to gain weight, I had a simple meal that I would eat all the time.
Simplifying always makes change easier in my mind, it’s also much more effective. My meal plan was a bag of vegetables, two chicken breasts, and 3 eggs. This made me very full, and covered all the bases of my protein, carbs, and fat intake.
Another method I should mention is liquifying food. I knew a kid when I was younger who would liquify everything he ate. Dude put everything in a food processor. Chicken, beef, everything! I was always perplexed by this, but it certainly worked. Dude got super jacked after a while. As much as it is to make eating easier and digestable, it’s also a way to actually eat more total food.
The idea is to just get more food down the gullet. Do it, do it!
If you go on the internet and look up weight lifting routines, most of the time you’ll see stuff in which each muscle group is split up into different days. Every day a different muscle group is worked with different exercises. These routines are called isolation exercises because they isolate each muscle group. I’ve done this before and found that it doesn’t work. There’s a reason that these routines are prevalent. They work like a charm with people who are doing steroids. I personally have nothing against using steroids, but this guide isn’t for that person. Isolation exercises are also primarily used for bodybuilding purposes which is asthetically pleasing, but not neccessarily conducive to gaining more strength.
Your muscles will grow when you put enough stress on them to force them into change. Your body is pretty smart in that in response to a stressful situation, it will adapt in order to not have to deal with said stress again. The fastest and most economical way to achieve such a state is lifting heavy ass weights using compound exercises. Compound exercises are exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups and sometimes the whole body into the movement. This allows you to put heavier weights on the bar. Heavier weights mean more stress. More stress means greater change.
This is really good news. Instead of taking hours to do different exercises for one muscle group, you just do one exercise that is much more intense that takes less time. Gym trips usually take me about 45 minutes or less now.
The exercises that should be a staple of your workouts are as follows
The way I break it down usually is this:
Monday- Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Dips
Tuesday- Squats, and Calf Raises
Thursday- Deadlifts, Rows, and Pull-ups.
Like I mentioned earlier, I started with these exercises by doing stronglifts 5×5. I can’t remember how I came across that site or why it resonated with me, but for some reason I just decided to follow through with it. It certainly worked, but perhaps not because of the system, but more because I had never done these exercises before with big weight.
Another system to move to if you are starting to plateau is called 5,3,1. I have moved to this and am seeing great progress.
The point is to start doing compound exercises like the squat and deadlift, and go hard enough to force your muscles to grow. Pick a workout plan and stick with it. If you are growing, it’s working. If you stop growing, modify what you are doing. It’s that simple.
If you are doing things like marathons, distance running, or any of those tough mudder races, think twice. Long distance endurance type training will exhaust all the calories that you put in your body before your body gets a chance to rebuild. Take it from me, I ran distance all through high school and college, and I struggled gaining weight. It wasn’t until I stopped that I started to put weight on. If you are looking to warm up, try doing dynamic stretches and doing light reps of the actual exercise you are about to do. This means that if you are about to do squats, do some light weight reps first.
Proper Sleep and Recovery
When your body’s muscles get broken down, they don’t just start getting better immediately like Wolverine or something. Usually the healing process takes place when you are sleeping. This is why sometimes you go to bed when your muscles are sore, and you wake up feeling much better. It’s because when you are sleeping your body releases hormones to aid in your recovery. This is why you wake up with a boner in the morning, because your body is peaking on testosterone. By the way, this is one reason why people who do steroids make it seem so easy. Because testosterone is artificially coursing through their body at peak levels throughout the day, they recover much faster and are able to constantly go hard in the gym day after day.
Your body generally requires around 48 hours to heal if you go really hard on a certain muscle group. So to make the recovery phase as brief as possible, it’s important to not only get enough sleep, but to make sure it’s actually good sleep. Try to get anywhere from 8-10 hours of sleep after a hard workout.
Some tips to get better sleep are as follows:
1) Make sure your room has as little light as possible. It’s amazing the difference this makes. If you have to, put trash bags over the windows to block out the light coming in. You could also give a sleeping mask a try, but make sure it’s comfortable. Remove any led lighting from the room as well, including from alarm clocks. Believe it or not this actually does make a difference.
2) Stop looking at computer screens, televisions, or smart phones about an hour before bed. The blue light messes with you and will fool your brain into thinking it’s daytime. Thus, it will be harder to go to sleep. Use this time to either read, meditate, or write down a to do list for the next day.
3) Eliminate noises that could wake you up from your sleep. If you can’t eliminate the noise, try using ear plugs. My roommate used to wake me up all the time merely by walking around. It wasn’t until 2 years living together that I stumbled upon using ear plugs. I was kicking myself for not doing it earlier because it worked like a charm.
Common Objection: Will I get fat?
If you are really skinny, I wouldn’t worry about this at all. Just keep eating. If you are going to the gym and lifting weights, it won’t be a problem. To answer your question though, yes you will most likely get fatter. It won’t be noticeable though. All that you’ll notice is getting bigger, which is obviously a plus, so don’t fret.
This is a lot to take in, so I’ll just sum it up succinctly. If you are skinny, 90% of the battle will be eating more than you think you can. Think about it this way, you always hear fat people bitching about how they can’t lose weight. All they have to do is follow the same strategy except eat less than they think they can. You are on the other end of that spectrum.
Do compound exercises to get the most out of your workouts. Lift heavy, and get in and out of the gym. You don’t have to spend hours there.
Get a good night’s sleep. If you have to sacrifice watching tv, surfing the web, or playing video games to get optimal sleep, do it.
Get out there today and change your body.