Top Ten Muscle Building Training Tips For Skinny Guys

Top Ten Muscle Building Training Tips For Skinny Guys

Building muscle doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s hard, brutal and takes a long time, but it’s simple.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · 11 Sep 2017

Training Beginner
14 Mins

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The two most common reasons I see skinny guys stay skinny are:
  1. They overthink everything
  2. They’re impatient
Most skinny guys never make any progress because they drive themselves nuts over meaningless minutia, like:
  • Should I train my chest with my back or shoulders?
  • Should I supinate my hands at the top of the curl?
  • Should I eat 30 or 35g protein per meal?
All this second-guessing only serves to stress you out, raise cortisol and halts muscle growth.
 
Building muscle doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s hard, brutal and takes a hell of a long time, but it’s simple.
 
Here are my top ten muscle building tips for skinny guys…

1. Train 3-4 Days A Week

Most skinny guys train too much.
 
For the average guy with normal lives and genetics, we’ve found three to four workouts a week to be the perfect sweet spot for muscle growth and recovery.
 
The guys who do better with three times a week usually have very busy lives with a demanding career, and just don’t have enough recovery capacity to do more.  A full body split that incorporates heavy compound work from the six major movement patterns (squat, lunge, hinge, vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull) can work wonders here. 
 
Four days a week does seem to be the sweet spot for many, especially if you have been training effectively (big caveat here) for at least 1-2 years. With this approach, you can hit each muscle group with more frequency while being able to give more to certain body parts. Some setups we like to use are the following:
  • Upper/Lower/Upper/Lower 
  • Push/Pull/Legs/Arms
  • Upper/ Lower (strength focused) Upper/Lower (hypertrophy focused)
When your goal is building muscle, you need to prioritise recovery more than anything and that includes gym time. This is especially true for the naturally skinnier lifter.
 
You grow when you are out of the gym, not inside.

2. Focus On Big, Compound Exercises

The meat and potatoes of your training should be based on compound exercises like squats, chin-ups, dips, presses, rows and deadlift variations.
 
These are the exercises that will allow the greatest loading potential and provide the most bang for your buck in your training.
 
The compound exercises you choose to focus on should fulfil three important criteria:
  • Suit your mechanics
  • Be pain-free
  • Allow you to feel the muscle at all times
From this you should have 2-4 exercises per movement pattern that you can rotate between and strive to set PRs on.
 
Utilising this rotation means you’ll have less muscle imbalances and overuse injuries that come with focusing on only one exercise.
 
If you fill 80% of your training with these exercises, you can fill the remaining 20% with isolation exercises like curls, abs, lateral raise variations etc.

3. Pay Attention to Progressive Overload

Most skinny guys stay skinny because they never focus on actually getting stronger.
 
They just mindlessly pump away on the latest Flex Magazine workout with no thought to progression over time.
 
The body doesn’t like building muscle – it’s not efficient.
 
If you’re naturally skinny, this applies even more. Which is why you need to force your muscles to adapt with increased overload.
 
You need to focus on either adding weight or doing more reps with the same weight.
 
I can guarantee that if you’re squatting 60kg for 10 reps now, when you can squat 100kg for 10 reps you’ll be a bigger person.
 
It’s easy to get distracted, but getting stronger over a wide range of rep ranges is still the single most important factor in building muscle.

4. Use Perfect Form

Progressive overload always comes with a caveat.
 
It only counts if you maintain optimal form, execution and consistency.
 
If you increase your squat from 60kg to 100kg, but your depth has gone from below parallel to a 20-degree knee bend, you’ve made zero progression. 
 
Your last rep and your first rep must look virtually the same from a technique and range of motion perspective with the only difference being the speed. The last rep should be substantially slower than the first.
 
Most skinny guys are in a rush, so will add weight at all costs and forget about form. This unfortunately is perpetuated in most commercial gyms where ego lifting is far too common. The weight on the bar seems to be more impressive than how you’re performing the exercise which over the long term, leads to subpar results. 
 
Not only do you end up with no muscle growth, but you also increase your chances of injury and dig yourself deeper into the recovery hole which as we discussed, is extremely important.
 
We recommend you keep a record of not only your weights, but also videos of how you are performing each of your lifts. Far too often people overestimate their ability to execute an exercise and go months without filming a thing only to eventually realise they have reduced their range of motion by 50%. 
 
Don’t be that guy!
 
So perhaps I should rephrase the single most important factor as progressive overload WITH perfect form.

5. Use A Low to Moderate Amount of Volume

If you’re a skinny guy who’s been following the muscle mag workouts, you’ve probably been hammering way too much volume.
 
Your workouts have most likely been along the lines of…
 
30 sets of chest on Monday
 
30 sets of back on Tuesday
 
And so on and so on.
 
Not only are you now going to train each body part twice a week, but you’re also going to slash the volume in half. Probably more.
 
While it’s tough to give specifics, somewhere in the region of 12 to 18 total sets per workout works pretty well.
 
Some people can get away with less if they really know how to apply intensity. But this is usually best saved for advanced trainees.
 
There’s rarely a place for more though, not if you’re training hard.
 
Per body part, I like to give skinny guys 1 to 2 exercises done for 2 to 3 sets each.
 
Of all the advice in this article, this will be the one tip that throws skinny guys off. Yet it’ll probably be the one that reaps the most rewards.
 
By keeping the volume lower, you’re able to 1) train more frequently and 2) allow the body to recover to continuously get stronger.
 
Remember, if you’re lifting the same weights as you were 3 years ago, chances are you look exactly the same.

6. Use The Right Rep Ranges

The magic rep range for skinny guys looking to build muscle is 6 to 8 reps.
 
Just like you should be spending 80% of your time doing big, compound lifts. I believe 80% of your sets should be spent working in the 6 to 8 rep range.
 
This rep range works so well because it allows the perfect blend of maximal muscle recruitment / tension as well as metabolic stimulus.
 
Skinny guys are typically also weak, which means working excessively in the 8 to 12 rep range won’t provide much muscle recruitment / tensions.
 
Until you’ve built a foundation of strength and muscle, staying in the 6 to 8 rep range is best.
 
When you’re a little more advanced, that’s when 8+ reps provide the most benefit.
 
And that’s when utilising heavy/light splits where you vary the rep ranges through the week can really accelerate your muscle building.

7. Don’t Abuse Training To Failure

If you want to stay healthy and make progress over a long period of time, you need to train hard, but also smart.
 
That’s why you need to be careful with how you approach training to failure.
 
For the most part, you want to train at around 90%.
 
This means most of your sets should finish just shy of technical failure. Clean, crisp sets.
 
This doesn’t mean you can’t train to balls out failure from time to time. You need those sets too to know what hard is, as well as to test your limits.
 
But these should be used sparingly and strategically.
 
Most skinny guys do this everyday. And so they end up struggling to recover, always sore and eventually injured.
 
If instead, you follow the advice we have discussed so far with regard to how many days you should train, what sort of exercises to prioritise, using perfect form along with taking a more low to moderate volume approach, you are able to go to failure more often while mitigating the risk of injury.
 
For the most part, stay at least 1 rep shy of failure on your big compound lifts (80% of your exercises) but don’t be afraid to take your isolation exercises (20% of your exercises) to failure.

8. Stick With ONE Program For At Least 12 Weeks

Muscle building is a marathon, not a sprint.
 
In the age of information overload we now live in, program ADD is at an all time high.
 
Which means people are jumping from program to program every week.
 
One week it’s 10×10, the following week is 5×5, then it’s DC training, followed by Jay Cutler’s Olympia routine.
 
If there’s one thing you take from this, it’s that you need to ‘buy in’ to ONE program that fits your own unique profile, is friendly on the joints and then stick with it for AT LEAST 12 weeks.
 
Unlike what the magazines have duped you into thinking, you can’t gain 10 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks with one magical program.
 
The body craves consistency and time for progression to occur, not confusion.

9. Eat Enough Calories

For many skinny guys, being able to eat enough food on a consistent basis is one of the most challenging aspects of their journey. This is due to a combination of factors including:

A Naturally Low Appetite

There is a much larger genetic component to our appetite regulation than was once assumed. Individuals who manage to stay lean without paying much attention to what they consume, appear to also have certain mutations where their brains shut down the drive to eat relatively quickly.

This doesn’t mean that their appetite can’t increase (it definitely can) but they may need to be more strategic with what they consume along with how they consume it.

Eating Less Than They Think Are

Just like overweight individuals are prone to underestimate their caloric intakes by over 30-47%, leaner individuals tend to overestimate their intakes. The data isn’t as prevalent in the research but from what we have seen in practice, there is a discrepancy between what they think they are eating vs what they are eating.

We recommend checking out this article to determine your own caloric needs but as a starting point, most guys who struggle to put on weight should be aiming for a caloric intake that is equal to their body weight in pounds multiplied by 16-17. 

If you’re not already, make sure you are tracking your food to get a more accurate representation of how much you’re consuming. 

Moving More Than They Think Are

Ever noticed how your skinny friends can’t seem to sit still for too long? Or they always have the need to want to do something? These individuals tend to expend a lot of energy through NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which can also increase even more when overfed.

In fact, this study showed that some individuals who were overfed 1000 calories above their maintenance for 8 weeks, ended up expending an additional 650 calories per day while others expended less than 100. The entire difference came from NEAT as all other variables were kept constant.

Combining a genetic predisposition to eat less along with a metabolism that “revs up” when trying to consume more food, it’s no surprise that many struggle with getting enough calories in. 

10. Maximise Recovery

Coming back in full circle..
 
If your goal is muscle building, you need to maximise your recovery ability. Many skinny guys naturally find it hard to wind down meaning they are more prone to stay in a more sympathetic or “fight or flight” state which lends itself well to getting things done and expending energy, not so well when it comes to adapting to your training.
 
If you’re up partying all night, sleeping 4 hours a night, stressed out all day and under-eating, you’re not going to get any bigger.
 
Your body grows when you’re resting. Your time in the gym is only a signal for growth. Once stimulated, your body needs food, sleep and plenty of rest to be able to grow. You need to find ways to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system or better known as your  “rest and digest” system.  
 
Start prioritising high quality sleep every night. Eat in a consistent calorie surplus with the right foods. Reduce stress. Get more sex. Engage in hobbies. Get massages and stay on top of soft tissue work.
 
All these things will add up to allow you to recover faster between workouts, get stronger and ultimately build more muscle.
Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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