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How to Build Muscle If You’re Naturally Skinny

How to build muscle if you’re naturally skinny? The basics of building muscle apply to everyone regardless of whether the starting point is skinny or fat. To build muscle if you’re naturally skinny you need to eat in a calorie surplus, focus on progressive overload when training and finally get sufficient recovery through sleep and rest days.

One of the key motivators for a lot of people starting out in the weight room is due to the feeling of being too skinny. It will normally come down to a lack of strength impacting a sporting performance or more commonly a feeling of dissatisfaction with your physique.

If you fall under this category then you are likely what is known more commonly as an ectomorph or hardgainer. This is typically someone defined by specific characteristics such as being tall with long limbs, you will have small bones and/or joints, a fast metabolism and excel at cardiovascular exercise instead of strength or power based. 

The key issue that you face when training is that you define yourself as someone that is naturally skinny which is a serious psychological barrier to training. By taking on this mindset you’ll become demotivated by progress when in actuality you have the ability to build just as much muscle as the average Joe.

Can You Gain Muscle If You Are Skinny?

The good news is that the principles of building muscle are the same for almost everyone so you can 100% gain muscle if you are skinny!


I just touched on mindset which is an important factor for a naturally skinny person however it’s important to note that there is no biological reason which you can’t gain muscle if you are skinny. It may seem like a daunting task of course and the timeline might be slightly longer to see visible progress but it’s very much a possibility. 

All you need to be aware of is that progress won’t come slow, it will just appear to come slow at first. To elaborate, someone that is heavily overweight and commits to a fat loss phase in a bid to get in shape will likely see very quick results. 

Burning body fat is a relatively quick process and the more fat you start with the more drastic the results will be. It’s not uncommon to see drastic changes in a 3 – 6 month period!

Building muscle unfortunately takes much longer, especially to see noticeable results, a typical rate for a beginner would be 0.25kg/0.5lbs per week which works out at 1kg/2lbs per month and 12kg/24lbs per year. 

Over a year for a beginner that is a huge amount of muscle gained and adding 24lbs of muscle to your frame will be noticeable regardless of what your starting point is. 

Gaining 2lbs per month though will not be noticeable at first however which is where it can be demotivating but if you stick with the process long enough you will certainly see the results no matter how skinny you are to start with.

How to Build Muscle If You’re Naturally Skinny

Knowing that you can build 2lbs of muscle per month and then executing on this are two very different things. You can’t follow standard advice about a specialized arm day and focus on doing curls or other vanity exercises. 

That’s not to say you can’t include stuff that you want to do in your training, it does however mean there are certain guidelines and tried and tested methods that you should be using in order to really see some progress and start building muscle. 

The absolute basics of building muscle are diet, recovery and training (in that order). If you’ve done some basic reading around training or just have a perceived view of what building muscle is then you are likely to think the priority would be training, diet and finally rest.

Too many people focus on the training aspect which is of course important but as a naturally skinny guy you are going to have to change your approach. 

Eat to Grow

The number one priority that you need to be nailing down to build muscle if you’re naturally skinny is your diet. There are some basics that you will need to cover in order to not only fuel your workout but to ensure there is an availability of calories that will facilitate muscle growth.

What you need to ensure first and foremost is that you are consuming a calorie surplus on a daily basis. A calorie surplus means that you’ll consume more calories than you burn off leaving a sufficient supply of nutrients to aid muscle repair and growth. 

This genuinely is the key to building muscle, you can beat your body down in the gym, follow the best training program on the planet but if you are not fueling your body to support this from a muscle growth aspect then your progress will be stagnant for a long time. 

To get started you will want to work out what your maintenance calorie requirements are (the amount of calories you need to consume daily just to maintain weight) and then add 300kcal – 500kcal on top of this each day, this will be your surplus. 

If you are new to this then I have a guide that will help you determine how many calories you need to consume daily to build muscle and also a good macronutrient split. 

You might not be aware of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat) role in building muscle however consuming a certain proportion of each macronutrient will accelerate your progress. This approach to dieting is known as a bulk. 

To quickly find out how many calories a day you need to consume to build muscle and also what your macronutrient split should be check out my beginners guide:

Beginners guide to bulking

The biggest takeaway is that by following a bulking phase (and doing so correctly) will almost guarantee results, it doesn’t matter how skinny you are or how fast your metabolism is, as long as you consume a steady surplus and keep adjusting your intake as your body weight goes up then you will build muscle. 

The key of course is to be weight training alongside this, if you consume a constant surplus of calories and don’t have the training stimulus or energy expenditure to match then you will gain body fat instead of muscle mass. 

Train Hard, Rest Harder

Another common mistake that someone starting out makes, especially when you are skinny and have a mindset to go hard in the gym, is that your training stimulus, frequency and volume of training is too high and you can’t recover sufficiently. 

When training I’ve always liked the philosophy of stimulate, don’t annihilate for muscle growth. A training stimulus is when the muscle is contracted against an external object and you create mechanical tension within the muscle. 

This starts a chemical process known as protein synthesis which is an anabolic process for building muscle. Weight training causes microscopic tears to the muscle and it’s not in the gym but during rest and recovery that your body repairs this muscle tissue larger and stronger than before to handle the stimulus better in the future. 

The basics of it are, train the muscle, cause damage (not in a bad way) and then rest and let it grow back bigger than before. This is an adaptive process by the body and brought about by evolution, it’s a survival mechanism. 

This is all effective as long as you actually allow your body to recover and repair. One part of that process is having the nutrients available to facilitate this process which is where the calorie surplus of a bulk comes in and the other part is sufficiently resting the muscle group. 

Protein synthesis lasts around 48 hours once you’ve trained a muscle group though this can be much higher for beginners and can stay active for up to 72 hours. This means after training a muscle your body will utilize calories to build muscle rather than storing it as fat (a bit more complicated than that in reality but essentially true). 

Therefore after training a muscle you can wait quite a few days before you need to stimulate it again, your recovery capability will also be slower when starting out as you adapt. 

Therefore despite what you might read about how professional bodybuilders are training each day for hours at a time this is not the way you will build muscle. You’ll need a more conservative approach which will give results in the long run. 

Training for a Naturally Skinny Person

The final key to building muscle for a naturally skinny person is spending time in the gym lifting weights. This is the part most will over complicate but if you follow so basics for the first year or two of training then you will reap the results. 

This period of time isn’t about getting experimental and trying new programs every few weeks, you should instead be focusing on the following basics:

  • Train multi joint, compound exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, lunge, dip and weighted carries)
  • Train for progressive overload (keep a log book and look to add weight to your compound exercises every workout, adding 100lbs to your squat or deadlift will translate to adding 1lb-2lbs of muscle to your frame).
  • Create mechanical tension (ensure the muscle you are intending to work is active and tensed throughout to stimulate the muscle)
  • Isolation work (keep this to the end of a workout and use sparingly)

By following the above guidelines you will cover the basics and ensure that you build muscle at the rate that you want. As mentioned you don’t want to get carried away too much in the beginning and for that reason I’d recommend training full body, 3 x per week. 

There are two very popular beginner programs that I recommend using to get started with and they are better than anything that I could advise, they are tried and tested and will put muscle on your frame as a beginner for 1+ years before you even need to consider changing it up. 

If building muscle is your number one priority then stick to the program and you’ll see the results long term. These two programs are Starting Strength 3 x 5 and Stronglifts 5 x 5 (though an honorable mention goes to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1).

You can easily find these two routines with a quick Google or YouTube search and they are as basic as a routine comes but will guarantee results, especially when you have the other two components of diet and recovery in place.

What Next

If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis. 

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Don’t worry if you’re not ready for an intense program just yet, my weekly newsletter will give smaller tips that when implemented daily, will stack up over time and see you transform your body with seemingly minimal effort!

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