Want to Build Muscle? 8 Helpful Things to Keep in Mind

Gyms in many parts of the US are finally starting to reopen, and they’re scheduled to reopen in other parts of the country soon. So I thought this would be the perfect time to make this post. 

Anyone who read my life story knows I used to be skinny. Like really skinny. I’m 6’1 and well into college I weighed about 125 lbs. And for the longest time, I convinced myself that I didn’t care. I thought that muscular guys were just genetically programmed to be that way and that gaining muscle would be so hard for me that I might as well not even try. But the truth is, I was super insecure about being skinny. I worried that no girls would find me attractive, so I would rush into relationships with any girl that showed some interest in me. Even if I didn’t find her attractive at all. I hated taking off my shirt for any reason and preferred to keep the lights off even when having sex. Being around fit, muscular guys made me feel self-conscious so I tended to hang out with guys just as skinny as I was, or who were as fat as I was skinny. 

Can you relate to any of this? If you also used to be skinny but have had success at bulking up, maybe skip this post and forward it along to someone who needs to read it. But if you’re tired of being the skinniest, weakest guy around, read on for some advice on how to make a change once and for all. I’ll start with some general attitude stuff and then move into some tactical stuff. 

1. Believe in Yourself 

I know this sounds like corny bullshit. But trust me, it’s the first thing you need if you’re going to make progress. I was unhappy with being skinny for at least a year before I finally stepped into a gym. And the only thing holding me back was that I doubted whether I could actually make progress. I figured it would be so hard and take so long that it wouldn’t even be worth trying. 

Don’t make the same mistake as I did. You absolutely can build muscle and change your physique, and it will only take a couple months before you start noticing results. Believing that it’s possible is the only way you’ll be motivated enough to endure the pain, soreness, bloating, and fatigue that you will definitely experience. But it’s 1000% worth it in the end. 

2. Don’t Be Intimidated

Another thing that kept me from starting to build muscle sooner was the fact that I was intimidated. The first thing I was intimidated about was how much I didn’t know. As I talked about in my life story, I was a shy, awkward guy who loved science and playing violin, but had never played sports or done anything remotely physical in my life. Hearing guys talk about deadlifts, bench presses, whey protein, creatine, sets, and reps was like hearing a foreign language. I felt so out of my depth that I didn’t even know where to start. 

The other thing that intimidated me was being the skinniest, weakest guy at the gym. I didn’t want bigger, stronger guys judging me when I struggled to bench an empty bar or didn’t know what to do in a squat rack. 

If you’re feeling the same way now, get those thoughts out of your head right away. The only way you’ll start learning about weightlifting is by doing it. After even a few months in the gym you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve learned. And nobody gives a fuck about what anyone else is doing in the gym. Whenever I see a super skinny guy in the gym I think to myself that I’m glad he’s taking steps to better himself and hope he sticks with it. I would never judge anyone for trying to improve themselves and I don’t know anyone else who would either. 

3. Find a Good Program

When I first started lifting weights, I went to see the trainer on staff at my gym, thinking I’d get some good advice from him. The problem is that even though he was a bodybuilder, he didn’t know how to help a skinny guy like me build muscle. Following his advice meant my progress in my first year of lifting was far slower than it should have been. 

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Find a good program that’s written by people who know how to help skinny guys build muscle. After about a year of slow progress, I started using a program called Bony to Beastly and had some pretty incredible results. I’d highly recommend looking them up and using their program. I know another one called Starting Strength is also popular. There might be others out there too, but if you’re not sure what to do, you can’t go wrong with Bony to Beastly. The guys that wrote it used to be skinny themselves so they know exactly how to tailor the program to guys looking to build muscle. 

4. Prepare to Eat. And Eat. And Eat. 

A lot of skinny guys complain that they can’t gain weight no matter how much they eat. The good news is that this is completely false. You can absolutely gain weight. The bad news is that no matter how much you’re eating, if you haven’t gained weight, it still isn’t enough.

Use a site like MyFitnessPal to tell you how many calories you need to be eating to gain weight, and when it asks you your activity level, choose the most active option available. Even if you’re not that active, you probably have a fast metabolism and will need to eat more than most guys to gain the same amount of weight. You’ll probably be shocked at how high the number is. Expect something in the range of 3,500 calories a day. 

At first, this will be difficult. You’ll spend a lot of time feeling full, bloated, and generally tired of eating. A few tips to make it easier. First is to eat a big breakfast. If you skimp on breakfast, that means you’ll have to eat even more calories at lunch and dinner, causing you to feel even more bloated. But if you can get a solid breakfast, that’ll help space your calories more evenly throughout the day. Also, make sure to snack throughout the day. A protein bar or some trail mix can easily add a few hundred calories to your daily intake without making you feel uncomfortably full. Finally, weight gainer shakes are your friend. I take the Optimum Nutrition Pro Gainer, which I’d highly recommend. It’s a fast way to get in 500+ calories but it won’t leave you feeling full for very long. These shakes were a lifesaver when I was first bulking and I still depend on them to this day. 

Thankfully, it gets easier. Your body will adapt to the increase in food intake and the uncomfortable, bloated feeling won’t last forever. But it’s critical that you power through those first weeks and months if you want to build a better looking, healthier body. 

5. Track Your Progress

The best way to force your muscles to grow is by lifting heavier and heavier weight each time you go to the gym. But the problem is, if you’re exercising 3-4 times a week and doing 5-6 different exercises every time you workout, it’s going to be impossible to keep track of all that in your head. The only way to fix this is to keep track of your progress in writing. I’d recommend doing this in either a small notebook or in your phone, whatever you prefer. After every workout, track how many sets and reps you did of each exercise and what weight you used. Then the next time you do that exercise, you should aim to add a little bit of weight. It might not be possible to add weight every time and that’s fine. As long as you’re monitoring your progress, that should keep you moving in the right direction. 

6. Find a Community

Building muscle will be a lot easier and less confusing if you’re doing it with a community of other like-minded guys. If you’re brand new to weightlifting, the best way to find this is probably online. Bony to Beastly has an online community that’s open to anyone who buys one of their programs. Reddit has a few communities that you might consider joining too. Gainit and Brogress are two that I know of, but there might be others. 

Another place you might find community is at a gym. In my experience, this is harder at first. You might not feel like you have a lot in common with the hardcore lifters at bodybuilding gyms or with the guys who join gyms to lose weight. But once you’ve been lifting awhile and have a gym that you’ve been going to awhile, the gym can be a good place to find this community. This also depends on the specific gym you go to. In my experience, corporate gyms tend to have little sense of community and independent neighborhood gyms tend to have more. 

7. See a Trainer

I get it. Personal trainers are expensive and in my experience, most of them have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to helping skinny guys build muscle. I’m definitely not suggesting that you see one every time you work out, or even once a week or once a month. The programs I recommended above will do a great job of giving you workout plans to follow. 

But here’s where I think trainers can be valuable. If you’re just starting out in the gym, you probably have no idea how to do exercises with correct form. There are plenty of videos out there to help you, but the problem is that videos can’t correct your form in real time. Only a trainer can do that. What I’d recommend is doing 2-3 sessions with a trainer when you first start out, mostly to have someone show you correct form on exercises like the deadlift, squat, and bench press. Then maybe check in with a trainer every few months to make sure your form hasn’t gotten sloppy. It’ll help reduce your risk of injury down the road, which is something you obviously want to avoid. 

8. Stick To It

Like just about anything in life that’s worthwhile, you won’t see results immediately. Don’t give up. It’ll take a couple months before you start seeing even the beginnings of results, and at least 6-9 months before your body really starts to change. And it could be 2 years or longer before you’re muscular enough that no one would confuse you for skinny. 

But don’t let that be discouraging. Learn to enjoy the process as much as the results. Before long, going to the gym will be a reward in its own right, and the results will make it even better. And if you truly commit, I guarantee that in less than a year, you’ll be more confident, healthier, and better looking than even before.

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