“Can Skinny Guys Get Big?” Is the Wrong Question to Ask

by | Body Image, Building Muscle, Fitness, Weight Gain

Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • Any XS shirt looks like a tent on you.
  • It hurts to sit on solid surfaces without a cushion.
  • You’re cold all the time, even during summer.
  • Most women are bigger (and stronger) than you.
  • Getting a massage feels like being assaulted.
  • People think you’re in shape, but you huff and puff like you don't even exercise.
  • You never wear shorts and risk exposing your chicken legs.
  • People assume “you need to eat more” is great advice.
  • Accidental shoulder bumps can knock you flat on your face.
  • “You’re so lucky” is not how you feel about your weight.

Being naturally skinny is not exactly a blessing. It seems like no one understands your struggles. The whole world is worried about the obesity pandemic. Some people think your problems are a joke in comparison. “You should be happy you’re lean.”

Yet, that’s not how you view your situation. You deal with your own anxiety and body image issues. Not to mention practical problems like finding clothes that fit. The list goes on and on.

Can a Scrawny Guy Get Buff?

Everybody can bulk up. Muscle growth (hypertrophy) principles apply to all people equally. No exceptions. It doesn’t matter what’s your current situation.

Following the right strategy can help you finally put on size. Gain weight consistently for months. Cover your bones with muscle. And feel confident about your physique.

Though the devil is in the details. First off, you can’t rely on conventional weight gain solutions. Second, your unique structure imposes some limitations. The physique you imagine might not be achievable.

Should You Focus on Size or Muscularity?

If you want to get big, you picked a vague goal. Weight gain can be described in different ways. Though it’s rarely clear what’s the exact aesthetic outcome.

  • Weight gain is an increase in body fat, muscle mass, or a combination of both. The exact fat to muscle ratio is what determines your look.

Here are a few physique outcomes after gaining weight:

Big/Huge: Weight increase due to mostly fat gain. But not to a point where you end up overweight (fat). Slightly less muscle growth.  No visible muscle separation.

Buff: An almost even split between muscle and fat gain. The resulting physique is not very lean. But there may be some muscle separation.

Muscular: Increases in mostly muscle mass. Minimal fat gain. Clear muscle separation due to being relatively lean.

Ripped/Jacked: Initial weight gain, heavy focus on muscle growth. Consequent weight decrease, muscle-sparing fat loss. The end physique is very lean. Individual muscle striations are visible. This creates the illusion of size despite the preceding weight loss phase.

These are no textbook definitions. But that’s what most people mean when using those terms.

Turn an Underweight Body Into an Aesthetic Masterpiece

Let’s say all you care about is size. There’s less focus on the fat to muscle ratio. Proper training and structured dieting are not your main concern. Determination and persistence are still important. Yet, the process is not complicated. Simply pig out.

But the results may be far from impressive. You may end up with a huge belly, a double chin, or sagging chest fat. Just because you got bigger, doesn’t mean you’ll look better. Though there are exceptions. But it comes down to fat distribution. And you have little control over this.

Getting ripped is way more challenging. Building muscle requires serious effort. Eventually, you have to lean down just like everyone else. Nailing down the details is tricky. Bulk aggressively, you’ll end up fat and bloated. Lean down prematurely, you’ll end up looking malnourished.

But you’ll get an impressive physique when you do everything right. The type of body most people find highly attractive. The time and effort invested are justified by the end result.

Can You Defeat Your Skinny Genetics?

That is next to impossible. It’s like trying to change your height. Though some gene expressions can be altered over time.

Physical Characteristics You Can’t Change:

  • frame and bone structure
  • body part ratios
  • baseline muscle mass
  • muscle shape and attachment

Training and dieting affect only body fat and muscle size. Fat has a negative impact on aesthetics. Lean tissue has the opposite effect. But unlike fat, the amount of muscle gain is limited.

You can expect a muscle increase of up to ~10%. If your baseline muscle mass (untrained) is low, the increase will be equal to 10-15 lbs. Average-sized people can add more muscle by virtue of starting off with more lean tissue.

This shouldn’t discourage you. You have 2 major advantages:

  • Adding 1-2 lbs of muscle on a small frame results in a visual difference. Bigger people might gain a few pounds without a notable change in appearance.
  • Skinny guys maintain a lean look easily after gaining weight. People who gain muscle faster usually struggle to stay lean. Not ideal if you want an athletic physique.

Skinny guys can look just as great as other people. Though you may not get as big or heavy as someone else your height.

Problems You Can Easily Resolve:

  • high satiety and low appetite
  • limited food preferences
  • low energy levels
  • lack of strength

Your current state is the result of daily routines. Altering your habits forces the body to adapt. Though change is hard. You’ll certainly undergo a period of discomfort.

Examples include:

  • Forcing yourself to eat despite feeling full.
  • Focusing on different foods options (though no need to eat foods you hate).
  • Reconditioning your body by engaging in different activities
  • Applying progressive overload, constantly challenging yourself.

The human body is highly adaptable. Even your personality, and preferences are malleable. You may be a weak scrawny guy who can barely finish his meal. But that’s a temporary state. All of this can change.

How Much Muscle Can You Gain?

A 10% increase in lean tissue is a realistic goal. However, many variables play a role in muscle growth. The number one factor is training. You won’t build muscle unless you cause a certain level of homeostatic disruption.

Then you have things like:

  • training type
  • frequency of training
  • training intensity
  • recovery management
  • protein consumption
  • overall quality of the diet

Note: Some people respond amazingly well to training. The amount and rate of muscle growth are higher than average. But that’s not something you can control.

Lastly, you have to consider the time frame. It takes a few months for a notable physique change. Then another couple of years to look like you actually lift weights.

Getting close to the 10% mark may take several years. But no need to get discouraged. The same time frame applies to most folks. There’s a reason why muscular guys are a rare sight. Few are not willing to put in the work and time required.

9 /10 Skinny Guy Transformation Photos Are Fake

A word of caution. Don’t get too excited about the crazy transformations you see online. Here’s how to spot the fake from the realistic:

  • Teenage “before” pic: Teens grow as they mature. Training certainly helps get bigger. But progress evaluation is hard. What percent of the “after” gains were due to natural growth? And what was the role of training? Hard to tell.
  • Detrained “before” pic: Growing new muscle is a slow process. Regaining lost muscle happens quickly. Also, past experience helps avoid common mistakes. That’s why some transformations take little time. But results come slower for complete newbies.
  • Malnourishment or extreme exhaustion: Some people are scrawny because of their life’s situation. But they are not skinny by nature. Their bodies can quickly swell up when circumstances improve. Progress in their case means returning to a default state.
  • Genetic freaks: Some people respond very well to diet and training. They may get away with following a terrible routine. Even get better results than someone who has everything dialed up. Genetic freaks can be inspiring. But their success doesn’t represent the norm.
  • Drug usage: Certain substances can also improve training response. The situation is similar to that of natural high-responders. Though anabolic steroid use is heavily stigmatized. People rarely admit they use drugs. Many of the best transformations are not natural.
  • Data misrepresentation: Certain claims can be outright lies, half-truths, or genuine data misrepresentation. A great example is total weight vs muscle increase. Transformations may cite impressive muscle growth numbers. The general assumption is all weight gained is pure muscle. That’s almost never the case.

Author’s note: I don’t mean to downplay hard effort and dedication. Even a genetic freak has to work for his gains. The lesson here is to compare yourself to a relatable person. Or a relatable situation. Otherwise, you might get unrealistic expectations.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here’s an example of a headline that should make you skeptical. “Skinny Guy Builds 60 Pounds of Muscle”. That’s a lot of muscle. Even for someone with especially good genetics.

How Do You Get Big as a Hardgainer?

As a hardgainer you’re not immune to the laws of nature. Food and training are still the best tools for gaining weight. You can’t increase muscle size without training. Or experience growth without eating enough.

But knowing “what” to do, doesn’t mean you know “how” to do it. Here’s a list of mistakes skinny guys make trying to get bigger.

Constantly Trying to Gain Weight But Having no Appetite

No need to remind you to eat more. You’re probably sick of stuffing yourself. Failure to gain weight is rarely due to lack of trying. The issue is you aren’t trying hard enough.

How hard? Eat enough to make the scale numbers go up. This is how you evaluate progress. The scale is your compass. It shows if you’re moving in the right direction.

Once you start gaining weight you’ll notice a few changes:

  • Appetite adapts to match eating habits. Figure out how much to eat to start gaining weight. Maintain high intake levels for a couple of weeks. Your appetite will naturally increase. Hunger levels will also catch up.
  • Physical demands and recovery affect appetite. When you train regularly your body requires more nutrients. As a result, it upregulates appetite. As you grow muscle you naturally crave more food.
  • Highly palatable foods can bypass satiety signals. Satiety is mostly determined by food weight. Low-volume foods (e.g. nut butters) delay satiety. You can consume a lot of calories. And calorie overconsumption is what matters for growth.

Too Weak to Train With Weights

Strength issues may lead to two distinctive problems:

  • You feel too embarrassed to train in a commercial gym.
  • You can’t perform some of the common strength exercises.

How to Feel Confident in the Gym

The obvious solution to suck it up. But you can also train with a more experienced friend. Hire a coach. Even workout at home. In your free time, you can watch training videos. Analyze the technique to improve your exercise form.

As you practice your competence improves. You get better. When you’re good at something you feel more confident. The key is to take action. Learn from the experience. You won’t feel embarrassed forever. Also, you’ll realize people in the gym pay zero attention to you.

How to Improve Strength

When you apply progressive overload, it doesn’t matter how much you lift. Start with weights that are sufficiently challenging for you. You’ll adapt quickly. The weights will feel light. This is when you increase the intensity. Keep repeating the process.

As for exercises that feel too hard, skip them. Every lift has multiple alternatives. Most are equally effective. Start with movements and weights you can easily perform. Gradually make things harder. No matter how weak you are there’s always something you can do.

Not Sure How to Start Bulking Up?

The 2 key takeaways are:

  • Eat enough to have your weight increase consistently.
  • Train with weights 3-5 times a week applying progressive overload.

Every other consideration has a much lower priority. Though if you’d like to speed up the bulk, you can get in touch with us.

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~Niki, Fitness Mastery Coach

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