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Can Skinny People Build Muscle?

Updated on June 1, 2015

Yes! Yes they can. Skinny people can build muscle and gain weight, but there are some barriers to overcome. Having a high metabolism myself, I know fighting to gain muscle mass is an uphill battle, but nowhere near impossible. In order to even begin accomplishing this, there are some things you should know about body types, muscle building, and diet. In 6 months I put on 10 lbs of muscle, which was no picnic, but it is here to stay.

Tired of the stick figure feeling?
Tired of the stick figure feeling? | Source

My body is just the way it is!

Heard this one before. And I believed it myself for a long time. Bumpkis. Completely. Sure, it is true that some people are more genetically predisposed to weight and muscle gain than others. But that, by no means, is the sole indicator for muscle gain. Discipline and knowledge are far more important in accomplishing what you want to do, rather than “potential.” Lance Armstrong might have all the potential in the world, but if he didn’t spend thousands of hours training it wouldn't get him through a Tour de France, let alone win one. The first thing you need to forget, as a skinny person, is the idea that you can’t do it. Your body will fight you, but with a forged effort and understanding, you can build muscle, and plenty of it.

Lift Hard and Smart

Without going into detail about workout routines, you need to understand two basic concepts about how your body, more specifically, how your muscles grow.

  • In order for your muscles to grow, you have to break them down. Each time you workout you have to create micro-tears in your muscle fibers, which will grow back stronger. In order to accomplish this, you have to lift HEAVY every set, as many reps as you can do. Otherwise you simply aren’t pushing your muscles hard enough. Your body works best when it is warmed-up (treadmill, stationary bike, etc.). Noticed I said warmed-up not STERCHTED. There is no scientific research to suggest that stretching helps prevent injury in any way, in fact, there is plenty of studies that indicate the quite the opposite. A warmer body is much more effective and receptive of exercise.
  • You DO NOT build muscle when you lift. As mentioned above, lifting heavy weights actually breaks down muscle. You build muscle when you are resting. Rest and diet play just as much, if not a more important role than lifting itself in muscle growth. Getting the recommended 7+ hours of sleep will be essential to muscle growth. More on diet later.

Without a combined effort of heavy, focused lifting and sufficient rest, muscle growth will evade you every time you hit the gym floor.

On Protein

Protein is absolutely essential to muscle building, along with a balance of dark greens and good, wholesome grains. All calories are not created equal, and protein from a lean source such as chicken or fish, is far better for you overall than from, say, beef. In order to get the necessary amounts of protein each day, you'll probably have to invest in powder. It would be far more expensive and time-consuming to get the necessary amounts in foods. There is a great deal of variety, in both price and quality, but when choosing remember, that if you put garbage in you'll get garbage out.


Eating right, before, during, and after a workout is also essential to developing muscle. Here's an oversimplified view of weight gain- if you burn more calories each day than what you take in, you’ll burn fat and muscle and lose weight. If you eat more calories than what you take in, you’ll start storing whatever isn’t used as fat. Eat bigger meals, with high quality protein, and do so regularly. There is about a 30min window after a workout when your body is in prime form to start rebuilding itself. If you don’t give it enough quality stuff to rebuild with, (most people use protein powder) you’ll be burning muscle and fat instead. Some recommend eating 4-6 meals a day rather than the usual 3, but I’ve found that increasing portions, particularly at breakfast and dinner has been just as effective, without feeling like a beached whale all the time.


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Muscle Building and Running

Some believe that running, biking or swimming have a detrimental effect on weight gain, but I have found it to be quite simply untrue. By increasing my calorie intake and tapping in to my aerobic (fat) stores rather than burning through my anaerobic (sugar) stores during runs, I have gone 10+ miles regularly and not lost any weight. In fact I have seen more definition and tone from activities like swimming and running.


Bringing it Together

To summarize, you’ll need:

  • To push your body near its limits every workout (with good form!)
  • To rest sufficiently
  • Eat sufficiently
  • Have a goal!

By pushing your body to the limit each time you workout, you’ll break down a lot more muscle fibers vs. lighter lifting for more reps. Don’t workout everyday, if you muscles aren’t 100% by the time you hit the gym again, you won’t be building muscle very effectively at half capacity. Rest. Rest. Rest. Give your body a chance to recuperate, it can do amazing things! Eat quality stuff, more than your used to eating and keep doing it. Have a set weight goal, and check in on it often, at the same time of day, such as after your morning ritual. The scale doesn’t lie! If you are interested in a specific workout routine and diet, you can check out Vince Delmonte’s No Nonsense Guide, which has a great deal of information and guidance. That said, I am not endorsing his product, as I believe that being armed with the basic knowledge about how your body builds muscle you can accomplish weight gain, even with your own bodyweight. Can skinny people build muscle? Definitely. Will you? Depends on how hard and smart your willing to work, but at least you know what it takes.


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    • George Kagiso profile image

      George Green 

      6 years ago from Botswana

      l think IJR112 is a hard worker as you managed to train 5 times a week and gain muscle. That's great, l also started out being skinny but l was pushed by my cousin to lift weights and we trained 4 times a week,2 hour workouts. l gained 22 pounds in 2 months, l'm happy l didn't overtrain

      This hub is very well written, if l could add something it would be that warmup primes the muscles to lift heavy and the best form of warmup is physical rehearsal of the exercise to be performed, for example if your work weight for the bench press is 70kg, then warmup with a few sets of 25-30kg of bench. As long as you warmup with a light set of the exercise you want to do

    • IJR112 profile image


      7 years ago

      I was extremely skinny, but I eventually set out on a plan where I lifted 5x a week and slowly ate more and more calories each week. I then proceeded to gain 20 pounds (I think mostly of muscle). It is definitely doable.

    • saxrunner profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks Phil Plasma!

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Very informative hub - the resting part is not nearly emphasized enough in other programs, it is good that you mentioned it.

    • saxrunner profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks tsadjatko! I have never heard the potato sack program, but that sounds like it would be quite effective! I might combine the two every morning and run around the block, with potato sacks in hand, on the front lawn. The neighbors will love it. :)

    • tsadjatko profile image

      7 years ago from now on

      Excellent advice - you are no doubt an expert! However you forgot to mention the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED POTATO SACK EXERCISE PROGRAM!

      3 days a week works well! You start out by standing outside the house with a 5 pound potato sack in each hand extending your arms straight out to your sides and holding them there as long as you can.

      After a few weeks move up to 10 pound potato sacks, then 50 pound potato sacks and finally get to where you can lift a 100 pound potato sack in each hand and hold your arms straight out for more than a full minute!

      Next, start putting a few potatoes in the sacks, but I would caution you not to overdo it at this level!

      Personally I prefer to get up early in the morning and run around the block ten times. But don't forget to push the block back under the bed when you are done to avoid injury. :-)


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