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5 Muscle Building Tips for Hardgainers (Skinny Dudes)

July 10, 2019

muscle building workout programs

Calling all hardgainers and skinny dudes, this post is your Bible for mass gains! 

I get it, you train and eat, and train more, but you just can’t seem to gain muscle. That’s ok because I have a solution just for you…5 solutions, to be exact! 

What makes me qualified? Well, I was an extreme hardgainer and these muscle building tips I’m sharing with you are exactly what I did to pack on size.

I’m also going to reveal the mistakes I made (so you don’t have to make them!) – this will help you make even faster gains! 

1 – Start Out With Powerlifting

deadlifts 405

There is absolutely no greater exercises that will pack on more muscle mass (and strength) than squats and deadlifts. None!

Of course, in powerlifting, you also focus on the bench press. But I’d be willing to bet you’re already benching, probably more times a week than you should (and I’ll take more about that later). 

Too many guys start out just wanting big muscles, so they dive right into bodybuilding workouts. In fact, a lot of guys just want a big chest and arms. 

The problem here is you’ll never put on true muscle mass without doing what’s called compound exercises.

What Are Compound Exercises? 

  • Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Overhead Press (these are your main compound exercises)
  • Multi-joint exercises that use multiple muscles
  • Builds the most muscle and strength
  •  Your foundation for mass gains
Squat Day

Powerlifter or Bodybuilder?

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to become a powerlifter, although that’s also a good path to choose. But if you’re goal is to be a bodybuilder (or to at least look like one), you can incorporate other exercises. 

What I’m saying is put the ‘bulk’ of your focus on these heavy compound exercises. And if you research successful bodybuilders, you’ll find that most of them started with powerlifting. That’s how they built their foundation of muscle. 

Think about it. If you get stronger on these compound exercises, you’ll be that much stronger on all other exercises. And this will open up the path to more muscle growth for you.

This was my #1 mistake I made when I started lifting weights. I was afraid to do squats and deadlifts. I focused on chest, shoulders, and arms, and I toyed around with back and legs. 

It wasn’t until later that I started doing heavy squats and deadlifts. And now sometimes my entire lower body workouts are nothing but squats and deadlifts. 

If you need a weight training program that focuses on compound exercises, read about my Basic 5 x 5 Workout for Mass

2 – Eat More Muscle Building Foods

food vegan tofu thai curry bodybuilding meal

One of the ‘biggest’ challenges for hardgainers and skinny guys is gaining weight. You may be eating like a horse, or so you think, but you just aren’t packing on any size. It’s frustrating – I’ve been there!

The problem is usually 1 of 2 things (or perhaps both):

  • You are not eating enough calories to grow
  • You’re not eating enough foods that build muscle

As I hinted above, it’s usually a combination of both. But how much muscle and the quality of that muscle that you build really depends on what you’re eating.

In other words, if you’re loading up with carbs and sugars and junk food, you may indeed get the calories you need. But that’s not going to give the right types of calories needed for muscle growth.

You see, muscle growth is dependent on one thing – recovery. And recovery will only happen if you’re feeding your muscles the protein and amino acids required for recovery. 

Foods that Build Muscle 

Here are just a few muscle-building foods to consider eating to gain size.

Foods like these should make up the majority of your meals. 

  • Steak, beef
  • Chicken
  • Whole eggs
  • Fish
  • Potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Pasta
  • Rice

I didn’t pay attention to the types of foods I ate when I was younger. This was another mistake I made when I started lifting. I ate good food about once a day because my Mom always cooked awesome dinners.  

But even then, it never registered what types of foods I was eating, and I certainly didn’t pay much attention to my other meals. 

If you need help with meal planning, defintely check out these posts (this will open a new tab so you won’t lose this page:

Meal Plans for Mass Gains
Flexible Mass Buildng Meal Plans

3 – Train with Heavy Weights

bench press 315

It may seem obvious, but training heavy is a requirement for mass gains. But let’s break this down even further to explain why it’s so important.

For your muscles to grow, you have to break them down. And the way to break them down is by overloading the muscle. This simply means putting your muscles under stress. And lifting heavy weights do just that.

This is a crucial concept for hardgainers. If you don’t overload the muscle, it will not grow. 

How heavy is heavy? Well, you certainly don’t want to max out every time you lift. That’s another mistake. You need some repetitions to pump blood into your muscles, and to fully exhaust them (this is also part of overloading your muscles). 

Anywhere between 3-6 reps is great for compound exercises. And you want to do multiple sets of this. To make things simple for you, I’m posting a basic 5×5 below that you can start. 

5 x 5 Workout For Mass Gains

This is a 3-day a week weight training program. And you’ll be focusing on only the compound exercises we talked about earlier. 

Here’s a sample schedule you can follow: 

  • Monday: Workout A
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Workout B
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Workout A
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

You’ll alternate Workout A and Workout B, and rest at least 1 day between workouts. 

In the above schedule, you would start the following Monday with Workout B. If you wanted to just workout every other day, that would be fine too. 

Workout A

Exercise Sets x Reps
Squats 5 x 5
Deadlifts 5 x 5
Overhead Press 5 x 5

Workout B

Exercise Sets x Reps
Squats 5 x 5
Barbell Rows 5 x 5
Bench Press 5 x 5

Because I didn’t do a lot of compound exercises when I first started training, I naturally did not train as heavy as I should have. I stayed in that 8-12 rep range for bodybuilding. 

This would have been ok had I built my foundation first with powerlifting, or at least concentrating on compound exercises for the majority of my workouts. So make sure you’re training heavy and moving up in weight each week. 

4 – Post Workout Meals

allmax allwhey protein for muscle gains

We’re going to flop back to nutrition here and talk about the number one most important time to get those calories into your system – post-workout.

Within 30 minutes after your workout, you want to be downing some calories if you want to pack on size and not be skinny anymore. You need plenty of fast-digesting protein and simple carbohydrates.  A protein shake is the perfect way to do that. 

Here are the reasons why post-workout nutrition is essential for muscle growth, especially for hardgainers:

  • Kick-start the recovery process for muscle tissue repair
  • Replenish glycogen levels from your workout
  • Boosts your immune system (which is temporarily lowered after a hard workout)
  •  Provides the amino acids needed for muscle growth

In fact, post-workout nutrition is so important, I’m going to recommend having 2 post-workout meals. The first will be a protein shake, and the 2nd one will be a whole food meal, which you’ll have about an hour after your shake. 

Post Workout Meal 1

  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder
  • 8 ounces of almond or coconut milk
  • banana
  • 1/2 cup of frozen berries
  • 1 serving of peanut butter

**If you want more protein shake recipes and what protein powder I use, read my post: My Top 2 Whey Protein Powders for Muscle Gains

Post Workout Meal 2

  • 3-4 whole eggs
  • oatmeal
  • bagel with cream cheese

5 – Rest and Recovery

empty bench press with water bottle and gym towel

Most skinny guys that have a tough time gaining mass are young. And I realize young dudes like to hang out late and have a good time. 

I’m not going to tell you to sit at home all the time and be in bed by 8:30 every night. But I will tell you this…

Your muscles will not grow and you will not gain mass if you do not rest!

The process of building muscle doesn’t happen in the gym when you’re lifting. As I mentioned, the opposite happens in the gym – you’re tearing the muscle down. So if you don’t do what you need to in order for your muscles to recover, you’re actually doing more damage than good. 

Here are some tips on making sure you get enough rest to recover:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Drink a protein shake with some fats before bed
  • Do early morning workouts (this will force you to go to bed early)

In addition to muscle recovery, your natural growth hormone is released when you’re in your deep sleep. This is another crucial element for gaining mass. 

I’ve trained in the early mornings for the majority of my adult life. Here are some of the benefits:

  • This basically forces me to go to bed earlier, and around the same time each night.
  • It also frees up my evenings, and the gyms aren’t near as crowded at 5 AM.
  • Your mind is fresh first thing in the morning so you can be focused 100% on your workout
  • You’re less likely to miss a workout (thing often come up during the day that could cause you to miss an evening workout).  

I strongly suggest trying this schedule. It takes a couple of weeks to get used to early morning workouts, but there are ‘huge’ benefits to this time. 

2 Things You Need for Gaining Size

This should probably be one of the ‘tips for hardgainers’ but I wanted to point this out separately. 

If you’re serious about gaining muscle mass, you will need to quickly develop 2 things:

  1. Consistency
  2. Patience

If you train hard and heavy, and eat all the right foods (and plenty of them) for a few weeks, or even a few months and then stop, you will fail. And I don’t want to see you fail!

So make a commitment to yourself right now that you will BE CONSISTENT!

Live it, breath it, and dive deep into bodybuilding, weight training, powerlifting, and never stop learning! Make this a part of who you are. And know that this will carry you throughout your life. 

You also need to have patience. No one magically becomes an elite bodybuilder overnight. It doesn’t matter if they have great genetics or crappy genetic. It doesn’t matter what crap they’re taking either. 

Anyone with great strength, abilities, or physique has put the time in somewhere down the road. And you’re going to have to put in that time as well.

This is why it’s critical to make this commitment to yourself that weight training is something you’re always going to do, no matter what

What About Supplements, Bro?

Supplements can help, but I don’t want you to focus on that right now.

So I’m only going to mention 3 types of mass building supplements.

basic supplements for mass gains
  1. Whey protein powder (as mentioned in the post-workout shake earlier) 
  2. Multivitamins (a good habit to start early)
  3. Creatine monohydrate (one o the few proven mass builders, and it’s cheap)

Again, I really want you to focus on getting down the basics. Train hard and heavy, eat, and rest

Because if you don’t get those down, supplements won’t help you.

**If you want to step it up a notch, I have a pretty effective supplement stack that caters to mass gains you can read about here: 3 Post Workout Supplements for Mass

My Hardgainer Story

hardgainer jason stallworth at 17

I grew up as a skinny kid and got picked on quite a bit. So when I started lifting weights, it was a means to an end. 

But even as I was lifting and eating, I remained what we call a hardgainer for several years. So I feel your pain and frustration, and that’s why I’m sharing my story and these tips. 

Yes, genetics plays a role. But too many people use that as an excuse (and there’s a mountain of other excuses for not making gains). Looking back, the truth is I was doing some things wrong, and not doing some things right. 

Where I Went Wrong

  • I didn’t start with basic compound exercises
  • I let fear get in the way (was afraid of people laughing at me for being so weak, and was afraid of trying to lift heavy)
  • I didn’t eat enough or the right types of foods to really pack on size
  • I didn’t dig in deep enough in my early years to learn more; I didn’t go all-out

What I Did Right

  • I started somewhere! 
  • I eventually educated myself on building muscle, training, diet, etc
  • I was always consistent
  • I never gave up
  • And I still lift regularly today, after all these years

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and really hope that it helps you overcome being a hardgainer. 

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below; I always answer back! 

Train with Passion,


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About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!