Skinny guys and hardgainers have unique challenges when setting out with the goal of building muscle mass.
Here are my 7 rules that they should follow to make sure that the effort they are putting in at the gym translates into real progress.
1. Pick the Right Exercises
Exercise selection is a huge factor on how successful you will be with your muscle building efforts. Beginners and skinny guys should stay away from training arms directly, as it cuts into your recovery time and does not deliver much in the way of results.
The best exercises to select will always be multi-joint compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, dips and chin-ups. I also firmly believe that full body workouts or upper body / lower body splits based on basic body movements (push / pull / squat) will give the best results for the average Joe.
2. Pick the Right Training Frequency
Deciding how many times a week to train each muscle group is a major factor in how successful your training will be. The old body part splits that bodybuilders use is highly inefficient and ineffective for the average trainee.
I am a firm believer that you should “stimulate, not annihilate” your muscles for the most progress in the shortest amount of time.
By decreasing training volume per workout, but increasing your training frequency, you can train each muscle group up to 3 times as often, which will result in more growth, provided that you are able to recover from your training. If you destroy each body part once per week, that's 52 workouts per year for each muscle group. If you lower the volume and train more frequently, that can result in as many as 156 training sessions per muscle group per year!
A more effective approach would be to train the whole body 3 times per week or do an upper body / lower body split with each being trained twice per week.
These training formats will allow you to stimulate your muscles much more frequently, with great results, and without the crippling soreness that can accompany body part splits (leg day anyone?).
3. Perfect Your Form
Proper form is immensely important to your long term success, as well as to your ability to stay injury free. Every exercise you perform should be done with proper form and always under control, with no bouncing the bar off your chest, etc.
Perfect your technique with lighter weights and make sure you are completely comfortable with the movement before you add weight to the bar.
Starting sliding and focusing on your form will not only help to keep you injury free, it will also train your nervous system to become more efficient at the movement, which will allow you to use heavier weights in the future.
4. Progressive Overload
Progressive Overload is a term that simply means that you increase the stress on your body in each subsequent workout that you perform.
This can be done by adding a few pounds to the bar, adding a rep or two with the same weight, or performing the same amount of work within a shorter period of time, which is referred to as training density.
Small progress is still progress. If you are able to add even 5 pounds to a particular lift every month, that becomes 60 pounds in a year, which is a significant increase! Continue to always add at least 1-2 reps more in each workout for each lift.
If you do this consistently, you will see dramatic results for your efforts.
5. Leave Your Ego at Home
Ego can often be the largest hurdle to getting the results you want. Ego is what sweet talks us into using more weight than we know we should impress others around us. Everything you do in the gym should have a reason behind it, from exercise selection to training frequency, and especially the amount of weight you will use.
If you can keep your ego in check and do not give a rip what someone else in the gym is doing or lifting, your long term progress, and your ability to avoid injury, will be vastly improved.
I blew out my shoulder when I was 19 years old because I was stupid, and allowed my ego to dictate how much weight I was going to lift on the bench press (which was way too much). Even after surgery on it 14 years ago, it still bothers me every day, and is an aching reminder of why you should lift with your muscles (and your brain), and not with your ego.
You should be using weights that are approximately 70% of your 1 rep max for sets of 8-12 reps if you are looking to gain size.
6. Make The Mind / Muscle Connection
This rule is a natural offshoot of Rule 5. Using weights that you can handle and control will make it easier for you to establish the mind / muscle connection that is so important for building muscle. A good rule of thumb when training is that if you are unable to feel the muscle working in any exercise, it's probably a good bet that you are using too much weight.
Drop the weight a little and work on feeling the muscle working as you are lifting. Lift slower and with more concentration. Feeling the muscle working is a skill, and like any skill, you need to practice frequently to learn it. The more you do it though, the better you will become at it, and the faster the gains will come as a result of the work you are putting in at the gym.
Always remember that muscles do not know how much weight they are lifting, all they know is how much tension is being produced by the exercise you are performing.
7. Eat Like Your Life Depends On It
Skinny guys looking to gain muscle do not need to concern themselves with things like intermittent fast, carb cycling, or low carb diets, they need to EAT, and eat LOTS.
Food is your new best friend, and you had best getting to know each other really well. You still need to make sure that what you are eating is nutritionally decent, clean food, but other than that, you need to be taking in a lot of calories if you want to build muscle.
If you make these 7 Rules a priority in your training on a consistent basis (along with proper rest and recovery), I am convinced that you will see major long term, injury free progress.