The good news about being skinny is that gaining fat is typically not a concern. Unfortunately, while fat gain is typically limited, the same thing can be said for muscle. Gaining a decent amount of lean mass will usually be more difficult for skinny guys than for bigger guys. S0, if you never were one of the bigger guys in your grade, then this article is probably for you.

Young guys, and skinny guys in particular, need to nail down the most effective training methods before wasting precious teenage years. Starting off on the wrong foot can set you back and take years to recover from. And although going from never lifting a day in your life to performing some type of lifting will bring about positive changes, those favorable adaptations will start diminishing if efficient training does not occur.

Unfortunately, there is no single program that every young lifter should follow. Yet, the more effective and successful programs all follow the same three basic principles. These training principles, to which every young lifter should commit, are listed below, as well as the biggest nutritional guidelines that should be adhered to. Be faithful to the following list and one day those big guys may be intimidated by you.

1. Focus on getting stronger, not getting bigger.

It seems paradoxical, but trying to get bigger by following bodybuilding programs is not very wise. When you train for strength, you train your body to be capable of handling heavier weights. The muscle required to squat 135 pounds is not very impressive. For instance, compare a 135-pound squatter to a 405-pound squatter. You will never see a guy with a 135-pound max with more muscle mass than the four-plate squatter. Additionally, going for a pump seems like a good idea and it feels good, but you have to be realistic with yourself. Your pump is getting you to a party balloon size, but when a strong 220-pound guy gets a pump, it's more like a hot-air balloon. You need muscle to pump.

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The exercises that you will use to get stronger are the movements that enable you to lift the greatest amount of weight. This would include the squat, deadlift, pull-up/chin-up, bench press, shoulder press, and rows. These movements demand a large amount of muscle mass to perform the task. This is generally why you can handle more weight because you are using more muscle. Compare a seated bicep curl to a deadlift. The deadlift is using much more muscle mass, which is one of the reasons you can use a greater amount of weight.

Hypertrophy will occur as a result of getting stronger. You may have heard some coaches tell you to train like an athlete if you want a better body composition. This is fairly accurate advice. If you wanted more money, you wouldn't focus on the actual money, would you?  Instead, you would focus on what you were going to do in order to earn that money.

2. Train like a strongman or powerlifter, not a bodybuilder.

You need to have muscle to build. You cannot be a bodybuilder if you have no muscle to begin with. Strongman and powerlifting involves lifting heavy weight, and heavy weight is always relative to your 1RM. Eighty to 100-percent of your 1RM is heavy. While it is true that moderate to higher reps (5 to 12) build the greatest amount of muscle and lower reps help build more strength, this does not apply to skinny and weak guys. If you are weak, lifting higher reps will do little to influence your body to change. Simply put, the weight that you are using is not heavy enough to signal meaningful adaptations. What do you think is going to be a greater stimulus to the body: benching 95 pounds for 10 reps or benching 225 pounds for 10 reps? Once you reach a decent strength level, then you can begin to train with higher reps.

3. Be consistent, train hard, and have faith.

Consistency implies that you are training three to five times per week every week. By not killing yourself each time and going to failure or past failure, we can get more days in per week to stimulate muscle growth and practice the three skills—squat, dead, and bench. Teach your body how to correctly perform the movement. Do not set incorrect motor patterns or risk possible injury by grinding out ugly reps.

People confuse going to failure as being tough. Going to failure too often is not necessary and will slow your progress. You are not being tough by getting pinned by the bar. Pick a weight that allows you to fail if you try to lift one or two more reps than planned. For example, if you are planning on doing five reps on a movement, then you shouldn't be able to do seven or more. Coaches more intelligent than myself, such as Jim Wendler and Chad Wesley Smith, are big advocates of using a lighter weight than what you are capable of. They also encourage holding yourself back on most sets and increasing the weight slowly, as this will set yourself up for a longer progression and improvement.

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Believe in your program and believe in yourself. Results do not come overnight, nor do they come over a week or even a month. It will take years. Sorry, I wish there was another way. (Naturally at least). Don't get discouraged if progress seems slow. It will always seem too slow! Like a growth spurt, progress comes in waves. Why is that? There are so many variables that can influence this type of progress—it is impossible to account for them all. We must remember that the body and the mind are extremely complex.  It may seem like we are doing all the right things, but we are not getting our desired results. It happens to all of us. Just put your head down and fight through it.

4. Eat a lot—and not too clean.

Limiting calories, counting calories, and being too picky about food will slow your progress. In order to build muscle, you need the materials to do so. Extra muscle doesn't just appear out of thin air. It takes calories. And those calories come from food and drinks. Sure, you want to eat healthy in order to obtain all the necessary nutrients and vitamins, but by eating too clean it is often difficult to obtain enough calories.

If you are training hard multiple times per week (which we already are), then the stimulus has been set to get the excess calories into the muscles cells, not the fat cells. Consistent and intense strength training signals the body to produce more muscle mass. When you are squatting with a heavy load on your back, the body knows it's in trouble, so it had better adapt to the demands of the perceived dangerous threat...or else. Lifting heavy weights is one of the best signals to your body that it has to change.

Training like Jay Cutler is a huge mistake, as is looking to see what the biggest guys in the gym are doing and copying them. What they are doing might be good for them, but they are obviously very different than you. Once you get to their level, then maybe you can train similarly to them. However, for now you need to train like a young, weak lifter. If your precious ego cannot handle this, then you may want to work out some other aspects of your life instead of your muscles. Barbells and dumbbells do not care about your ego.

Although you may see some guys your age training much differently than you, that's okay. Bigger and genetically-advanced guys can get away with it. For those of us who are stuck with below-average or average genetics, you need a different plan. Stick with the four principals here and you will be out-lifting those guys. Eat enough, and you will eventually be as big as them.


Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.