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Skinny Hardgainer: How to Build Muscle Mass and Gain Weight

Michael is an online fitness writer who's an expert in strength training exercises.


A hardgainer is a person that has trouble gaining weight. They usually have an ectomorph body type. An ectomorph is naturally thin. Gaining muscle or fat is difficult for them. A hardgainer could workout a lot and not notice a significant improvement or no improvement at all. Exercising to build muscle can seem like a big waste of time and effort. I was thin and the exercise I was doing did not seem to help. However one day I figured out how to bulk up.

There were reasons I had trouble gaining weight. Once I figure out what I was doing wrong I no longer had trouble gaining muscle or fat. I don't consider myself a hardgainer anymore because I know what to do.

Me doing exploding push-ups while wearing a heavy backpack.

Me doing exploding push-ups while wearing a heavy backpack.

Start Acting Like A Muscular Person

If you want to bulk up you then you need to challenge yourself with difficult exercises. Change how you exercise. If you are still skinny then the way you have been exercising obviously does not give you the results you want. When you start to make progress it takes very little time to notice the results. You don't need to spend weeks or months wondering if your exercise routine is working.

Intend to do exercises that require muscles that are much bigger and stronger than yours are now. Push ups are a good example. Find out how many push ups you can do. Then make a push up routine that requires a lot more strength and endurance. Do your best and try to gradually improve.

When I want to bulk up I make an exercise routine that is impossible for me to do. I just do my best and try to improve until I have the results I want. The new push up routine I made actually worked a little too well. Some of my muscles were getting too big. I don't want really huge chest muscles.

Pushing up my body.

Pushing up my body.


If you are trying to make your muscles significantly bigger then you need to make some really big changes to your workout routine. Small changes in strength and endurance will not show. Even if there is a measurable difference, people including yourself probably will not be able to see it by looking at you. The change needs to be fairly extreme.

I bought a bike and started biking to and from places that were over 14 miles away. That was an extreme change for me and it is the reason I now have large hard calf muscles. My legs went from very skinny to muscular. The difference was very noticeable. Going from push ups to exploding push-ups while wearing a heavy back or handstand push ups is an extreme change. Lifting a heavy weight 12 times instead of 3 or 4 times is another extreme change.


Building muscles requires calories. Naturally skinny people often have trouble building muscle because they don't eat enough. They don't eat very much or they burn a lot of calories. Either way they need more food to build muscle. If you give your body a reason to build muscle then your appetite should increase. Just allow yourself to eat more. You could overeat and consume a lot empty calories but then you would not feel like exercising.

I eat until I am full and snack between meals if I get hungry. People may start telling you that you eat too much but don't let that stop you from getting the body you want. Healthy foods can provide you with the calories and nutrients you need. If the extra exercise is causing you to lose weight then you are not eating enough. If you become leaner but you are not losing weight then you are probably losing fat and gaining muscle. Water does not contain calories but you need it. You should drink lots of water to stay hydrated.


The workouts should be straining your muscles causing some minor damage. You are injuring yourself and becoming weaker. Muscles don't become bigger or stronger while working out. The muscles can appear slightly bigger while exercising because the muscles swell but that is only temporary. Deep sleep is very important for muscle growth because you need your muscles to heal and grow. You should wake up feeling refreshed. If some of your muscles are still sore then give those muscles a day off.

Me curling a heavy dumbbell.

Me curling a heavy dumbbell.


When lifting weights, doing body weight exercises or doing intense cardio exercises you can workout hard, take a quick break and then start working out again. A set is when you do the exercise for a certain amount of repetitions before taking a break. I like to do sets of 12 when I am working on improving my strength. While working on improving my endurance I do as many as I can in a row.

Taking breaks after doing a limited number of repetitions makes a big difference. I would not try to do 40 push ups in a row if I was trying to increase the size of my muscles or increase my strength. Doing 40 push ups in a row would be an endurance exercise. I can get bigger muscles by doing sets of 8 to 12 repetitions and focusing on strength. For cardio exercises you can sprint. Go at a fast pace for a little while and then catch your breath by slowing down or stopping before going fast again.

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When your muscles need more than a brief rest but you don't want to stop then switch to a different exercise that uses different muscles. Circuit training is when you switch from one exercise to the next with very little rest between sets. The exercises you are doing to increase the size of your muscles should be intense enough that you can not do them for very long. You should be doing short sets with brief breaks between sets. It would also be a good idea to workout more than once a day.

Doing an L-sit on my computer chair.

Doing an L-sit on my computer chair.

Pain And Discomfort

As a hardgainer you are going to need to push yourself hard to build muscle. That means you should experience pain and discomfort. Pain means you are straining your muscles. In moderation pain is a good thing. If your muscles don't feel sore for a little while after you worked out then you are probably not working yourself hard enough.

If your muscles hurt a lot for a long time after you worked out then you are working out too hard. Working out really hard can increase the amount of time you need to rest and it can burn you out. To gain muscle fairly quickly I workout hard but not so hard that I can't exercise the next day.

Avoid bad pain by slowly leveling up. Take it easy the first time you try a workout. Then gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise to give your body a chance to adapt. Do one more rep, add 5 seconds to your static hold or 5 minutes to your cardio endurance workout.

Some of the exercise equipment I use.

Some of the exercise equipment I use.

See Faster Results

Focus on a specific area to build muscle faster in that specific area. If you want to increase the size of your biceps as fast as possible then do exercises that focus on your biceps like dumbbell curls or chin ups. Do as many sets of 8 to 12 as you can. If you have time and your muscles can handle it then you can workout the muscle group more than once a day. It is okay to do different exercises that focus on different muscle groups if they don't interfere with each other.

How often you workout the muscles you are targeting depends on how much rest they need after your workouts. Work each muscle group once a week and it is going to take a very long time to get bigger muscles. Once a week is not often enough to bulk up unless the muscle needs most of the week to recover. For faster results exercise the muscle as often as you can. Exercise the muscle, give it time to recover and then exercise it again. You might be able to exercise the same muscle group 5 or 6 days a week.

A difficult exercise can tire you out really quickly but after a while you may be able to do it again later the same day. Instead of one quick workout you can workout multiple times throughout the day. Pick an exercise like dumbbell curls, push ups or pull ups. Do as many sets of 12 as you can 3 or 4 times a day, 6 days a week. When you can do more than 5 sets during a workout session make the exercise more difficult. That is how I bulked up fairly quickly doing push ups. I could have bulked up more if I wanted to.

Weekly Cardio Endurance Workouts

Sometimes the fastest way to build muscle is to exercise once a week. As a daily exercise routine your time is limited and it can take 3 to 5 days to fully recover from a difficult cardio endurance session. Instead of doing your best and breaking your own your records, you hold back.

When doing a weekly cardio workout you can focus on improving. You fully recovered from your last cardio session and you have lots of time. So you can try to exceed your limits over and over again. You might be able to improve every week.

During the summer I lost inches of belly fat and gained 20 pounds while playing Wii sports games as my daily workout and biking to a beach once a week.

Muscle Building Exercises

Some exercises work great for building muscle and some don't. For me biking long distances, push ups, pull ups and dumbbell curls worked well. Intense cardio can be very good for building muscle but it does burn a lot of calories. So I recommend doing mostly bodyweight exercises and weightlifting. Otherwise the cardio could prevent you from gaining muscle. I only do my long distance bike rides or run long distances once a week because it burns too many calories.

Intense cardio, weight lifting and body weight exercises can all be modified to make them more difficult without increasing the duration and they cause muscle fatigue.

You should do short intense difficult workouts instead of doing easier exercises for a long time. Hardgainers can do the same exercises other people do to gain muscle. They just need to make sure they eat enough healthy food and focus on improving their strength and endurance.

The exception to the short workouts are long cardio exercises where you bike, run, row or paddle somewhere. You need to limit the speed and resistance so you can make it to your destination but you can increase the intensity of the exercise for short durations. I bike up hills and sprint some of the time during my bike rides.

I was really skinny because I was a hardgainer. Now I can target the muscles I want to make bigger and make them bigger. If I want to bulk up I bulk up. I changed the way I exercised and started eating more.


  • How I Quickly Gained Muscle Riding a Bike
    Cycling can be a great way to build muscle and lose fat. I gained over 35 pounds of muscle while losing fat by biking to beaches in the summer. For me, it worked better for building muscle than lifting weights.
  • Workout Routine to Bulk Up Your Forearms
    When people do arm exercises they usually focus on the tricep and bicep muscles located near the shoulders. To make your skinny forearms bigger, do exercises that work the muscles on your forearm.
  • How to Change Your Body Type to Ectomorph, Mesomorph...
    Learn how you can change your body type to ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph. Some people are naturally thin, some gain muscle easily, and some have trouble losing fat.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Should I do push ups if I am skinny?

Answer: Push ups can be a great exercise for building muscle and getting bigger if they are difficult. If your body weight is not enough then wear a weighted backpack or weight vest. You can also do decline push ups with your feet higher than your hands. Include narrow grip, wide grip and knuckle push ups. Make sure your push up workouts are challenging. Increase the difficulty as your strength and endurance improve. I do difficult push up variations that focus on different muscles because regular push ups are too easy.

If you are skinny and want to get bigger then you should do difficult push ups to get bigger. Focus on improving and keep finding ways to challenge yourself. Change your workout at least once a month. Recently I started doing narrow grip wall push ups while wearing a weighted backpack. When doing bodyweight exercises it is important to find ways to increase the difficulty of the workout as your strength and endurance improves.

© 2013 Michael H


Nabeel on September 04, 2019:

This was helpful. I have learned to not do muscle groups once a week, but to do them multiple times. My new plan is to do two groups every time I hit the gym. I should then do each group a few times a week. (I go to the gym 3-4 times a week). My only problem is that I need weight. I'm underweight according to my BMI. So I will research into that. But great article.

Pranjali Bisht on August 04, 2019:

Found this really helpful

Derrick Bennett on June 01, 2013:

i am a hard gainer and constantly find pain and discomfort.

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