From Bones To Bricks: The Skinny Guy’s Guide To Building Muscle.


Just because my dad was skinny, and his dad was skinny, I thought it must mean that I was meant to be skinny. That it is was in my nature.

As it turns out, my physical build is a decision… and not determined by my genetics after all.

Here’s what I learned…

The three cornerstones of muscle building are: working out, diet, and sleep. To succeed, you’ll need all three.

I’ll discuss them all in the sections below. If you’re a skinny guy like I used to be, you’ll likely find diet (section 2) the most challenging.

1. Working out.

There are workouts that are primarely targeting body fat, and workouts that are primarely targeting muscle growth.

Unless you’re ‘skinny fat’ (skinny body with a ‘beer belly’), the latter is the most important.

1.1 Losing body fat.

There are no workouts that target body fat in a specific part of the body, you’ll have to get rid of it all.

If you have a ‘beer belly’, the most effective way to get rid of it is to burn more calories than your calorie intake.

Somewhat surprising (to me at least), the most effective way to burn calories without craving a ton more food is… walking!

Other cardio exercises, like running and cycling, are great too, but they’ll also make you a lot more hungry. If you’re skinny fat, aim to walk (at a pace) at least 10,000 steps every day to lose your excess body fat.

This should be done in addition to the muscle building exercises mentioned below.

1.2 Building muscle.

If you’re skinny all around, you’re in luck… most of your focus should be on the exercises that build muscle. This will save you from walking on a treadmill for a good part of your day.

When building muscle, I generally refrain from doing full body workouts, as it limits the number of consecutive days you can work out without overtaxing your muscles.

I divide my muscles into three groups:

Click on any of the links if you’re not sure where this muscle is located.

By focusing on one of these groups at the time, it’s possible to work out consecutive days without overtaxing your muscles.

Example: If I train my chest, triceps and shoulders on Day 1, they’ll need rest on Day 2 and Day 3 (and potentially Day 4 if I pushed really, really hard).

So on Day 2 I’d work on my back, biceps and abs. On Day 3 I’d work on my legs.

On Day 4 I’d either take a rest day or go back to training my chest, triceps and shoulders.

Most personal trainers will tell you to mix up your workout plan every few months.

However, as I don’t have the ambition to become a professional bodybuilder, I generally stick to the same workout schedule throughout the year – doing the same workouts without changing them up.

I like the consistency: stick to the basics and do them really well.

To train your chest, triceps and shoulders, choose your favourites from the following exercises:

To train your back, biceps and abs, pick and choose your favourites from the following exercises:

To train your legs, pick and choose your favourites from the following exercises:

To get results, you’ll want to be in it for the long run. In the beginning, perfecting your form is more important than adding weight.

If you injure yourself (been there, done that), you’ll be out of the game for a couple of weeks and you’ll lose all the muscle you’ve built in the previous weeks.

Not very effective.

Start light, get your form to perfection (YouTube and the mirror are your friends), and progressively build up the weight. Refrain from using fitness machines in a way they were not intended to.

General rule of thumb: if you feel the muscles that you weren’t focusing on during the exercise… you’re doing it wrong.

A colleague of mine who never works out, went to the gym one day.

The next day he proudly announced he’d worked out like a beast at the local Fitness Club, and he informed me he suffered from muscle ache in places he didn’t even know he had muscles.

His neck was aching terribly.

I asked him: Did you train your neck?

He did not.

He had done pull-ups. But instead of resting his head on his shoulders, working out his lats… he had tried his hardest to raise his chin over the pull-up bar. This resulted in an overstretched neck.

Ouch, indeed.

Know the muscle(s) you’re training. Make sure you’re not ‘training’ any other muscles as a by-product.

For each exercise, you’ll want to aim for 3 sets of 9 – 12 reps.

If this sounds like ancient Greek to you, let me help you out:

  • Workout: Your entire workout session. Ideally, your workout consists out of multiple exercises.
  • Exercise: An exercise targeting one or multiple muscles. Ideally, your exercise consists out of three sets.
  • Set: A set of movements repeated multiple times without stopping in between. Ideally, your set consists out of 9 – 12 reps.
  • Reps: Short for repetition. One single movement as part of a set of movements.

Example: If you’re doing the push-up exercise, try to do 9 push-ups in a row without stopping. This is one set, 9 reps. Then you rest a minute, and you do another 9 push-ups in a row without stopping. This is your second set. Then you rest a minute, and you do another 9 push-ups in a row without stopping. That’s your third set.

The weight used for the exercise should be heavy enough to make the last 2 – 3 reps challenging (without compromising form). It takes a bit of guesswork in the beginning, but you’ll quickly find out which weight is right for you.

If you can’t do at least 9 reps of the exercise you had in mind, start building the muscles needed for this exercise by doing a “scaled” exercise. These are exercises that’ll help you prepare for a more challenging exercise.

For example, if you can’t do 9 push-ups, do 9 knee push-ups instead – or 9 incline push-ups (placing your hands on an elevated surface). If you can’t do 9 pull-ups, do 9 assisted pull-ups first (you can use a machine or a resistance band to make the pull-up less challenging).

Your total workout time should be around 40 – 60 minutes.

  • 40 minutes… if you’re going at it with high intensity (you’re huffing and puffing, sweating like a beast).
  • 50 – 60 minutes… if you’re taking your time (chilled workout, my personal favourite).
  • 75 minutes… if you’re browsing your phone while working out (don’t do it – you’re at the gym to work on yourself… so FOCUS).

The amount of workouts you do each week, determines how fast you’ll achieve your goals.

Both your body and goals will be different from mine, so it’s hard to say how long you’ll need to stick to the plan before you’ll get the result you want.

Take my before and after picture as a reference, and find below an estimation of how long it would take me to achieve these results:

  • Working out 3 days in the week: 3 years.
  • Working out 4 days in the week: 2.5 years.
  • Working out 5 days in the week: 2 years.

PS. It took me a lot longer to achieve my goal (~ 5 years of roughly 3 – 4 workouts a week), because I didn’t have the knowledge I have written down now. It took me a long time to get my diet right (I wasn’t eating enough calories and protein, which takes us to the next section…).

2. Diet

You’re skinny, and you’re trying to build muscle. Good for you, you sexy beast!

Your workouts will instruct your body to build your muscle, but it’ll need the building blocks to do so.

When combined with regular workouts, expect the following results from your diet (highly simplified):

Calorie intake < Calories burnedCalorie intake = Calories burnedCalorie intake > Calories burned
Protein intake < Protein goalFat loss + Potential muscle lossPotential muscle lossFat increase
Protein intake = Protein goalFat loss + Muscle preservationGAINS (muscle)Fat increase + MORE GAINS (muscle)

If you’re skinny, you’ll want GAINS.

This makes it incredibly important to hit your protein goal each and every day. Don’t worry about eating too many calories… as your natural build is skinny, you should be worried about eating enough calories.

To keep things simple, use the following formulas to calculate how much calories and protien you need in a day:

  • Body weight in KG x 36 – 38 = calories. 36 is maintenance, 38 is growth.
  • Body weight in KG x 1.6 – 2.2 = grams of protein. 1.6 is maintenance, 2.2 is growth. I aim for 2.

If you want to get more precise, use a macronutrient calculator.

Now you know what your body needs, it comes down to changing your diet accordingly. This is by far the most annoying part, but it’s very rewarding.

Use an app to track the calories and macros of your meals. Don’t change your diet yet, just observe what goes in during a week.

Adjust your diet from there.

Note: Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect. Tweak your diet in a way you’ll still enjoy it, otherwise you won’t last. Just make sure to hit those calorie and protein goals on most days.

My favourite supplements: protein powder and creatine. Protein powder helps me hit those protein goals without planning every meal, and creatine makes me about 10 – 20% stronger in the gym (increasing muscle growth).

Read more about creatine loading.

3. Sleep.

Get at least 8 hours of sleep each day. Simple rule, perhaps harder to follow.

Your body needs rest to repair your muscles after a workout. Give it the rest it needs.

Note: This guide highly simplifies things. It’s meant as a starting point to get you on your way. To teach you the basics that took me years to learn. Take it, and make it your own.

Building muscle isn’t a race with a finish line.

When you hit your goal (and I hope you do), you’ll have to maintain it. It never ends.

Are you committed to do at least 3 workouts a day for the rest of your life?

If your answer is ‘yes’… welcome to the club.

It’s absolutely worth it.

You live one life, don’t settle for less!

About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Dutchman living in The Bahamas. I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing and learning new things.

About Wisdom for Goldfish