Going from skinny to buff requires building muscle mass, which happens when you eat more energy than you use and challenge the muscles with exercise. This is a combination of training and lifestyle that will be a key theme in these tips.
Going from skinny to buff isn’t complicated. It’s just slow.
This article is going to take you through some of the most important tips that make reliable, high-quality muscle gain. It drives up weight gain, helps you become more muscular, toned, and it boosts performance in just about everything.
However, you need to understand how weight gain works – and what to expect – before we start.
How Weight Gain Works: The World’s Shortest Guide to Muscle Growth
Weight gain happens when your energy intake is higher than your energy output – called a calorie surplus or positive energy balance. This increases weight, and what that weight is made of – muscle or fat – depends on your lifestyle (training, diet, and recovery). This should come from carbs and protein intake.
Going from skinny to buff puts muscle gain as the main driver of weight gain. Muscle gain happens when you challenge your muscles (in the gym) and you give them the carbs, protein, and rest they need to repair and grow.
You can’t rush this process. Smart training and recovery are how you go from skinny to buff.
Energy Surplus: How Does Calorie Intake Control Weight?
Calories are a measure of energy – and the balance of intake from food and output from activity is energy balance. Balancing above your needs leads to weight gain, and below your needs leads to weight loss.
You need to eat more (calories) than your maintenance calorie needs, which we call the TDEE or total daily energy expenditure. This ensures you gain weight. You need to eat plenty of protein and lift weights to make sure you gain muscle instead of fat.
This also relies on good sleep quality, rest days, recovery time, and workouts that suit your needs. In the tip section, we’ll give you ways of making all of these factors easier to drive better results.
Be Patient: Set Reasonable Expectations
This is the most important lesson to learn: you will not gain 10lbs of muscle this month. You’ll gain that weight over 6-12 months, or slightly less if you’re a total beginner.
Gaining high-quality muscle mass is slow. The average man will gain around 0.25 – 0.5 pounds of muscle per week with perfect training, nutrition, and sleep. Muscle is metabolically expensive and your body doesn’t want to build muscle if it can help it.
You have to force it, but that comes from training and recovering well. It happens at its own pace and there’s no legal, healthy way to cheat that process. Set your expectations properly: muscle gain and body transformations take months and years, not days and weeks.
Be Consistent: Focus on Long-Term Habits
Consistency is the partner of patience. If you’re consistently training on time and well for 10 years, how much do you think you could improve?
Keep turning up to the gym and putting in the time with diet and sleep. It’s a very simple set of processes, which means that the reliability of your good habits is most important. You don’t have to be perfect right away – the point is to get better with time.
Make sure you’re sticking to the important stuff – regular training, the right calorie and protein intake, and good sleep. You can work on everything else as you go.
22 Lifestyle Tips to Go From Skinny to Buff
These 22 tips to go from skinny to buff will cover everything from training to nutrition to recovery. They’re somewhere between practical advice and changes to perspective that will make sure you gain the best quality and quantity of weight while you bulk up.
These are smaller habits, changes, and actions you can take today to get better. You get buff when you put time and effort into training and recovery (diet and sleep), and make sure it’s a lifestyle change – not a short-term fix.
Training Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff
Better training drives better muscle gain, helping you go from skinny to jacked. These tips will give you the right approach and tools to use exercise to support your journey to bigger, stronger muscles and a better physique.
1. Use Compound Movements
Compound – or multi-joint – movements are the best bang for your buck. They train many muscles at once, help you move heavier weights (for more muscle gains), and are efficient with your time.
This makes compound movements – like squats, rows, and deadlifts – perfect for weight gain. It also makes you perform better as you develop, especially if you ever want to get into sports or test your lifting abilities.
You should use these lifts for most of your workout – and then add smaller, ‘isolation’ exercises to develop important muscles. This lets you balance both strength and muscle gains, getting bigger overall while putting special effort into muscles like the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and traps.
2. Lift Heavy
Wondering how to go from skinny to buff? Lift heavy, period! This follows on from using compound movements. Heavy weights stimulate more muscle growth by increasing mechanical tension on the muscles – one of the keys to muscle growth.
You should be training with enough reps to stimulate growth, but make sure you’re not performing 30-rep sets with 2kg dumbbells.
Weight should be heavy enough to challenge you in the 5-12 rep range, to save time and maximize muscle and strength gains.
3. Use Progressive Overload
You should be lifting more – in total – over time. It doesn’t need to be the weight on the bar, but the weights lifted through the whole session or week. This is volume, and it has to be increased over time.
This is the principle of progressive overload. It means challenging your body over time, even as you get stronger and adapt to what you’ve already done. The body needs this push because, as we mentioned, it doesn’t want to build muscle. You have to force it with constant, progressive overload.
4. Cut Down on Cardio
Stop doing so much cardio while trying to gain weight. It’s good for your health but should be reduced to manageable levels.
This reduces your calorie output (making it easier to get into a surplus), but also improves your recovery. More resources go towards lifting weight, which means more muscle mass, and less whole-body fatigue from cardio when you step into the gym.
Stay fit, but take the time to put muscle and strength first if you’re trying to gain weight and get buff.
5. Keep Intensity High
There should always be a lot of effort in your lifting – or intensity. Even light weights should be treated with deliberate movement, and should be practiced with the same concern as heavy weights.
The best bodybuilders use a mixture of heavy and light weights. The thing that never changes is the intensity and deliberate movement that comes with that. Your workout should be deliberate, intense, and should work on your weaknesses.
6. Train Your Lower Body
Your lower body is at least half of your body. When you consider the size of the muscles – the quads, glutes, and hamstrings – it’s probably more like 60%.
If you want to gain weight and get big, you should focus on good lower body and back exercises, including a wide back workout. These allow you to add more mass faster, lift bigger weights, and make you look bigger and stronger. You’ll also develop under-trained muscles like the traps and forearms with these movements.
They’re the basis for strength and everyone needs better strength in the hips and core. Deadlifts, squats, lunges, and other lower body exercises have a place in everyone’s routine.
7. Set Goals With a Few Exercises
You want to get better at everything. However, you want to set a core of exercises that are most important, and that you push yourself on. For most people, this is a squat variation, a pressing variation, a deadlift, and a rowing or pulling variation.
Having a clear set of exercises at the core of your workouts lets you build specific strength and muscle. It focuses your progressive overload on a set of whole-body movements, and ensures that you choose smart accessory exercises and isolation exercises afterwards.
Having a strong core of exercises you want to develop in will focus your workouts and give you something to practice. If you don’t know what they are, try these 4 simple exercises:
- Paused barbell squat
- Seated dumbbell overhead press
- Paused Romanian deadlift
- Pendlay row
8. Get Rest Between Sets
Rest between your sets allows you to lift more weight. You need to balance this up with your time spent in the gym, but getting plenty of rest so you can lift more weight for the same reps means more volume and more gains.
This is also specifically useful for building strength. Being able to perform more reps at a given weight is a huge player – strength-endurance – and is key to maintaining good progressive overload as weights get heavier and gains slow down.
9. Don’t Forget Strength: Get Stronger, Get Bigger
Strength training potentiates muscle gains. That means that stronger people get more muscular more easily. That sounds like something worth chasing!
Use strength training in lower ranges (3-6 reps) to develop better neuromuscular efficiency. This allows you to lift more weight for more reps in the long-term, which means better results. It’s also a great way to be as strong as you look while building muscle.
Your training should aim to build better numbers on these 3-6 rep ranges, and to add more reps with the same weight. For example, you might test your 3-rep-max (3RM) at the end of a workout program, and then the next one should focus on getting more reps with that same weight over time.
This is how you mix muscle and strength gains to get the best of both.
10. Train Full Body
Bro-splits, where you train a different body part each day, are for elite bodybuilders who need to iron out weaknesses in their physique. You’re not one of those, so don’t train like one.
Full-body training is the smartest and most efficient way to train for anyone who is still skinny. It’s the fastest way to make full-body gains, gain more weight, and get stronger. Bodypart splits – and even push/pull/legs splits – ignore the fact that you take systemic fatigue across your whole body, no matter what you train.
Full body training, 3-4 times a week, is the key. It allows you to plan out when you’ll be tired, what you can do, and lets you stimulate the whole body at once.
It’s time efficient, effective, and the best way to improve everything at once. Split your workouts into lower- and higher-stress days so you can get some recovery mid-week, and have at least one heavy session a week for more intensity.
11. Never Leave Without a Pump
That pump might be the key to better gains. The muscle pump is a great way to look good in the gym mirror – but it’s more than that. Studies suggest that it can improve the response of muscles to your workouts.
If you’re focusing on a particular area, or a specific movement, finish the session with a pump for that muscle group. This helps improve cell volume in that muscle, which can drive up results and produce a better long-term result.
This should be used for your weakest areas and those you’re focusing on. It is also a great way to make sure you’re building strength in the tendons, which is always good for your longevity and injury-resilience.
12. Superset Smarter
Supersets are a great way to drive up the amount of work you perform in one workout. They also increase the work done in a muscle group, extending the time under tension and metabolic change that comes from higher-rep sets.
Supersets are perfect for fitting in more work during tight workout hours. It pairs perfectly with the muscle pump when using supersets on the same muscle or movement. Alternatively you can pump opposite muscles (antagonists) like the biceps and triceps for better results and joint health.
Smart supersets are a great way to finish off a session, develop a body part on both sides, and get bigger in a way that helps you move better. Movement control and extra muscle gains in less time is a great reason to superset at the end of your workout!
13. Visible Muscles: Look Bigger Faster
When it comes to looking bigger and stronger, a little focus on the places people see can improve your results. What does that mean? The silhouette muscles, arms, and forearms should get more focus to look bigger faster.
These muscles are either visible in a normal t-shirt, or they set the outline of your body. The silhouette muscles include the traps, delts, lats, and the chest (for men). These muscles can be targeted and developed deliberately to look bigger and stronger faster.
These groups should be the target of compounds, but also get some extra isolation and pump work at the end of a session. These are easy to sprinkle through a normal strength training program, ideally supersetted, to get additional gains and look bigger and stronger faster.
Nutrition Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff
Nutrition turns workouts into muscle, as you put the resources from diet to work in repairing and building new muscle tissue. This is key to your transformation, and it needs to be taken seriously.
These simple tips will guide you through the basics of diet and how you might behave to boost results and maintain consistency over time.
14. Eat A Calorie Surplus: Commit To Gaining
The best way on how to go from skinny to buff is through a calorie surplus. This isn’t even a tip – it’s how muscle gain works.
Calorie surplus drives your results, supporting muscle gain and weight gain. It’s possible to gain muscle while losing weight, but it’s very hard – and definitely not as fast as gaining muscle during a calorie surplus.
This is your top priority for muscle gain. Eat more than you use. It’s a positive energy balance that makes weight gain happen.
Aim for a 300-800 calorie surplus as an average (or larger) man, and a 200-600 calorie surplus as an average (or larger) woman. These are basic numbers for building muscle at a healthy, sustainable rate.
Smaller surplus’ are slower but minimize fat gain. A larger surplus is the opposite, maximizing strength and muscle gains while having a higher chance of gaining body fat.
As a skinny person, you can afford more of both, and somewhere in the middle or upper of these ranges is great as a beginner.
15. Focus On Protein to Build Muscle
The protein you eat becomes your muscles. High protein diets build more muscle and are the best way to go from skinny to buff. For practical purposes, more protein is better. However, the important thing is just that you prioritize protein intake and keep intake high.
Good practice for getting bigger and stronger is around 0.7-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. This can go higher, but starts to challenge most people’s diets. You can bulk this out with protein supplements, or simply eating more high-quality food.
Calorie and protein intake are the main, paired focus of a good weight gain diet. If you get these right, you’re most of the way there.
16. Get Plenty of Carbs
Carb intake isn’t as important as calorie or protein numbers. However, it does play a supporting role in both driving up muscle gains and making sure your muscles look ‘full’. This is because carbs are the main fuel source for the muscles., making you go from skinny to jacked!
Carb intake should take up a lot of your diet after you’ve taken in your protein. It should be your main calorie source – but from good sources. This means a lot of starches and fibrous carbs, a lot of vegetables, wholegrains, beans and pulses, potatoes, yams, squash, rice, pasta, and others.
17. Eat More Often
Eating more often won’t make you bigger – but it’s one of the easiest ways to eat a better diet. It allows you to beat fullness if you’re struggling with appetite, fullness, or food choices. More regular eating means fewer cravings, more dietary control, and small but potent meals centered around good proteins and carbs.
Eating more often is a method – not a hack. It’s a good way to fix some of the things that are hard about clean eating for muscle gains. Get used to eating more, whether that’s big meals or more regular eating.
18. Use Smoothies and Shakes
If you’re wondering how to go from skinny to buff, focus on liquid calories. Smoothies and shakes are a high-calorie, nutrient-dense way to add more calories to your diet.
They are an easy way to get more in without crushing your appetite and defeating your dietary momentum.
Protein shakes are a great way to get easy calories and protein. Shakes and smoothies that blend protein powder with other ingredients – usually bananas, oats, ice cream, and others – are popular.
If you add one of these to a normal, healthy, balanced diet, you’re well on your way to weight gain and bigger muscles.
19. Re-Calculate Your Calorie Needs Regularly
As you gain weight, your metabolism will change, and you’ll need to recalculate your energy needs. This is key to keeping your calorie balance in the right place, and prevents stalling.
This should be a priority every time you gain 5lbs, or every 6 weeks – whichever comes first. This ensures that your diet is evolving with your body to keep the weight gain going and in-line with your changing body.
It’s easy to forget this step and lose momentum because your surplus is turning into your maintenance over time!
Track your intake, but make sure you adjust regularly and take the chance to celebrate your results.
Recovery Tips To Go From Skinny To Buff
Recovery is the time between workouts when muscle gain happens. Your body relies on a balance of rest, sleep, and relaxation to get the most from your training stimulus.
The more time, effort, and thought you put into recovery, the better your weight gain quality and quantity. These tips aren’t complex, but they can be difficult to put into effect – they require you to change the way you live, not just how you train or eat!
20. Get 8+ Hours of Sleep
If you’re not sleeping right, you’re not gaining right. Sleep debt damages the hormone levels responsible for regulating muscle recovery, repair, and gains. This is one of the most common ways that skinny people are sabotaging their own results.
Get 8-10 hours of sleep. It’s not always possible, but every minute you add to your sleep is another boost to your hormonal health and muscle gains. Stop scrolling in bed, stop setting multiple alarms, and make sure that you go to bed after relaxing, screen-free evening time!
21. Rest Well: Don’t Overtrain
Training isn’t the key to gains – recovery is. Once you’ve trained a few hard hours a week, the next focus should be on rest, not on more training. It’s easy to put in too much time and spoil your hard work by overtraining. That’s any training that doesn’t add more training effect, or starts to detrain you.
What matters isn’t how hard you train in the gym, it’s the balance of workout stress and recovery. If you’re just putting more on the stress side, you’re not going to gain more muscle.
Keep your workout output and your recovery in balance, and don’t rush yourself to more days or more exercises than you can recover – and benefit – from!
22. Focus on Recovery
Recovery is the main way you get better. The number one tip most beginners need is this: treat recovery as seriously as your workout if you wanna go from skinny to buff.
Anyone can go to the gym, but the results you get depend on what you do when you’re at home. It’s not just enough to know how nutrition and sleep work – you have to do it. You have to live it. It’s about building consistent habits and then inching them closer to perfect as your lifestyle allows.
It’s okay to get started with whatever basics you can do. Just make sure you don’t neglect your recovery because it’s less glamorous than big lifts and big muscles!
Conclusion: Our Final Thoughts
Going from skinny to buff is simple but slow. It rewards you when you’re deliberate, diligent, and dedicated. Stick to the simple stuff and work on these tips in the order of general to basic. Most of your results come from the unglamorous stuff: regular training, good food, and plenty of sleep.
Everything after that is about tweaking your lifestyle to drive up your results. Whether it’s diet, nutrition, or recovery, this is a lifelong set of habits.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you should be working on them a little at a time, wherever you find the time, energy, and opportunity.
Use these tips to focus your efforts and put more quality into your habits. This is the one key to go from skinny to buff that we all need to use: good habits over time, with plenty of effort.
Now you know what to do to go from skinny to buff, the rest is up to you!
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.