Weight gain can be a real challenge – and one that very few people understand. This is why we’ve listed the best exercises to gain weight in this article.
Most people have tried to lose weight and understand what it involves. Weight gain, on the other hand, is something most people never actively chase down – and it’s a far more stubborn and complicated process than weight loss!
Today we’re going to outline how exercise for weight gain works, what you need to consider, and how to get from hardgainer to serious weight gain.
We’re going to look at the weight gain exercises, the lessons, and why a certain weight gain exercise may be better than others, so you can get started right away.
Weight Gain & Exercising: The Relation
When we talk about healthy weight gain, we’re specifically talking about gaining muscle mass.
This is the process that comes from directing exercise, diet, and lifestyle towards the right habits. However, to make it work, you need to know a few simple things about how your body works and what it takes to gain high-quality muscle.
First, accept that it’s relatively slow. Your body isn’t just going to go from skinny to jacked in the space of a few weeks. You’re going to need to commit months at a time to gaining weight– and over years you’ll see enormous transformations.
The better you pay attention to these lessons and the more closely you apply them in your life, the faster you’ll be gaining weight.
List of Best Exercises to Help Gain Weight
In order to gain weight by exercising, it is important to prioritize compound weight gain exercises that focus on multiple muscle groups at a time. These exercises focus on multiple joints and help you build strength and muscle.
The following compound weight gain exercises are the ones that you should be doing in order to gain weight:
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
Squatting is a great way to build strength in about 2/3 of the body all at once.
You’re going to recruit significant weight gain in all the most important areas for big muscles. Squatting builds quads, hamstrings, glutes, the back, and the core. You’re combining heavy lifting with the lower body with full-body postural strength.
This is why everyone from bodybuilders to elite athletes trains the squat. It’s a whole-body movement that can pack on serious mass when used properly – ideally around 2-4 times a week for mass-gain.
Back Squat: the classic, best way to build leg and hip strength together.
Front Squat: a more posture- and quad-intensive exercise for better upper back strength (upper body).
Box Squat: a shorter, beginner version of the squat for practicing depth or building hip strength.
Pin Squat: a great hip strength exercise to help keep the knees and toes aligned and build glutes.
Lunges, like squats, work a wide variety of lower body muscles. This includes all kinds of lower body, single leg exercises – such as the split squat and step-up.
These are classics because they use lighter weight than squats but develop more stability. This specifically means gaining weight in areas like the hips and inner thigh muscles, which are often under-developed by squatting alone.
These are some of the best weight gain exercises for building full-body strength, healthy weight gain, and injury-resilience. Every good program should have at least one single-leg movement to help keep your knees and hips healthy and build balance in the lower body and core!
Reverse Lunge: a perfect beginner exercise with lower complexity to build leg strength and muscle.
Walking Lunge: a more advanced form of lunge mimicking actual movement to build stability.
Step-Up: a great, deep knee bend to improve stability while building longer-range leg strength.
Bulgarian Split Squat: an incredible, full-range, brutal quad- and glute-builder for intermediates.
3. Bench Press
Bench pressing is a classic exercise for a reason: it builds upper body strength and muscle.
The heavier weights of bench presses (due to the supported lying down position) build the chest muscles, triceps, and shoulders. They also require good upper-back coordination to lift heavy weight, which can be a nice secondary benefit.
This is the most obvious exercise for building the chest muscles with weights, and it helps pack on hard-working muscle mass.
Bench Press: a classic with either dumbbells or barbells kept shoulder-width apart to build strength and chest/shoulder muscle.
Incline Bench Press: this focuses closely on the upper pec and shoulders, even with less weight.
Decline Bench Press: lower-pec focused bench presses with the heaviest weights and a great stretch.
The deadlift is the full-body exercise for building strength and mass.
It’s all about using the hips and legs to stand up with a heavy weight. This involves huge amounts of quad, hamstring, glute, lower back, and core strength. You’ll also build mass in the upper back, which is necessary to deadlift correctly and control the barbell.
Deadlift: a great hamstring, glute, and lower back exercise from the floor with heavy weight.
Romanian Deadlift: a pure hip hinge movement without the first pull – all about hamstrings.
Stiff Leg Deadlift: like a deadlift but all from the hip – a powerful back and glute exercise.
Single Leg DB Deadlift: a great way of building single-leg strength, balance, and sports performance.
Another great exercise to gain weight, rowing exercises with a barbell, dumbbell, or cable machine are a great way to build the biceps and upper back.
They build both width and thickness in the back, crucial to both looking and getting bigger. Muscle growth in the back is a key for better overall strength, it helps build postural strength for all kinds of exercises, and it’s one of the best ways to get bigger.
Rows should be a mixture of 1- and 2-arm, as well as different angles. There are a few great variations of row you should be using.
Barbell Row: a heavy row in a bent-over position, including exercises like Pendlay row.
Yates Row: an underhanded row to focus more on bicep gains and shoulder external rotation.
Seated Cable Row: a great constant-tension exercise for feeling the lats and rhomboids as you row.
DB Row: a one-armed row to reduce asymmetries and imbalances – with extra range of motion!
6. Pull-Ups / Pulldown
Pull-ups (body weight) are one of the best weight gain exercises you can do for any purpose – but especially muscle gains.
Pull-ups often called the deadlift of the upper body because they work such a wide variety of muscles and are so fundamental. The pull-up builds the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, and forearms.
These are a great place to add mass but – more specifically – they’re the places most people need to build more strength and muscle. Pull-ups control posture, build strength for other exercises, and help maintain good long-term health in the upper back and shoulders.
Pull-Ups: the challenging bodyweight original, building dozens of muscles from the lats to forearms.
Pull-Down: a cable-weighted and adjustable machine exercise to mimic the pull-up with less weight.
Reverse Pull-Down: a narrower, supinated grip pulldown to focus on the biceps and lats.
Ring Row: a perfect bodyweight exercise for building pull-up muscles like the lats and lower traps.
Push-ups are great for the shoulders, the triceps, and the forearms. They are one of the simplest and easy-to-do exercises you can do with your body weight. With this simple exercise though, you can attain a lot of positive results.
- Lie on the ground, back facing up.
- Place your palms, flat, on the ground by your sides, and your arms shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your entire body and legs straight and aligned. Push up until your arms are fully extended. Take a deep breath before pushing yourself up. Exhale while pushing up.
- Lower yourself until your nose almost touches the ground.
- Repeat. Make sure that you do your push-ups slowly.
8. Overhead Press
Here’s another great exercise to gain weight. You will require a weight bar or a set of dumbbells for doing the overhead press which is a great exercise for deltoids, triceps, and muscles of the upper back.
- With your hands shoulder-width apart, squat down and grasp firmly the weight bar.
- Lift the bar gradually to your chest or shoulders, whichever is comfortable for you.
- Take a deep breath and lift it over your head keeping your hands straight. Keep your elbows locked.
- Slowly, lower the bar to the level of your shoulders.
- Repeat in ideal reps of 3.
What About Cardio Exercises?
Even though cardio exercises are important for your heart health and overall well-being, it is advised to keep these exercises to a minimum when trying to gain weight. The reason being, in order to gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus. Cardio, on the other hand, burns calories.
I do not recommend completely eliminating cardio exercises, but keeping it to a mimimum.
Compound vs Isolation Exercises
1. Compound Exercises:
In simple terms, compound movements are the exercises that target and involves multiple major muscle groups and joints at a single time. These exercises do not specially focus on isolating a single part but focus on more than one muscle group at a particular time. In short, working on compound movement is a great weight gain exercise.
Examples: Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Press.
2. Isolation Exercises:
Simply put, isolation movements target a specific muscle or muscle group at a single time. These exercises pay attention to one single body part at a time, and isolate that muscle to help it grow significantly.
Example: Bicep curls, for instance, focuses majorly on the bicep muscle. While it may be good for isolating the bicep muscle, it is definitely not the best weight gain exercise.
When you’re looking to gain weight or build muscle, you will notice that most of the recommended exercises fall under the category of compound exercises.
The reason is simple, these weight gain exercises focus on multiple groups of muscles and joints at a time, resulting in overall growth and mass.
SAM: Stress-Adaptation Model
Muscle gain is something your body is resistant to. It doesn’t make muscle for the sake of it – you need to force it.
The way you do this to gain weight is by imposing a stress or stimulus on it. Your entire body thinks it has enough muscle right now – so you expose it to exercise that is demanding on the muscles to signal that you need more muscle mass.
This sends signals to your body to repair muscles and build them stronger to prepare for the future. You do that by eating and resting (both by not exercising and sleeping), and then your body is more prepared the next time that you get into the gym. It has built muscle and is ready to go.
This is the whole Stress-Adaptation model. There are 3 stages:
- Stress the body
- Recover and refuel
- Adapt and come back stronger
If any of these is missing, your muscle gains will stagnate. Today, we’re going to be talking about how to stress the body – which exercises to use to gain weight – and how you organize them into a simple workout plan.
Stimulus – Understanding What it Means for Exercise
What makes an exercise good for weight gain?
It’s true – you can use any exercise to gain or lose weight. But that doesn’t mean they’re all equal – some are better for weight gain than others when we compare them directly.
First, the amount of muscles used by an exercise matters. A squat is better than a bicep curl because it allows you to train a huge variety of muscles with a single exercise – a compound exercise – and thus gain more muscle for the same amount of time spent in the gym.
This also extends to how each muscle is used.
How Each Muscle is Used:
Weight has to be high enough to force you to work hard – this ensures you’re using all of the muscle. When you’re dealing with heavy weights or you’re doing long sets that make light weights feel heavy, you’re going to build muscle.
Getting the right weight and reps can help you get the most from each set so you’re not spending time on “junk reps” – the first 8 reps of a set of 15, for example. We want to use challenging weights for medium reps (5-10) to make sure we’re getting more quality reps for our time.
Obviously, it’s also true that if you’re only focused on weight then some muscles are better than others – they are larger and have more growth potential.
The quads, glutes, lats, and chest have the largest growth potential. Then you have medium-sized muscles like the triceps, the rhomboids, the traps, hamstrings, and shoulders.
These should be the main focuses of your workouts especially when you want to gain weight – especially overlapping big movements (like squats) with smaller movements that help you “finish” with higher reps – called accessory exercises.
Progressive Overload for Weight Gain
Progressive Overload is how you continue to provide the stress your entire body that needs to build muscle. If you lift 20kg for 10 reps, your body will only ever get you as strong as you need to be to do that.
When we continue to push the overall work we’re performing in the gym, we continue to progress. This is progressive overload: doing more over time to continue driving physical change and building muscle.
You can overload in a few different ways:
- More weight (same reps)
- More reps (same weight)
- More sets (same weight/reps)
- More difficult exercises
- More variety
- Performing exercise under more fatigue
The main focus for this program is more weight – it assumes you know how to move properly in the key exercises and offers the best returns.
To gain weight, you should focus on slowly increasing weight as little as possible (usually 2.5kg or 5lbs) each week on the same workout.
This will allow you to progress for longer, keeping your muscles growing while you build strength. Don’t worry about how much weight you can lift – worry about how long you can keep progressing for without stalling.
That’s the real key to long-term strength, and to gain weight.
Proper Weight Training Structure for Weight Gain
Weight Training doesn’t work one workout at a time for most people. The body doesn’t care about one good workout – it’s counting your adaptations in weeks. Putting together good weeks, one after the other, is the difference between good weight gain results and insane weight gains.
Consistency means turning up for every workout and giving it a good effort. The better you are in these week-to-week blocks of training, the better your results – this is why there’s a huge difference between two people who have both trained for 6 months if only one of them is consistent.
Put high-quality hours in, week after week, and you’ll see muscle and weight gain.
There are 2 types of people who fail with their gym weight gain goals: the lazy and the burnt-out.
The first group turns up once a week, sometimes, and do some exercise. The second group turns up every day for 2 weeks before realising they’re not cut out for it and their body is falling apart – and they’re frustrated they didn’t get the results despite working hard.
Training frequency is about finding the right sweet-spot. Working out everyday is both unnecessary and counterproductive for a true beginner, where rest is absolutely essential. Equally, you need to turn up often enough to keep your body ticking over and remind it to keep building muscle!
For beginners and intermediates, workouts should be 3-4 times a week. To gain weight, we’re going to use a 3-day workout program in this article for a few reasons:
- It’s really simple to remember
- It gives you proper time to recover between workouts
- It’s right in the middle and suits high-responders and low-responders alike
- You will have two consecutive rest days once per week to recover and reset
These add up to make a great, simple workout program that strikes a balance between regular, hard training and plentiful recovery. As you’re about to see, recovery is pretty important…
1. Food – Healthy Diet
We’re talking about exercises for weight gain – but you can’t gain if you don’t eat and have a healthy diet.
Weight gain is based on the idea that you’re eating enough to give your body the fuel it needs to build muscle. It needs energy and it needs protein – the two building blocks of a better body.
If you’re not eating enough you can’t gain weight even if your training and sleep are perfect. The body can’t make something out of nothing, so you need to commit to eating big.
This means making sure you’ve got plenty of healthy foods to start with, then applying some high calorie foods if you’re still struggling.
To gain weight, you should be aiming for around 500 calories per day more than your TDEE. This should give you around 1lb of muscle gain every 2 weeks and maybe even more at the start depending on your experience level. More advanced trainees need more time to grow.
However, always remember you need to watch your average weekly weight. If it doesn’t go up for a few weeks, add more calories (using high calorie foods).
Eating for weight gain is simple: eat enough to recover from the workouts you’ve done, and then eat a little more.
It’s a simple process of layering up enough calories and protein from the best sources you can reasonably eat (things like fatty fish, wholegrains, beans, rice, vegetables, high-quality meats, eggs, and high-quality dairy).
However, do not forget focusing on carbohydrates and healthy fats as well. Carbohydrates will ensure you have enough energy, while healthy fats will promote good cholesterol and and increase production of growth hormone. Conclusion? Healthy fats and good carbs along with lean protein!
To gain weight, rest and recovery is important.
Sleep is when weight gain is at its best. It’s when your body is secreting testosterone and growth hormone at highest levels, driving the recovery processes that both your mind and body need.
These drive muscle growth, and so you need to have a good sleep routine. The 8-9 hours a night saying is accurate – if you’re getting less than this you’re going to cut into your testosterone production, your workouts will suffer in the long-run, and you’ll increase your injury risk.
This is the trifecta of ‘things we don’t want to happen’!
Take your sleep seriously and you’ll “miraculously” start hitting better workouts, seeing better muscle gains, and even improving your mental performance. It’s the time your body and mind need to recharge and the more you put in, the more you will get out.
Take rest days seriously. I love the gym as much as anyone but making sure you have regular rest days is key to recharging for the next workout and to gain weight.
This applies mostly to beginners: if you’re new, focus on better workouts – not more workouts. When you add a workout to your week, you’re also removing a rest day. You’re increasing your workouts by 33% and reducing your rest by 25%.
This adds up quickly when you’re training hard – these full-body workouts we’ve outlined are best when you come into each one mostly-fresh.
You don’t need to be feeling 100% every day but stick with regular rest days. They drive your progress even when you can’t tell they’re working!
Gaining weight is about more than exercise – but the right weight gain exercises and approach will offer you the best chance to build muscle mass. They’re the impulse that drives the weight-gain process and – with this workout plan – you’re well on your way to building muscle mass and gaining weight.
If you’re a hardgainer looking for weight gain exercise and approach that will improve your physique, get you big and strong, and do it healthily then give this a try.
These exercises are simple and effective, and you should stick with it until it stops working when you’re getting your food and sleep correct.
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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.