Your Guide to Exercising When You’re Naturally Skinny

We live in a fatphobic world so many people think skinny people have it made when it comes to being able to reach their body goals. This may be true for some but that depends on one’s goals. For the skinny person who wants to develop lean, mean muscle mass, achieving their goal physique can actually be incredibly difficult.


Exercising for Skinny People

If you’re naturally skinny and trying to gain muscle and not seeing any results, it may come as a surprise to hear this but, you’re probably not exercising correctly for your body type.

But, it’s not entirely your fault. You see, when many people talk about exercise, usually, their goals are to:

  • Lose weight, so they diversify their workouts between cardio and HIIT
  • Bulk up, so they dive into strength training (mostly the case for men) or they...
  • Become more active, integrating flexible practices like yoga or cardio (dancing, treadmill).

The problem is these goals all have one commonality: often, they’re designed for weight loss. A naturally skinny individual doesn't need weight loss; they need a system that'll take into account their specific need to add muscle, not burn fat!

There’s NOTHING wrong with wanting to lose fat, unless this drive conflicts with YOUR exercise needs (or your general wellness and happiness). The point is, just because you’re naturally skinny doesn’t preclude you from having fitness aspirations too!

So the question then becomes: how does a thin person gain muscle and tone up?

First, get the Sexy Butt ebook for free NOW! This will help you build and sculpt this crucial core muscle, which will help you increase your overall tone.

Next, read on.

Your Body Type 101


There are a lot of words circulating to describe a skinny person’s physique, like: 

Ectomorph: a skinny person with a narrow bone structure.

Hardgainer: someone who encounters a hard time putting on weight, but this doesn’t mean they’re skinny or have a thin narrow structure. 

Banana (for women): a slender woman with a narrow waist to bust ratio.

Some of these terms have fallen out of circulation, but the confusing part is they’ve become interchangeable, despite each meaning something slightly different. Kind of like the fashion world, there’s no universal size among brands, but the definition is the same: you’re naturally thin.

Not sure whether you fall under the skinny body type; these are the hallmarks of a naturally thin person:

A fast metabolism 
Lanky limbs
Lean body (low muscle and fat) 
Narrow bone structure

Naturally thin people usually stagnate at the same weight and size effortlessly, no matter what they eat. The problem is that if you want to add shape to your body (gains, toning), you’re going to have a hard time because your metabolism is jacked. It burns calories, like a jet burns fuel which is just dandy except when you want a rounder booty or bulging biceps.

There are a couple reasons why your body flat out refuses to gain weight. Since you’re smaller, proportionally so too is your stomach, which will prevent you from increasing your calorie intake. Which impacts the golden rule of gains: eat more. Exactly, how are you supposed to eat more to gain muscle when your metabolism is so fast?

Before you get down on your body, there are some genetic advantages to your body type as well.

Gains: You can override your natural body disposition because naturally thin doesn’t mean you’re any less capable of gains. You’ll even see faster results, as your lean frame is just as suited to bulking as other body types.

Your crazy fast metabolism, believe it or not, is also a benefit. Get this; some skinny folks burn 50% more calories while sitting and 80% more when standing because of subconscious movement/actions (fidgeting, moving around). Further, ectomorphs tend to stand for two hours more a day than other body types, which burns another couple hundred calories. Even if you eat more calories a day than you should, your body will just hit the supercharge button to crank up your metabolism to negate weight gain — wild, huh?

Burns calories, not gains: Your body may enjoy burning calories, but this doesn’t apply to muscle gains. All those extra calories you consume will be used to fuel muscle growth.

Greater insulin sensitivity (for most skinny peeps): This means as you take in calories from food, your body becomes satiated quickly, so you’ll eat less. However, the insulin sensitivity is in your muscle, not fat cells, so your body will direct calories to muscle, not fat — which means more significant gains!

The Problem


Your body isn’t failing you, neither are your gold-star efforts. What’s failing you is your exercise routine. If you follow any of the trending fitness plans — most of which lump in cardio — we hate to break it to you, but you’re destined for gains failure.

Cardio is the real buzzkill.

At least it is when you first decide to pick up weights with the express purpose of adding volume to your lean body. Eventually, cardio can help you, but not when you first kick-off your fitness plan.

What makes cardio such a crippler to gaining muscle is anything that increases your heart rate leads to greater caloric burn. Think of it this way, aerobic activity is like a fire, drawing in more calories to feed your body’s energy expenditure, but what happens when you run out of calories?

The aerobic bonfire you’ve created then turns to fat stores to keep the flame going, leading to a calorie deficit for skinny folks. And as you now understand, when you’ve got a raging metabolism, small gut and a tax on your calories, you’re on the fast track to injury or overtraining, not gains.

To make matters worse, since cardio threatens your gains, how exactly are you supposed to check off the government-recommended 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week — does it even matter?

What About Your Recommended Daily Cardio?

If you’re serious about bulking, the most important thing to remember while constructing your exercise routine is to limit the activities that involve steady-state or consistent cardio, like running. Anything that makes you sweat or your heart climb is TOO MUCH and will slay your gains!

We’re not advocating you forgo cardio while pursuing your fitness goals. Instead, we’re encouraging you to read your body cues and think before you lace up your sneakers whether this exercise will help or hurt your efforts.

So, rather than running, jogging, doing high-intensity activities or cycling, why not get your ticker moving by going for a brisk walk, mowing the lawn, playing with the kids, or weight training. Yup, weight training does count as cardio, to a point; the rule of thumb is for every hour of lifting, that’s a ½ hour of cardio.

Stay active; don’t go overboard—initially. Once you build up some muscle, you can begin to bring cardio workouts back into your weekly routine.

The Solution


If you’re looking to add muscle to your body, the best thing you can do is weight train, more specifically hypertrophic training. That’s right; it’s time to invest in quality dumbbells and barbells, like our Sculpt Bar.

Before you get confused between strength training and hypertrophy, let us clarify:

Hypertrophy Training: Can be considered aesthetic, but it’s the difference between being lanky and toned to a skinny person. Hypertrophy focuses on adding muscle and definition via more reps and sets, with a 1-2 minute rest between sets.

Strength Training: This is all about increasing your strength. Therefore, it involves fewer sets, heavier weights, and rest for 2-5 minutes between sets.

Our advice to our skinny BodyRockers is to set the BodyRock Olympic Bar high and go for hypertrophy. We’re not suggesting tackling a weight that’s above your paygrade; no, we’re advocating you work your way up to bulking safely and sustainably. So let’s get started with some golden rules:

  1. Not all Hypertrophic Training is Created Equal: Most fitness programs are for weight loss; the same goes for hypertrophy.

  2. Hypertrophy’s Trifecta & Muscle Growth: Hypertrophy builds muscle through mechanical tension; using your full range of motion or using compound movements like push-ups to put tension on your muscles to encourage growth. The secondary factor is metabolic stress. The more stress you put on your body via the pump-action (e.g., bicep curls), the more it invites local growth. And the final element is muscular damage. The more you ‘burnout’ or ‘damage’ your muscles, the more your body has to repair and rebuild them stronger — just don’t overdo it.

  3. Focus on Only Building Muscle: If you’re serious about gains, you need to forget about workout variety— it’s all about hypertrophy. You can’t run a marathon without training; the same rings true for building muscle.

    1. Hard Pass on Strength Training: Most strength training programs aim to ‘build strength’ via lifting insane amounts, which doesn’t build muscle all that well. Strength training’s core principles require 1-5 reps (hypertrophy needs 10-15 reps per set) with a long wait between and fewer sets. Overall, most strength training workouts aren’t for you.

  4. Progressive Overload: Apply the principle of progressive overload, basically begin with bodyweight compound movements like push-ups, and as your body adapts to the new expectations, it will grow stronger to compensate. For example, using dumbbells, you’d begin at 5lbs for arm curls, and as this becomes easy, you'd move up to 7lbs and so on.

  5. 3 Days On Approach: When you’re lifting, you need ample rest days to allow your muscles to rest, repair and recover from stress. You know you require a rest when your muscles are weak and sore just performing normal daily activities. So when you're starting out, aim for 3 solid days on and 4 off. 

Now, let’s put all this information into practice, shall we?

Your Fitness Plan

Now that you know the logistics of your body and the golden rules of hypertrophic training for a small frame, let’s generate a sample workout by gender. 

Workout Requirements

Build your fitness routine around these four key points:

3 Days On: Pick three days you want to work out (e.g., Mon, Wed, Fri) and aim to put in 30-60 minutes of solid effort. Don't workout back-to-back days though, rest between workouts.

Lift Your Max Weight: Don’t be a hero; lift a weight you can safely and continuously lift for the entire set.

Sets: To start, keep it simple and perform 2 sets until you’ve mastered the form, then consider adding more sets.

Reps: Your goal is 10-12 reps per activity.

Exercises for Women

We want you all to take note: technique is everything. Don’t zoom through the exercises, be mindful and try each compound movement out without weights to ensure you’re doing it correctly.

Sumo Dead-lift: For legs, posture, arms and the back. With feet hips-width apart, begin upright, then reach down for the weight. Remember to bend your knees with your toes slightly pointed out. Grab the weight, then come to a stand and repeat. For a detailed breakdown, read our blog: Master the Sumo Dead-Lift!

Goblet Squat: Full-body strengthener where you hold a weight in your hands at your chest, then with feet hips-width apart, move into a squat. Check out how here: Master the Move: #16 The Goblet Squat.

Push-ups: Another full-body strengthener, there’s a reason push-ups are an all-important member of the fitness exercise family because they’re all about building a solid foundation. Check out our post on: Push-Ups for Dummies 101 for more details.

Men’s Bulking Routine

Before you get down to business lifting, make sure you have the proper form. These are the moves you want to master:

Romanian Deadlift: For your legs, back and spine, the Romanian deadlift is when you place a barbell in front of you, then with hips shoulder-width apart and knees bent, you pick up the barbell (with a straight back) and then stand upright. For more details, check out our blog: Master the Move: #20 Romanian Deadlifts.

Goblet Squat: For this Full-body strengthener you begin with a weight in your hands at your chest, then with feet hips-width apart, you move into a squat. Check out how here: Master the Move: #16 The Goblet Squat.

Push-ups: Push-ups build a solid foundation and is an essential part of bodybuilding. Check out our post on: Push-Ups for Dummies 101 for more details.

Lat Pull-Downs: Before you tackle chin-ups, start with lat pulldowns for bicep and back health. With a wide grip on the pulldown machine bar, pull it down to your chin with your feet planted, remembering to keep your shoulders squared. For more help, read our blog: Master these Machines for Massive Muscles #4 Cable Pull-Down Machine. Once you’ve nailed this, bring on the chin-ups.

Overhead Press: This is excellent for shoulder health. To do the overhead press, stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart, and if using hand weights, raise your hands overhead (thumbs pointed in) and hold, then slowly lower down to the shoulders. For more instructions, read: Master the Overhead Press.

How BodyRock Can Help

Bring us along for your bulking ride because BodyRock has the workouts and the gear to support you as you reach for your goal of gaining muscle.

If you’re starting at ground zero, let’s go through the checklist of what you’ll need to create a home gym so you can keep up with your hypertrophic training program. 


Check out our Mobility and Flex Series to help you work out the kinks and increase your range of mobility.

If you need to get started at a slower pace or if you need to improve your flexibility and range of motion, give our hit Yoga Series a shot!

Not a member yet? Join the BodyRock+ family, and let’s get started building some muscle!

Building Your Home Gym

We have all your fitness needs covered at our BodyRock store. The best place to start is by checking out our Strength Training Section here at

Home Gym Shopping List

These are the bare bones to form your bodybuilding at-home gym:

For the Advanced Lifter

If you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to upgrade your home gym with these items:

Are You Ready to Get Started?

When you think about adopting a fitness routine, it probably never crossed your mind that your options would shrink to one — hypertrophy — if you aspire to gain muscle. But, like most things in life, there are workarounds, so if today's the day you've decided you're going to bulk up, then we're here for you, every step of the way!

Join the family today!


Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published