You're not exactly the stereotypical 98-pound (44-kilogram) weakling, but you've noticed your build is slight compared to most of the guys at the gym. First off, congrats on possessing genes that keep you skinny. But, yes, we understand you'd like to bulk up and look a little stronger. Getting buff is really where it's at.
Well, consider buffness in sight. With hard work and a few lifestyle adaptations, you'll be on your way. Keep in mind, this won't be an easy process. You'll be lifting a lot of weight and drinking a lot of powdery stuff. Plus, it'll take time. But if you're committed, we can help you get there.
Focus on Mass Building Exercises
There's no way around it -- to gain muscle you have to hit the gym and you have to hit it hard. So where do you start?
Begin with specific muscle building exercises that'll pack on mass. Do exercises that'll work at least two muscles groups at once. These include squats, bench presses, dips and chin-ups. Perform the exercises to failure. That means using a weight that -- after 8-12 reps -- you simply can't do anymore. Concentrate on proper form. Don't jerk and swing through the movements, risking injury. Instead, put your muscles through their full range of motion for maximum impact [source: Muscle Building Programs].
Use Short Work-to-Rest Ratios
If you want to build muscle, you'll need to do multiple sets of each particular exercise with short rest periods between sets. The short work-to-rest ratio will be uncomfortable, but it'll pay off.
Short work-to-rest means that the time between exercises is minimal so you end up getting more work done in a shorter amount of time. It'll get the fat-burning hormones in your body working overtime. Start by doing six to eight repetitions of six different exercises with only 30 seconds rest in between [source: Morton]. Repeat the entire circuit three or four times. You'll feel spent, but your body will work quickly to restore those muscles, leaving you looking buff.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build muscle is doing too much. They figure that if three or four days in the gym is good, then five or six is even better. But muscle development is a process of tearing down and rebuilding fiber. If you work out all the time, your body doesn't have a chance to restore itself. Instead of going from skinny to buff, you'll find yourself at a very steady level of underwhelming fitness [source: Haycock].
Give yourself 24 to 48 hours between workouts to allow your muscles to restore themselves. The time off will allow those tiny muscle fibers to rebuild, making you bigger. Without the rest periods, progress will be slow.
Work Muscle Groups Separately
The body is made up of more than 600 muscles. That means you're going to have to have a smart plan of attack. Begin by dividing those muscles into groups: arms, shoulders, back, chest, abs and legs. Make sure you're focusing on each of these groups separately to get the most out of your workouts. [source: Haycock]. Let's say you work out three times a week. On Mondays, you'll concentrate on your chest and biceps with exercises like bench presses, push-ups and curls. On Wednesdays, you'll focus on your abs, legs and back with squats, sit-ups and dead lifts. On Fridays, you can go back to your upper body, pounding out some rows or lat-pull downs for your shoulders and triceps.
A strategic plan focusing on different muscles groups will allow you to maintain your momentum without overworking particular muscles.
Get a Leg Up on Muscle Growth
Did you know that muscle building starts with your legs? Some of the largest muscles in your body are in your legs and, as a result, working them out will affect your overall strength and fitness. That's why it's wise to focus on squats and dead lifts. These two exercises pinpoint the quads and hamstrings but when you're performing the lifts, a lot of other muscles in your body are tensing. So, focusing on your legs will provide you with a double benefit: your quads will have a more defined look while the rest of your body gains from the holistic effects of the lift [source: Mehdi].
Be Wary of the Plateau
We all know what a plateau looks like, right? It's a hill that levels off at the top. That's great if you're walking up it, but terrible if it materializes in your workout routine. It's quite common, however. You may experience big gains at the onset of a new exercise regime, only to notice that they taper off. Many people assume they've gone as far as they can. They're wrong.
To avoid this ever-so-devious leveling off period, be crafty with your body and regularly change your workout. For example, concentrate on a similar set of exercises for each muscle group over the course of six weeks. After that time has passed, introduce a new group of exercises, change the number of reps and sets, add some weight or switch up the days that you focus on certain muscles groups. Your body will react by continually adapting, and you'll keep seeing awesome results [sources: Stenson, McManus].
Add Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercise is commonly referred to as cardio and includes things like jogging and biking. The importance of aerobic exercises in your quest to become buff is twofold. First, if you're eating as you should to gain muscle, you might be gaining some weight. Cardio will help keep the unwanted type of weight off and allow your new muscles to show. Second, and most important, when you're engaged in aerobic exercises your heart is going to be working at a higher rate and will be pushing blood through your body faster. Your muscles will be getting more blood and oxygen, helping them rebuild [source: Casillo].
Short bursts of speed will help you get the most out of your cardio routine. Think interval training. If you're going for a run, jog for a minute and then sprint for a minute. Work up to a total of about 30 minutes of running.
Watch Your Diet
Without a good diet, you can't reap all the rewards of your hard work. Proper nutrition gives your body the energy it needs to perform your workouts. Junk food may fill you up, but it'll fill you with "empty calories" that have little nutritional value. You'll find it more difficult to complete the last rep of your final set at the gym if your nutrition is lacking [source: Tsang].
Dr. Jeff Volek of the University of Connecticut has come up with a list of eight great foods that will help you pack on the right kind of weight -- muscle. The list includes eggs, almonds, salmon, yogurt, beef, olive oil, water and coffee. Some on the list make sense; eggs provide a great source of protein while fish is rich in omega-3 that helps restore muscles after a tough workout. But what about coffee? Volek says the jolt of caffeine that coffee provides will help you lift longer [source: Campbell].
Use Nutritional Supplements
Supplements are just that, an addition to your diet and workout routine that can help you gain mass and muscle. They come in a variety of forms, from shakes and powders to bars and gels.
One of the most common supplements is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of solid muscle mass. Whey protein, in particular, digests quickly and will help your muscles recover from a workout faster than they otherwise would. You can find it in powder form and blend it into a shake. Protein bars are another convenient choice.
Protein is just one of many popular and effective supplements. Visit your local vitamin or health supplement store for an exhaustive list of options.
Stick With It
The hardest part of your journey won't be your final set of an intense workout or keeping up with your diet, but simply showing the necessary patience and discipline. Going from skinny to buff takes time. There'll be days when it seems easier to skip the routine. It's in those moments that you have to buckle down.
It'll help to take small steps. Rather than focus on gaining 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of muscle, go for 5 pounds (2 kilograms) at a time. You'll reach your goal faster and be more motivated to stick with the plan. Commend yourself for the things you've done rather than all that you have left to finish. It's all about perspective.
Finally, have fun with it and know you're not only getting buff but you're laying the foundation for a lifestyle that'll keep you healthy for years to come.
HowStuffWorks looks at a study linking time spent with childhood friends with improved outcomes in men's health.
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- Stenson, Jacqueline. "Bulking up without 'the juice'." March 2006. (March 24, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11746665/ns/health-fitness/
- Strong Lifts. "How to Build Muscle: The Definitive Guide to Building Muscle." May 2008. (April 3, 2011).http://stronglifts.com/how-to-build-muscle-mass-guide/
- Tsang, Gloria. Health Castle. "What are Empty Calories?" September 2007. (March 24, 2011)http://www.healthcastle.com/empty-calories-foods.shtml