If you are a naturally skinny guy, and just starting your workout journey, my recommendation is to focus on the main lifts and getting a foundation of strength. I think it’s too easy for us to jump right into tons of junk volume because most articles, and advanced bodybuilders need lots of volume and we assume the same for ourselves. The truth is, you can’t compare yourself to someone that advanced. The whole reason they NEED more volume is BECAUSE they’re advanced. Their body doesn’t grow off of the same amount of sets as a beginner or intermediate.
I’ll give a sample workout that is good to start with to give you an idea, then I’ll get into the science behind why I recommend this.
Frequency: 2-3x a week (keep 1-2 days of rest in between to recover)
Length: 3 week cycle with one week deload
Sets & Reps: 2-5 sets with 3-6 reps per exercise (rest up to 3 minutes between sets)
Day 1 -
Barbell Squats 4x5
Bench Press 4x5
Weight/Assisted Pull-ups 3x5
Barbell Curls 2x6-8
EZ Bar Skullcrushers 2x6-8
Day 2 -
Overhead Press 4x5
Seated Row 3x5
Dumbbell Shrugs 3x3-6
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 2x6-8
Day 3 (only if you aren’t sore and are recovering from Day 2) -
Romanian Deadlifts 4x5
Incline Bench 4x5
One Arm Dumbbell Row 3x5
Lateral Raises 3x6-8
Preacher Curls 2x6-8
Tricep Pushdowns 2x6-8
The first thing you should notice is that it’s a full body program. The reason for this is that a natural lifter needs to send the muscle building signal. They can only send that through their workout, whereas an enhanced lifter can do it through anabolics. The signal also goes back down to baseline after 48 hours so to take full advantage of this you’d ideally want to hit the muscle 2-3 times a week. The science also shows 4-6 sets per muscle is the optimal amount of sets to maximize this signal. So there is no reason to do all 10-15 sets of chest on one day. This is why we aren’t doing a body part split. It doesn’t make sense for a natural lifter.
Intensity and Volume
The overall goal is to add either more sets, or more reps week to week. This should be relatively easy when you are new to lifting, but you will hit a plateau at some point. When adding weight week to week slows down significantly I recommend a double progression.
Double Progression - Take a set rep range for a given exercise, and each week try and increase the reps until all sets hit the upper limit. Allows for continued progress when you can’t continually up the weight by 5lbs every week of linear method.
Week 1 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (let's say you hit 12,11,10 reps for each set)
Week 2 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,11)
Week 3 - Bench Press 3x10-12 with 135lbs (12,12,12)
At this point since you’ve hit all sets for the upper end, you can now up to 140 and repeat the cycle till you hit all sets for 12 reps again.
Novice - 8-10 weekly sets per muscle
Intermediate - 12-15 sets
Advanced - 15+ sets
When you are starting out, you only need 8-10 sets for each muscle. Again, you don’t need to do it all in one session like a body part split. You’re better off spreading it out. Not only does it allow for optimal stimulation, but you’ll come to those exercises more recovered allowing you to push a heavier weight than if you tried to do say cable flyes after 6 sets of different bench pressing.
Ideally you want to be phasing your workouts. That is, you’d focus on a rep range of 6-8 (like above) for 4-6 weeks and then deload. Then the next 4-6 weeks maybe you’ll try similar exercises in the 10-12 rep range and deload again. Different rep ranges stimulate the muscles differently, allowing for a stimulus that causes growth in all forms. Also, make sure to be choosing a weight that allows you to hit whatever rep range you choose leaving 2-3 reps shy of technical failure
Make sure you are deloading at the end of those 4-6 weeks. As you try to add more weight, or do more reps week to week, your body should start to accumulate more and more fatigue to where you hit a point that you can’t beat last week's performance. That’s when you know you need a deload. The deload week is when you do half as many sets, and half as many reps but with the same weight you used on your final week. It allows your body to catch up recovering to the accumulated volume you’ve placed on it for 4-6 weeks. This is very important if you want to grow.
I have no doubt if you follow the guidelines placed in this article, and are eating in a caloric surplus, you will absolutely put on lean body mass. When it comes to the gym, putting on size, even for a naturally skinny guy, is no different than anyone else. You need to be consistently showing up to the gym, progressively overloading the weights (even if that means small increments), and trying to beat last weeks performance. Any skinny client I’ve had that hasn’t hit their goals either 1) wasn’t eating enough (you most likely need 3500-4000 calories MINIMUM to grow) or 2) They didn’t track their performance in the gym, and even though they thought they were increasing in weight, it was really just fluctuating up and down based on how they felt that week so they never actually progressed. What gets measured gets improved! Make sure to record each week's numbers!