Help me gain weight/muscle tone!!!
January 27, 2009 5:21 PM   Subscribe

How does a total novice gain weight and muscle tone?

I'm 20 years old, 5'5", weigh 125 lbs (I'm very skinny!). I'm tired of it, and I want to change this - problem is, I'm a total novice. I've never been to a gym, and I'm so skinny that I'm too embarrassed to go to one!!! Are there any tips for gaining weight and muscle tone in the comfort of your own home, especially my arms and chest? Are there any tips for potential workout regimens (in a gym or not)?

Also, I should say that I'm not in college right now, so I can't really use any of those facilities.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Based on a bestselling book aimed at coaches of teenage athletes.
This is a FAQ post from a Body Building website; it goes into every detail. Workout routine, technique, nutrition, supplements, etc. Good read.
posted by jckll at 5:29 PM on January 27, 2009

Buy Rippetoe's book, Starting Strength. It's excellent and isn't just for the teenage athletes. Hope you like milk.
posted by Loto at 5:35 PM on January 27, 2009

Backing up cklennon and recommending you check out Starting Strength. In addition to his page, there is a great wiki and you can buy the book.

It's tough to get much stronger without hitting a gym. As a novice, you may be able to put on some lbs doing push ups, pull ups and similar body weight exercises, but to truly be stimulating maximum muscle growth you want to be fatiguing at relatively low rep ranges (like 1-6 or so). I wouldn't sweat going to the gym. I have way more respect for the skinny dude back squatting the bar than the all-arms-no-calves body builder types anyway.

If you do decide to do Starting Strength, the lifting part of it is only half the battle. Diet is just as important. On a program like Starting Strength, it's almost impossible to eat too much. I can't overstate this. If you think you're eating enough, eat more. Then eat some more. At this point, you're probably still eating too little. Some people on the program go so far as to drink a gallon of milk a day on top of their normal diet.
posted by christonabike at 5:44 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

MeMail me if you'd like the book mentioned above - I'm not using it.
posted by Picklegnome at 5:52 PM on January 27, 2009

I agree with the starting strength recommendation. Stay away from muscle mags as they will only guide you to the nearest supplement store and only teach routines that are geared for a competing bodybuilder, rather than the average individual who is looking to get into shape. This is why Rippetoe is ideal, as he teaches you the essential compound movements that will get you strong and not waste your time with a bunch of isolation movements that you don't need. Last but not least, eat, eat, eat ,eat ,eat! You will not gain any muscle starving yourself. By the sounds of it, you have a fast metabolism, so you will probably be eating upwards of 4000 calories a day in order to start putting on some muscle mass. And don't be afraid of the gym. Everyone is there with the same goal and anyone who has the time to pay attention to you is not focusing on their workout which pretty much means they don't belong there..\
posted by scarello at 5:54 PM on January 27, 2009

1.) Eat. A lot. Way more than you want to. Mostly protein and vegetables. Think chicken breasts and broccoli. If you don't know how to cook, learn. It's not hard.

2.) Do step 1 4+ times a day.

3.) Join a gym. Nobody gives a shit, don't worry about anyone laughing at you. This is really what is holding you back, just let go.

4.) Lift weights. Check for exercise descriptions if you don't know what something is. 3 days a week, organized by general groups. Lift as heavy as you can for 5-8 times, take a 1min break, do it again. Do this 3 times, then move on.
Back day (monday): Pullups
Lat pulldowns
Seated rows
Bicep curls
Chest day (wednesday)
Bench press (dumbbells)
Bench press (incline
Bench press (decline)
Deltoid lifts (military press, shoulder press)
Chest flyes
Legs (friday)
Quadricep raises
calf raises

Don't skip a weight day. Don't skip meals.
posted by spatula at 6:01 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As an ectomorph, you're working uphill. You'll have to eat more and train harder than the next guy to make equal gains. That's life.

Eat every few hours - preferably real food, not junk or powders. If you don't feel full basically all the time, you're not eating enough.

Consensus holds that you shouldn't get more aerobic exercise than is necessary for general health.

No workout plan is effective for everyone. Try something for a few weeks and see if it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Your muscle fibers won't be impressed how well it worked for Jay Cutler. Try something else.

As for the rest: anyone whose opinion is worthy of notice will judge someone by their work ethic, not their chest measurement. But remember that we all overestimate the degree to which other people take notice of us.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:02 PM on January 27, 2009

1. Count calories. You can't 'eyeball' the amount of calories you consume in a day. If you are skinny, you are consuming far less than you think.

2. Get a pullup bar and also do inclined pushups.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2009

I'm going to disagree with spatula, you don't need "chest days" or "back days" if all you are doing are big, compound lifts. They are much more effective that isolation in building muscle. Squats, deadlifts, power cleans, presses and pull-ups are all you need to get big and strong.
posted by Loto at 6:05 PM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I like this site. It's pretty straight forward, isn't trying to sell anything and seems to take an evidence based approach. It covers both diet and exercise.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 6:11 PM on January 27, 2009

Starting Strength Wiki

Rippetoe's Forum (be sure you've read the book before you ask any questions; he's a bit crabby sometimes and gets annoyed with people who ask him questions that a quick reference to SS could answer.)

Are there any tips for gaining weight and muscle tone in the comfort of your own home, especially my arms and chest?

If you want to get truly strong, you have to move away from the biceps n' bench mentality. You should train the body as a whole system, not as a collection of unrelated parts. So focus on whole-body, multi-joint exercises like squats and deadlifts. The bench press has a role to play but the squats and deadlifts are the exercises that make you big and strong.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:14 PM on January 27, 2009

The reason I suggest a 3-day split like that is rest is almost as important as lifting. You should aim to work a muscle hard, then let it rest for a week. However you do that. Compound lifts are good. Isolation is fine too, and definitely either is better than not working out or not getting enough resistance. And both won't matter if you're not eating enough.

However if you do the same workout 3x in a row, you aren't giving the damaged muscles time to rebuild themselves.
posted by spatula at 6:18 PM on January 27, 2009

A related question for fitness people in here. Who uses an online calorie counter site? Which? I'm trying to move to an online system but haven't found a good one yet...
Seems like there should be one that has a huge (user-generated?) library of foods, brands, etc and doesn't require entering nutrition labels all the time, just serving sizes, no? (And would presumably work for common restaurant foods where labels aren't available)

posted by jckll at 6:40 PM on January 27, 2009

Erp, that was
posted by jckll at 6:41 PM on January 27, 2009

Visit the Scrawny To Brawny website and buy the book. This program is specifically for us hard-gainers (aka ectomorphs). Essentially it is heavy weights/low reps workouts (but don't start this without a period of strengthening your ligaments and supporting muscles) and eating until you feel sick.
I gaines 20 pounds in 3 months on the plan.
posted by rocket88 at 6:42 PM on January 27, 2009

It depends on what you're after: training for strength and training for size require completely different approaches. Bodybuilding-type training focuses on building muscle mass, and improvement in performance and muscular strength is secondary. Train like a powerlifter, look like a powerlifter. Of course, there's a happy medium somewhere, but a lot depends on your physiology. I've found that compound exercises done with heavy weight and low reps are best for me, and save time too.

If by "muscle tone" you mean "well-defined and ripped," please realize that this is mainly a matter of having a low body fat percentage. You can build perfect six-pack abs, but if they're encased in a slab of abdominal fat, how would you know? Cleaning up your diet is the best thing you can do, which means lots of greens and chicken breasts-- and don't forget the eggs, cottage cheese, canned sardines and tuna.

Quick protein snacks: throw a little salad dressing on a can of tuna, and you're good to go. Cayenne and cajun spice over cottage cheese is one of my favorites quick meals, too. You might consider a getting a whey protein supplement in the form of bars or shakes. A lot of people believe in "real food protein" only, but the drinks and bars are an awfully convenient way to get the calories and nutrients you need.

It's absolutely critical to get protein and carbohydrate within a one-hour window after your workout for recovery-- a topic which can't be stressed enough. Sleep is essential to making progress, too. If you don't get rest and proper nutrition, metabolically, you're better off not doing anything at all. Remember: you don't get big in the workout, you get big during the time you recover.

Here's a weightlifting forum with people who are more than qualified to answer any questions you have, and them some. Definitely one of the friendlier forums around. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 7:07 PM on January 27, 2009

1. Eat shit tons of food.
2. Work out really really hard. If you're just starting to workout you should be sore as hell after every workout for at least two weeks
3. SQUATS AND DEADLIFTS. Do whatever other excercises you like but when it comes to leg/lower back strength there's nothing that even comes close to these two excercises. Leg presses don't count and neither does the Smith Machine.
posted by BrnP84 at 7:40 PM on January 27, 2009

Before you try big compound exercises with free weights, watch online videos and read tutorials to learn proper form. It's WAY too easy to hurt yourself if you don't know what you're doing.

IMO, there's no shame in using the Smith Machine if you don't have a spotter.
posted by aquafortis at 8:02 PM on January 27, 2009

If you want to do this in the privacy of your own home, do pushups. Tons of pushups. I like this program I do it with a group of people and we keep eachother motivated (and honest) by tracking online here. The benefit of gym training for the aspect of having folks to work with, but no embarrassment and noodley arms in public.

You don't need to get all crazy with the extra food and weights. If what you want is a jump start so that you are not embarrassed to go to the gym later, start small. The push ups will be great for your chest and arms.
posted by Edubya at 9:09 PM on January 27, 2009

If you listen to most of this advice you are going to end up injured and your grand ideas will be stopped in their tracks.

If you are going to be maxlifting a lot of olympic lifts You need to research tons on the proper way to do lifts-- use youtube, pictures, books, etc. Better yet find a friend who can help you with this and spot you.

All I could imagine while reading a lot of this advice was a picture of this skinny dude pinned under the free squat bar trapped in a rack.

The eating tons advice is very good though. Too many people go into this thinking that they are going to get big and cut fat or whatever at the same time. That's simply too hard and too ineffective and with how you describe yourself that won't be a concern for awhile.

If I were you I'd ease into it so you can get used to a life change. If you just jump into it you won't be able to make it a routine I don't think.

Start out maybe taking one hour ever day to do at home workouts. Tons of push ups, pull ups, situps. Add in running on days you feel like you need a recovery.

Also, I don't think I saw the word "stretch" mentioned once in here which is ridiculous. Learn, do it, love it.
Here is a good starter site:

Another good thing to ease into the gym that doesn't require a lot of at home equipment is crossfit.
You visit the site everyday, do the work out of the day to whatever specifications you can manage and then go.

p.s. there is no muscle "tone" other than your genetics. You can get bigger muscles and have less fat which in turn gives that "ripped" look.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2009

This must be a first -- almost all of the advice in an askme thread is correct.

Everyone likes Rippetoe's program. I've never tried it, but it certainly hits all the basics. Before you try squats and deadlifts, look at videos (like this) and make sure you're flexible enough. You'll have to be able to get your hips pretty low while keeping your back straight, which might mean spending a few weeks just stretching your hamstrings.

If I were you I would find a gym that has a power cage. You can set up bars to catch the weight should you fail at a rep, so you don't die. It's important for squatting and benching. (With deadlifting, it's impossible to die under the bar.) I don't know what you're work situation looks like, but since I'm self-employed I go to my gym at 10 in the morning when no-one else is there.

Being well-defined is a function of body fat ... for your abs. It's hard to get fat on your shoulders. So if I were you, I wouldn't worry about staying lean at first, especially if you're already skinny, I would just eat. Drink a gallon of milk a day, esp. right after you lift, and eat lots of eggs.

No-one will laugh at you in the gym for being skinny.
posted by creasy boy at 12:55 AM on January 28, 2009

You've got some great advice already. I'm going to throw this in to make you feel a bit better:

I was almost the exact same size as you.... only I was 5 inches taller and the same weight. I looked like a human scarecrow. I worked out a ton and -did- get lot of muscle definition, but never got a whole lot "bigger" although I did get a lot stronger. I looked like Iggy Pop (minus the crazed heroin look in the eyes of course lol)

However around age 24-25... my metabolism shifted and suddenly I could actually put on weight and gain muscle mass fairly easily. I went from 130'ish to 160'ish with little effort compared to how hard I busted my ass before.

That doesn't help you right this second, I know, but I've talked to others and many guys who were skinny as hell like me had a similar metabolism shift/testosterone surge in their mid-20s.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 6:53 AM on January 28, 2009

So here's a question to all those recommending eating a lot.

How do you determine how much is right without gaining fat by mistake? And how do you avoid training yourself into an eating routine that's just going to make you fat once you're done gaining muscle and want to stick to maintenance?
posted by canine epigram at 10:24 AM on January 28, 2009

If you listen to most of this advice you are going to end up injured and your grand ideas will be stopped in their tracks.

If you are going to be maxlifting a lot of olympic lifts You need to research tons on the proper way to do lifts-- use youtube, pictures, books, etc. Better yet find a friend who can help you with this and spot you.

That's an odd comment. The advice here is sound -- read Starting Strength, do the program, eat a lot. If you follow that advice you're not going to get hurt, as you'll know proper form and you'll be starting with very light weights.

It will also help immensely if you have someone knowledgeable to observe your form or to get your form on video. I can tell you from experience that it's possible to know what you're supposed to be doing and think you're doing it right but not actually be doing it right at all.

And there are only two Olympic lifts -- the snatch and the clean and jerk -- and no one has mentioned them in this thread.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2009

These guys have great videos and routines that take into account your experience/fitness level. You won't look all nice and buff, but you'll be able to do amazing things with your body.

I'm not personally acquainted with their universal strength apparatus, but it looks both practical and fun (I just don't have anywhere to hang it from). Registration on the site is free, and most exercises can be performed with the structures you find at any public or school park.
posted by subajestad at 12:23 PM on January 28, 2009

I was 188 lbs... and 6'9". I feel ya on the thin.

Join the YMCA, or a JCC, or any community-based gym. There's so much less pressure at community gyms to already be in shape; you'll see old people, young people, thin people and fat people everywhere. If the gym feels like it's pressure, find a better gym for you.

Avoid magazines. They're the exercise equivalent of Cosmo. Eat enough food, which will be more than you're eating now. Don't eat junk food. Sleep enough. Work out more.

Avoid heavy weights until you're able to run a mile, and until you're able to do the same exercise with lighter weights With Good Form. If you go too heavy, too fast, you'll only injure yourself, and that's not the way you wanna go.
posted by talldean at 8:08 PM on February 10, 2009

« Older please hope me.   |   Which is better - integrated nForce 420 or... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.