Gain muscle but keep the six-pack?
April 3, 2010 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way for me to gain a bit of muscle, without losing my six-pack? I'm skinny and would like to fill out a little bit. I keep getting advice that I have to eat a lot in addition to working out. The next part is silly, but please bear with me: I like having a six-pack. What are your personal experiences with going from skinny to athletic while trying to keep your ab definition? I'm a guy.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just work out, build muscle and keep your bodyfat percentage where it is now. Moreover, building muscle will help you keep your bodyfat percentage low.

Six-pack abs are part bodyfat, part muscle and part genes. So long as you're not increasing your caloric intake beyond what you're burning, you'll be fine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2010

The point of "eat more" is that you need to build new muscle out of something, so if you're already burning all your calories, you need to shovel some more in. That doesn't necessarily mean you're going to grow a gut. Just keep active, and you'll be fine.

One muscle group that will instantly morph you from skinny guy to "why hello there!" is lats, which are easy as heck: Just get a chin-up bar and do some pullups. While you're up there, just raise your legs, and hey presto, you're working your abs at the same time.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 PM on April 3, 2010

1) This is not really the best forum for this question, and you may get some very goofy answers.

2) You haven't provided enough info to get good answers anyway. It's going to depend quite a bit on your age, your height and weight, and what your strength level is currently.

Most people that start out lean and try to gain muscle, unless they are going through puberty or have exceptional genetics, will gain some fat along with it. Often they choose to accept some fat gain with their muscle gain and work on reducing it down the road once they've become big and strong. If you haven't ever trained seriously before, and especially if you're very skinny to begin with, it's possible to gain a great deal of muscle in a matter of months if you commit to it properly. However, guys who are super-concerned about their six-packs tend to not eat properly for muscle gain, so they stall in their training and stay skinny and weak. Here's an article that addresses this cliche.

In general, in order to gain muscle while minimizing fat gain, you're going to have to train hard with heavy weights and pay a lot of attention to your diet, both in terms of the quantity and quality of your nutrition as well as its timing. Beware that the diet part may be no fun, depending on what your eating habits are like now and how wedded you are to the whole low-bodyfat thing.

Training hard with heavy weights means focusing on exercises that incorporate the most muscle mass with the longest range of motion -- the most important ones will be the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the press -- and increasing your strength as much as possible on those lifts. It may behoove you to seek out a qualified coach to teach you the lifts (and anyone who tells you not to squat, or not to squat past 90 degrees isn't a qualified coach), or you can learn them from a book like Starting Strength. Bodybuilding programs that involve many exercises for small muscles can be useful for guys who are already big and strong and are looking to do detail work, but they will not get you very far as a skinny beginner.

In terms of diet advice, you can find lots of tips on Lyle McDonald's, as well as this nutrition Q&A forum with John Sheaffer. In general, bodybuilders tend to be the ones most concerned with being very lean, but their training advice is often highly tainted with bullshit, as laid out in the article above. You may have to do some trial and error or find a good coach.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:07 PM on April 3, 2010 [8 favorites]

You could check out leangains. I think the guy is kind of a kook but he's definitely obsessed with being both insanely lean and strong.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:31 PM on April 3, 2010

Don't listen to any responses besides ludwig_van. You will probably get a lot of other, varied replies, and some of them will sound easier, but ludwig_van's is the most correct.

To clarify a bit on the diet bit -- you want to up your protein to at least 1 g per lb of body weight per day. Increase your caloric intake mainly through protein and fat, not carbs.
posted by telegraph at 2:00 PM on April 3, 2010

Aye, ludwig_van covered it pretty well.

I was like you, a skinny guy. 6'4, 155lb. Sure, I had a 6-pack, but I was so skinny I still didn't wanna take my shirt off, as super-skinny guys with abs are, in my humble opinion, a joke.

So, I ate my face off. 4000 calories a day, lifting 4 days a week, with a different core lift each day. Basically: Mon:Squat, tues:military, thurs: deadlift, friday: bench.

I would also do auxiliary lifts each day to supplement these lifts. Like after a military day I'll do pullups and dips, after a deadlift day I might do lunges and calf-raises, etc. Hit whatever you feel like would add to the core lift that day.

Oh and don't cheat. If you need to use lighter weight to maintain good form, by all means use lighter weights. Form > 10 extra pounds. check out T-nation as well, I learned a LOT from this website. I don't buy all their supplements and stuff, just straight protein powder, but I went from 155-180 in like.. 6 months by eating right and lifting hard.

During that time, I did abs MAYBE once a month, lost the abs. Then, like a week ago, I decided to do abs every workout day for like.. 3 minutes at the end of every workout, and they came right back. If you're skinny and eat right abs are easy to get. Big arms, big legs, a big chest and a massive back are all, in my opinion, worth more then skinny-man abs.
posted by irishcoffee at 3:52 PM on April 3, 2010

Honestly, you can't go wrong with squats.
posted by electroboy at 4:48 PM on April 3, 2010

Ross Enamait of Rosstraining wrote an article about exactly this subject--gaining weight without gaining fat or sacrificing athletic performance.

Anyway the gist of the article is: eat large portions of nutritious food with lots of protein, work hard on multi joint movements, and skip the aerobics in favor of high-intensity conditioning circuits and the like.

Ross is a beast. Google images has some pictures of the guy, and it sounds like his physique is what you're looking for.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:37 AM on April 4, 2010

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