I am underweight. How do I gain weight and muscle?

  • I am a man in my twenties. Although I am 5 feet 6 inches tall, I weigh only 100 pounds. I want to gain weight as soon as possible. How do I gain weight and muscle as fast as possible?

    For future readers, don't sacrifice quality for speed. Natural bodybuilding is a hobby of patience.

    5ft6 and 100lbs indicates a BMI of just over 16 which is pretty badly underweight. Eat.

    This article has a different but rather simple approach.

  • To gain good weight, to bulk, to add muscle, you need to:

    1. Stimulate growth by lifting heavy
    2. Provide fuel for growth by eating a lot
    3. Prioritize your goal by getting your life in order

    Most healthy people who do these things gain weight. Mostly muscle.


    Tell your body that it needs to get bigger by lifting heavy.

    Either buy a barbell and a power rack, or join a gym that has one. Get a copy of Starting Strength (the wiki is a good overview and quick-start guide; the book is a full description of the program, including excellent instructions on the lifts) and start lifting heavy. Compound exercises like squats, chin-ups, deadlifts, and presses will stimulate whole-body growth. Light, easy weights won't make you bigger or stronger, so while it's important to stay safe, make sure you're lifting heavy, challenging weights. Lifting three times per week is probably the best compromise between frequent exercise and ample rest.

    2. EAT BIG

    Provide your body the raw materials it needs to make you bigger.

    Eat a ton of food. Real food is far superior to processed crap, but you'll need to eat a lot. Your best bets are high-animal-protein items like meat, eggs, milk, and fish, but you should also make sure to eat a huge amount of vegetables, greens, starches such as sweet potatoes and rice, and good fats like pastured butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado.

    If you're ever hungry, you're not eating enough. When in doubt, eat more. Lots more. Plan your meals. Cook in advance.


    There are things which get in the way of growing muscle. Decide if getting bigger and stronger is actually your goal. It's okay if it's not.

    Things which can hamper your getting-bigger-and-stronger goal include:

    • Not sleeping enough
    • Not sticking to the heavy-lifting-and-big-eating program detailed above
    • Endurance exercise or high-intensity conditioning, which could include running, cycling, swimming, long hikes, snowboarding, metcons, sprinting, HIIT, ball sports...
    • Being too stressed, working too much, not getting enough sun or social life
    • Being a picky eater
    • Refusing to acquire necessary equipment

    Rest is crucial. Sleep is the primary time for your body to grow. Staying up talking with friends is what makes life enjoyable, but six hours of sleep will keep you from growing. The body also does a lot of growing on days off from lifting, so don't fill those up with other exercise. Certain types of exercise are more prone preventing muscle gain than others. Running is great--I love sprints!--but it doesn't help make me bigger.

    I want to get bigger and stronger, but sometimes I also want to play Ultimate frisbee or go hiking. When I'm serious about getting bigger, I skip the hiking or keep it short, and I don't play Ultimate. When I'm okay with progressing slowly, I go ahead and play Ultimate and go on longer hikes, but I realize that they are counterproductive to the sole pursuit of getting bigger and stronger.

    The same goes for food. I value food quality. I vastly prefer organic vegetables, local produce, and grass-fed meat and eggs for a variety of economic, ethical, and health reasons. For lunch at work, I need to choose between planning ahead and cooking beforehand, getting a factory-farm-meat sandwich from the deli, or going hungry and stymieing my growth. There are similar choices for vegetarians and people with other food restrictions.

    Many people are short on money or space, and wonder if there are alternatives to a barbell and squat rack. The simple fact is that barbells are best for getting bigger and stronger. Other methods like dumbbells or even bodyweight exercises definitely work, but a barbell and squat rack is the simplest and fastest solution. Why? First, it can be loaded in small increments, so you can progressively challenge yourself without big jumps in weight. Second, barbells allow for much heavier loads than anything else. Without proper equipment, progress is slower and less effective.

    Understand these choices and make them for yourself.

    I don't think that 'Part 3: Prioritize' can be emphasized enough.

    +1 for compound exercises. Isolation exercises are a nice muscle finisher but compound exercises are what's needed to get some results in this case. Also eating big is so important, can't emphasize this enough. Really nice wrap up Dave.

    Starting Strength appears to be a good program, but the downside is that I would need to buy a barbell and bench. Is there an equally good program that works with free weights, preferably dumbells?

    Equally good, no. Barbells are best for getting bigger and stronger. Why? Because they can be loaded in small increments, and allows for MUCH heavier loads than dumbbells (Why? It fits on your shoulders instead of making you hold it, and it has more space for plates.) If you have access to a wide array of heavy dumbbells, you could do a facsimile, but you'd be taking a big hit on the "priority" part of things. Your progress would be **much** slower. I recommend a barbell and squat rack. If you don't want to get a bench, do dips until you can do 20 in 1 set, then do weighted dips.

    haha I think that other question should be marked as duplicate. Great minds think alike I suppose. Eat Big Lift Big, that's the key.

    I definitely don't agree with the part when you say you stay away from endurance for getting big. That would be right if it happened a lot, but running at a slow pace once a week is actually an excellent thing and in my honnest opinion never *ever* be removed. Don't forget your heart needs to be strong as well, with bodybuilding you're making it go from 0 to 100 all the time.

    @Sebas I'm not against endurance work in general, but running long and slow *in no way helps* and *definitely interferes with* getting bigger and stronger. Especially for people who are new to lifting (with the goal of gaining size) or having trouble putting on weight, endurance work just isn't called for. Those people can get their heart strong with 20-rep squats or 5x5 overhead press. However, I strongly encourage you to write up your own answer that describes your approach.

    Hi @DaveLiepmann, my approach is the same as yours except for the endurance part. I'm pretending to bring nuances to your speech, explaining that probably running once a week a 45min race at a slow fat burning pace is a great thing that does not even interfere with overall performances (I tried to put my squat day 2 days after, it doesn't change anything, even on the long term) To be clear, I also believe that beyond that limit there's a strong chance of interferences.

    @Sebas An answer consisting of your two comments would most likely garner upvotes.

    @DaveLiepmann But that's not describing how to gain weight :-) Thank you anyway. I really think I should not add anything, even though there's a bounty suggesting I should, since I believe this answer is awesome and should be printed in every bathroom with latin caligraphic styled letters :-) "You shall eat heavy"

    @DaveLiepmann, what would be the ideal amount of days to rest every week?

    @Ramin That would make a good question of its own! I'm no authority on the topic, but I think it depends greatly on your level of training and your goals. For a novice just interested in size and strength, three days a week, each separated by at least a day, is a common recommendation that's worked for me.

    @SubhajitPanja - Comments are for clarifying questions and answers, you are posting a new question. However, questions about "Is X supplement for me" are generally closed as off topic because they are primarily opinion based.

    I don't have equipments @DaveLiepmann So I think I can do only Squats, I guess it doesn't need equipements. But I don't know fully what is squat and how to do it?

  • If you want to gain muscle and strength, then you need to


    Don't buy into the 'hardgainer' non-sense.

    Calories In > Calories Expended = Weight Gain

    That's the simplest way I can put it. If you eat like a skinny person, you will gain weight like a skinny person (little to none). Proper nutrition is of course next but a little out of scope for this question. Suffice it to say that 1k-2k calories above what you burn during the day is a good start. To make it easier try drinking 1/2-1 gallon of milk per day and/or a small jar of peanut butter per day. Also, keep the sweet tooth in check.

    Lift Heavy

    There is a simple plan for lifting to get big: compound exercises, and actually lifting heavy. These are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at one time (think squat, deadlift, press), as opposed to isolation exercises that only concentrate, or isolate, one muscle or muscle group at a time (bicep curls, for example). Isolation exercises have their purpose, but not in this particular application.

    When I say lift heavy, I don't mean go in and hurt yourself. I mean every time you lift, you should add a little more weight than you previously used when you did that workout. This is how you measure your strength progress. You don't have to try and keep up with the guy who's been lifting for 10 years.

    You can join a gym that has free weights, or if you have the means and space, you can build your own 'gym' that has everything you need, and it would only cost about one year's membership at a typical gym where I am ($360-$600/yr on the low end).

    For a practical application and more detail to this approach, there is a book called Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, who talks about this very thing.

    Is it possible to target the shoulders without isolation exercises?

    If by 'target' you mean 'work' the shoulders, then yes. The press is primarily a shoulder exercise, and the bench press and deadlift also work the shoulders. Even the squat works the shoulders technically. Come to think of it, they *all* work the shoulders.

    I don't have equipments @MDMoore313 So I think I can do only Squats, I guess it doesn't need equipements. But I don't know fully what is squat and how to do it?

  • Make this website your best friend: http://www.t-nation.com/

    Here's a little checklist I wrote for myself.

    BULKING: after figuring out calorie needs bump up the number 600-1,000 calories every single day

    • more calories per bite
    • add olive oil to everything
    • big Ziploc bag fill w/ almonds, cashews, raisin, peanuts, M&Ms, snack throughout the day
    • protein shakes in water after every single meal
    • shake before bed in ice and water (add whipping cream, PB, egg whites, nuts)
    • 2 tbsp of Peanut Butter 2xday
    • eat something during training session (Musclemilk)
    • decrease cardio
    • hypertrophy program, workouts can never last over an hour
  • I don't know if this is practical for you, but joining a gym and hiring a personal trainer may be the most effective option. That's what I did right after I graduated college, and I found it worked out very well. I worked with a experienced trainer once a week (and lifted once a week on my own), and put on about 10lbs of muscle mass in the next year and a half. Not much compared to a good body builder, but I was very pleased. Best money I ever spent.

    I'd tried to lift on my own before, but I kept having subtle errors in my lifting form, and kept getting joint pain I didn't know how to deal with... if you've never done sports before, lifting can be surprisingly complicated and technical. I found it REALLY helped to have someone there watching me to correct my problems.

    That being said, the advise given above is all basically good (Mark Rippeote is a great strength coach, there are youtube clips of him coaching the deadlift that are among the best I've seen). But I'd think for a real beginner (like I was), its just better to start off with 1 on 1 supervision.

    Oh, be careful about consuming too many calories when you're lifting. Your body can only gain so muscle at a time, any calories beyond that get stored as fat. You really only need a few hundred extra calories a day (mostly from high quality proteins, like whey supplements, skim milk, eggs, lean meats). I've made the mistake of eating too much, and gaining equal amounts of muscle and fat, which I then had to go and lose.

    Good luck.

  • first of all your ideal weight in KG is (Height in cms - 100), hence (168 - 100) = 68 KG.

    Secondly your goal is pretty simple: Gain weight, however in order to help you i am going to make a few assumptions and then provide a program for each, and then you may choose which way you want to go. the following (Different) assumptions can be extracted out of your post, each has a different difficulty level.

    1) You think you are skinny and you want to gain weight to look healthy, average posture, hence gain healthy amount of fat and muscle to look normal, in return you dont really care about how you gain this weight, as long you get to look like a average healthy person.

    Difficulty level: 4

    2) You want to gain weight in form of lean muscle, with visible 6 pack ?

    Difficulty level: 9

    3) You dont really care about lean muscle, as long you look big (little or no visible six packs, but average belly). Difficulty level: 6

    Now steps to achieve each of those goals.

    1) Start eating more often, and more than you can, try not to get the hunger feeling, eat before you get hungry and eat different things throughout the day. Eat as soon as you wakeup, and try to eat every 2-3 hours, keep up the cardio, however keep it to minimum (20 mins twice a week). and next to this you may continue doing any other sports activities that you are already doing.

    2) You need to consume atleast 3000 calores a day, start counting them. About 70% of it from protein, rest from healthy carbs, healthy fats, eat enough fibre (vegetables), stay away from bread, drink a lot of water. Go to gym 5 times a week, do 1 muscle group once a week, train for 45 minutes max, do 12, 10, 8 reps (increase weight accordingly). Lift heavy and hard. Be strict about eating healthy, be strict about going to the gym, be strict about sleeping on time and at least 8 hours, Stay away from alcohol.

    3) Eat whatever you get your hands on, however do vary what you eat. eat often and a lot. go to gym 3 times a week, combine 2 muscle groups each day, do basic exercises. Bench, Pull-ups, Squats, DeadLifts, Clean press, Stiff leg dead-lifts, Pulldowns, Lunges, Bicep curls, SHoulder press etc, however try to use just the free weights. do 10, 8, 6, 4 reps 3 exercises per muscle, 3 to 4 sets each muscle.

    great information, dunno about agreeing with the ideal weight aspect but I see you're providing general information as a template to look at.

    @Andreas Yeah, the ideal weight thing must be a crock. Ideal for...???

  • I would suggest picking up a copy of the latest edition of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and following the program to the letter till linear progression stops Eat to support your goals. If you goals are to get bigger and stronger then eat bigger and stronger. One gram of protein per pound of body weight, get your vegetables in there, and if needed chug some milk every day.

  • Gaining weight quickly can be as dangerous as losing weight quickly. If you are equating muscle to weight, in your question, then you will definitely need some exercise regiment to convert calories and bulk the muscle mass.

    That said, the smartest path forward is to do so under the guidance of your doctor and a personal trainer. But if these warnings are meaningless to you then I'd suggest you follow the following method:

    5 Tips to Gain Weight Easily and Safely

    1. Set a realistic goal weight
    2. Record what you eat
    3. Stick to healthy foods
    4. Add extra calories
    5. Eat regularly

    Don’t forget to exercise You may have been afraid to exercise in case it led to increased weight loss.

    But, regular exercise plays a key part in helping you gain weight in a healthy way, and it’s really important for maintaining strong bones and muscle tone.

    Just remember to maintain your increased food intake, with enough extra calories so you continue to gain weight gradually.

    Walking would be an excellent choice of physical activity (aim for 30 minutes, five days a week). Resistance training, using weights, may also be a good choice to help you build muscle strength.

    If you’re concerned about being underweight, do make an appointment to see your doctor, who can check for underlying conditions which may be preventing you from gaining weight.

    That last line says it best!

    Good answer! One minor point of disagreement: I wouldn't use BMI, like the linked article suggests.

    I agree, I only use a BMI as a reference point and not as a goal. Even though the article does mention BMI, it does follow the chart with... **BMI Chart accuracy…** Please remember that a BMI Chart can be a very inaccurate form of measurement. Just because you get a 26, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overweight.

  • As a man who had the same problem - let me tell you my findings on the matter. Muscle gain is very dependent on your biological makeup. Any weight gain is. What works for 80% may not work for you.

    I'm at 180 cm height and had 62-65 kg most of my life while force feeding myself and hitting gym 3 times a week (not slacking there, I don't have time to waste).

    The final solution for me turned out to be fully changing the approach - I now choose a muscle group and concentrate on it for two consecutive days working it out till total exhaustion. For example - bench press with a dumbbell. I start with two weights of 27 kg each (limit of my home dumbbells), do 3-4 sets of 10-20-15-X repetitions (I warm-up with 10 on the first set and then do as much repetitions per every set as I can push out). Every time I fail to perform 8 repetitions in a set, I remove some weight. So, after the first sets, I reduce each weight to 25 kg and continue, till I cant lift them 8 times again. Then I reduce weight to 23 and so on, usually, each weight stage gets 1-3 sets in it. I do it till each dumbbell drops to just 12-10 kg. At about 14 kg I have to do repetitions at a very slow rate, making it more of a static load (or else it doesn't exhaust the muscles enough). I stop when I can't lift even 10 kg in each hand 8 times. All in all - I do 24+ sets of the same exercise slowly reducing the weight.

    The very next day I repeat the entire process, except that starting sets are more like 10-15-X, since muscles haven't completely restored.

    Such training sessions are long - usually 1.5 hours - if you consider that all that time is spent on just one type of exercise. It is important to keep yourself hydrated, have good cardio and at least some stamina on the muscles involved before you load them fully. Also, only major muscles can be worked like that, but I assume that where you want the growth?

    To sum it up:

    • my approach for years was - training every other day, 4-6 exercise types that don't repeat till next week, 3-5 sets per type, weight growing - they kept me fit, but I saw no muscle growth;
    • I switched to concentrating on one muscle group - 2 sessions on consecutive days, one exercise type for both, 24+ sets each with warmup -> max weight -> slowly reducing weight to keep muscles at the limit. Third session each week is whatever you like. Concentrate on one major muscle group for a month, then switch to another. If time and cardio permits - have 4 sessions for two muscle groups (i.e. Tuesday + Wednesday for bench press and Friday + Sunday for legs). Month of such training should be enough for you to see, does your body react to it. If it does, you will see visual results (and a weight loads increase).

    Hope my experience helps you.

    Sorry, not sure from the post how this affected your growth?

  • As a follower of the Quantified Self movement, I've tracked carefully my progress on Occam's Protocol (a more realistic version of From Geek to Freak by Tim Ferriss). In three weeks, I gained 2lbs of muscle and 2.2lbs of fat. This was shown by DXA body scans, the most precise and advanced technique for measuring body composition.

    Back in 2011, these gains happened despite me not respecting the diet and the sleep components of the routine.

    In November 2013, I started a new trial of the Occam's Protocol, this time carefully following the diet and getting enough sleep. Yes, you do have to make muscle gain a priority and be very clear that this is what you want at this point in your life.

  • I know this is an old question, but I can provide this with a different approach and a different perspective.

    My advices are provided and to be utilized as long as you are healthy and don't have any majour disease.

    Part of what I'm actually writing is taken from a book I've written myself that has the structure of a notional book with plenty of reference and research in the scientific field ( so I will try basically to make a big sum of what the book is about, since it answers the exact same question you're making ).

    So here the key factor is: as soon as possible. Thus we want to focus on two particular stimuli taken by training: metabolic and mechanic.

    Here's the question: why didn't I just come up with the old sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy tale? First of all because it has not convincingly been proved by academic research and still dwells in the limbo between broscience and science. Secondly, most of the people in the field tend to approach the argument with an only regard to cytoplasm ( also known as sarcoplasm ) and myofibrils.

    Hypertrophy is far more complex than that. Expecially if you want to comprehend all its mechanism ( and yet not everything is understood ).

    So I'm going with mechanical hypertrophy stimulus, and metabolic hypertrophy stimulus.

    You may argue that is basically the same thing, but actually I'm putting emphasis on the cause and not on the consequence and that is crucial.

    1. Metabolic hypertropic stimulus

      The metabolic hypertrophy stimulus actually involves "no" part in mechano transduction ( how biologically the body translate the loading on the muscle in molecular signals ). Actually this signal is translated as the amount of work at the given intensity the body does. The molecule that does that is called calmodulin, and is sensitive to calcium transient inside the muscle cell and actually targets its downstreams and produces changes in the muscle ( changes in the organelles, enzymes, and structure ). [1]
    2. Mechanical hypertrophy stimulus

      This particular signal relies mostly on mechanotransductors. These molecules are actually not yet fully understood, but some of these molecules are being proposed and proven as effective mechanotransductors. Their role is to actually translate the mechanical stress on the muscule architecture in actual molecular signals that enhance protein synthesis.[2,3,4] And this stimulus is important because one of the main actors in this scenario is the cytoskeleton ( never mentioned in any discussion about hypertrophy ). Why is important? Because cytoskeleton has a crucial role in the muscle ( besides all the others ): transmitting tension to the whole structure and transversely.[5]

    Why is this all important? Because now it all boils down to understanding why I'm giving you these advices regarding the periodization.

    I have two approaches on the subject, but I'm going to take the most succesfully proven one in terms of scientific reference.

    But first, two "MUST DO" before you get started.

    1. Always work on your flexibility: at least one day in every microcycle you have to work on whole body flexibility to keep that fascia healty. The reason is because cytoskeleton, to work at his best, needs tension to be transmitted evenly and nicely along the whole muscle lenght and width. Only having a good and healthy fascia you will maximize your mechanical stimulus and avoid injuries. This workout session can be put either on a separate day as the resistance training ones, or you can utilize the time before training ( I strongly recommend ) to perform an active stretching mixed with warm-up exercises.
    2. Always work the tecnique of the main exercises: I am referring to basic foundations on squats, deadlifts and overhead press ( I don't recommend Bench Press to anyone ). Tecnique work is more a mental work. You're trying to build the neural patterns and actually internalize the movement so the motor skill become as familiar as possible in the correct way. You have to learn with proper emulative exercise ( splitting the exercise in chunks and work on the muscle to activate in that particular moment ) to activate muscle groups and use them all.

    Now we can go on with the actual periodization finally.

    Even if litterature has tons of good reviews on the subject resistance training for beginners, I want to give you my approach. However, this is a comprehensive review that at the best of my knowledge is the most accurate.

    Goin on from this you want to focus on mostly one thing: FREQUENCY over volume.

    First of all because is a known FACT that novices needs not big training loads to induce a supercompensation phenomenon and I could reference you with plenty of books, but I limit myself to two:

    • "Periodization: Theory and methodology of training " Tudor O. Bompa, G. Gregory Haff
    • " Block periodization: breakthrough in sport training " Vladimir Issurin

    With this out of the way give frequency the priority in the microcycle. For exemple if you want to have a total volume of 30 sets, don't burn them all on the same workout but divide them by 3 or by 5. Give this characteristic to your microcycle and you will grow AS FAST as your body can possibly do.

    Intensity/voume ratio: you can actually utilize the Undulated Periodization ( at microcycle ); it means you're actually changing in a wave fashion the ratio between the two ( Ex. one micro is high volume - low intensity, next is medium and medium and next is low volume high intensity ). This will provide the best of the two types of stimulii I've explained to you.

    Nutrition advices

    Here the thing is more simple. But I dont know if you have any ethical standpoint on nutrition or if there's any food you can't eat for mediacal reasons so I will keep myself in general.

    Do not go crazy on protein! It has been long debunked and litterature is FULL of biased studies on the actual link between grams of protein x Kg body mass. Just eat enough carbs and you will be good to go. Focus more on having a sustainable lifestyle approach to nutrition that benefits you first with great health, and only after muscle mass will come.

    As long as you are energy replenished your AMPK inside the muscle cell will not be phosphorylated by the low AMP:ATP ratio and will not inhibit the Akt/mTOR pathway and your protein synthesis will work smoothly.

    I'm not an expert on nutrition so I'm not going to make the step longer than my reach.

    Hope it helped, I tried to fill as much info in less lines possible. If anyone has any question be free to ask.

    Great answer, few questions: Why do you omit bench-press? (Do you also omit rowing barbell movements?). Can you be more specific on your recommended macronutrient breakdown (how does one know what 'enough carbs' is) for supporting gaining muscle mass?

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM