Hard-gainers or ectomorphs believe it's difficult for them to build muscle because of genetics. But more often than not, they're training too hard, not allowing enough time to recover, and not eating enough. Seriously, it boils down to the simplest of setbacks. But these workouts provided by Ben Bruno, a strength coach in North Andover, MA, will set you up for success.

Part 1: The Strategy

Eat Up

Aim for a gram of protein per pound of your body weight every day. So if you weigh 180 pounds, eat 180 grams. Take in starchy carbs like potatoes, rice, and oats; and snack on high-calorie (but healthy) foods like nuts, seeds, and other sources of good fats. If you don’t have the time or energy to commit to anything else, just remember to eat a lot of food every day. Once a week, weigh yourself in the morning after you’ve used the toilet and before you eat or drink anything. You should gain about a pound per week. (If you don’t, you’re not eating enough.)

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Train Better, Not Harder

You can stimulate muscle growth with very few exercises as long as they’re done with heavy weight and they activate as many muscle fibers as possible. The workouts here have only four moves per session, but they’ll be anything but easy. If you’re the type who’s used to light circuits or bodybuilding routines that try to isolate every muscle, this is just what you need to grow.


Getting eight hours of sleep per night is crucial for growth-hormone release. “A nap every day in addition is even better if you can get it,” Bruno adds. In between workouts, get massages or use a foam roller to work out knots in your muscles and improve blood flow. Making these part of your routine enhances recovery.

Keep a Log

This program’s main focus is to increase strength, so “record all your numbers,” Bruno says. Every week, strive to improve by adding more weight or more reps. As your strength goes up, muscle size will always follow.

Part 2: The Workouts


Frequency: Perform each workout (Day I, II and III) once per week, resting at least a day between each session.
Time Needed: 60 min
How to Do It: Complete all the sets for one exercise before moving on to the next.

After one month, you should have added 15–20 pounds to the squat and deadlift and 10–15 to the bench press. You should’ve also gained three or more pounds of body weight. If you haven’t, consider adding more calories to your diet.

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Day 1

1) Deadlift
Sets: 4, Reps: 5
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend down and grab the bar so your hands are just outside your knees. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, drop your hips, and drive your heels into the floor. Pull the bar up along your shins until you’re standing with hips fully extended and the bar is in front of your thighs. Increase the weight each set until you hit your five-rep max on your fourth (final) set. Do not go to failure.

2) Chinup
Sets: 4 Reps: 5, 5, 5
Hang from a chin-up bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your chest is above the bar. Perform three sets of five reps and then one set of as many as possible. If you can do three sets of five with your body weight, add weight with a belt.

3) Dumbbell Floor Press
Sets: 4 Reps: 8
Lie on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand, holding the weights over your chest. With palms facing, lower the weights down until your triceps touch the floor. Pause for a moment, then press the dumbbells up.

4) Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
Sets: 3 Reps: 8
Hold the handles of an ab wheel and kneel down on the floor behind it. Keeping your abs braced and your torso straight, roll the wheel forward as far as you can before you feel your lower back is about to sag. Pull yourself back to the starting position.

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Day 2

1) Bulgarian Split Squat
Sets: 4 Reps: 6 (each leg)
Hold a heavy dumbbell at chest level or two dumbbells at your sides.

2) Bench Press
Sets: 4 Reps: 5
Hold the bar with an overhand, outside-shoulder width grip. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and arch your back. Take the bar out of the rack, lower it to just below your sternum, then push your feet hard into the floor to help you press the weight up.

3) Dumbbell Row
Sets: 4 Reps: 6, 6, 6, 20 (each side)
Perform three sets of six, then reduce the load by 20%, and complete one set of 20 reps.

4) Off-Bench Side Plank
Sets: 3 Reps: Hold for 20 seconds (each side).
Lie sideways across a bench and hook your feet under a dumbbell rack or other sturdy object. Only your hips should be supported by the bench. Hold the position.

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Day 3

1) Front Squat
Sets: 4 Reps: 5.
Set a barbell on a power rack at shoulder height. Grab the bar with your hands at shoulder width and raise your elbows in front of the bar until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Take the bar out of the rack, letting it rest on your fingertips and sternum—as long as your elbows stay up, you’ll be able to balance the bar. Squat as low as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.

2) Inverted Row
Sets: 4 Reps: 8
Set a barbell in a power rack (or use a Smith machine) at about hip height. Lie underneath it and grab it with hands about shoulder-width apart. Hang from the bar so your body forms a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up until your sternum touches the bar.

3) Single-leg Hip Thrust
Sets: 4 Reps: 8 (each side).
Rest your upper back on one side of a bench and sit on the floor. Extend one leg in front of you and plant the other close to your butt. Drive your foot into the floor and extend your hips up until your body is parallel to the floor.

4) Pushup
Sets: 3 Reps: As many as possible
Sit at a lat pulldown station and hold the bar with an outside shoulder-width grip. Pull the bar down to your collarbone

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