Here’s the workout of a typical gym bro.
Walk into the gym and maybe do a couple arm circles with a five-pound plate. Next, head to the bench press and perform sets of eight to 10 reps. In between sets, check yourself out in the mirror and play on your phone for three or four minutes before continuing.
You guard the bench like your life depends on it because you don’t want another soul taking over your precious bench press station.
After you’ve been at the bench for 20 or more minutes, you make your way over to the dumbbell rack and bust out endless sets of bicep curls, tricep extensions and lateral raises. You might add in a few pull ups or single-arm rows if you feel like it.
You walk back and forth between the water fountain and dumbbell rack with your headphones blaring while constantly checking your phone. You don’t want to be away from your dumbbells too long because someone might take them, so you sit on a bench next to them.
You have no intention of continuing your set until you post that last selfie you took of yourself in your cut-off t-shirt.
You constantly walk right past the squat rack because, honestly, who needs to work their legs? How are you going to get a pump from doing things squats, deadlifts and lunges?
Besides, you can’t flex your legs in front of the mirror.
Months go by, and you’re still doing the same workout with the same weight every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You haven’t really seen any gains, but you like going to the gym so you can get a pump going and look bigger than you actually are.
Don’t be the typical gym bro.
Be better than that.
So where do you even start? How do you design a good muscle-building routine?
Let’s first go over some of the biggest mistakes skinny guys make.
Mistake #1: Not using proper form and using too much weight
By far, the biggest mistake skinny guys (and most guys, for that matter) make in the weight room is not using proper form. Just because the guy next to you is lifting heavier weight doesn’t mean you should.
Your body doesn’t know how much weight you’re lifting. All it knows is the amount of tension it feels. You can make a 25-pound dumbbell feel like 50 pounds if you lift it in a slow and controlled manner.
Tension is arguably the most important variable for muscle growth. Have you ever watched world-class bodybuilders train?
Guys like Phil Heath and Kai Greene execute each lift with such precision. You won’t ever see them flailing their bodies around trying to match the weight the bro next to them uses.
Get it into your head – lifting weight you can’t control will get you absolutely nowhere.
Check your ego at the door because your pride is getting in the way of your gains. You’ll get stronger if you use proper form. Do you honestly still want to be lifting the same weight a year from now?
Before I became a personal trainer, I thought I knew how to perform every exercise correctly.
I had been lifting for years. Of course I knew what I was doing.
Maybe the fact I had looked essentially the same the past five years was because of my crappy form.
Once I started working under the guidance of a trainer and had someone actually show me how to use proper form, I learned quickly I had been lifting completely wrong for years.
Maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.
Don’t think you know everything because, if you did, you would probably be jacked out of your mind right now.
Watching online videos on proper technique is a good start, especially if you’re a visual learner. If you’re a kinesthetic learner like me, you should seek the help of a top-notch experienced lifter or a qualified professional.
Stop trying to muscle through the weight. You’re not getting anywhere using terrible form.
Trust me, I know from experience.
Mistake #2: Not working legs
Ah, legs day.
The workout nearly every gym bro in the world does anything to avoid.
Walk into almost any commercial gym, and you’ll find dust piling up in the squat rack.
But did you know working your lower body can help your upper body grow?
Did I just blow your mind?
Look at top bodybuilders like Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman.
Do they have skinny legs? Absolutely not.
Researchers have found because testosterone and growth hormone are released by your body following a leg workout, you may have a better chance of increasing the size of your arms and upper body.
Plus, you don’t want to completely ignore one half of your body and end up with pencil legs.
So start adding in those squats, deadlifts, RDLs and lunges. Believe it or not, they can actually help you grow your guns.
Mistake #3: Taking too much rest between sets
While it’s sometimes OK to rest a few minutes between sets to allow your body to recover from an intense set of squats or deadlifts, you have no business wasting five minutes between a set of bicep curls or tricep extensions.
A big mistake skinny guys make is spending way too much time in the weight room. A workout should never take you two hours.
If you’re taking that long, you may actually be doing more harm than good. After a certain amount of time and once your energy stores are depleted, your body begins producing a muscle-wasting hormone called cortisol.
If you don’t have enough fuel from food to get you through a workout, your body will start pulling from other things in your body to use for energy – including muscle.
So you can have a great workout, but if you train for too long, you can end up killing your gains.
Keep your workouts under an hour. Don’t count your warm-up or cool-down period, but you shouldn’t lift for more than 60 minutes.
For your strength exercises (one to five reps), rest two to five minutes between sets. In other words, just rest until you feel fully recovered before you begin your next set. Strength exercises are compound lifts like the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Yes, I said the squat and deadlift. Yes, those are legs exercises.
I’ll say it again. If you want to put on some serious size, work your lower body.
For assistance exercises (six or more reps), you shouldn’t recover fully between sets because the goal is to drive as much blood to the area as possible to create the “pump” you’re chasing.
Simply doing your current workout faster will probably net you better results.
Next time you’re in the gym, take a watch and actually track the amount of time you take between sets. You’ll be astonished how much time you’re wasting.
So stop procrastinating between sets and get to work. Watch your results improve dramatically.
Mistake #4: Doing too much cardio
I’ve always been a huge fan of sports, whether it’s watching my favorite teams on TV or playing against my friends.
During college, I absolutely loved playing basketball. In fact, I would often play three or four days per week for two or three hours each time.
A lot of times, I would play basketball and lift weights back to back.
So I would be in the gym for between three and five hours. It was awesome.
But seeing as my main goal was to build muscle and bulk up, I was making a huge mistake.
I wondered why I never seemed to get much bigger or stronger despite spending so much time in the gym. Maybe it’s because I was performing cardio-based exercise six or more hours per week.
If you’re a skinny guy who truly wants to put on size, you’ve got to minimize the amount of additional exercise you do outside the weight room.
That means no long runs and no marathon basketball games.
Once again, you’ve got to have a specific focus with your training if you want to get jacked.
If you love playing basketball, soccer, racquetball or another sport, by all means do it. Just play for 30 minutes two days per week instead of two hours four days per week.
Mistake #5: Not bracing your core during sets
One of my biggest “a-ha” moments came watching a video of two fitness professionals discussing the concept of “bracing” your abs to help improve your pull-ups.
I had never heard of that before.
The next time I had pull-ups in my routine, I tried flexing my abs before I pulled myself up.
It was like I was feeling my back muscles for the first time.
Then, I tried the same thing doing bicep curls. I felt my biceps like I hadn’t ever felt them before.
To truly isolate a muscle group, you need to learn the concept of bracing your core.
Here’s how you do it – if someone were to attempt to punch you in the stomach, what would you do?
You would flex or tighten your abs.
When you’re working a muscle group, you don’t want your body to flail around like a fish out of water.
Once again, you’ve got to control the weight. If you can’t, then go down in weight.
You’re doing yourself no good trying to curl 60-pound dumbbells. No one is impressed – not even the girls on the cardio machines. In fact, they’re not even watching you because you look absolutely ridiculous.
So before you perform any exercise, tighten your abs. You’ll feel muscles you never even knew you had.
Mistake #6: Lifting the weight too fast on your assistance exercises
We’ve discussed this already, but it’s worth mentioning again. You’ve got to work on controlling the weight.
Watch bodybuilders train.
They’ll contract their muscles at the top of a movement and lower the weight under control.
Keeping a weight in the same plane of motion is extremely important. To build muscle, you’ve got to keep tension on it the entire set.
If you’re performing a dumbbell bench press and you’re not keeping the weight in the same arc the entire time, you’re doing no good.
Work on lowering the weight for two or three seconds and exploding the weight up under control, with no or minimal deviation in the plane of motion.
Slow down bro! Show that you own the movement.
You control the weights. Don’t let the weights control you.