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My Skinny To Muscular Transformation: A Hardgainers Journey

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1


I want you to use my skinny to muscular transformation as motivation.

You’re going to learn how I went from skinny to buff and I have one piece of advice for your to keep in mind: this takes time.

It’s not going to happen in 30 days or even 3 months.  It may be a multi year adventure you go on so my best advice is to enjoy the journey!

Skinny With Muscle Before And After

I started working out when I was 18.

And by working out I mean casually going to the gym, trying a few machines, and then going onto the basketball court where I felt more comfortable.

It wasn’t until 5 years later when I started taking things seriously.

Although these two pictures are 10 years apart, I would say my real transformation took around 5 years.

skinny to muscular

It’s now been a few years since that last picture was taken and this is my current physique.

skinny with muscle

I’m now in my mind 30’s and feel better and am stronger than I was in the picture above, but with minimal muscle gain since that photo.

And I’m ok with that.

I enjoy the lean look.  I like looking skinny with muscle.  My goal was never to get huge and bulky.

In this article I’m going to share with you my best advice on how to get a skinny muscular body and how I teach my clients to get that physique.

Skinny To Buff Workout Schedule

When I became serious about lifting, one of the worst things I did was overdo it.

I went to the gym too often thinking more was better.  

The truth is I was killing my gains by not working hard enough in those workouts (because I was going so often and was tired), and I was not letting my body have time to repair and grow.

If your goal is to go from skinny to muscular, follow a well structured strength training program that has you lifting weights 3 - 4 times per week.

SKINNY to buff workout schedule

3 - 4 days a week is going to be enough volume for your muscles to grow and give your body time to recover and repair.

What Exercises Are Best To Be Skinny With Muscles?

Good exercise selection is crucial.

You will be wasting your time if you’re doing useless exercises like burpees, battle ropes, and other movements that may seem like you are working hard.

A true transformation from skinny to muscular will involve exercises that prioritize compound movements that work multiple muscles and mixed with isolation exercises to target specific muscles.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises to be skinny with muscles:

skinny to muscular exercise selection

As you can see, these are compound movements that work multiple muscles.

Prioritize these movements and then sprinkle in bicep curls, triceps pushdowns, lateral raises, and other isolation exercises. 

If you want to follow a workout program that incorporates all these movements, check out The #1 Ectomorph body Type Nutrition And Workout Guide.

The Key To Building Muscle When You're Skinny

You know how often you should exercise and what exercises are best for you.

The next step is implementing progressive overload while you do those workouts.

Progressive overload is when you gradually add more stress to your muscles, resulting in them growing.

There are many ways to implement progressive overload during your workouts.  You can:

  • Increase weights
  • Do more sets
  • Do more reps with the same weight
  • Have better form and more range of motion
  • Do the same amount of weight and reps but with shorter rest

If you consistently do these different forms of progressive overload in your workouts, it will promote muscles to grow.

If you were to follow the free training sessions in The Best Hardgainer Workout Program, you would want to track your weights each week and see what areas you can improve on the next time you do that workout.

Copy of Copy of Copy of New Progressive Overload-page-001

How A Skinny Muscular Body Needs To Eat

To go from skinny to muscular, you have to nail down two points.

  1. Eat in a calorie surplus.
  2. Eat adequate protein.


A calorie surplus is when you consume more calories than you burn over a period of time.  Those extra calories will be either stored as fat or muscle.

To make sure you go from skinny to buff and not skinny to fat, you want to eat enough protein and be lifting weights to make sure that calorie surplus helps you build muscle.


To find how many calories you need to be in a calorie surplus, start by multiplying your weight by between 16 - 20.   For your protein intake, consume between 0.7 - 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.


There’s more than calories and protein for a skinny muscle transformation to be successful. You also need to fuel your body with the right foods.

To learn more about how to fuel your body properly, check out The Best Ectomorph Diet.

How Many Meals Should You Eat To Go From Skinny To Muscular?

Man, I wish I knew this answer 10 years ago.

Back in the day, I would eat 8 times a day because that was the way to “optimize muscle growth”.

You never wanted to leave your muscles “hungry”!  By fueling them every couple hours, you were always in the muscle building stage.

Wow, was I wrong!


The truth is, you can eat as many meals as you feel comfortable with as long as you are in your calorie and protein ranges. For most people, 2 - 5 meals and snacks will get them there.

skinny muscular body meal frequency

As you can see, 3000 calories is 3000 calories.  How you get them is up to you!

To help you with meal and snack ideas, check out The Best Bulking Meal Plan For Skinny Guys

What Supplements Are Needed To Go From Skinny To Buff?

You’re going to love this answer. Or hate it if you are hoping for a quick fix…

No supplements are needed to gain a skinny muscular body!

Honestly, no supplements are needed for any type of transformation.

But some supplements may assist you with your goals and help fill in the gaps with things you are missing in your diet.

There’s a few supplements that I recommend to my clients and the main one is a protein powder.

If you calculated your protein intake from the earlier example, you might be wondering how you are going to be able to hit that number.

For some people, adding in a daily shake or two is an easy way to add 25 - 50 grams of protein with minimal effort.

For my additional 8 supplements I recommend check out my guide, The 9 Best Supplements For Ectomorphs.

Is Cardio Necessary For A Skinny Muscular Body?

Although strength training should be the priority to build muscle, adding a small amount of cardio into your routine is always a good idea.

Doing 1 - 2 days of a lighter intensity cardio session will help improve your heart health and can also help improve endurance.

Improved endurance will help you recover better in your strength training workouts, thus making them more effective.

My favorite form of cardio while I went from skinny to muscular was zone 2 cardio for 45 - 90 minutes per week.  You keep your heart rate between 120 - 150 for the duration of your session.  This allows you to reap the health benefits without fatiguing your body or interrupting your main workouts.

To learn about more forms of cardio, check out Can You Do Cardio While Bulking?

The Keys To A Skinny To Muscular Transformation Recap

There you have the key points that helped me go from skinny to buff.  Remember, this journey takes time so enjoy the process!

To recap, here are the key points you should focus on for a skinny muscular body:

  • Do 3 - 4 strength training workouts per week
  • Focus on mainly compound movements and mix in isolation exercises
  • Implement progressive overload
  • Eat in a calorie surplus
  • Eat adequate protein
  • Eat the amount of meals that feels best for your body as long as you can get your calories and protein in.
  • Don’t rely on supplements to get results.  Workouts, nutrition, good sleep, and stress management are much more important.