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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?

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For future readers, don't sacrifice quality for speed. Natural bodybuilding is a hobby of patience. –  BigHomie Aug 20 '13 at 15:36
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5ft6 and 100lbs indicates a BMI of just over 16 which is pretty badly underweight. Eat. –  rthsyjh Nov 20 '13 at 10:57
    
This article has a different but rather simple approach. –  Dave Liepmann Nov 27 '13 at 8:24

14 Answers 14

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
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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.

1. LIFT HEAVY

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.

3. PRIORITIZE

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.

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I don't think that 'Part 3: Prioritize' can be emphasized enough. –  nfw Jun 18 '12 at 21:37
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+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. –  Danny Oct 23 '12 at 8:33
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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? –  user5414 Mar 14 '13 at 14:03
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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. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '13 at 14:18
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@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. –  Dave Liepmann Apr 30 '13 at 1:38

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.

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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.

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great information, dunno about agreeing with the ideal weight aspect but I see you're providing general information as a template to look at. –  Pancho Villa Jun 19 '12 at 0:17
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@Andreas Yeah, the ideal weight thing must be a crock. Ideal for...??? –  Dave Liepmann Jul 10 '12 at 3:02

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.

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Above all else, do deadlifts and/or squats. Add any other compound lifts that you'd like, such as overhead or bench presses, and other compound exercises using cables. Stronglifts 5x5 is a good, free program to follow for this. One thing to note is that the 3 days per week routine might not be good. I've found my largest gains come with 4-5 rest days between workouts, so following the SL program but increasing the number of days off might be crucial. Remember, you don't build muscle while lifting weights, you build muscle while sleeping. It takes a while for your muscles to recover, and once they have recovered, it takes a while for them to start growing. You could be looking at 2-3 days for each.

Many people will recommend eating a lot; that might help, or it might do nothing. I've made absolutely no size gains regardless of how much I eat (what I eat, and the quality of the food makes a difference though), but the vast majority of my gains have come from lifting heavy.

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I want to +1 this for the first half, but I simply can't get behind most people lifting one and a half times a week and not examining their diet. I believe it works for you; I'm not sure it's a good idea for most. –  Dave Liepmann Jan 17 '13 at 23:38

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

Eat

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.

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Is it possible to target the shoulders without isolation exercises? –  Ramin Oct 2 '13 at 18:05
    
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. –  BigHomie Oct 3 '13 at 17:23

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!

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Good answer! One minor point of disagreement: I wouldn't use BMI, like the linked article suggests. –  Dave Liepmann Apr 30 '13 at 1:24
    
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. –  Xavier Casto May 1 '13 at 11:54

Simple, gain more calodies from what you eat than you consume during daily activity. You should know that 1g of fat has 9 calories, 1g of proteins=4cal. and 1g of carbohydrates=4cal.....

You can easely get fat eating fastfood if it`s what you want :)) but i will never recommend that....so eat healthy, more fruits, vegetables (especially potatoes)! Practice a sport and try to avoid stress factors.

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This answer is way too general. –  Dan Dascalescu Nov 20 '13 at 0:00

i used to be fat and i am same height as you. I exercise usually 6 to 7 days a week and eat daily the right food i do not cheat much maybe once a month. And i still manage to gain weight. I do not eat much either about 1000 to 1200 calories. For a man i will get canned for it that is too little or too much depends on a person. But a ex-fat person has an easier time to gain weight than a skinny person.

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It may help the person if you give what exercise routine you used to follow and the food you took before and after the routines and also your normal food routine. –  Freakyuser May 5 '13 at 5:41

you just listen to your body, first you need to train and here you should not concentrate on how much weight you lift but you should concentrate on the form (i.e Full and Slow movement you must resist the weights).

Now while you are training right your body will tell you that he want fuel(Food), so provide him with it as needed (i.e Eat when you feel hungry and dont let your self starving never) also what you eat matters a lot..

now we come to the rest part here i only tell you sleep 8 hours at night to let your body recover.

after all of that you need to read and ask and be patient year after year until you find your path to what you want to be.

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Your answer is a bit on the general side. Perhaps you can be more specific on the types of exercises and what to eat. Also, references is better, that is, your answer will get more votes. Good luck! –  FredrikD May 14 '13 at 13:44

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.

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I would start with doing a lot of cardio exercise. According to recent research, underweight people tend to have a larger fat percentage than average people, in some cases they are actually as fat as mildly obese people. This fat is hidden in the body as visceral fat (fat that surrounds the organs). The person is then underweight because he/she has smaller organs. This puts these people at a greater risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

It is therefore recommended to build up cardio fitness and work toward being able to run fast for more than half an hour, 4 to 5 times per week. At the same time the diet should be adjusted to limit any weight loss, but you will lose a bit of weight due to losing excess visceral fat.

After about a year you should have made a lot of progress in building up cardio fitness. Only then should you start doing strength training. Your body will then be better adapted to doing heavy lifting work. Even though you'll still have to build up your muscles, your heart rate won't go up nearly as much as if you were to do this right away; you'll feel less exhausted after heavy exercise. The problem with getting tired after exericise is that your body will tend to keep the fat reserves. So, the food you eat is then used in a less efficent way to build a stronger body.

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please no one listen to that rubbish ^ do you understand youre telling an extremely under weight person to do more cardio which would lead to more weight loss? and trying to say an extremely under weight person is just as fat as the regular person ? where are your sources –  Tori Montgomery Sep 19 at 2:24
    
This person's BMI isn't extremely low. Unless there are clear red flags in the OP's question, we can safely assume that the person is perfectly healthy. Cardio does not lead to a big weight loss, unless you have an unhealthy amount of fat to begin with. –  Count Iblis Sep 26 at 16:00
    
dailymotion.com/video/… –  Count Iblis Sep 26 at 16:06

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.

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