Some people appear to be born with muscle*. I know lots of people who don't work out at all, have an office job where they sit around all day, and still they have a muscular body with strong (looking) arms, big chest etc. Me, I'm naturally slim, and however hard I work out, I seem unable to make a big change in my physical appearance. Yes, I do get stronger and more fit, but I look (almost) the same after a year of intense training: thin.

What can I do?

Several years ago I did dumbell exercises from Bill Pearl's "Getting Stronger" and supplemented my diet with a meat based protein shake. After a year this made me look more toned, but the effect was minor. I stopped this routine when doing lunges with weights caused knee pain.

At the moment I follow Mark Verstegen's "Core Performance" (the book), but have only been at it for a few months. I did not change my diet again except eat more soy products and nuts. The time is too short for any visible effects, of course. I'll very likely stop this routine also, because I'm experiencing shoulder pain from raining weights above shoulder height.

I don't mean to imply that these routines don't work for me, I just describe what I did to give you an idea of the status quo - and of the fact that I easily self-hurt myself, if I work with weights. I don't want to go to a gym (for reasons that are irrelevant here but definite), so I cannot work out using machines.

*Obviously people are not literally "born with muscle". There is a genetic influence and, as has been found, the muscles that children use around 5 to 6 years of age develop in the adult individual. Both influences cannot be changed by a post-adolescent adult, so "born with muscle" is a good short description of the situation.

  • 1
    What kind of workout are you doing?
    – Baarn
    Mar 14, 2013 at 9:12
  • 2
    This answer may help. The short version: eat a lot, provide stimulus to grow with heavy squatting, deadlifting, and pressing 3 times a week, and make rest and working out your priority. Mar 14, 2013 at 13:12
  • Shoulder pain from lifting weights indicates you should either fix your technique or see a medical professional to fix your shoulder. Mar 14, 2013 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


Very few people are "born with muscle" to a degree that matters; they are possibly born with larger bone structures, or born with genes that make muscle gaining easier. One such gene would be the feeling of fullness -- some people have to eat more to feel full, and some less. However, if you've done a lot of heavy lifting via chores/physical tasks while growing up and still eat a lot, you will (slowly and inefficiently, but still surely) gain muscle.

The unaccounted-for factor here is your diet. Lifting heavy, eating to calorie surplus, and eating large amounts of protein (try your body weight in grams, just to be sure) will make sure you make muscle gains. However, lifting heavy is not enough either: to stimulate hypertrophy (the growth of muscles), you should be lifting in the 8-12 rep range. Adjust weight (more or less) until you get there. To increase strength (absolute pounds lifted), lift in the 5-6 rep range.

  • 1
    So what you say is: (1) don't be impatient, (2) eat enough protein, and (3) find the correct weight to do around 10 reps.
    – user5414
    Mar 14, 2013 at 10:42
  • @what Exactly so. Just see all the muscle and strenth gain questions on this site: they all apply, regardless of your initial body composition or your body type (endomorph, ectomorph, xenomorph ;)...)
    – K.L.
    Mar 14, 2013 at 13:10
  • @what, I notice you didn't pick out the "eating to calorie surplus" as an important part, but it is a very important part of this answer.
    – user4644
    Mar 14, 2013 at 18:55
  • Does having a bit of a pot belly on a totally slim body signal that I get enough calories? I already eat a lot, and often feel overfed. I don't think calories are a problem here. But you are right, I did not accurately summarize the recommendations. Thanks for the heads up.
    – user5414
    Mar 14, 2013 at 18:59

I have a similar build and I have an idea to test, but I'm at a point in my life where I am not that motivated to test my idea so why don't you test it for me ;-) It isn't actually my idea, I got it from Tim Ferris and you can read about it on his web site here or in his book, The 4-Hour Body.

Generally speaking, your workouts would consist of one set of a relatively small number of exercises, performed until complete failure 1 or, at most, 2 times per week. This is failure like you have never pushed yourself to experience before. As I recall, Tim does basic strength training exercises like dead lifts, squats, etc. but I have some friends doing this on machines and it is probably safer to do this way, though perhaps not quite as effective. It amounts to a shockingly small amount of time in the gym followed by a lot of recovery time. Your diet consists of large amounts of protein.

I could go on, but Tim Ferris can fill in the details with much more authority :-)

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