The Ultimate Skinny Guy Workout Plan with PDF

Skinny guys have it bad. Skinny fat guys have it worse.

If you’re tired of being skinny (or skinny fat), I’ve got a workout plan for you.

I won’t be getting deep into nutrition. Skinny and skinny fat guys need to pay a lot of attention to it though; it’s just out of the scope of my practice. I’ll share what’s worked for me and what the credible experts say works.

There are two kinds of skinny we need to differentiate.

  1. Skinny because no prior resistance exercise.
  2. Skinny body type.

Skinny young guys with the right underlying skeletal structure should expect different results than skinny guys who are just naturally skinny guys. Like I was. Before I started lifting I was skinny fat, and then just skinny.

Some kind hearted elite lifters took me in and I learned the right way to train from them, so that even at 64 I still look like one of the gym faithful.

I’ll share some stuff I’ve learned and hope you’ll take it seriously and maybe get similar results.

This program will work for both groups 1 and 2 referenced above although I’m really going to be speaking mainly to group 2… the string beans by nature.

Jump to the program now!

Alternatively, you can download the free PDF version of the routine using the link below:

The Skinny Guy Workout Plan Nutshell

Program styleResistance training
Workout duration1-2 hours
Scheduling3 or 6 days a week
GoalBuild muscle
LevelBeginners to advanced
Target GenderMale and Female

Is This Program For You?

Before we go any farther, I’ll set expectations.

Us skinny guys–I’m naturally one–are never going to step on the Mr. Olympia stage. I hate to break it to you. The genetics just aren’t there.

Should we give up?


All is not lost. Keep reading.

You’ll build muscle

Resistance training–lifting dumbbells, barbells, machines–when done correctly and intensely will build muscle in any healthy individual. Newcomers build at a faster rate than the people who’ve been doing it for a while.

The wiser you are about your training, the better results you’ll get. This is proven.

People will look at you and know that you put time in the gym.


You will become athletic-looking… just not huge

I speak truth… I’m not here to sell you programs or supplements, or even recruit you to follow…although that part might be nice.

Unless you’re a skinny 11-year-old with great musculo-skeletal genetics, who hasn’t yet entered puberty, then your goal needs to be growing muscle to develop an athletic-looking physique.

Hey, anybody telling you differently is lying to you. Or, they flat-out don’t know what they’re talking about, and I don’t know which of those two is worse. Being a liar or a know-nothing, or a combo.

Naturally skinny guys have narrow shoulders, long arms, and flat rib cages, along with long leg bones and narrow pelvises. Think of any champion basketball player who plays center or forward. Like Kevin Durant. Yeah, guys like that. See below.

Kevin Durant palming a basketball

Durant is among the best to ever play his game, and that he’s an athlete is obvious. And hey, if getting bigger muscles was what he did for a living, he would probably have bigger muscles than he has now.

I hope you get my point. Kevin ain’t competing at “the Arnold” anytime soon.

Even skinny guys who get on the drugs will look like skinny guys on gear. Anyone in the know can see it. They’ll know you’re doing it so hey, if you wanna do that stuff, rock on…but the gym cognoscenti will sniff it out a mile away. Narrow collar bones…long arms…narrow hips…knobby knees. It will be obvious. Not foolin’ anyone.

OK, rant over.

Pairing your genetics with your exercise selection

If you lift weights you’ll build muscle and strength. How much and how quickly depends on exercise selection and genetics.

Biomechanics expert Tom Purvis explains why bench press and pec-building is harder for people with small rib cages and long arms.

Here’s how genetics should influence exercise selection…

Genetically, if you’re one of those guys like me with long arms and flat rib cages, you have absolutely zero business barbell bench pressing. Stick to dumbbells or machines, and don’t worry about going deep….unless you just want to develop anterior shoulder pain.

My best competition bench press was 303 lbs (138kg). I stand 5’9” tall (68”). My arms are 31” long. I can almost scratch my knees without bending. No wonder my shoulders always hurt…and oh by the way my pecs never grew either.

My pecs respond best with machines and cables with exercises that don’t force my elbows to come way back behind my body. I mean, why did I ever care that the bar touched my chest?

Two other exercises that surprised me for pec development: dumbbell pullovers and high-to-low single arm cable flyes done in a kneeling position. From about 180° (arm raised high) down to about 45°. I got this one from Paul Carter (@liftrunbang1). Thanks Paul. These two exercises are essentially the same. I love doing ‘em because they don’t hurt my shoulder and my pecs have responded really well.

I wish I had started doing these when I was 23! Instead, I was more worried about “how much I could bench” and had a thriving guilt complex about not benching on Mondays. Which was really, REALLY dumb. I wish I could go back.

As a skinny guy, barbells have no place in your life. You ain’t built for it.

  • No barbell bench.
  • No bent rows.
  • Probably no barbell squats.
  • Maybe barbell RDLs. Maybe.
  • Barbell curls. Yeah…OK. I guess.

The program includes barbell as an option for two of the shoulder exercises. But in general, barbells are not central to the program.

Skinny guys and hardgainers

Scott Abel wrote a program several years ago named “The Hardgainer Solution”, and that’s the first I heard the term “hardgainer”.

Hardgainers are people whose results come much more slowly in the gym, and they often end up hurt because they overexert themselves thinking the lack of gains is from not working hard enough.

Genetically skinny guys are hardgainers, although not all hardgainers are skinny guys. Make sense?

Older adults are automatically hardgainers, no matter their body morphology.

Are you a true “skinny guy”?

You might be a true skinny guy if…

  • You can eat like a champ and can’t put on weight.
  • When standing, your elbows are at your waistline.
  • When standing with good posture, your chin is farther forward than your rib cage.
  • Your shoulders are about the same width as your hips.

If one or more of these apply to you, you’re probably a skinny guy.

If you’re *not* a skinny guy, the program you’ll find here will work well for you too. It’s a solid Push Pull Legs routine, with just a little more emphasis on shoulders and traps.

What you’ll need to do this program

You’ll need access to a full gym to do this program. It is not an at-home routine.

If you don’t belong to a commercial gym now, or if you’re a little tight on cash, there are some good economical, fully-equipped gyms that have locations almost everywhere. Planet Fitness is one of them.

The Planet takes a lot of flack for being a workout hangout for the soft. The reputation is justified.

Even so I’ve seen some terrific training happening in PF locations, some impressive physiques, and the equipment is premium.

This isn’t an endorsement for that franchise, but just to say that not every commercial gym requires you to take out a loan to join. $10 US a month gets you in.

The Equipment

To get the most out of the workout plan, you’ll need the right equipment:

  • An assortment of dumbbells ranging from light to heavy.
  • Barbell and plates. Hex “Trap” bar optional. Of all the equipment specified for this program, barbells are the least important.
  • Smith Machine. I prefer the brands with the vertical rails:
Smith Machine
  • Cable Machine. I personally love the dual axis design. I like having a dual axis and a  multi-station cable machine available. Examples:
Dual axis cable machine
Dual Axis Cable Machine
Multi station cable machine
Multi-station Cable Machine
  • Chest Press machine. Example:
Chest Press Machine
  • Incline Chest Press machine. Example:
Incline Chest Press Machine
  • Low Row machine:
Low Row Machine
My personal fave, by TechnoGym
  • Pulldown Machine:
Pull Down Machine
  • Leg Extension Machine:
Leg Extension Machine
Leg Extension machines like this one make single-leg extensions a bit easier.
  • Seated Leg Curl Machine. Example:
Seated Leg Curl Machine
  • 45° Hyperextension (Roman Chair) bench:
Hyperextension Roman Chair
  • Heavy Duty Adjustable Bench:
Heavy Duty Adjustable Bench

Our Target Muscles

Skinny guys–especially tall skinny guys–can create the illusion of bulk by working on width and thickness. In particular, three muscle groups contribute to a beefy look:

  • The upper traps
  • The middle delts
  • The quads

Muscular calves help, and we’ll lean into those also with this workout plan.

Exercises for the Upper Traps

Kelso Shrugs are the bomb for upper traps. Doing these correctly and with the proper intensity will build that yoked look that says “athlete”.

Make sure you’re working those hard.

I’ve added Upright Rows; those worked really well for my upper traps. They’re also a solid middle delt exercise. See below.

Exercises for the Middle Deltoids

Lateral Raises are the go-to middle delt move. Upright Rows also make the middle delts work.

Exercises for the Quads

Leg Extensions isolate the quads. Heel Elevated Squats are a compound move, and if you do them right by getting low. Bring hamstrings as close to calves as possible for every rep.

**If you happen to be one of the lucky ones who works out in a gym with a Pendulum Squat machine, use it. Unquestionably the best quad machine available.

Workout Plan Structure

The Skinny Guy workout plan follows a Push-Pull-Legs A-B format, with two push, pull, and leg days.

The A-B split provides for additional days and exercise variety. Variety isn’t important by itself. It does expose you to several different exercises that accomplish fundamentally the same objectives. This helps prevent overtraining while getting the nuanced benefits of similar exercises.

Some exercises are better for muscle development. But there’s nuance. “Best” exercises may not work for everyone. Good example: I can’t do Bulgarian Split Squats due to an artificial hip that subluxes when I get in that position.

Another good example might be doing Smith Machine presses on Push Day A, where Dumbbell Bench Press is done on Push Day B. You could do both on the same day, but splitting them into A and B allows for higher intensity on each.

This is the format:

Push-Pull-Legs Format

Push AChest, Anterior shoulders, Triceps.
Pull ABack (Lats focus), and Biceps
Legs AQuads, Hams, Lower legs, Glutes.
Push BChest, Anterior shoulders, Triceps.
Pull BBack (Trapezius focus), and Biceps
Legs BQuads, Hams, Lower legs, Glutes.

Scheduling your A and B Days

PPL A-B works great for a 6-day per week schedule but can be easily adapted to a 3-day per week split where the A and B workouts are spread out over two weeks.

Here’s how you might schedule one week 6-Day PPL program with an A-B split:

1SundayPush A
2MondayPull A
3TuesdayLegs A
5ThursdayPush B
6FridayPull B
7SaturdayLegs B

What about Rest Day? You’ve got lots of flexibility on where you put the rest day. Traditionally, you’d put it on Day 4 after Leg Day A. There’s no unbreakable rule that you can’t take a rest on Day 7. Or Day 3.

Optional Cardio if Skinny Fat

Skinny fat guy
Courtesy of

If you’re skinny fat (and you know who you are), you’ll need to deal with that.

Unfat yourself in the kitchen primarily. Knock off the sugar and any foods made from flour: tortillas, bread, donuts for sure, biscuits, dumplings, pasta. At least for a while until you get rid of the extra body fat.

Get your calories from high quality low fat protein sources, leafy greens, colorful vegetables and fruits, and high fiber starchy carbs like sweet potatoes and wild rice.

Take it easy on the fats.

In the gym, add some low intensity steady state cardio, aka LISS. A solid guideline is 10,000 steps walking in a single session. Do that at least once a week.

Don’t expect immediate results. Stay the course and let the plan work.

The Skinny Guy Workout Plan

Day 1: Push Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
High Incline Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
Close Grip Chest Press15-2010-128-108-10
Cable Crossover or Decline Cable Press
(Bilateral or Single Side, kneeling)
Front Raises
(Thumbs up or Palms up)
Cable Triceps Extensions
(Attachment of Choice)

Day 2: Pull Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Dumbbell Hammer Curls or Palms-up Curls15-2010-128-108-10
Lat Pulldowns15-2010-128-108-10
Seated Low Row15-2010-128-108-10
Kelso Shrugs15-2010-1210-1210-12
Chest Supported Incline DB Flyes15-2010-128-108-10

Day 3: Leg Day A

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Heel Elevated Squats15-2010-128-108-10
Bulgarian Split Squats (Rear foot elevated)15-2010-128-108-10
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
Single-Leg B-Stance RDLs
Hip Extensions
45° Hyperextensions
Seated Leg Curls15-2010-1510-128-10
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-2015-20

Day 4: REST

Day 5: Push Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
DB Pullovers15-2010-128-108-10
Low-High Cable Flyes
(Single or Two-arm)
High-Low Cable Flyes
Lateral Raises15-2010-128-108-10
Cable Triceps Extensions15-2010-128-108-10

Day 6: Pull Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Biceps Curls15-2010-128-108-10
Machine Pull-downs
Pull-ups with bodyweight
Motorcycle Rows10-1210-1210-1210-12
Barbell Plate Raises
Dumbbell “I” Raises
Reverse Flyes15-2010-128-108-10

Day 7: Leg Day B

ExerciseSet 1Set 2Set 3Set 4
Leg Extensions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Abductions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Adductions15-2010-128-108-10
Hip Extensions
45° Hyperextensions
Seated Leg Curls15-2010-1510-128-10
Calf Raises15-2015-2015-2015-20
Tibialis Anterior Raises202020
LISS** Optional (skinny fat only)
(Treadmill or Exercise Bike)
45 min

Program Guidelines

1. Set the Intensity

The first set for each exercise is a warm-up. Keep 1 rep in reserve (1 RIR) on sets 2 and 3. Then on the 4th set, go all-out and go to failure.

You should not be capable of doing another rep with good form in that final set for each exercise.

2. Always Observe Progressive Overload

Selecting weights on a gym machine

Follow the rep schemes as prescribed. Use weights that allow you to follow the Set Intensity instructions above. When a weight gets easy so that you could do more than the specified number of reps, increase the weight.

Similarly, if they’re too hard or you can’t finish the set, lower the weight.

Remember that weights are your tool for muscle growth. Your muscles can’t read the numbers on the weights, and your ego can’t make your guns grow.

Think: I’m going to the gym to accomplish something, not prove something.

2. Keep Reps in Reserve

Keep 1 to 2 reps maximum in reserve for the first 2 sets of each exercise. Go all-out with 0 RIR for the last 2. The last rep of the last set should be absolute max effort. If you could squeeze out another if someone held a gun to your head, you didn’t go all out.

That said…

Reps with lousy form don’t count, ever. I use penalty reps in my own workouts. If a rep stinks, I make myself do another. Amazing how much better this little hack will make your form.

4. Get Necessary Sleep and Rest Between Sets


Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep nightly. You recover during sleep; that’s when your hard work will pay off.

Practice good sleep hygiene to help get to sleep and stay asleep. Cool, very dark room, no electronics at least 1 hour before bed, stop drinking liquids 2 hours before bed.

Rest Between Sets

Man resting between sets

Rest a minute or so between warm-up sets and longer between hard sets. Your last sets for each exercise require 2 to 3 minutes rest between to allow you to go all-out, as mentioned earlier.

Always use your rest period to visualize your next set in your head. Avoid taking your smartphone onto the gym floor. It will only distract you. No cell phones.

Focus on executing every set perfectly and intensely. I always tell myself that I’m missing something… some little element in my form or intensity that could be better.

The hardgaining skinny guy needs to train as much with their brains as they do with their bodies.

Download our Skinny Guy Workout Plan PDF below:

Custom Programming

I write custom programs for specific goals. If you’ve got a unique situation, or want to concentrate on a specific body part, drop us a note in the comments or contact us.

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Perry Mykleby, ACE CPT

Perry started lifting weights in 1974. He is an ACE-certified personal trainer and holds the ACE Orthopedic Exercise certification.

He holds a journalism degree from the University of North Texas, where he competed in powerlifting. His final competition was the Texas State Open in December of 1982, but has continued to study and practice muscle strength and hypertrophy. He is a four-decade veteran of the medical device industry.

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