This blog provides encouragement to people who are beginning training, returning to training, going through physical therapy, or recovering from injury. I'm not selling anything here, I just like giving, and getting, encouragement!

How to fill out your skinny body with muscle


As a skinny guy, all I wanted to do was to fill out. Yes, that's the term I used, and it's how a lot of people described what I needed to do. Fill out. I've now done it twice, once in my mid-twenties, and then again in my mid-fifties. The difference between then and now is that now I'm filling out with muscle, and back then it didn't matter to me whether it was fat or muscle, I just wanted to weigh more, and not wear a suit that looked like it was draped over a flag pole. Yes, I was painfully skinny! I just wanted to move the numbers up on the scale. I still remember the big day when I was about to move the scale weight from the 100 mark to the 150 mark! Yeah, I wasn't just thin, I was a walking skeleton. My goal was 165 pounds, which I achieved by age 28.

I successfully filled out. I remember the importance of Kit-Kat bars! And by my forties, I was plenty filled out, so much so that my doctor would raise an eyebrow, and suggest that I could lose a few pounds.  So I lost forty pounds. And I was unhappy about the body that it revealed. Yes, the fat was gone, but so was any kind of shape that I remembered having, from muscle. The muscle had faded away. So I started a muscle-building program in my mid-fifties. That is, hypertrophy, which just means doing the types of exercises that build up the size and shape of muscles. It's been a fascinating process to watch on myself.

The good news is that if you've never done any kind of weight-lifting before, your muscles will respond quickly, and grow. You will see it in the mirror. And it really doesn't matter what type of activity you choose, as long as it provides a challenge to your muscles. You could chop wood, or lift dumbbells, or swim. And if you're feeling a little sore the next day, you're doing it right.

The bad news is that after a few years, gaining muscle gets more difficult. I've been training consistently now for about four years and am finding that I have to increase the intensity. Please let me explain.

Your body is smarter than you are. It will only do the bare minimum. If you don't challenge it a little bit more than you did the day before, it will stop growing stronger. When you start out, you can add a little bit more weight for each workout, but after a few years it's just not physically possible. And that's when you have to learn the difference between weight-lifting and bodybuilding.

Weight-lifting and bodybuilding are exactly the same thing if you're a beginner. Pick up some weights, and your muscles will grow. In fact, most people never get beyond beginning weight-lifting. Talk to most people, they'll say "lifting", they'll talk about how much weight they can lift. Rarely do people know about hypertrophy.

At this point in my training, I'm as strong as I'll ever be. I have a light skeleton, and I'm not really designed to be a powerlifter. If I tried to break weight-lifting records, I'd just hurt myself. My tendons and ligaments just wouldn't be able to take it. So to continue to build muscle, which I'm doing, I have to focus. And if you're at this point, all I can say is "welcome to hell" - this is gonna hurt. This begins the "no pain, no gain".

Now waitaminute, I'm not talking about injuring yourself. If you think that the pain of bodybuilding is about dropping a barbell on your head, you're wrong. It's a different kind of pain, a burning pain, felt deep in the muscle. If you can push through that pain, your muscles will grow. You don't even need heavy weights, dumbbells or a resistance band can take you to that higher muscular level.

This takes the mind-muscle connection. If you've been training for a while, you understand that. If you're not there yet, don't worry, you will be. You will be able to feel the squeeze and stretch of a particular muscle. This is muscular training, not weight-lifting, and when you understand that, your muscles will grow, and that will fill out your skinny body with quality lean mass.
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