Illustration showing a skinny man with belly fat.

Why do some skinny guys have belly fat? If you aren’t overweight, why is fat accumulating, and why is it clustering in your midsection? There are a few reasons this can happen, and five things we can do to fix it, but all of it boils down to one term: nutrient partitioning.

In this article, we’ll explain why you’re gaining belly fat instead of muscle when you lose weight, and why you’re burning muscle instead of fat when you gain it. If you can fix these two things, you’ll gradually become leaner and more muscular instead of skinnier and fatter.

Then, after covering nutrient partitioning, which will gradually get you in shape, we’ll talk about how to turn up the dial so that you can build muscle and burn belly fat much faster.

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Illustration showing a man doing wrist curls to build bigger forearms.

Forearms are one of those extremities that only extremists remember to target. The average lifter assumes that including some barbell rowing, strapless deadlifting, and weighted chin-ups in their workout routines will be enough to build bigger forearms, and although there’s some truth to that, the aesthetic results are often underwhelming, especially for those with naturally thinner wrists.

Our grip muscles are in our forearms, yes, but they’re fairly small, and making them stronger won’t make our forearms much bigger. And overhand rowing will bulk up our brachioradialis muscles, which are in our forearms. Those are beefier muscles, and they can definitely make our forearms look bigger, but they’re unlikely to be a limiting factor when we’re rowing, especially if we’re focusing on pulling with our upper back muscles, and especially if we’re using lifting straps. And so again, our forearms might not grow all that much bigger.

Plus, even if we strengthen our grips and build bigger brachioradialis muscles, we’re still neglecting the vast majority of the muscles in our forearms—the forearm flexors and extensors. And so our forearms will often stay fairly thin until we start training them directly with forearm isolation lifts.

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Illustration of a man lifting to failure on the front squat.

Should we lift to failure when trying to gain muscle size? That’s a tricky question, and the answer depends on the situation. For example, experienced lifters are able to lift to failure more safely, but they stimulate more muscle growth by stopping just shy of failure, at least on compound lifts. Beginners, on the other hand, can build muscle faster by lifting to failure, but since they don’t have the skill to take compound lifts to failure safely, training to failure is best reserved for isolation lifts.

The situation grows murkier when we consider that it’s often better to leave reps in reserve when lifting in lower rep ranges, whereas lifting in higher rep ranges often demands that we push closer to failure.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s often hard to estimate exactly how many reps we’re leaving in reserve, and if we misjudge our efforts and fail to push ourselves hard enough, we may wind up failing to stimulate any muscle growth whatsoever.

In this article, we’ll cover the research looking into training to failure as it relates to gaining muscle size, discussing the nuances of when you should and shouldn’t leave reps in reserve.

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Illustration showing the different bodybuilding and hypertrophy lifts.

What are the best lifts for bodybuilding and hypertrophy training—for gaining muscle size? How do we sort those lifts and pick between them? Which lifts complement one another, building a balanced routine, and which lifts replace one another, serving as options to pick between?

To find the best lifts, we’ll look at hypertrophy research, with the gold standard being studies that compare different lifts and then measure muscle growth. We can also look at the biomechanics of the lifts, seeing which lifts have the best dynamics to engage different muscles. And when we have no other choice, although this path is fraught with peril, we’ll also look at muscle-activation (EMG) research.

Then we’ll break the lifts down into the main lifts that serve as the foundation of our workout routines, the assistance lifts that train the same movement patterns but that emphasize different muscles, and the accessory lifts that target the muscles that aren’t properly stimulated by compound lifts. That way we aren’t just talking about the “best” lifts, we’re talking which lifts complement one another to give us a balanced workout routine.

So, which lifts are best for building muscle? Let’s see.

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Illustration of a bodybuilding using the leg press exercise machine to build muscle.

Are exercise machines as good as free weights for stimulating muscle growth? It’s often said that free weights engage more overall mass, do a better job of activating our muscles, and give us more general strength. Is that true? And if so, does that mean we should avoid exercise machines?

On the other hand, machines are often thought to do a great job of isolating certain muscles, many of them are designed to have an ideal strength curve for stimulating muscle growth, and some machine lifts, such as the leg extension, can’t be mimicked with free weights. Is it true that there are advantages to exercise machines, and if so, does that mean that we should use them instead of free weights, at least on certain lifts?

Finally, the big compound free-weight lifts can be hard to learn, especially for beginners. Should a beginner start with the barbell back squat, bench press, chin-up, and barbell row, or should they start with easier exercise machine variations, such as the leg press, chest press, lat pulldown, and cable row?

In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of using exercise machines for gaining muscle size, how they compare to free weights at stimulating muscle growth, and if/when you should use them.

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Reverse Pyramid Training Workout Routine for Muscle Hypertrophy

Reverse Pyramid Training is a popular way for intermediates to break through plateaus and continue gaining muscle size and strength. It also has the benefit of being a minimalist way of training, typically involving just three full-body workouts per week, with each of those workouts lasting less than an hour.

In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of Reverse Pyramid Training, why you might want to train this way, how to do it, and then give a sample workout program. We’ll also talk about whether it’s a good way of stimulating muscle growth when compared against other training methods, such as traditional hypertrophy training.

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Illustration of a man doing a low-bar back squat, as recommended in Starting Strength.

Starting Strength was created by the former powerlifter Mark Rippetoe as a beginner program for gaining general strength. It has its roots in powerlifting culture, but it’s not a powerlifting program. It’s designed to be good for gaining general strength, but what does that mean? And it’s occasionally marketed as being a good program for gaining muscle size. Is it?

What we want to do in this article is to review it from the perspective of a skinny person who’s new to lifting weights and trying to gain muscle size, become stronger, and improve their appearance. Is Starting Strength ideal for those very specific goals?

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Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

Our specialty is hypertrophy training. More specifically, we help naturally skinny “hardgainers” bulk up. But before that, Marco worked as the strength coach for several college, professional, and Olympic athletes. He also interned under Eric Cressey, the strength coach overseeing the training of the Yankees. So we’ve got somewhat similar roots to Jeff Cavaliere. Not surprisingly, then, we get a lot of questions about his muscle-building program for skinny guys.

Inferno Max/Size is the workout program for hardgainers who are looking to build muscle. That’s the Athlean-X program that best lines up with our area of expertise. So let’s evaluate it based purely on how effective it is at helping hardgainers bulk up.

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Illustration showing a man Olympic weightlifting (doing a snatch).

Is Olympic weightlifting good for building muscle? It depends on what we compare it against. Any type of training that challenges our muscles with heavy loads has the potential to stimulate at least a little bit of muscle growth. That makes it quite a bit better than endurance training and cardio for building muscle. But does Olympic weightlifting stimulate a comparable amount of muscle growth to hypertrophy training (aka bodybuilding)?

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