Top 8 Gym Exercises for Men To Achieve a Superhero Physique (Even as a Skinny Guy)
But when you’re an average-looking (to say the least), overweight or skinny guy, how do you get from where you are right now to that kind of physiques? You might have been hitting the gym regularly for a while now but your progress is nowhere near that level.
It seems like no matter how much time and effort you put into your workouts you can’t make your muscles grow. If your nutrition is in check and you are getting enough sleep, then there’s clearly a problem with the way you train.
Down below we’re outlining the top 8 exercises you need to do in order to achieve that superhero physique you’re chasing. But before we get to that, let’s look at the characteristics of a superhero physique.
What makes a superhero physique?
First and foremost it’s the amount of muscle mass. To look like a superhero you will need to put on a ton of mass. This means heavy resistance training and a caloric surplus for a long period of time. So don’t expect to get that look overnight.
Then the next most important factor is a thick chest with clear separation between the pecs. Shoulders development is equally important because it will give you that wide look and it will make your waist look smaller. You want your shoulders to really pop out.
In fact, the shoulder to waist ratio is pretty much what makes or breaks a good-looking male physique. Just as in women it is the waist-to-hip ratio. So you want a big wide back and shoulders and a smaller waist. This means you will need to be fairly lean as well.
All superheroes have big, nicely defined arms with big triceps and biceps. Lastly but not least, you also want toned up legs. But not as developed as some might think because they will start to overpower the upper body. You need just the right amount of size and definition in your legs, but without going overboard.
Alright, now that we have a pretty clear picture of that superhero physique let’s see how we can achieve it.
6 Best Muscle Mass Building Tips for the Skinny Guys
In every gym, you will find one popular dude who everyone knows, and everyone wishes to be. He is the dude with the biggest muscles and is super strong that he is able to lift the heaviest weight in the rack. Are you this guy? Of course, not. You wouldn’t be in this page if you were!
But aside from him, every gym also has that one skinny guy. Now, this is you who I am talking about—that one skinny guy who doesn’t seem to know what he should be doing. He is always nervous, awkward, forever, looking down, always seem unsure of himself. More than that, his frame is very skinny, and it seems as if he can’t carry a dumbbell even if it means saving his life.
I know that skinny guy in the gym pretty well because he is, or rather was, my husband. He goes to the gym thrice a week, followed all the tips and advice that the instructors would tell him but no matter how hard he tried, he can’t seem to bulk up. No matter how many times he goes to the gym, he still feels like a scrawny little kid who will never be able to grow his big guns. Well, that all changed when he followed a few muscle building tips that we have discovered.
As a writer who is well-versed with health and fitness, I helped my husband do further research about bodybuilding and we came across a few tips that worked well for him. I now have a hunky and muscular (well almost) husband – one statement I would never thought that I will be able to say in this lifetime!
Sure, being able to eat a lot without having to worry about your weight seems like a blessing. But looking like Olive Oyl instead of her beloved Popeye for all your life can sometimes feel like a curse. Well, I am here to help you turn things around.
The Tips Every Skinny Guy Needs to Know
Of course, my husband has abs but abs on a skinny guy is like big tits on fat girls—they don’t count!
If you want to finally have the legit abs that you have been dreaming of, you need to put these tips into action.
1. Go for compound lifts
If you have been going to the gym for quite a while, you already know by now that not all types of lift are created equal. Some lifts do a better job at building muscles. We are talking about compound lifts.
These types of workouts allow you to build more than one muscle group at a time. When you constantly and consistently perform these kinds of workout, you are able to maximize your bodybuilding routine because you will be working many muscles all at once.
Some of the compound exercises that experts recommend include back squats, deadlifts, rows, bench press, pull-ups, thrusters and many more.
But to be clear, I am not stopping you from doing isolated exercises, but it is best that you save those types of exercises later on after you have increases your overall muscle mass. Just simply focus on doing compound exercises then switch to performing isolated exercises as needed.
2. Eat bigger (and better)
When we say eat bigger, we are not referring to just eating more. We are also talking about the quality of your diet. Here are some of the bodybuilding nutrition tips to follow:
Rule 1: Choose your carbohydrates well
Skinny guys need to eat more to bulk up (well, you wish it is that easy). My husband was aware of that but his mistake was he ate lots of carbohydrate-rich food, thinking that it is the best way to go. Well, if you want to get fat and obese, that is truly the way to go, but if you want to be a lean machine, you need to choose your carbohydrates properly.
The type of carbohydrates that experts recommend is those that are slow to digest. In short, complex carbohydrates. This type of carbohydrates has the least tendency to turn into fats and can help keep you feeling full for longer.
Some of the best carbohydrate-rich foods for bulking up are whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oats. On the other hand, you should avoid fast-digesting carbohydrate-rich foods like chips, white bread, white rice, cakes, and other pastries.
Rule 2: Stick with the healthy fats
Just like carbohydrates, types of fats are also not created equal. If you wish to become lean yet big, you would want to eat only the healthy fats. We are referring to the types of fats found in nuts, peanut butter, olive oil, salmon, sunflower seeds, and many others.
It is also a must that you shy away from unhealthy fats from junk foods, fried foods, French fries, chips, and many more. Aside from the fact that the consumption of these fats may lead to obesity, it may also increase your risk of heart diseases.
Rule 3: Boost your protein intake
If you are a skinny guy like me, you should know that proteins are your best friend when it comes to bodybuilding. Protein is a key nutrient in not just losing fat but also in gaining muscle strength and mass.
Since this is the case, it is important to ensure that you are consuming the right amount of proteins that your body needs. According to studies, the rule of thumb is to consume at least 1.4 grams of protein per kg of your body weight every day.
Some of the protein-rich foods that you should incorporate into your diet are lean beef cuts, fishes, eggs, beans, chicken, soy, and milk.
Bonus Rule: Snack on ice cream once a day
This may contradict the nutrition tip provided above, but there is an exception to every rule. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that ice cream can trigger the surge in insulin levels better than other snacks. The sudden increase in insulin levels can help put a stop to the protein breakdown that your body experienced after every workout.
With this in mind, it is recommended that you consume a bowl of ice cream (of any flavor) 2 hours after the workout.
3. Try HGH
I know that this is currently one of the most controversial bodybuilding tips in the industry, but a lot of people claim that using HGH for men is extremely beneficial.
HGH means Human Growth Hormone and one of its functions is to stimulate muscle growth due to its ability to stimulate the ability of the liver to produce the insulin growth factor 1.
But while it is considered to be beneficial for bodybuilding, it is still a must that you consult the advice of a hormone specialist before you take advantage of this treatment.
4. Lift only every other day
My husband used to think that the more he lifts, the bigger he will become. Well, he learned things the hard way. Before, he lifts almost 5 days a week. Well, he only ended up tired, not bigger.
I have been trying to advise him against doing that but I think husbands are programmed not to listen to their wives. Luckily, he shared his lifting routine with his friends and they were shocked. It was only then that he was able to understand the fact that muscle growth takes place during recovery and not during my lifting sessions.
If he continued with his 5-day lifting routine, his body won’t get the nutrients and rest that it needs to develop muscles. That is why my friends (one of which is a gym instructor) advised him to take a break from the gym every other day. When he did that, he was able to see little but consistent improvements in his physique.
5. Take longer rests in between sets
Aside from resting every other day, it is also recommended that you take longer rests after every set. In fact, experts recommend that you should rest for about 3 to 5 minutes in between sets. This time allows your nervous system to recover from your first set, giving you enough energy to take on another set.
In addition to that, lower repetitions coupled with longer rest leads to a dump of testosterone in your bloodstream. This sudden change in your body’s chemistry will facilitate your body to grow and develop muscles.
6. Be patient
As I have mentioned above, my husband was the ultimate skinny guy before. He tried to build muscle for almost 3 years, but nothing happened. He was about to give up but lucky for him, we were able to discover the tips mentioned above.
My husband put these into action, and despite doing the right things, it still took time for his body to transform. But with consistent practice and lots of time, he was able to transform from being Bruce Banner to the Hulk (well, not that big but you know what I mean!).
The bottom line here is to be patient. Bodybuilding takes time, especially for skinny guys like you and my husband (but not anymore!), but take heart. Be patient and consistently do these things and you can be able to achieve the body that you want eventually.
Top 8 Gym Exercises for Men To Achieve a Superhero Physique
Bodybuilding is not an easy feat. There are many things that you can do wrong which can hamper your muscle development, but with the right guidance, lots of patience, proper research, good nutrition and right workout, it is not impossible.
1. Incline barbell bench press
This is the absolute best exercise you can do for developing your upper and mid-chest. You can do both dumbbell and barbell variations and you can also try different incline angles. But always stay between a 30 to 45 degrees incline.
Pick a weight which is heavy enough so that you can’t do more than 8-10 reps per set. You can do as little as 4-6 reps if you’re using heavier weights.
The great thing about incline bench press is that it allows you the safely use the progressive overloading training method, with minimum risk of injuries. Because you have more muscle groups and more joints moving the weight, even though the upper chest gets the most load, the risk of getting injured is much smaller.
Here’s how to bench press correctly:
- Lie down on the bench so that bar is exactly above your eye level
- Arch your back a little bit and plant your feet on the ground for better stability
- Hand placement should be a bit wider than shoulder width apart
- Keep your wrists tight and straight up (not bent)
- Un-rack the weight and slowly start to descent by controlling it until it gently touches the upper part of your chest (it shouldn’t bounce off your chest)
- Push it up as explosively as you can
- When you are done securely re-rack the bar
Here’s a video demonstration:
2. Weighted dips
This one is another awesome exercise for developing your upper body. It will primarily target your chest and triceps, but you also get some shoulder activation as well.
If you can’t do weighted that’s fine, you can start with bodyweight dips, but if you want to achieve that superhero physique you are going to have to work your way up to doing dips using a 45 pounds plate or even more.
The great thing about dips is that it can target both your chest and triceps depending on the variation you are doing. So it’s a great exercise if you want a fuller chest but also bigger arms. The tricep actually makes up for ⅔ of the size of your arm, so it’s extremely important to train it if you want more size.
In terms of rep range, you can go from 8 reps up to 12-15 reps per set.
Here’s how to do 2 different dips variations.
Dips chest version
- Use a wide grip on the parallel bar
- Starting position is with your elbows straight
- Bend your elbows and start to lower your body slowly while leaning forward around 30 degrees
- Try to bring your feet forward a little bit as you go down so that you bring more weight forward (on the chest)
- Stop once your shoulder level is slightly below your elbows level. You should feel a stretch in your chest at this point
- From there push explosively through your palms until you are at the starting position, but don’t lock out your elbows.
Dips tricep version
- Use a narrower grip on the parallel bar
- Starting position is the same as before, with your elbows straight
- Bend your elbows and start to lower your body slowly while keeping your upper body as straight up as possible.
- Push your feet back as you go down so that you bring more weight backward (on the triceps)
- Ending position is when your shoulder level is slightly below your elbows level.
- Same as before, push through your palms until you are at the starting position and don’t lock your elbows.
Here’s how it should looks:
This is one of the most challenging exercises you can do in the gym. It will activate your entire back chain of muscles such as the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, but it will also strengthen your core, quads and your grip. It is primarily used as a back training exercise though.
Because it uses so many muscles you will be able to use really heavy weights which make is so much more effective for building muscles. But also for losing fat because you will be burning more calories.
Having a good form is important for any exercise that you do,. But with deadlifts, you want to take your form to perfection. Everything has to be in check, otherwise, you may end up hurting your lower back really bad.
So here’s how to perform correctly this fantastic compound movement:
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outside
- Hand placement on the bar should be just a bit wider than your feet placement
- Make sure the hand placement is even on each side
- The starting position is with your bum stuck out, chest out, shoulders rolled back and head up
- Your spine should be in a neutral position
- When you lift it push through the legs first while keeping your back straight
- Then, once you are about halfway through the lift, the final movement is from the lower back
- Arch your back just a little bit as you go up
- Coming back down is the same: lower back first, and then bend your legs until the bar hits the ground.
The main take away here is that your back has to be straight through the whole motion. You don’t want it rounded unless you plan on breaking something. So pick a weight which allows you to perform this exercise with good form.
In terms of rep range, 5 to 12 reps per set is ideal.
Widely considered one of the best (if not the best) weight training exercises in existence, the deadlift is a force to be reckoned with.
Many swear by it, and even those who refuse to incorporate it into their exercise regimen can’t deny the movement’s overall effectiveness.
What many may not realize is that it is a highly technical exercise. Do it without proper form and you risk injuring your back or legs.
For that reason, we thought we’d work out (no pun intended) a bodyweight exercise alternative.
Bodyweight Alternatives for the Deadlift
This kind of training has become quite trendy recently, and for good reason. It doesn’t require a gym membership, nor much expertise, and the risk of injury is minimal. Great for overweight people and for those recovering from injuries.
What Could Be Considered A Deadlift Alternative?
In order to answer the above question, we will first need to list the benefits of the exercise. There are many, which will eliminate a good number of potential candidate moves.
Incorporating deadlifts into your workout regimen will:
Work your glutes. In fact, out of all powerlifting moves, the deadlift will hit your glutes the hardest.
Build your traps, because they work the posterior chain all the way up to the neck.
Strengthen and widen your lats, which are somewhat difficult to target outside of pull-ups.
Build your whole core. Deadlifts engage both your front and back.
Strengthen your hamstrings, given that they do a lot of the work too.
Increase grip strength. Grasping and holding that much weight is nothing to joke about.
That is one long list, isn’t it?
Almost long enough to persuade one to go out and get a gym membership, right?
Nothing wrong with that. But before going there, there’s no harm in considering some bodyweight alternatives and healthy bodybuilding diet. They all have the same shortcoming, i.e. the inability to tack on more weight, but they target most of the above-mentioned muscles.
Contender One: The Back Bridge
Back bridges hit your shoulders, upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, covering most of the areas deadlifts would affect.
As if all that wasn’t enough, back bridges also improve (and demand) flexibility, which is a feature that goes right out the window whenever weight training comes into the picture.
As for the downsides, there are two:
Back bridges will do next to nothing for your traps, which is partially a consequence of downside number two:
Once you’ve got a good back bridge game going, it will be difficult to increase resistance. Although people have gotten creative and invented an advanced variant by using one arm and the opposite leg (it’s a killer and not a pleasant experience).
All in all, an excellent lightweight alternative for a heavyweight move.
Contender Two: Bodyweight Single-Leg Deadlifts
Generally considered an easier move, but not to be taken lightly. Bodyweight single-leg deadlifts “only” target your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, which makes them a bottom tier contender, but also makes them the most accessible of the bunch.
To top things off, they also help with balance and stability, which is nice.
Eventually, you are likely going to hit the ceiling with these, so consider doing slower reps, adding in sets, or moving over to a harder move. Nothing’s really wrong with them, they simply get outclassed.
Contender Three: The Glute-Ham Raise
While it is reliant on a static piece of equipment (unless you’re willing to improvise), the glute-ham raise works your entire posterior chain: calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back.
This is a move for everyone: easily accessible, and able to make even experienced athletes feel the burn via slower repetitions and additional sets.
The downside? Like the bodyweight single leg deadlift, this one does nothing for your arms. That said, it is overall the better of the two (at least when it comes to mimicking the actual deadlift), and never gets obsolete.
Contender Five: The Pistol Squat
As a strong and advanced all-rounder, the pistol squat deserves a mention in any conversation about compound moves.
Hitting your entire core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads, as well as improving balance and stability, this is one of the best squats out there.
Aside from not working your arms, the pistol squat has another quirk working against it. As an advanced move, it isn’t something most can just dive into.
Also, you being a bit on the heavy side could seriously mess up your capacity to perform this move.
Contender Six: The Back Lever
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the back lever. It does next to nothing for your legs but works your whole back, shoulders, arms, even that rarely worked-on grip strength.
It is the only static move on this list, but don’t let its lack of motion lull you into a false sense of security; the back lever is difficult, requiring a solid foundation to hold for a decent amount of time.
Progression programs do exist, however, so you can work your way up with a little risk of injury.
Contender Seven: The Upside Down Deadlift
Sometimes called a piston or kip extension, this somewhat weird-looking move will work most of your core, posterior chain, arms, and grip strength. As an added bonus, it also helps with balance and stability.
As a definite minus, it demands a good deal of balance and stability to begin with, as well as a high overall level of fitness. Like the pistol squat, you being on the heavier side will make this exercise significantly more difficult, even if you are strong.
As far as replacing deadlifts with bodyweight goes though, this may be the best you can get. It hits nearly everything, does a little bit more on the side, and looks cool to boot!
We know it’s sad, but a direct replacement for deadlifts doesn’t exist.
Nothing you can do with your own bodyweight will mimic the exact list of benefits you would get from that move.
However, the deadlifts themselves won’t give you all the effects mentioned on some of the exercises we’ve listed today, such as improvements in balance, flexibility, and stability.
You could, for instance, add both back levers and pistol squats to your routine for a heavy whole-body workout. That approach would take more time, but would also come with added benefits.
The world of fitness isn’t exclusionary. It is meant for you to experiment, tweak, add, and remove, leaving only what works best for your body.
If that includes deadlifts, then so be it. If (for whatever reason) you wish to skip them, then this list is for you. Just remember to cover all of your bases.
Here’s how a good deadlift form looks:
Moving on we have another exercise which will target your upper back this time, but also the biceps – pull-ups or chin-up, depending on what palm placement you will be using.
Pull-ups will put more emphasis on your back, and are great for building width, whereas chin-ups will put more emphasis on your biceps. Ideally, you want work your way up to doing weighted pull-ups and chin-ups if you want to reach a higher level of muscular development. So definitely focus on improving your strength.
Here’s how to perform a pull-up correctly:
- First, for pull-ups, you need to use an overhand grip
- Then place your hands on the bar wide apart so that they form a V (wider than shoulder width apart)
- Hang from the bar with your elbows completely straight (this will tighten your dorsal muscle)
- Lean back a bit and stick your chest out as you pull yourself up
- At the very top of the movement, you should have your chin pass the bar
- Slowly return to the starting position, while controlling the movement.
Here’s how to perform a chin-up correctly:
- For chin-up, you need to use an underhand grip
- Hand placement should be about shoulder width apart
- Hang from the bar with your elbows completely straight
- Keep your body in a vertical position (don’t lean back as before) as you pull yourself up
- At the very top of the movement, you should have your chin pass the bar
- Slowly return to the starting position, while controlling the movement.
Aim for 6 to 12 reps per set and focus on progressing from bodyweight to weighted pull-ups and chin-ups.
Here’s how a pull-up looks:
And here’s a chin-up:
5. Lateral raises
This is my personal favorite shoulder exercise. Even though it’s not a compound movement like all the other exercise outline here, it’s the best way of building those round shoulders that make you look like you have a wide back as well.
You will be working out with lighter weights, so the main goal of this exercise is to keep the muscle under the tension for longer periods of time, and to use perfect form.
Here’s how to do shoulder lateral raises:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart while holding the dumbbells in your hands
- Slowly raise your hand up to the sides until the dumbbells are just a bit above your head level
- Your elbows should be slightly bent (this will take some stress off the joints)
- Don’t swing your body or use any momentum as you are bringing the dumbbells up
- Go back to the starting position slowly.
Do anywhere from 10 to 15 reps per set.
Here’s a visual demonstration:
6. Overhead shoulder press
The second shoulder exercise is the overhead press. Unlike the lateral raises, this is a compound movement which will target all 3 heads of the delts. But it also uses a lot of core muscles in order to stabilize the body, as well as a little bit of upper chest and arms muscles.
Here’s how to perform this exercise using a barbell:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
- Put the bar high on your chest (you should use a power rack)
- Keep your chest up and elbows forward
- Squeeze your glutes and keep your back straight
- Your knees and hips should be locked throughout the movement
- As the bar passes your head tilt it slightly backward to let the bar pass
- At the very top position, your elbows shouldn’t be locked
- At the very bottom position, the bar should touch your upper chest.
Aim for 6 to 12 reps per set.
Here’s how it should look:
Final weight training exercise on the list – squats – is targeting the lower body.
As mentioned in the very beginning, you don’t want really big and muscular legs because they will overpower your upper body. Of course, you don’t want chicken legs either. So we are after toning up the legs and create good muscle definition without making them too bulky.
For this purpose, you should do 10-12 reps per set with a weight which is about 70-75% of your one rep maximum. Squats are going to directly work your quads and hamstrings as well as your core muscles and a little bit of your back.
Here’s how to squat:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
- Keep your back straight, chest forward and shoulders backward
- Keep your head straight and eyes forward
- As you start to go down keep your back in a neutral position
- Keep your knees in line with your feet
- Bottom position should be when your bum is slightly lower than your knees
- From there start pushing through your heels
- Maintain a neutral spine as you go up back to the starting position.
That’s pretty much it. Start off with a lighter weight and work on your form first. Once you got it right use a moderate to heavy workload.
Here’s how it should look like:
Lastly but not least you want to do some cardio as well. It will help you keep your body fat percentage relatively low while still eating plenty of food.
The thing is that cardio can often interfere with muscle growth, and we definitely don’t want that. There are two ways you can prevent that from happening or at least minimize the effects.
The first one is to always do your cardio after your weight training. This way you will put most of your energy into the weightlifting, which is obviously more beneficial for your main goal.
The second one is to any kind of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead of a slower paced cardio such as incline walking or light jogging.
HIIT will give you the best bang for your buck. You will burn more calories in less time and it will interfere less with your muscle building process. Additionally, you will also benefit from the so-called after-burn effect, which will make your body continue to burn calories at a faster rate even if you are done with your cardio training.
Don’t forget – every hero needs his rest.
There you have it – the only 8 exercises you need to put in most of your time and effort in the gym if you want to become a superhero. Stick with it in the long term and the results will eventually start to show.
Always focus on getting stronger on each of these exercises. Make sure that your nutrition is in check and that you are living a balanced lifestyle for optimal results as well.