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Exercises To Gain Weight

Medically reviewed by Steven N. Gange, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 28, 2023

Having a fast metabolism isn’t easy. It’s not just the challenge of listening to others repeatedly say, “I wish I had your problem.” It’s the struggle of trying to gain weight and failing as miserably as those who diet to lose it. No matter what your body type, altering your physique isn’t easy. Yet it can be done. The key isn’t just exercising, it’s doing the right exercises. So here are some selected exercises to help gain weight. 


Your Body Type


People fall into one of three body types or “somatotypes.” First described by William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD,  in the 1940s, the three types are ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. No one fits perfectly into a type, of course, but, in general, we are one of these. If you think of athletes, bodybuilders tend to be mesomorphs. They are muscular and can gain or lose weight easily. Endomorphs are the linebackers of the world. Although they aren’t always overweight, they have abundant quantities of both fat and muscle. With narrow chests, long limbs, and thin frames, ectomorphs are basketball players, fashion models, ballerinas. If you’ve been struggling to gain weight, you’re likely an ectomorph. If your Body Mass Index marks you as underweight for your height, you may want to consult a nutritionist or other health care specialist. 


Rest is actually the key to building muscle. It probably seems counterintuitive. Just remember that whenever you lift weights, you’re tearing down muscle fiber. If your recovery time is inadequate, your muscles won’t have enough time to grow. That doesn’t just defeat the purpose of working out. It also increases your risk of injury. 

Too often, aspiring bodybuilders concentrate on defining their smaller muscle groups at the expense of the larger ones. To gain size, you want to focus on exercises that work your largest muscle groups. The smaller muscles, sometimes called synergists, will also grow. That’s because exercises that work your chest or back, for example, also work your arms and shoulders. When you do some of these exercises to gain weight, you should devote one fitness session to each of them. Do them once a week.




If you look around your average health club, you’ll soon realize that legs are the most neglected body part. Sure, plenty of people do cardio. However, many of them rarely do lifts for their legs. That’s a shame. Your leg muscles are your body’s largest, and their growth will be a huge factor in gaining weight. So start out with these leg exercises for your first workout session.


  • Squat. As with any of the exercises where a barbell is involved, begin with just an empty bar. Proper form is vital. You want to take the time to train your body to move correctly. When you have done that, you can slowly add weight. For legs, you are looking to do around 12 repetitions. Start by standing up straight with your feet positioned below your hips. The bar should be across your shoulders. Inhale deeply. Using only your legs, lower yourself to a seated position. Your upper body should be rigid with your back straight. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Exhale as you rise to your starting position. Repeat. When your set is completed, rest for at least one minute. Do three sets. As an alternative, if you don’t have access to barbells, you can do this exercise by putting your hands on your hips and flexing your stomach muscles prior to lowering yourself
  • Lunges. Perfect for long waits at the airport, a lunge can be performed just about anywhere. To start, stand up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart. Act like you’re about to go for a walk, but lean forward so that your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Use your heel to return to your starting place. Repeat on the same leg for up to 15 reps, exhaling as you return to starting. Switch legs. Do three sets. 


You can also add the goblet squat or walking with a light weight in each hand to the day’s exercise. 



  • Push Up. For most men, the push up is the ideal exercise to build size and strength. It doesn’t require a lot of space or any weights. Done properly, it can be a real game changer. Begin by lying face down on the ground with your palms flat on the floor and about shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, push your body up until your arms are at full extension. Your back and legs should be straight, and your eyes should be looking down. Lifting your head can hurt your back. Inhale deeply. Lower yourself slowly until your nose almost hits the ground. If you feel this in your wrists, make sure your fingers are pointed toward the front of the room. Try to do 12 push-ups for three sets.
  • Bench Press. If you have access to a flat bench and a barbell, this is a great size-producing exercise. Again, start with an empty bar until you are comfortable with doing this properly. In a quest to lift heavy weights, many men often use their hips or lower back to thrust the weight up. Your goal here is to develop good form; your back should remain on the bench. Grabbing the bar with both hands, extend your arms until they are parallel with your chest. Inhale. Lower the bar down to your chest. As you slowly straighten your arms, exhale. Repeat this motion for 8 to 12 repetitions. Do three sets with a pause of at least one minute between sets. As you add weight, you will want to find a spotter to stay safe.
  • Pull-Ups. This is a great exercise for your shoulders and arms. It’s perfect as the last exercise for this session when your muscles are warmed up. Doing this exercise when you aren’t properly warmed up can lead to injury. Begin by gripping the pull-up bar with both hands about shoulder width apart. You should begin by hanging off the bar with your arms straight. Take a deep breath and exhale. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. As you inhale, lower yourself until your return to a hanging position. Repeat for 8 to 12 repetitions of two to three sets.



  • Deadlift. Like the squat and the bench press, the deadlift is a great overall size builder. Although it mainly works your back muscles, it also activates your legs, arms, and shoulders. To begin, place your feet shoulder-width apart in a standing position. Grip the barbell with a double-overhand grip so your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be slightly bent. Pushing your chest out keeps your back straight while you push your hips back. Lower the barbell until it is a few inches below your knees. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, return to the starting position. Do three sets of 8 to 12 reps. 
  • Bent-Over Rows. Place a barbell in front of you on the floor. Begin by bending your upper body until it’s nearly perpendicular to the floor. The key to this exercise is keeping your back straight. Use an overhand grip so that your hands are about shoulder-width apart on the barbell. Take a deep breath. As you inhale, pull or “row” the weight toward your lower chest. Hold the weight for a moment, then, controlling the weight, slowly lower it until it almost touches the floor. Repeat for up to 12 repetitions.


As you become comfortable with these exercises you can add one or two to each day, like dumbbell rows on back day or dumbbell presses on chest day. However, do not over do it. 


These exercises can help you gain weight, but only if you don’t neglect diet and slumber. After all, the time you spend working out is a minute fraction of an average day. Eating right is important. If you bulk up on beer and pizza, you’ll likely have an unhealthy body fat percentage despite your seemingly thin frame. So don’t be skinny-fat. Choose full-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt. Eat whole-grain bread, lean meats, eggs, nuts, and legumes. When you’re awake, avoid going more than two to three hours without eating something. Finally, make it a priority to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. By sticking to this program, you’ll start to see changes in just a few weeks. 


Written by John Bankston

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