Last Updated: February 6, 2021
We all know there's no shortcuts to building the physique you really want that can genuinely change your life in various ways, but the closest thing to a "shortcut" to success is finding a very knowledgeable, experienced, credible mentor/coach and incorporating their specific strategies in your day to day, week to week routines and plans.
Or even better? Getting your hands on the EXACT muscle building program they use themselves (or that they used in the past to initially transform from skinny to ripped and muscular).
If you want to leave absolutely nothing to chance, and avoid making any number of the many different mistakes you could be making in your own program that sabotages your gains, following a premade step by step program created by a pro could be the game-changer you need to finally get the amazing life-changing results you really want.
Here's the lowdown on buying a premade program:
You don't need to buy a strength and muscle building program to get transform your physique, and you can get results by designing your own program from scratch through piecing together different articles and videos you find online.
However, planning your own program is something you shouldn't rush by any means, as there are many factors to take into account in order to ensure your program is properly structured, well-balanced, and actually effective in producing muscle gains (most out there just simply aren't though, as there is a ton of misleading, incomplete or straight-up dangerous training and dieting information in every single corner of the internet).
By implementing a finely-tuned step by step program that's been specifically designed for maximum muscle gains as a skinny hardgainer/beginner, and one that's been proven to get results for many others time and time again, you're fast-tracking your way to results and avoiding all the common training and nutrition mistakes that literally a good 80-90% of other people in the gym are falling victim to.
In other words, if you want to guarantee that you'll be maximizing your precious time spent in the gym (and kitchen) to extract maximum results, leaving the design of a highly effective mass gain program to a true natural bodybuilding pro could turn out to be one of the smarter decisions of your fitness life when you look back a few months/years from now (it certainly was for me; putting my ego aside and following Sean Nal's program allowed me to finally get the gains I wanted).
To build the physique you really want, it's crucial to be implementing an effective, strategic, well thought-out program that's been proven to get results
The harsh reality is, most who start their own muscle gain program (or follow someone else's) just won't get the results they want. Most will eventually get discouraged due to lack of great results, and end up continuing their training and dieting half-halfheartedly, forever spinning their wheels in the gym and never achieving the physique they were initially so excited and motivated to build.
Inconsistency is of course one reason, as most people just lack the long-term discipline to stick at something long enough to produce great results, but the other big reason that most guys (or gals) don't end up building the physique they want is their strategies are ineffective and not well thought-out enough.
You can't expect to get really good results if you listen to any random advice you find online, or by implementing some random average program handed to you by the first personal trainer you stumble upon (there's a lot of PTs who wouldn't know the first thing about science-based muscle gain or fat loss).
There is a science to lifting and building muscle mass, and many variables to take into account to compile an effective, well-balances program that covers all bases (and that avoids things like developing muscular imbalances or posture problems; a huge issue with many bodybuilding programs).
Without taking proper care in planning your workout and eating routines, the truth is you're just not going to get results anytime soon. Especially not as a hardgainer (AKA skinny ectomorph) who finds it difficult to gain size and strength, as in that case it's even more important to be smart with your training as the odds are slightly stacked up against you (but remember not to let that phase you for you can still build the physique of your dreams).
If you want results now and over the long haul to eventually reach all your goals, you must put in the time and effort to plan your own effective, well-balanced, intelligently-crafted mass gain program from scratch. Or - follow a proven effective program created by someone who walks the walk and has created the results you're after (and starting from a similar place to you, ie a hardgainer/skinny guy/skinny-fat guy).
You can train real hard in the gym and really WANT results badly, but if your program is poor all that work could count for very little (or cause common issues like muscular/postural imbalances)
But when hunting for the best muscle building program to follow it can get real confusing real fast, as there are plenty of low-quality, over-priced, overly-marketed, or straight-up junk programs out there to avoid at all costs.
It's no secret the fitness industry is notoriously full of opportunities who just want to cash in on gullible people who dream of looking like Captain America overnight, but there are diamonds in the rough if you know where and what to look for (which is hard to do if you're a beginner). Below I've listed my very top recommendations of the best mass gain programs based on my extensive experience and having experimented with many different programs and strategies over the years.
Any of these step by step bulking programs are going to be safe bets to cut your learning curve, avoid the many possible possible when crafting your own program, and to allow you to conveniently just "plug-and-play" and apply what's in the program week in and week out for the best results of your life (if you stick with it, that is).
You're not going to see anything below besides the absolute best of the best programs from some of the most knowledgeable, experienced natural bodybuilding coaches in the world, and with proven track records of success in helping hardgainers and skinny guys to genuinely transform their physiques completely for the better. I personally stand by all the below coaches and programs 100%, so I would never include a low-quality recommendation on this page for that will reflect badly on me.
If you're unsure which program is right for you, I'd simply pick the trainer and program that you feel suits your style, lifestyle and goals best, and then stick with it for long enough to produce results (don't be lame and throw in the towel after a week complaining that you didn't become superman).
If after a good few weeks and months you don't see really noticeable results, you'd have to be doing something seriously wrong as all the bodybuilding programs below are very specifically designed for producing the best muscle building gains possible (in the shortest amount of time, though again there's a limit to how much muscle your body can actually build in any given period of time so you must still be patient).
At risk of sounding like something out of a lame late-night infomercial (don't get me started on that) - once you internalize a good program, and then execute on it consistently, you'll literally have an edge over a good 95% of others in the gym who haphazardly throw weights around, eat any random foods they generally feel like, down overpriced and/or straight-up useless mainstream supplements, and who predictably spin their wheels for years and years (if they don't quit before then).
Don't let that be you.
Either take the time to craft your own muscle gain program carefully, or stick with a high-quality premade program like the ones below, and you'll be on your way if you simply vow to never give up. Without further rambling, let's get into the best muscle building programs for hardgainers in my honest humble opinion after over a decade now of hands-on experience with many different programs and types of training.
Don't be fooled by the slick covers - this program is the real deal for anyone serious about transforming over the next few months
Sean's own transformation from applying the invaluable knowledge he shares in the program
Recommended For: Beginner / Intermediate Lifters (& must have access to full gym)
Created By: Sean Nal (Natural Bodybuilding Author, Fitness YouTuber)
Includes Coaching? Yes (1-on-1 email help/support included)
My Rating: 5 / 5 (Exceptional)
My Experience Using the Body Transformation Blueprint (includes my before and after photos)
If you read my introduction to what it really takes to build muscle as a hardgainer, you'll know my general thoughts on the fitness and bodybuilding industry: a land full of opportunists who will tell the general public anything they want to hear in order to make a fast buck. But thankfully, there's some good apples in this world, and Sean Nal is one of them. If you're after the real no BS, science-based truth and simple-yet-highly-effective workout/nutrition/supplementation principles that will build significant muscle mass for any guy willing to execute for long enough - this program has you covered and then some.
If you don't have the time, patience, or know-how to create your own program, Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint is the closest thing to a "shortcut" and you'll be hard pressed finding a more complete muscle gain/bodybuilding program anywhere.
It covers everything you need to know about highly effective weight training, nutrition and supplementation to gain weight and muscle mass, but most importantly it's written and taught by a credible strength trainer who walks the walk, and who was once a hardgainer themselves who overcame that excuse to build a seriously impressive all-natural physique.
This program has a long proven track record of helping skinny guys get great results (check out the before and afters of guys who used it) and it personally helped me a ton when I first started - so much so that I owe Sean Nal a lot of credit for my initial "hardgainer to hero" transformation.
Sounds kinda cheesy, but it's what happened to me - these days when I tell people I was a hardgainer they see my super-ripped, muscular physique and think I'm full of it, but little do they know where I started from as the straight-up skinniest guy on my football team bar none (I'm sure Sean gets that a lot these days too).
Before randomly stumbling on this program online one fateful day I was trying a bunch of different workouts in the gym and eating based on friends advice (and from random forums and articles online), but my results were super slow and average and I was really spinning my wheels without having a complete, proven program to follow.
I was genuinely confused how the heck a super scrawny noob like me would ever pack on enough muscle mass to properly overhaul my physique and my life for the better, and decided to give this program a go because Sean seemed totally legit and I have a strong BS radar for junk programs/scams out there (there are a ton) due to having had a lot of experience working online prior to that.
All I'll say is thank god I took the leap and stopped trying to figure it all out on my own, as Sean's program was the unlock to real lasting results that I badly needed, and at the risk of sounding like some lame late-night infomercial (don't get me started on that), this program really did change my life.
See my full review of the Body Transformation Blueprint for a full breakdown of this program, what's included, and whether or not it's right for you, and my own before and after pics (which I credit massively to the program). But to summarize; out of all your options out there right now if you want a comprehensive yet easy to follow bulking program, this is hands-down the best muscle building program on the market.
Another high-quality bulking program that includes everything you need as a beginner to maximize results
Hard to believe if you're the skeptical type, but like Sean, Jason used to be a hardgainer too
Recommended For: Beginner / Intermediate Lifters (& must have access to full gym)
Jason Ferruggia (Advisor to Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, LiveStrong, MLB, NFL, WWE Athletes, Personal Trainer With 25+ Years Experience, Natural Bodybuilding Author, Podcast Host)
Includes Coaching? Yes (access to a private coaching community for hardgainers)
My Rating: 4.5 / 5 (Great)
Another classic muscle gain program that leaves out the BS and focuses on what matters most when it comes to building muscle and gaining weight (compound exercises, progressive overload, good program structure, etc) and puts it all together in an easy to understand yet complete program that you can simply execute week in week out for the best results of your life.
Muscle Gaining Secrets 2.0 isn't as comprehensive and detailed as Sean Nal's program, but it's cheaper and packs enough high-quality info and supporting modules (including printable/downloadable premade workouts and nutrition plans) to give you all the tools and resources you need to kick-start your (hopefully) life-changing hardgainer transformation.
Plus, like Sean Nal, Jason walks the walk and has actually got great results himself as a former hardgainer who really struggled to gain weight and muscle (see his before and after pics on the main program page) from the training and eating strategies and methods that he teaches, and like Sean's program Muscle Gaining Secrets has a proven track record of success stories from a whole heap of happy hardgainers around the world who credit his program as their breakthrough.
Both guys really know their stuff and walk the walk of having both started out as super-skinny guys and going on to transform their physique quite dramatically like every skinny beginner dreams of, so either program can work wonders for you and unlock the gains you're looking for. They each have slightly different approaches to their training and nutrition strategy, as well as slightly different personalities, so I'd pick whoever you resonate with most and which program you like the look of.
Author: Ben Pakulski (Professional IFBB Bodybuilder, Past "Mr Canada" Winner)
I would have loved to include well-known pro bodybuilder Ben Pakulski's popular program M140 in the top 2, but despite it being a quality program with tons of included high-quality video instruction and coaching, I have to stay true to my word. What do I mean? Well, this article pertains to the best muscle building programs for beginners, and Ben's programs are for intermediate to advanced trainers who have already achieved a solid foundation of strength and muscle mass and who are looking to break a plateau with some intense routines and alternate training techniques. If that sounds like you, the M140 program (or its successor, MI40X) is worth considering.
Usually I wouldn't recommend taking advice from a pro bodybuilder because as a "hardgainer" it's probably hard to relate to them because a lot of competing bodybuilders are naturally inclined to build muscle easier than the rest of the population (and/or they use unnatural help if you know what I mean) and so their advice is to be taken with a grain of salt since they don't know what it's really like being a naturally skinny dude who finds it tough to pack on any significant amount of muscle. However, Ben is different in that he once did struggle to build muscle mass, and he's a smart, well respected guy in the industry who knows how to craft cleverly strategized programs that get results. Ben's programs are great and recommended if you're more advanced, but for most who are reading this who are new to lifting, you should stick with the beginner-friendly programs in the top recommendations from earlier.
Anyway, that wraps up my top recommended bulking programs as of right now if you want the convenience of a premade all-in-one program that you can simply set and forget. In other words, just follow the routines and apply them week in week out and you're almost guaranteed to get results, as these programs all have a ton of success stories and are proven in the natural bodybuilding world to get results. You bring the motivation and hard work, and the program will do the rest. That said, as I mentioned at the start, you don't need to buy any program to get good results if you carefully plan a well-balanced program for yourself and incorporate all the important fundamentals of training for muscle gain. Whatever you do, good luck and keep at it!