How PTs get it wrong

In Part 1 we concluded that there are a few common mistakes made by Personal Trainers when coaching their hard-gainer clients.

 These mistakes are:

  • Making extreme changes to their diet,
  • Not looking at the person’s physiology before selecting exercises (not choosing exercises they will be good at),
  • Not taking psychology into account.


Today we are going to cover the last two bullet points.

When you begin strength training or muscle building with a skinny guy, they’ve generally never been good at ‘lifting things’ or sport or exercise.

They probably had really bad experiences in PE classes at school, and will generally be terrified when starting out on a muscle building programme.

Boost their confidence

It is essential then that before starting your new client on a programme, that you select stuff they will be relatively good at, in order to kick things off with high confidence.

Adding weight to a barbell immediately and telling someone that they are good at something for the first time is confidence boosting!

  • If they are confident they are more likely to come back!
  • If they come back, they are more likely to build the muscle they want.
  • If they have a physique perfectly suited to deadlifting, then get them deadlifting!
  • If they have short arms get them doing press-ups or pressing exercises.
  • If they have short femurs/ legs, then get them squatting!
  • If you choose exercises they are good at (so they enjoy them) you will get them started feeling the best they could possibly be.
  • If they leave your first sessions thinking “actually, maybe I could be good at this!” then you are far more likely to create a positively reinforced habit in someone.

Help them enjoy the Process

 Imagine the opposite: You have them doing exercises just because they are “good for building muscle” and they can’t execute them proficiently!

They aren’t going to stick to that routine because they will just think, “right, I am shit after all.”

Why would anyone stick to something that constantly makes them feel inadequate when they are in the gym?

Oh…it’s the end result that should motivate them?

The process should be nearly as enjoyable as the results!

Base your skinny guy programming on the following mantras:





You can’t just avoid muscle groups if, for example, they naturally find squats difficult because they have long femurs.

What you have to do is:

  1. Find a variation or exercise that trains these areas without making them feel rubbish,
  2. show them and make them believe that they can progress, or
  3. Sensibly planning their sessions to mix the fun stuff with the miserable grinding horrible stuff that they won’t enjoy at all.

This might mean doing leg press instead of squats because you can pile the weight on that bad boy!

  • Instead of full blown deep barbell squats you might start with box squats to above parallel then gradually lower the box down as you see fit because this is easier than full squats straight away.
  • It might mean that if they are long armed and low in muscle mass that you don’t immediately expect them to do 300 press-ups a week (apologies to those on my 250+ press-ups a week programme.) Instead you could get them doing barbell floor presses which are easier to progress.

Once the habit of training is ingrained, and they have established that:

  1. they aren’t just shit at training, and
  2. they just have never had a plan designed around what they are naturally inclined to be good at,

then you can start introducing stuff that they are physiologically less proficient at.

They are in a much better place to think “with practice I will get better!” because they’ve seen that happen earlier on in their programming.

I’ve found that this approach works when you start introducing stuff to clients that you suspect that they may find difficult:  Tell them they may find it tough and explain your reasoning for using the exercise. They are usually completely fine with it and will accept the exercise as a challenge as long as it is framed correctly.

Frame it correctly and you may have a client for life.

Hopefully a significantly better life because of how your training makes them feel!

Another big consideration when training skinny guys is selecting the weights they are going to lift for each exercise.

Even if someone is going to be a naturally great bench presser for example, careful weight selection is key. You have to help them because they won’t have a clue what weight to select to begin with.

I’ve got this wrong so many times and it always secretly annoys me beyond belief behind my smiley trainer face.


“Well done Joel, you made that look easy!”


“Hmm, bit heavy dude, here are some 2.5kg dumbbells!”

Which one is potentially going to make the client feel strong and empowered (good) and which one is going to make them think “I’M SO PUNY AND WEAK JUST AS I ALWAYS SUSPECTED!”?

Another thing relating to physiology you have to consider is that these guys probably haven’t done much exercise in their adult life.

Going up the stairs may be difficult for some of them.

This is why I like to start skinny guys who haven’t done much in the 10-15 rep range for 3-5 sets usually covering 4-8 exercises. That will give them a good muscle building stimulus as well as a good conditioning base without them having to really know they are doing conditioning.

I even like to tell them it’s sneaky cardio if they ask.

Don’t be afraid to use common sense and drop a couple of sets off at first to get them through workouts until they know how it feels to be fairly exhausted, and to keep pushing through without anything bad happening to them.

A key point to remember when you begin training skinny guys who haven’t trained very much, is that they aren’t going to know how to set up most of the equipment.

Kettlebells may be a mystery to them. Squat racks look like complicated cages of doom.

“What do you mean the barbell weighs 20kg and I should include that in my weights?”

  • Explain right from the start that you expect them to make mistakes with the programme you are giving them.
  • Explain that you don’t expect perfection and you want them to ask as many questions as possible, and if you do spot them doing anything wrong, then you’ll come over and quietly help them do it better.
  • If they’re an online client, get them to send you videos of any of the exercises they are unsure of.
  • Explain that an exercise isn’t merely “right” or “wrong”, but somewhere on a spectrum between “I don’t know what you’re doing” and “that was a perfect movement!”

When they start, they are more likely to do stuff that doesn’t even resemble the thing you demonstrated.

Explain that!

Prepare them for it and they will feel better and confident in you as a coach, because you are clearly showing empathy and that you care!

Positive body language when you train a skinny guy lacking self-confidence is key. They will often have anxiety issues and worry about what they say and be very shy. Enjoy the time you spend with them and appreciate how difficult the journey to that point might have been for them. Be proud to call them your client.

This should shine through on your face!

What could please someone more than knowing (or even suspecting) that you are having a good time with them?


  1. Look for what your skinny guys might be naturally good at. Attack those movements and make them see they can make progress and make gains!
  2. Attack perceived weaknesses once the training habit has been well and truly been established.
  3. Select weights carefully and start each exercise too light so progress is pretty much guaranteed!

P.S. Don’t forget to explain DOMs to new guys. Prepare them for how they’ll feel after their first leg day!

If you are a skinny guy and found this helpful please like and share it on any social media that you see fit!

Coach Chris.

Author Biography

Chris Kershaw is a Leeds/Wakefield based Personal Trainer who specialises in bringing shy, skinny guys into the gym for the first time to build confidence, muscle and strength.

He currently works for Gains Glutes & Glitter, Primal Health and has a blog at Chris Kershaw Strength.

He is a former Natural Bodybuilder and currently a national level powerlifter.


The Next Step

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11 KEY Diet Mistakes You Should Avoid

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