Should I care about muscle mass?

I’m nerd skinny. It used to bother me, now it doesn’t. I’m reasonably active, but I don’t work out. I score very well on my annual Air Force fitness test, which is the only time of the year that I lace up my running shoes. That’s not saying much, as the fitness standards are very lax. I eat what I want but I don’t eat much. I’m in my early 30s and I’ve maintained my present weight, give or take 5 pounds, for more than 10 years.

Sometimes I find myself wanting muscles. Since I don’t really have any fat to lose, I’d just need to start lifting weights, which I hate.

Is this a noble goal? I’m not talking about getting ripped, I’m just talking about eliminating the classic nerd sunken chest and maybe having enough bicep to fill out the sleeves on extra small t-shirts.

Good for my health? Worth the effort? Exercise in vanity? I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I could finally will myself to bulk up, if I really wanted to. I’m just not sure I want to.

I used to be very skinny (~18 BMI), then got a job that forces me to do some physical work and gained 7-8 kg of what seems to be mostly muscle mass.


  • Better cold tolerance.
  • When required, can actually lift and move stuff around without much problem.
  • Slightly better self-respect.
  • I look a bit more dashingly handsome.


  • Have to eat more.

It wasn’t a huge life-changer really, and I don’t have the self-discipline to do something like actually working out to get proper results, but as a side-effect of my work it’s nice. YMMV.

Yes it’s important, how thin are you?

When I was a teen, I would have horrible chest pain and it would hurt like anything. I went to doctor after doctor who would tell me, take aspirin or tylenol. No one seemed to care.

I finally went to a chiropractor who looked at me and said, “Have you always been this thin.”

I was 6 feet and weighed 140 pound. I said, “Yes.” Then he said, "I bet you get pain and it radiates around and it feels like you’re having a heart attack. Which I said, “yes.”

He took a few x-rays did a few adjustments and said, “You’re problem is you’re too thin. You need to lift weights.” He explained my problems was I didn’t have a enough muscles to properly support my bones and such.

So I started lifting and as he said, the pain went away and I never had anymore issues.

You don’t have to be all muscley (Sp???) but you do need sufficent muscle if you’re normally thin a rail

Yes, you should care. I didn’t start working out until I went to Iraq at 19 y.o. I feel much, much better in my body and mind now that I have a muscular physique, and I’m not all that big. It’s easier to move around. Not just heavy boxes and the like, but just my own body…you won’t know that feeling until you get it yourself. It’s like gravity is lessened or something.

It makes me look better, too. I look healthier and I feel more confident.

Tell us- what is it about lifting that you hate? I’m sure we can find something that you’re doing wrong. If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. If you struggle, you’re doing it wrong. If you can’t move around the next day, you’re doing it wrong.

Let us help.

@Markxxx - I’m 6" 150-ish. Used to be a solid 155 right after basic and training, but I was eating a lot back then. No chest pains or mock heart attacks that I’m aware of. I’ve alway felt fine, as far as I know.

@Chessic Sense - I’m not sure what people are supposed to like about lifting weights. It’s work, right? Like, the exact opposite of watching youtube videos in my pajamas for an hour? Although I do have a tendency to completely overdo it and then struggle to move for a week, that’s not really what keeps me from going back.

So that’s 3 votes for yes, none for no. Looks like I should probably buck up and do it.

If you aren’t feeling weak and can do normal things, I say why bother.

(Mind you, I am incredibly attracted to skinny tall guys. I may be biased.)

There is no particular need to get muscle past the point of basic health. If you’re generally fit and feeling OK, leave it alone is my suggestion.

If you’re in your thirties you also need to consider if you can maintain any muscle building routine you develop because when you stop, your eating will probably stay the same and you will find out that being overweight is much harder to fix than being skinny as a health issue.


If you don’t like lifting weights, you should try some other strength intensive activities or sports like rock climbing. You can go to a climbing gym if you don’t want to get involved with all gear needed for climbing outside. Rock climbing is a great workout, but fun and full of variety, so you won’t even notice you’re exercising. If you go once or twice a week regularly there is no way you WON’T gain muscle. Over time you’ll be able to see your strength improve not only in terms of how you look, but also because you find yourself becoming a better climber and being able to climb harder routes up the wall. Of course, any sport will help you accomplish the same thing. I’ve just been climbing for over 10 years and I love it so I’m a little biased. Plus, some of the most ripped people I know, both men and women, are climbers.

It’s incredibly important for your health. A higher percentage of lean mass (muscle and bone - strengthening muscle makes bone denser) as opposed to body fat is heavily associated with lower risks factors for most chronic diseases. And higher total poundage of lean mass, even with extra body fat, leads to better health outcomes and recovery from illness.

Underweight men (don’t know if you’re under BMI 18.5, but just saying) have been found to have a sky-high risk of all-cause death - IIRC more than every BMI class but ‘morbidly obese’. Being both too thin and having relatively high body fat is the deadliest combination. I am underweight (female though) and I’m working really hard to eat more, get stronger, build muscle, gain weight and fat.

There’s no reason to mainline protein and devote your life to bulking yourself up by 30 lbs. But if you care at all about your health, you should eat reasonably well (natural fats and proteins, veg) and do weight-bearing exercise to build some muscle mass. The fact that people are going to find the muscle you do put on attractive is just a bonus.

It feels like stretching to me. I like the burning feeling. What I don’t like is the pressure on my joints. But if you’re using light enough weights, that last part shouldn’t be a problem for you. I say start small- like 10lbs for curls- and see where that takes you. Tire your arms out, then quit. Do a different exercise.

Try to have a goal. When I was in Iraq, I started lifting because I was resentful that I was missing out on college (i.e. sex) while I was deployed. So I figured if I got bulked up, the ladies and I could make up for lost time. That’s what motivated me.

Now I try to be better/faster/stronger than an imaginary person. I try to outlift that person. I try to outrun them. I set goals to reach (like the Xbox trophy system) and that keeps me going.

That’s what I like about lifting weights.

He scores very well on his fitness tests. I doubt he fits the category you’re talking about.


I was also very skinny, unable to gain muscle mass…when I was 18 I was about 6’6" and 175 after a very active summer.

A few years later in the M.C., I tried to gain muscle in vain at 6’8", but never was able to break 195.

Once I hit 30, and was doing daily labor (construction/foundry work) I finally started to put muscle on. Now, I’m not interested in weight lifting, but I find that I have a decent physique that I can maintain working around the property. I am 6’8" and 230-ish when I have worked off the winter weight.

In short, you may be like me and just have to wait for your metabolism to slow down for you to gain muscle mass.

One other perspective - someday you’re going to be middle-aged, then you’ll be past middle age. When you get to that stage, you will start losing your muscle mass. If you have very little to start with, you’ll either have to work very hard then to build yourself up, or you will one day find yourself too weak to get out of your chair, or to get up if you fall down.

So if you start now and get into some routine of building up muscle mass (not just upper body, but it sounds like that’s where you need it the most) then that whole process of aging will probably go a lot easier for you.
Roddy, 61 and not enough muscle mass.

My friend was just complaining yesterday about how she got denied medical insurance coverage because she is considered “underweight” (she does not have an eating disorder). So, someone out there considers “too thin” a medical risk…

Too thin is certainly a medical risk. Now, are *you *“too thin”? I don’t know, because you didn’t give us any numbers, but if you have a “sunken chest” and biceps small enough that they literally don’t fill out an XS t-shirt, there’s a good chance you are.

Some of the health risks of being underweight (BMI < 18.5) are cardiac irregularities (which can lead to heart attacks and strokes), atherosclerosis and other vascular diseases, decreased immunity, increased cancers, infertility, poor wound healing and osteoporosis or osteopenia.

We don’t know a lot about why, but we do know that people with a BMI <18.5 are *more *likely to die in any one year than normal, overweight or even slightly obese people. Now, some of this may be because some people have underlying health conditions which make them underweight to begin with, but that doesn’t account for all the numbers.

My BMI is 20, give or take .3 depending on how much I’ve eaten the day before. Low end of normal but not medically underweight.

I think Roddy’s made the most compelling case so far. Gonna go look at some free weights this weekend.

Oh, hell, 20’s fine, absent any other symptoms. Go look at some free weights if you like, but you’re well within “normal”, not underweight.

Get a GNC gold card. (GNC is a nutrition supplement store. It’s a chain so there should be somewhere near you.) It will give you discounts on their products. Buy their GNC house brand whey protein mix. (Wheybolic Extreme.) Stupid, stupid name, I know. But it’s the best deal. This stuff has 60 grams of protein per serving, which, I think, is the most that they sell.

Most whey protein marketed towards casual lifters is absurdly overpriced. Sometimes at supermarkets in the health section I see small containers of protein powder selling for 20 dollars, advertising 15 grams of protein a serving, like this is some great thing. No. Buy it at GNC and get the 60.

This will give you significant gains in muscle mass. If, and only if, you put in the time with the lifting. Most guys who start out lifting weights without any experience don’t get anywhere near the potential gains that they could be getting - even if they’re really motivated and lift hard - because they don’t get enough protein. You ought to be consuming one gram of protein for every pound of your bodyweight, and more if you are an ectomorphic “hard gainer” which you sound to be.

So take the protein supplements regularly. They taste pretty good (I usually get chocolate flavor). It tastes even better if you mix in a little powdered hot chocolate mix. Eat a lot of fish, beef (or buffalo, which is leaner and also more sustainably farmed) chicken, along with fruit and vegetables, etc. It’s not hard to do. You will be happy when you see the results.

Can’t wait for Marxxx’s rebuttal :smiley: . Honestly, the above sounds like a supplement industry sales pitch (a la Poliquin). After all, the entire multi-billion industry relies on getting people to down huge amounts of whey powder in hopes of getting big and ripped, and Only Our Product Will Do. I managed to grow from a 140-lb. pencil neck into a 200-pound athlete after age 25 by eating home-cooked whole food meals 90 % of the time, and generic whey powder mixed with water only after working out, never as a meal replacement. My protein intake is somewhere around 0.75 grams per pound, and many get good gains with less than that. With 60 grams of protein per serving as above, the average strength trainer is absorbing only about half of the expensive stuff and peeing out the rest, unless turning it into bodyfat. But hey, we have a product that will melt the fat off your hard-earned sixpack in no time!

What the industry doesn’t tell you is that there are (skinny) people who are basically incapable of increasing muscle mass, just as there are people who gain muscle much easier than almost anyone, the latter populating the bodybuilding and strength sports realm. Genetics determine how much one grows and even where the growth happens (I have magnificent calves, buns and forearms, but my upper arms are a different story), and no amount of legal supplementation will change that. Train, eat and sleep hard, and have fun doing it. (It does get fun, after the initial noob phase. A training log helps motivation). That’s all there is to it.

From a health point of view, being underweight is dangerous, just like being overweight it. That said, we’ve no idea whether you’re underweight or not.

What’s your current height and weight? Probably worth working out your BMI. It’s not a perfect measure, but it’s probably good enough for the purposes of this conversation.

Edit - ah, mised your other post. BMI 20 is fine. A tad below average, but not unhealthily so and within the normal 18.5 - 24.9 range. I wouldn’t worry about it on health grounds; but if you would like to do it for appearance reasons, I’d say go for it.