Bony to Beastly—Frequently Asked Questions (skinny-fat, cardio, protein, bulking, cutting, home gym, callisthenics, bodyweight workouts, ectomorphs/skinny guys, etc)

Back in the day my girlfriends would treat me like a rickety old ladder that might, at any moment, collapse under her weight. Now, against all odds, I get skinny guys asking me for muscle-building advice.

Over the past couple years we’ve gotten many thousands of questions from skinny guys all over the world, and I’ve done my best to diligently and thoroughly answer all of them.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the questions—even the super weird ones—come up a lot. I mean, there are some differences too. Some of us consider ourselves “skinny-fat”, some of us are straight up skinny, and some of us are already pretty good at this stuff and looking to become really good. Still, we’re more similar to one another than we often realize. Lots of guys in the community open up about a weird issue they’ve been having… only to have three other guys chime in with, “No way—me too!”

I figure for every question we get, there are at least ten more guys asking it who didn’t email us. So this section of the website is for them. For you, I hope.

We cover juicy skinny topics like:

  • How do I know if I’m an ectomorph? I’m sort of naturally skinny.
  • I’m skinny-fat. Bulking just makes me fatter. Cutting just makes me skinnier.
  • As a skinny guy, can I use calisthenics (bodyweight workouts) to build muscle—Frank Medrano style?
  • Is heavy strength training—a 5×5 routine, say—good for a skinny guy trying to build muscle?
  • Can I build muscle without going to a gym? What equipment would I need?
  • How do I get leaner and more muscular. Is it possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
  • How important are supplements? How much does creatine actually help?
  • Should I be doing cardio? What I’m skinny-fat—should I do cardio then?
  • Can I build muscle even if I’m a vegan/vegetarian?
  • What do I do if my schedule is crazy busy?
  • Are machines safer than free weights?

We tried to go into a lot of detail, provide a ton of practical information, and back up all of the controversial stuff we’re saying with sound scientific evidence.

And if we haven’t already covered your questions, just let us know :)

Read the FAQ Here

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The Skinny on "Just Lift Heavy" – How to lift to build muscle as a naturally skinny ectomorph

(Updated September 2014) I wasn’t like some guys. Puberty didn’t automatically plumpen my pecs, and my weight never accidentally inched upwards on the scale. When I exercised, even when trying to build muscle, I’d need to watch out that my weight didn’t drop even lower. When I did gain weight, it was ephemeral. After every failed attempt I was sure that my skinny genes would keep me in my skinny jeans for the rest of my life… but it wasn’t genetics that were the problem, it was the fact that I wasn’t training properly for my body type or goals.

Following a mainstream approach to nutrition and fitness won’t get us the bodies we’re looking for, since most of them are designed to make us eat less and move more. They’re designed to help us lose weight or improve our fitness levels. That makes sense for most people, but obviously not for us.

There’s genuine muscle-buliding information out there though, especially when it comes to weightlifting. Building up bigger muscles is a relatively common hobby for men. That’s where the mainstream advice for skinny guys comes in: “Just lift heavy, man!” Yep. Lifting heavier would have helped… but it’s not quite that simple, and by leveraging science we can do a whole helluva lot better.

So let’s look into a few types of training that people commonly ask us about: bodyweight training (e.g. callisthenics, P90x), high intensity power training (e.g. Crossfit), strength training (e.g. powerlifting and 5x5s) and hypertrophy training (e.g. bodybuilding).

Then we’ll talk about what the evidence suggests is the best way to optimize muscle growth for us naturally skinny guys.

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How to Eat More – Ectomorphs, Appetite and Building Muscle

(Updated April 11, 2014) As a skinny guy, each and every time I tried to build muscle people would tell me two things: “just eat more” and “just lift heavy.” Then they’d look at me like they’d just solved all of my problems – totally confident they’d given me the information I’d been missing all my life. I was quite familiar with being skinny though, so I was also quite familiar with that advice.

I’d even tried it. Many times.

We’ll cover the lifting heavy part in another post. Both are really misunderstood and fascinating topics, and I think going into some depth could be really helpful. In this article we’ll cover the eating more part – the part that hits really close to home for me. Literally close to home – even my mother would tell me to just eat more.

That’s because in a world where the average first worlder is overweight, us skinny guys, hardgainers, ectomorphs, dreamboats – whatever you want to call us naturally thin guys – we’re outliers. Even when it comes to building muscle we’re often slotted into a footnote – “Oh yeah, and for hardgainer ectomorph body types, you’ve got a fast metabolism and stuff so you’ll need to eat more. Eat carbs – lots of carbs.”

That “just eat more” advice would work fine for most people, but the fact that we aren’t most people is precisely why they’re giving us that advice … and also why that advice is rather naive. I mean, for most people eating lots of food and gaining weight is second nature. If you tell the average dude to “just eat more” he’d be able to. He’d probably get fat, but he’d be able to do it. Hell, he’d probably even like it.

Little do people know that they’ve just casually told us to climb the mount everest of ectomorph challenges.

Eating more is rough. First, our physiology makes it hard to get into a caloric surplus. Second, most mainstream approaches to muscle make it even harder, since they either totally ignore appetite issues or, worse yet, they’re cleverly designed to reduce our appetites. Third, even when we do manage to get into a caloric surplus, our adaptive metabolisms kick in.

By trying to simply eat more and lift heavy we often find our results underwhelming and unsustainable. Ironically, as skinny guys we often have the most natural potential for muscle growth … since, err, we’re so far away from our genetic potential …

Anyway, we should be seeing extremely rapid gains – especially at first. Gaining 2+ pounds of muscle per week is pretty much unheard of in the muscle-building world, and yet us skinny guys are able to do it pretty consistently.

Appetite can bottleneck our results, yes, but most of the news is actually pretty good. In this article we’ll cover ectomorph physiology and appetite, and how overfeeding, building muscle and staying lean differs for guys like us. Turns out we’ve even got some incredible natural advantages when it comes to leanly building muscle – advantages that we can leverage.

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Bony to Beastly – How to Build a Badass Home Gym / Train at Home to Build Muscle

I gained my first 20 pounds using a rusty old barbell and bench that my dad and I found on the side of the road. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t safe and it worked pretty damn well. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to build muscle – far from it. I’d already tried a couple gyms, a personal trainer and martial arts. This time though, in my minimalistic rickety home gym, things finally started coming together.

… sort of. I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I was awkwardly following an advanced bodybuilder routine and just skipping all the exercises that I couldn’t do or didn’t understand. At first I had my burly friend Louis pick up the barbell, curl it, and put it on my back so that I could squat. You might be thinking that my friend Louis was a really strong guy. He was a lot stronger than me … but I could only squat 60 pounds … so when Louis quit after a couple workouts my little sixteen year old sister was able to do it for me.

Anyway, my training was good enough for me to grow, but it was far from great. Very far. Luckily I was just starting to fall madly in love with performance nutrition, which more than made up for my questionable setup and awkward pro-bodybuilder approach to training.

You don’t need any kind of fancy setup to build muscle. If you’re smart about this, you don’t even need the rickety bench and rusty barbell that I had. You do need to master some not-so-fancy lifting fundamentals though. The fundamentals are what pack on slabs of lean mass, get your adrenaline firing, ramp up your testosterone, and let you effortlessly lift your girlfriend up over your head without shaking uncontrollably and straining your lower back. That’s what actually gets you big and strong. Done properly, they’re also what build up rock solid posture and radically improve your health.

Best of all, the big heavy fundamental lifts don’t require much equipment. Hell, you can build tons of muscle with just one brutally efficient piece of equipment.

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How to work out / lift weights to build muscle as a skinny ectomorph with long lanky everything

(Updated September 2014.) There are two things we ectomorphs often forget when getting into weightlifting. The first is that when we first start taking it seriously, well, we’re still novices. We can’t exactly be expected to perform lifts that require high degrees of athleticism – athleticism that we don’t necessarily have yet. This is off-putting, because we often desperately want to get bigger without being held up for months with all sorts of posture and mobility work. Luckily, we can develop mobility, strength, stability and power simultaneously with size. But we do need to learn how to move and lift right from the get-go though, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for building an imbalanced body that looks funky, performs poorly and is vulnerable to injury.

The second thing we often forget is that we don’t have the same bone or muscle structures that most bodybuilders and powerlifters have. Most of those guys have highly specialized bodies, accomplished both through decades of training… and also their genetics. They’re often born with bodies that suit the lifts they do. Just like the tallest guys are drawn to basketball, weightlifters typically gravitate towards the lifts that they naturally excel at.

This means that the guys you’re watching do the bench press are often the worst ones to get your cues from. The lift is very different for them—they’ve got big muscle bellies, short thick bones, stubby limbs and barrel chests. We’ve often got long tendons, long slim bones, long lanky limbs and shallower rib cages.

Taking their cues is like asking a 7’2 guy how to dunk a basketball. He may very well say “uh just reach up and put it in.”

Overall we’re just longer people. We make better decathletes than shot-putters; better quarterbacks than linebackers. Hardly anything to be upset about—it’s not like thin guys can’t kick ass at athletics and build amazingly powerful bodies. We just need to take a different approach, and it’s not the approach you’d likely see the biggest guys in the gym taking.

But if we want to be strong muscular dudes we really do need to lift. Unlike many other body types, we can’t rely on our genetics or everyday physical activities to build us any muscle. (More on that here.) So let’s talk about lifting like ectomorphs so we can turn ourselves into big burly dudes.

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top-ways-to-save-money-muscle-bulking-costs-protein

(Updated September 2014) It’s May 1st, 2010 and Shane and I just graduated from university a few days earlier. We’re living in a high-rise apartment with our good friend Payam in a less than ideal neighbourhood. We’re just starting our “Muscle May” experiment – a one month challenge Shane presented to Payam and me. The idea was to have all three of us roommates hold one another accountable for 30 days of an extreme diet and exercise change.

At this point I have about $500 left on my nearly maxed out credit card, $38 in my bank account, and no savings. To make matters worse I have no income streams, as Shane and I just started up our design business a few days earlier. We’re looking for our next client, are in the process of applying for a business loan, and rent payments are coming up.

“Wait, so I’m going to need to spend more money on groceries?” I say, weighing in at a soaking wet 130 pounds of pure bone and a large head.

“No, you’re going to need to spend a normal amount on groceries. You’re horribly underfeeding your body right now. We all are.” Shane responded.

“How the heck am I supposed to pay for rent, more food and these supplements you keep talking about … like this nitrous oxide–

“– it’s nitric oxide. Nitrous oxide is what you put in your car.” Shane cut me off. “And it’s only for 30 days. Plus, some supplements, like protein powder, are actually cheaper than real food.”

Fast forward 30 days and I’m now 30 pounds heavier than I was before. (22 pounds from the nutrition and training + 8 pounds from the creatine.) I feel pretty damn incredible. But it looks like I  better figure out a way to pay for this new “normal” amount of groceries. Inside are the top 17 tricks I’ve found for cutting costs over the past 2 and a half years without compromising results.
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Best-ectomorph-muscle-building-supplements

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about supplements for ectomorphs—which supplements are best for us, what brands we recommend, whether they’re healthy, and whether we need them at all. The answer to that last question is simple: you don’t need them. You can build muscle just fine with or without them. In fact, until you know how to build muscle without them you really shouldn’t be buying them at all. Once you’ve got the fundamentals down though, adding in some key supplements can drastically improve your results, make your life a helluva lot easier, improve your health and even save you some money… if you’re smart about it.

These probably aren’t the supplements you expect though—you’re going to find one them a little weird—and you might not be taking them for the reasons you expect either. Us ectomorphs need to supplement a little differently. So we’ve put together a protocol. We aren’t just recommending supplements, we’re recommending a specific combination of supplements taken at particular times that work incredibly well for ectomorphs looking to build muscle and stay lean.

(This is a research based article, and there’s a lot of research being done into muscle-building nutrition and muscle-building supplements. We’ll been updating this post every month with all the relevant new studies that come out.)

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Ectomorph Aesthetics

Every straight guy knows how a girl’s femininity can tug on our heart strings. And our lust strings. Sometimes a woman’s shape, personality, face, voice—it all just adds up to make her absolutely irresistible. (Here‘s an article on the most attractive female body.) Women feel the same way about us men… just based on a whole different set of traits.

For better or worse, the impression we give off can have a huge impact on our life. Even if we train and eat well for our health and performance, we also want to attract great women, and ultimately spending the rest of our lives with the one we want is a pretty damn big deal. And of course, even once we have her that doesn’t mean we should stop striving to be the man of her dreams.

It’s not just about women either—getting the respect of other men is important to us too, both in our personal and work life. Aesthetics, muscle, health and masculinity are all so closely related that how we train and eat can roll over into every area of our life. It makes sense for us to care.

If anything, as men sometimes we tend to think attractiveness matters less than it actually does. A new study just published at the University of Notre Dame found that the whole successful but unattractive guy marrying a beautiful woman stereotype is pretty much just a myth. It turns out that attractiveness attracts attractiveness, just like success attracts success. This is good news for sexism, bad news for thinking you can get away with being a schlub. (study)

The tricky part is that some of the traits we portray are obvious… but some we’d never even think to think of. Moreover, sometimes it’s those elusive traits that make or break us.

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ectomorph-post-workout-muscle-meal

I had coffee a few weeks back with a good friend of mine from Montreal. I had just finished a couple months of the Bony to Beastly program, and I’d put on 20ish pounds of muscle since she last saw me. She was wowed by my progress and told me I looked a Hell of a lot stronger. My physical health was obviously not a problem, but she was worried that I was headed down the road to obsession. She knows that I barely train 3 hours per week, so there’s obviously no obsessive behaviour there. But she also knows that I’m extremely fascinated by the role that nutrition plays with fat loss, health and building muscle—especially for us ectomorphs. So, despite the fact that we had just finished pouring rum into our coffees, she was concerned that I was developing an obsession with eating healthy foods and only healthy foods.

The interesting thing is that eating healthy and only healthy foods can actually hinder your results. Many people struggle to build muscle, lose fat, love life, and accomplish their goals because they place too much emphasis on “healthy” eating. The true secret to becoming superhuman isn’t to eat superfoods, it’s to eat “Clark Kent” foods—everyday foods that will give you superhuman results.

Curious?

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should-ectomorphs-do-cardio-run

Weightlifting, training for a triathlon and chugging along on your mum’s treadmill will all result in your body adapting to the given training stimulus. You’ll create more blood vessels, develop more mitochondria in your cells, trigger gene expression and transform your body right down to a molecular level. You’ll become better at what you’re training to do and collect on the corollary benefits: health, fitness, energy, longevity, intelligence, etc. You’ll also spend more of your life feeling awesome, since exercise affects your neurotransmitters and releases endorphins.

Exercise in general is great, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees. Different types of exercises accomplish different goals however, and since there are limits to how quickly you can adapt, and training for several goals at once can mean that it takes you longer to accomplish them.

… or maybe not. Is it possible that cardio could help us skinny guys build muscle even more rapidly and even more leanly than just weightlifting alone? An even more controversial question is whether doing only cardio is effective at improving our body composition, health and handsomeness. Not all of us skinny guys are particularly inclined to lift weights, after all, and not all of us ectomorphs are looking to build up big burly biceps. In fact, many of us, because we’ve struggled with weightlifting, strength training and muscle-building in the past, would rather stick to our natural strengths – endurance stuff.

This is a blog for ectomorphs looking to leanly build muscle, be healthy and look awesome. So, how does cardio fit in? What are the pros and cons of cardio?

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