Ectomorph / Hardgainer Muscle-Building Genetics

Have you ever wondered whether you’re a “hardgainer” or not? What your muscle-building potential might be? How much of an ectomorph you are? How your physique might look after gaining 10, 20 or even 40 pounds of muscle?

These three quizzes should help you figure all of that out, and you can do it right now from the comfort of your own home. The first two tests require just measuring tape, and the third you can do with no equipment whatsoever. We have a video where I explain each test, then written instructions and illustrations underneath.

Let’s get started.

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How to Make Small Abs Beastly

The Skinny on Abs

Written by on March 24, 2016 and it's about , ,

Having abs shows that you’re even leaner than you need to be, that your posture is confident and athletic, that your muscles are strong, and even that your hormones are very masculine (study). Abs look so good because having all of these things at once shows that you’re not just healthy, but obnoxiously healthy.

Fortunately, we just so happen to be the body type that can rock a washboard stomach year round without suffering the negative side effects that other guys risk (perpetual hunger, reduced sex drive, etc). This gives us a real physique edge over the other body types.

However, as naturally skinny dudes with naturally smaller muscles, our walk across Abbey Road is a little atypical. There are usually two types of ab advice you’ll come across, and neither works very well for us:

  1. Science says that abs are built in the kitchen. Usually yes, since most guys are overweight, and most overweight guys already have large ab muscles. In the Beastly community we see guys all the time who are more than lean enough to have great abs—but their posture is a little loose and their ab muscles are a little small.
  2. No pain, no gain. The most popular ab routines are high rep circuits that make your abs burn with hellish fire. Abs are muscles though, and doing high rep crunches to build bigger abs is like running a marathon to build bigger legs. Endurance work improves blood flow but it’s awful at making muscles bigger. You’ll see some guys with crazy abs doing these high rep routines, but this is like thinking that taking topless Instagram selfies gives you abs because guys with abs do it. It’s not why they have great abs, it’s just something they do because they like their abs.

So what’s the best way for us naturally thin dudes to build Abercrombie abs?

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How to Build The Most Attractive Male Physique

Four years ago we published an article called Ectomorph Aesthetics that covered everything you could possibly want to know about the most attractive male physique. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy for us naturally thin dudes to build up a perfectly attractive physique.

In that article we talked a lot about what was attractive, and not so much about how to become attractive. So in this short follow-up article we’re going to help you actually build up an optimally attractive physique.

Also, a few new really interesting bits of research have come out in the past few years. We’ll cover that too.


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Building Muscle as a Naturally Skinny Ectomorph is Tough—Really

The Skinny Struggle is Real

Written by on November 4, 2015 and it's about ,

This article is for the skinny guys who haven’t been able to gain weight yet. For the the skinny guys who are still worried that it’s impossible for them. This one’s for you.

I wouldn’t blame you for your doubt. It’s common for us to see other people who were born muscular, or who were able to build muscle with just some casual effort. We try following in their footsteps and fall flat on our faces. This gives us good reason to assume that our genetics suck.

This is made worse by the fact that nobody understands our situation at all. All the mainstream magazines and websites feature bulking up routines for skinny guys seemingly designed by people who have never even met a skinny guy. Nowhere is there any mention of the actual reasons why gaining weight is so hard for us, nor are any solutions provided for overcoming them. Just people offering advice that worked for them without having any idea what we’re even struggling with. When that advice inevitably fails, we worry that building muscle is impossible for us.

Because their advice seems to work for everyone except us, what else are we supposed to think?

Then we get told to “just lift heavy and eat more, bro” from the gym rats. They blame our lack of effort, not knowing that we may have tried far harder than they did and still not gotten anywhere.

And we get the dismissive “oh, I wish I had that problem” from all the people who aren’t interested in building muscle because they were born with enough of it, who instead struggle with extra fat.

The advice we get doesn’t suit us, but our genetics are good. Uncommon, but good. I’m not just talking about the ease with which we can avoid obesity either. Even our muscle-building genetics are good.

In this article we’re going to go over the things that make it difficult to build muscle as an ectomorph, and then discuss ways that we can overcome them to finally build a ton of muscle.

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The Skinny Guy's Guide to Muscle Traveling

You’re eager to build up a more muscular physique, and things are going super well. But lo and behold, disaster strikes—and not just a run of the mill muscle disaster, like running out of milk, but the worst kind of disaster imaginable: a vacation.

I bet just the mention of a vacation has your heart racing and your mind spiralling down into panic mode. Unfortunately, I’ve been there. I know what you’re thinking. Will all of your hard-earned muscle wither away if you don’t go to the gym for a week or two? Can you build muscle with bodyweight workouts? How many mojitos does it take to spike muscle protein synthesis? Why don’t they make luggage big enough to fit a barbell? Is there real coconut in a piña colada, or does it count as junk food? Will the customs agent mistake your whey protein for cocaine? (Can you really get jacked in prison?) How much of a tan will be enough to disguise your now skinny-fat physique?

In desperation, you might start googling around to learn more, but since only 3% of the population is trying to gain weight, good luck trying to find an article about how to maintain/gain muscle while travelling.

So what do you do?

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So… what's the BEST exercise for the chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, lats, etc.

The Best Lifts for Building Muscle

Written by on April 28, 2015 and it's about

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What exercise is best to grow my small chest (or arms, shoulders, abs, etc)?” It’s a surprisingly large question, since there are so many things to consider. There are a ton of studies looking into the best exercises for activating certain muscle groups, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So we’ve put together a guide showing you the best exercises for each muscle group. These exercises represent your best chance of safely building muscle as rapidly as possible for your experience level. We’ve selected these exercises based on a few factors: muscle activation, efficiency, learning curve, risk:reward ratio, etc.

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What to do When You're Skinny-fat

Skinny-fat is when you’ve got over 20% bodyfat but look skinny in a t-shirt. When instead of your shirt hanging off your pecs, it’s puffed out by your gut. This is is a frustrating situation to be in because the advice the typical skinny-guy hears is to avoid cardio, lift and eat more; whereas the typical chubby-guy is told to do plenty of cardio, lift and eat less.

…But it feels like whenever you eat more you just get chubbier, and whenever you eat less you just get skinnier. In the past I’ve “bulked” myself into having a love-handly gut, and I’ve lost all the muscle I gained from the bulk when trying to get rid of that gut. Not a good cycle to get caught in.  As far as my physique went, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with anything quite so confusing and frustrating. To make things even more infuriating, if you’ve tried to lose fat while building muscle… then you know all too well that that’s the least effective advice of all.

At that point, feeling let down by classic advice, most of us desperately turn to novelty advice: eating like a caveman, avoiding carbs (or even going ketogenic), doing some sort of extreme sport routine (like CrossFit), or eating 100% “clean” (whatever clean means), etc. I’ve been down that road as well, because it seems like somebody finally, finally has the solution. But after a few months of having sky-high energy levels (because your body is pumping you full of energizing stress hormones), you realize that you’re exactly where you started except now you have a bunch of food phobias, your grocery bill is twice as high, and you can’t eat at a normal restaurant anymore.

We’re going to cover why you’re skinny-fat, and then how to become strong and lean. This approach isn’t novel—there’s nothing revolutionary in this article, and your doctor would likely agree with all of it. However, because it’s thorough and evidence-based it’ll actually work.


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Updated January 4th, 2016. Maybe you know that skinny guy who gets totally amped up to gain some weight and build muscle. He’s tried and given up in the past, but blames his failure on not trying hard enough—on not having enough motivation. He starts off strong: hitting the gym 5 times a week, eating 100% clean (whatever that means to them), and spending hundreds of dollars on bizarro supplements that he read about on the Internet that even the supplement salesman is confused by.

A few weeks go by and after sacrificing so much in their life: time, energy, money… the scale hasn’t really budged. Or maybe his weight even dropped because they cut out the easy calories they were getting from junk foods.

Feeling disappointed and burnt out, he slowly stops going to the gym and throws in the towel.

Why does this keep happening? Some people might say that he didn’t have the grit or willpower to tough it out. But honestly, this guy has incredible willpower and motivation—that’s a brutal routine that many professional fitness models couldn’t even keep up. That isn’t the problem. Anyone with that routine will either reach capacity and burn out, or switch their energy to something else—something new and exciting (new job, holidays, new relationship)… and then there’s no room left for the crazy muscle-building routine.

I’ve been that guy too many times to count. (And not just with building muscle, either.)

Us skinny guys aren’t even having a hard time building muscle because we’ve got bad genes, although that was an excuse I once used. No, us skinny guys are actually pretty great at building muscle! In the b2B program the average member will gain ten pounds in the first five weeks and twenty within the first three months. While this may sound crazy, especially if, like us, you’ve tried and failed in the past… these results line up well with what’s found in research. The largest and most thorough muscle-building genetics study found that skinny guys build muscle faster than anyone else (study). Some guys in the study added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just the first three months.

So why do so many of us skinny guys fail at building muscle over and over again?

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

(Updated December 2014) We’ve been spending a lot of time coaching guys in the community, keeping all our articles up to date, improving the Bony to Beastly program, and trying to come up with cool bonus/advanced content for our members. We’re still posting articles on the blog—we’re in the middle of writing a couple—but we like to make ’em long and full of research… which means they take a helluva long time to write.

So we added an FAQ to the websitewhere we can quickly dart in every once in a while and add some new content to the free side of the website.

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 you have another question, just let us know :)

Read the FAQ Here

28 responses

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

(Updated July 2015) 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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