Ectomorph / Hardgainer Muscle-Building Genetics

Are You Really a Hardgainer? Find Out With These 3 Tests

Written by Shane Duquette on May 17, 2016

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 Shane Duquette on March 24, 2016

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 libido, 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

Ectomorph Aesthetics #2: How to Become More Attractive

Written by Shane Duquette on March 16, 2016

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.

Interested?

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Building Muscle as a Naturally Skinny Ectomorph is Tough—Really

The Skinny Struggle is Real

Written by Shane Duquette on November 4, 2015

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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Ectomorph Travel: Maintain or Even Gain Muscle on Vacation

Written by Shane Duquette on July 14, 2015

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 Shane Duquette on April 28, 2015

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

What to do When You’re Tired of Being Skinny-Fat

Written by Shane Duquette on March 16, 2015

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.

Curious?

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Why Skinny Guys Fail To Build Muscle

Written by Jared Polowick on January 1, 2015

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

The Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy”

Written by Shane Duquette on May 8, 2014

(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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How to Eat More – Ectomorphs, Appetite and Building Muscle

The Skinny on “Just Eat More”

Written by Shane Duquette on December 17, 2013

(Updated July 13, 2015) 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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