Frequently Asked Questions

Bony to Beastly—Frequently Asked Questions

We read every single email we get and try our very best to answer all of them. Over the past couple years we’ve gotten several thousand questions—many of them similar to one another. Around 90% of the questions we get are about the Bony to Beastly Program, and whether or not we’re a good fit for one another. We’ve covered those questions in the last section :)

However, to make things a little more interesting, we’ve decided to answer the common questions we get in the member community too—questions about being a skinny guy, weightlifting, nutrition and supplements. That way this isn’t just a giant advertisement for our program (although let’s be real here, you should definitely sign up for the program).

Oh—and as per usual, this is not medical advice, or even advice at all. Always consult your doctor about any questions related to exercise, nutrition and health.

Okay, here we go:

1. Skinny Guy Problems

Sort of. It’s more like a fancy way of saying “naturally skinny.” But skinny isn’t a trait, it’s a state. Marco was skinny, he gained 63 pounds, and now he’s a pretty strong looking dude. However, he still has a bunch of the same traits that he did back when he was skinny—a small stomach capacity, a small appetite, small muscle bellies, narrow bones, etc. That’s because he’s an “ectomorph”—someone who’s naturally skinny.

I’m the same. I’m 6’2 and I have the wrist size of the average 5’4 man.

Not surprisingly, many of us assume that being an ectomorph is a disadvantage. We struggle to gain weight, people often feel like they can push us around, and our skinny-boy muscle-building goals are so uncommon that they’re rarely covered by the mainstream media. Only 3% of people in North America are looking to gain weight (study).

But being an ectomorph isn’t a disadvantage, and it doesn’t mean we can’t build muscle. A 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics—the largest and most thorough study of its kind—found that, on average, skinny guys can build muscle more rapidly than anyone else (study). Some guys added two inches to their arms and doubled their strength in just 12 weeks.

Since then, another study has come out with similar findings (study).

This seems crazy, I know. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel like you suck at building muscle. But after running this program for a couple years we’ve seen it first hand so many times that it seems obvious. The majority of members in the community  are able to gain at least 20 pounds in their first three months. Good luck finding a guy who isn’t skinny who’s able to build that much muscle that quickly.

Moreover, many of us are extremely resistant to fat* (study). We aim to have our members leave the program with just as much ab definition as they came in with. Since we’re a community of ectomorphs, we’re usually able to do just that.

So we aren’t trying to overcome being an ectomorph. Being an ectomorph is sweet. Our goal is more so about finally providing you the (science-based) information that you need to take full advantage of your body type. We’re here to help you get strong and build a bunch of burly muscle.

I suspect you’ll find that you’re actually pretty good at it.

*Even “skinny-fat” ectomorphs tend not to struggle with obesity, which is arguably the biggest health problem the First World is facing right now. We talk a little bit more about skinny-fat ectomorphs down below.

Most skinny-fat guys have the awful experience of bulking up and seemingly just gaining fat, or trying to lose weight and just winding up even skinnier… but still with a little pot belly.

What’s going on here is that when you’re bulking up, your fat cells are more insulin sensitive than your muscle cells and you’re gaining fat instead of building muscle. I mean, you’re probably building some muscle too, but you wouldn’t notice, because it’s being hidden by the fat.

The same is true when cutting, except the inverse. You’re losing both muscle and fat, so you never seem to get leaner, just smaller. Since our stomachs are the last place men store fat, this leaves you with a belly instead of biceps. Ayy.

Nutrition plays a role here, but most of the guys that we see who are struggling with this are doing cardio or p90x style programs when trying to lose fat—programs designed for your average person looking for weight loss. And weight loss is what they get. They lose some fat, they lose some muscle.

Rather than trying to lose weight, I say do absolutely everything you can with your training to build muscle—i.e. you follow a solid muscle-building program—and you combine it with a calorie deficit. This can work well. Very well. In fact, skinny-fat guys are pretty much the only people out there who can build muscle and lose fat simultaneously (studystudy).

Check out what happened in a 2014 study comparing weightlifting with aerobics when in a calorie deficit:

  • The aerobics group lost 7 pounds of fat while also losing 6 lbs of lean mass. (13 pounds lost overall.) If you were a 170 pound man with 20% bodyfat, this would bring you down to 157 pounds with 17% bodyfat. You’d have lost a fair bit of muscle and still wouldn’t be anywhere close to having abs.
  • The heavy weightlifting group lost 22 pounds of fat and gained 4 pounds of lean mass. (18 pounds lost overall.) If you were a 170 pound man, this would bring you down to 152 pounds with 8% bodyfat. You’d have fitness model abs, a few pounds more muscle, and could begin bulking leanly from there.

(We get so many skinny-fat guys coming into the community that we have a guide for it here, and it’s included with the program.)


That’s a valid concern. Frankly, when gaining weight there is always the possibility that some of the surplus calories you’re consuming will wind up being stored as fat, especially if your training/nutrition program isn’t too hot.

But being in a calorie surplus is the only way to gain weight. I mean that literally. A calorie surplus is the one and only thing that will cause someone—anyone—to gain weight.

The good news is that as a naturally lean guy you have a small number of fat cells and great insulin sensitivity. You’ll be rather more resistant to fat than everyone else you know (study). If you bulk cleverly you’ll be able to do it very leanly.

What’s the smart way to bulk leanly? In order of importance:

  • Follow the best weightlifting program that you can. The better the quality of your workouts, the more insulin sensitive your muscle cells will be, and the more surplus calories they’ll soak up and turn into muscle.
  • Keep your calorie surplus relatively modest. With a good lifting plan and good nutrition habits, some skinny guys can build a couple pounds of muscle each week during their first couple months of bulking up. If you’re worried about gaining fat though, eat in a smaller surplus and gain weight more slowly. Instead of one or two pounds per week, aim for 0.5 pounds per week.
  • Eat enough protein. Muscle can only be build out of digested protein (aka amino acids). In order to build new muscle mass, you need to be consuming enough protein to build that muscle with. Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan that usually isn’t a problem—you don’t need nearly as much protein as bro-science would have you believe—but sometimes it can help to either eat more meat/dairy/grains/legumes or take a protein supplement, like whey protein.
  • Eat mostly whole foods. More vitamins and minerals means fewer deficiencies, better overall health, and better muscle-building hormones. More fibre can mean fewer bioavailable calories (both a blessing and a curse) and thus less potential for surplus calories spilling over into fat gains. Plus, some research has shown that some types of processed foods really are more likely to be stored as fat (study). There’s more to this of course, but this is a good rule of thumb.

There are tons of things that affect how lean your gains are—we’ve written an entire book about it—but if you’ve got those four things mastered you should do pretty well. So will your stomach.

There’s more good news, too. Weightlifting will improve the insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells, making it more likely that the food you eat will go to muscle instead of fat (study). Plus, having more muscle mass on your body will further improve your insulin sensitivity, making it easy to be ripped in the longer term (study, study).


There are a lot of reasons for that! We’re good at building muscle, but we’re not necessarily good at gaining weight. The 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics—the one that found that skinny guys had a genetic gift when it comes to building muscle—well, they disqualified all the participants who weren’t gaining weight, since without weight gain you can’t build muscle (study).

Gah.

Us naturally skinny guys are great at building muscle when gaining weight, but as you know all too well… weight gain is really damn tough when you’ve got a skinny guys stomach and metabolism.

This is made harder still because every single popular mainstream diet was created for chubby people trying to lose weight (97% of the population). Even most of the diets masquerading as manly muscle-building diets are weight loss diets!

For example, Paleo is all about lean muscle, but it restricts the types of foods that are easy to overeat (grains, dairy, sugar, carbs), making it hard for us to get into a calorie surplus. Another good example is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is also seemingly all about muscle, but it restricts the number of meals you get to eat, making it nearly impossible to squeeze enough calories into an even shorter timeframe (study).

If you want to learn more about why our stomachs are small, our metabolisms are monstrous, and what you can do about it, check this article out: The Skinny on “Just Eat More”

The other challenge is working out. What skinny guy wants to go a gym? That’s, like, the only place in the world where you’re judged solely based on the size of your muscles. That’s our worst nightmare. So we instead tend to prefer types of exercise that we feel we’re better suited for.

The problem is that those types of exercise will only result in a muscular physique if you’re naturally muscular—if you already have the muscle on your body, perhaps hidden away under layers of fat.

Endurance training (e.g. jogging) causes endurance adaptations—more blood vessels, better oxygen delivery, better glycogen storage, a higher red blood cell count, etc. Great things, but they aren’t at all related to muscle size/strength.

General fitness training marketed to a general audience—p90x, Insanity, callisthenics, tough mudder-y stuff, CrossFit—is still mostly weight loss training, because 97% of people are trying to lose weight. With these programs there’s more emphasis on general fitness, not just muscular endurance. Still, these adaptations are mostly related to oxygen delivery. Capillary density and blood flow—that kind of thing. When you feel tired—even when your muscles feel tired—this is more of a central nervous system “fitness” thing, not an indication that you’ve stimulated your muscles in a way that will cause muscle growth.

If you want to learn more about what types of exercise will cause you to adapt by building muscle, check this article out: The Skinny on “Just Lift Heavy”

The good news is that if you combine a hearty muscle-building diet with a hearty muscle-building weightlifting program, you’ll be able to build muscle more rapidly than any other body type (study).

How to build muscle and gain weight as a skinny guy / ectomorph


2. Nutrition & Supplement Questions

As you likely already know, plant-based diets are pretty sweet. Most of the healthiest cultures around the world base their diets around fruits, vegetables and grains. Compared to your average dude, in many ways you’re already rocking a rad advantage. (Moreover, most people vastly overestimate the amount of protein they need to build muscle.)

When it comes to building muscle, the nutrition rules are the same for everyone. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to eat exactly the same diet. Everyone has different preferences, limitations, ideologies.

As far as our program goes, we practice something called “flexible dieting”, which allows people to eat in a way that best suits them on an individual level while still getting optimal results. It’s not like we’re trying to force feed all of our members tuna shakes at precisely 8am or anything. You’ll be making your diet your own, and we can help you with that.

So eating a plant-based diet is totally cool, and many of our members choose to go that route.


I’m glad you asked. Check this article out.

And keep in mind that you don’t need any supplements. Training and nutrition—that’s where the real muscle comes from!


Effectiveness. Creatine does work, but it’s often hard to get an idea of exactly how well it works, since every study has slightly different findings. It seems like if you lift weights well and eat well, creatine can accelerate your gains. That’s important to keep in mind: it will not help you gain muscle if you aren’t already gaining muscle.

For an idea of how well it works, a 2004 study found that the group of participants taking a placebo increased bicep size by 6% over the course of six weeks, whereas the group taking creatine increased their bicep size by 10% (study). A 2010 study had similar findings—creatine increased muscular gains by about 20% (study). These studies are a dime a dozen—there are hundreds confirming the effectiveness of creatine.

It’s not just water weight or anything either—these size increases come along with significant strength increases, and these muscular gains will stick around even if you stop using creatine.

Safety. The only known side-effect of creatine is stomach cramping, which just means that you aren’t digesting it properly. Taking smaller doses and/or drinking more water usually seems to fix that. There are no long-term health issues or anything, and it’s been rigorously and critically studied for several decades now.

Health. Creatine seems to be pretty great for general health in a number of ways, although research is still limited. It’s both cardioprotective and neuroprotective. As for being good for your heart, it seems to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity in guys who exercise (study) and it may help reduce cholesterol and triglycerides (study). For your brain, it may help prevent and treat depression (study) and it’s currently being researched for prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s (study).

This research is all still preliminary though. Most of the research done into creatine has to do with muscle strength, size, power and speed.

If you want a more thorough explanation of creatine, check our article on muscle-building supplements for ectomorphs out.


3. Exercise & Weightlifting Questions

Bodybuilding won’t negatively affect your speed or flexibility provided it’s well-designed.* In fact, a bodybuilding program will probably help. Here are a few benefits that a good bodybuilding program will leave you with:

  • It will cause your muscles to grow bigger and stronger… and longer (study), improving mobility and flexibility.
  • Your posture will improve, as your muscles become strong enough to hold you in proper alignment.
  • Speed and power is a muscular strength thing, not a muscular endurance thing. To the extent that you become stronger, you’ll also become faster. (Bodybuilding is not the best way to become stronger, but it will still make you stronger.)

However bodybuilding isn’t the best way to develop speed and mobility.

If speed and mobility are important to you, I’d recommend going above and beyond bodybuilding. You’ll still want to do some bodybuilding, since it’s great for developing muscle size and strength, but you’ll also want to work in some foundational strength and power training principles.

You’ll thus want to build a program out of deep heavy squats and deadlifts, which are excellent for sprint speed, vert, agility, balance on stable surfaces, and lower body mobility. You’ll also want to include heavy bench presses and pull-ups, which will do the same thing for your upper body.**

If you wanted to go really advanced, you’d also want to include a power development phase, where you incorporate plyometrics and ballistics, like jump squats and box jumps and such. And some metabolic conditioning so that you aren’t just fast, but also able to do a bunch of successive sprints without winding up wheezing on the floor after 5 minutes.***

*Provided that volume is properly balanced across all muscle groups, a large range of motion is used, and a wide variety of exercises are used for each muscle group.
**This is what we do, and it’s also the best way to build up muscle size/strength in the longer term.
***We don’t include specific athletic training like this, since it doesn’t result in more muscle size or strength. Besides, most of the athletes doing our program generally already do this stuff as part of their sports-specific training. What they want from us is more muscle mass and more muscle strength.

Taking a beginner and making him deadlift, back squat and overhead press is usually a pretty dumb move… and we aren’t nearly as dumb as we look.

We start by teaching you simple lifts that are easy to teach and easy to learn (using thorough instructional videos). I’m not talking about doing aquarobics or anything—you aren’t old and disabled—we’re talking more along the lines of bodybuilding, which is fairly light, safe and simple. Then, as your technique, mobility, and tendon/ligament strength improves, we progress to heavier and more badass strength training.

This greatly reduces the risk of injury (way way down below soccer), makes the experience far less frustrating and overwhelming, and actually allows you to focus on building muscle. Instead of using too-light weights and fumbling around with form, you can do simpler lifts that allow you to actually lift heavy enough to build maximal amounts of muscle—safely.

We wrote up an article on this here.

 


Of course you can. If you wait for circumstances to be perfect you’ll be waiting forever. But things don’t need to be perfect in order to make progress. If you start today—like right now—it might take you ten months instead of two to gain twenty pounds, but you’ll still get there.

The tricky thing is that you need to know the most important stuff so that you can cut the fluff.

If you can’t make it to the gym three times per week.

  • Do full body workouts. That way you’ll stimulate all of your muscles each week even if you only get one workout in.
  • Do more sets and reps. Doing the right amount of sets each week (lifting volume) is more important than doing the right amount of sets and reps each workout (lifting frequency). Doing fewer workouts? Do a couple more sets of each exercise.
  • Go closer to failure. Lifting to failure requires dramatically more recovery time without dramatically increasing the amount of muscle growth, so you’ll usually build more muscle by avoiding failure and training more often. But if you won’t be training again for a while anyway… may as well go a little harder.
  • Only bulk when your muscles have been stimulated. Go back to eating a maintenance diet if you haven’t been lifting in four days or so. By that point the insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells will be back to normal, and they won’t be grabbing all those surplus calories and using them to build muscle. (Same thing if you’re cutting. You don’t want to be losing weight if you aren’t lifting heavy, otherwise you may lose some muscle.)

Then, when your schedule eases up, transition back into a more optimal routine where you’re lifting more regularly. Hopefully by then you’ll be a dozen pounds burlier.


We get a lot of guys writing in who aren’t eager to hit the gym. That’s understandable. I don’t know a single skinny guy who wants to strut his no-muscles into a weightlifting gym. I sure as hell didn’t.

So many skinny guys would prefer to train using their own bodyweight at home. Besides, they’re more interested in learning how to build a Frank Medrano style physique than a bulky bodybuilder’s anyway. Calisthenics can seem like the best way to accomplish that.

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

First, some background. In the photo above, Frank Medrano is 5’9, around 160 pounds, and around 5% bodyfat. This about the maximum musculature that a bodybuilder with his frame could hope to achieve at that bodyfat percentage (without using steroids). So Frank Medrano actually has proportionally more muscle than most bodybuilders, he’s just got a really slender bone structure (small wrists, narrow shoulders, narrow waist and such), making him look less bulky.

Under normal conditions he looks a little more human… but still has a pretty exceptional degree of muscularity and leanness.

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

I know he doesn’t look that big at first glance, so to put his size into perspective, here’s me after gaining fifty pounds (130 to 185ish at 6’2). I still have much less muscle mass (for my size) than Frank Medrano.

Can us skinny guys / ectomorphs build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts / callisthenics for a Frank Medrano body?

I think as skinny guys we’re seeing ourselves in Frank Medrano’s bone structure, and that’s why we’re drawn to naturally slenderly structured physiques like this. Without experience in the muscle-building world though, it’s really tough to gauge how much muscle mass someone has, how difficult it is to get those results, and what the best way to get there is.

The good news. A very lean and quite muscular physique is actually achievable for a lot of ectomorphs. We tend to have slenderer bone structures, and we also tend to be able to get quite lean. Combine some hearty weightlifting and nutrition with some extra curls (or chin-ups) and we’re well on our way.

The not-so-good news. Frank Medrano achieved his physique due to many years of incredibly hard work combined with extremely good (and rare) genetics. (And with elite athletes there’s always the possibility of steroids.) He’s risen to the very top of the callisthenics world because he’s pretty much superhuman.

Trying to imitate his workouts in order to become as lean and muscular as him would be like playing basketball like Shaq with the hopes of growing to 7’1. Just because someone does something, it doesn’t mean that that’s what’s responsible for their results. Like Shaq, basketball and his height. Like Frank, calisthenics and his muscles.

Brad Pitt in Fight Club? Not so difficult for a skinny guy to achieve with some clever weightlifting. Frank Medrano? Prrrretty much impossible to achieve an upper body like that with just bodyweight workouts… unless you have the world’s best muscle-building genetics.

How to get a lean and muscular physique. The best way to build a muscular physique is to follow a training program that maximizes mechanical tension. This is the tension placed on the muscle by the weights that you’re lifting. The heavier the weight (study) and the larger the range of motion (studystudystudy), the more muscle you’ll build. This is the most important factor when it comes to building muscle. The tricky part is that if the tension isn’t intense enough it won’t stimulate any muscle growth (study).

If you’re doing lighter workouts, the adaptations they’ll cause are very different. Instead of growing more muscle fibres, you’ll increase the quantity of mitochondria in your muscles and increase the activity of aerobic enzymes. Instead of developing muscle size and strength you’ll develop better muscular endurance.

Some mechanical tension is involved with callisthenics, however it’s not anywhere near as much as you’d get with a weightlifting program designed to build muscle. Most guys plateau very early with bodyweight / callisthenics programs and then reach a point where they’re unable to get heavier without also getting fatter. (If you’re doing lots of very heavy chin-up variations you’d plateau much later in your back and biceps, since chin-ups are both very heavy and use a large range of motion.)

That’s why it’s relatively common for natural bodybuilders, strength trainees (and football, rugby and basketball players, sprinters and other athletes who lift weights) to get as muscular as Frank Medrano… whereas in the callisthenics world it’s extremely extremely rare for guys to be that muscular unless they also lift weights. (And many of the most muscular callisthenics guys do lift weights to develop their muscle strength and power, coordination, mobility and stability.)

Summary: Callisthenics are sweet, but if you can’t rely on your genetics to deliver the muscle mass that you’re looking for, you’ll want to build your muscle size/strength/power with weights, not with your bodyweight.

If you want the best of both worlds—badass calisthenic abilities combined with big, strong, versatile and functional muscles—then you’ll do best by doing calisthenics and lifting weights, which is what many of the top calisthenics guys do who aren’t naturally exceptionally muscular.

If you’re looking to absolutely maximize on your genetics by getting as enormous and lean as you possibly can, in order to look like Frank Medrano, you’ll likely have better success by following science-minded weightlifting practices. Here’s what naturally skinny and slenderly built Eric Helms—a bodybuilding researcher—was able to accomplish (without any drugs) over the course of a few years:

Eric Helms—calisthenics versus weights for naturally building muscle as a skinny guy / ectomorph

How to build muscle at home. If you don’t want to hit the gym though, that’s totally cool—I get that. I gained my first twenty pounds in the privacy of my own home. I’d say, instead of getting just a chin-up bar and doing just calisthenics, get some heavy adjustable dumbbells (like this), too. With that you’ll have everything you need to build muscle size/strength. If you also get an adjustable weightlifting bench (something like this) you’ll have a fully optimized setup.

Training for muscle growth at home gym isn’t all that complicated or expensive, it’s just best done with weights… not bodyweight 🙂


A compound lift is one that uses two or more joints, like a chin up, and it will work many different muscle groups at once (biceps, back, forearms, etc). An isolation lift is one that primarily uses just one joint, like a curl, and aims to work just one muscle group (biceps).

Most guys with a bit of experience weightlifting learn that the big compound lifts produce the best results. When it comes to building muscle you can’t get much better than a deep squat, a full range of motion chin-up, a dumbbell bench press, and a deadlift.

The squats will develop mobility, coordination and power in your lower body and build muscle in your legs, butt, lower back and abs. The chin-ups will do the same for your forearms, biceps, back and abs. The bench press for your chest, shoulders and triceps. The deadlift for your forearms, back and butt.

There’s a lot of mythology surrounding compound lifts. That they, say, cause you to produce more testosterone and thus lead to full body growth. That’s mostly bunk though, because they don’t really lead to chronically higher testesterone levels, and, steroids aside, that doesn’t really result in muscle growth anyway (study, study). Regardless, they do stimulate the most muscle fibres the most effectively, so if you wanted to learn just four lifts, those would be them.

However, you aren’t limited to just four lifts. And strategically adding in isolation lifts will do a few great things:

  1. You’ll develop more balanced musculature in the muscle groups you’re training, leading to better aesthetics (studyand even better strength (study)!
  2. You’ll be able to bring up your lagging body parts (studystudy). If your arms aren’t growing from your chin-ups, isolation lifts will allow you to burly up your biceps. If your chest isn’t growing from your bench press, isolation lifts will allow you to plump up your pecs.
  3. Since isolation lifts aren’t as heavy and complex, you can focus on developing a mind muscle connection and optimizing “the pump” (aka metabolic stress). Combined with heavy strength work, this will allow you to build more muscle (study).
  4. It’s safer. Using a wider variety of exercises means your muscles will grow in a more balanced and versatile way. This will help you avoid injury—both in and out of the gym (study).

So unless you have to keep things simple, use some isolation lifts.


4. Aesthetics & Size

There may be two distinct types of hypertrophy—sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy. It’s been theorized that moderate intensity (10-20 rep) training would improve a muscle’s ability to perform series of repetitions by adding fuel (sarcoplasm) to your muscles, whereas heavy (1-5 rep) training would cause the muscle to improve its strength by increasing the contractile elements (actin and myosin) of the muscle.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy=fluid

Myofibrillar hypertrophy=muscle fibres

Both adaptions would cause your muscles to grow bigger, but moderate rep bodybuilding would theoretically cause you grow by increasing the amount of fluid in your muscles, whereas strength training would theoretically cause you to grow by developing new muscle fibres.

A 2014 study by Schoenfeld found that bodybuilding does indeed cause sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (study), so this may actually be true.

The practical implications of this are pretty neat. Bodybuilding leads to “chronic increases in intracellular fluid status”, which means perpetually inflated muscles, and perhaps more interestingly, there’s a large body of preliminary research that indicates that this could mean an increased ability to build even more muscle as well as greater resistance to muscle atrophy.

What we still don’t know is whether this increased muscle hydration would happen with other types of weightlifting. Another study published by Schoenfeld found extremely similar muscle growth between both powerlifters and bodybuilders, even though their training routines were extremely different (study).

We also don’t know whether sarcoplasmic hypertrophy would look or feel any different from other types of hypertrophy. It’s indeed possible that myofibrillar hypertrophy would result in harder muscles… but that’d just be guessing.

If being big, strong and functional is your goal though, doing both strength training rep ranges and bodybuilding rep ranges is the way to go. (Higher rep ranges than bodybuilding and your muscles wouldn’t really grow any bigger in either way.)


Bodybuilding is the type of weightlifting that’s designed to make you bigger, more symmetrical, leaner, and every other aesthetic goal. So if by bulky you mean muscular… then yes. Bodybuilding is the best way to build muscle. It’s also the best way to maintain your muscle mass while losing fat.

Will you all of a sudden morph into an Italian-sausage-like pro-bodybuilder with a spray tan? No.

I know, I know—some bodybuilding programs do result in a rather distinct look. For example, a 2002 study by Gundill found that the front of a typical bodybuilders shoulders (front delts) are 500% bigger than the average person’s, the middle of their shoulders (lateral delts) are 300% bigger, and the back of their shoulders (rear delts) are just 15% bigger. This is probably due to lots of time spent bench pressing, which works just the front of the shoulders. As you can imagine, this would make your shoulders look a little weird. (This is why lifts like TYIs, reverse flys, rows and full range of motion chin-ups are important.)

So if you train in the typical bodybuilding bro fashion you may wind up with a bodybuilder bro bod’, but this is due to bad bodybuilding, not because bodybuilding inherently makes you look funky. Bodybuilding is supposed to be the type of weightlifting that focuses the most on symmetry and aesthetics, after all.

Note: We aren’t a bodybuilding program per se, because we don’t just focus on aesthetics—we also focus on strength, mobility, posture and health—but since we are a program designed to make you bigger and stronger, we use a ton of bodybuilding techniques. However, most guys come into the program wanting to look like Brad Pitt, not Jay Cutler. And the spray tan sessions in Phase Five are totally optional 😉

My left shoulder has been higher than the other for as long as I can remember. I always thought of it in a superficial way, and figured it must be because I always carried my backpack slung over my right shoulder, pushing it down. Marco had the same thing, but thought it had to do with his skateboarding habits.

We were both sort of right… but mostly wrong.

Both are caused by the same thing: the fact that our bodies are innately asymmetrical. Our brain has a left and right side, and both perform different functions. Our hearts and livers are on just one side of our bodies. The right diaphragm is bigger than the left and has a longer attachment on the spine. Our left and right lungs expand to different degrees. One hand usually possesses more find motor control than the other. We usually favour one leg over the other as well, as Marco discovered when he was skateboarding.

It’s no wonder that over the course of our lives we fall into patterns of asymmetry, and that these effects can be seen when we look in the mirror.

If you go and look at the mirror right now, you will probably notice your left knee rotates out and your right knee rotates in. You may also notice that one shoulder sits higher than the other—usually the left. Another common compensation is a right rib hump. Your right rib on the backside will be more filled with air due to this twisting of the ribcage. One pec might thus grow bigger than the other and sit on your rib cage a little differently. If you don’t have a mirror handy, this pelvis/rib twist usually looks something like this:

Why one shoulder is higher than the other (common postural issues and what to do about it)

For most people this isn’t a problem. The links between posture, performance and injury are iffy, since our bodies are so good at creating functional compensation patterns. It’s hard to tell whether they really have a large impact on one another, especially when we’re not currently injured or in pain. Better posture and better symmetry could theoretically improve your mood, your confidence, your breathing, your anxiety, your strength. It’ll certainly make you look better too. And if you’re currently in pain, it might help you get rid of it.

A good weightlifting program will do a good job of this, provided you develop good habits, train in a balanced way, and lift symmetrically. Even just learning how to squat well and squat heavy can work wonders.

Sometimes it can take a little extra work though. Here’s a good drill to help you learn to hold your hips in a good position while moving. Since most postural issues stem from the hips, mastering this will usually address the asymmetry at its root and allow you to develop a more balanced upper body.

Take it away, Marco:


One reason could be that you’re “skinny-fat”. Masculine hormones generally cause us to store fat in our stomachs, so it’s actually pretty common for skinny guys to start developing a bit of a belly—and only a belly—if they aren’t eating very well or doing much to encourage muscle growth (like lifting weights). The solution to that would be to start eating and training for muscle growth.

…However, many of the skinny “pot bellies” we see have nothing to do with fat at all—they’re postural. More specifically, they’re caused by an anterior pelvic tilt. This is incredibly incredibly common. I’d guess that around 80% of the skinny guys coming into our program have them. So around here we affectionately call this postural pot belly issue “ecto-belly.”

Here’s what I mean:

neutral spine, ideal posture, ecto-belly, skinny-fat, and typical ectomorph posture

In the first image you’ve got a typical skinny guy with ecto-belly. His pelvis is tilted forward, perhaps from years of spending a lot of time sitting and not a lot of time developing strength or working on mobility. This creates an arch in his lower back (lordosis). In order to keep his upper body upright, his ribs then need to flare upwards. This creates a flat zone in the mid back. In order for his head to remain upright, his upper back rounds forwards and his neck juts forward. This creates rounding (kyphosis) in his upper back and something called “forward head syndrome.”

This arsenal of postural compensation patterns isn’t that bad. Many skinny guys go through their entire lives without ever addressing it and nothing all that horrifying happens. This posture also boosts the perceived size of your tush, making it a create choice when taking belfies*.

How to Take the bootyful Belfie

Most men try desperately to get out of it though, and there’s good reason for that. It can make it dangerous to lift weights overhead, it could potentially reduce athletic performance, it gives you the appearance of a skinny dude with a pot belly, and it also makes you look a whole lot less co

nfident. In fact, it mirrors a timid posture so perfectly that your brain will respond to it by reducing your actual confidence levels.

Luckily it’s very fixable. Learning how to do deadlifts, squats push-ups and planks properly will go a long way to fixing it, so a good strength training program (like ours!) will help a tremendous amount even if you don’t pay that much attention to your posture. You can also work on building up better glute strength, doing planks, and practicing maintaining a neutral pelvis and strengthening that position with lifts like the dead bug:

Postural stuff can take time. If you’re lifting well though, you’re well on your way. You’ll be standing a little taller and more confidently each week.

*Butt selfies


5. Health & Wholesomeness

That’s totally cool. You don’t need to take supplements to build muscle, and you certainly don’t need to take supplements to do our program.

As a skinny guy, creatine terrified me—I thought it was like steroids. I was way way too scared to walk into a supplement store and ask for it, let alone keep it around my room for other people to find. Having creatine seemed both scary and also embarrassing. So I gained my first twenty pounds without it, going from 130 pounds up to 150 pounds.

When it came time to gain more muscle, I enlisted my roommate, Jared, to be my summer-time training partner. (That story here.) I was a little more confident, since I looked somewhat fit and healthy, and I also had my roommate in on it. By then I’d done more research into creatine too, and learned that it wasn’t anything like steroids. So we bought some creatine. Jared gained 5 pounds within that first week, whereas nothing crazy happened to me. I assumed it wasn’t working (probably incorrectly) and I stopped taking it. Jared finished the tub on his own. By the end of that summer I’d gained another 22 pounds, bringing me up to 172. (Jared gained 37 pounds, going from 130 up to 167.)

During my third and final muscle-building spree (while testing the Bony to Beastly Program), I went from 170ish up to 190ish. Since I hadn’t used creatine before and wasn’t even sure if it even had any effect on me, I decided to skip it.

So I gained 60ish pounds of muscle without any creatine. I did use whey protein though, just to make things a little easier and more convenient. (Whey protein offers no advantage over whole food protein sources, other than being convenient and easy on the appetite.)

Frankly, supplements pale in comparison to the effects of lifting and eating heartily (and cleverly). Lots of our members choose not to use any. They do great.


Oh hell yes. Weightlifting—or more specifically getting strong and building muscle*—is amazing for your health. It reduces your all-cause mortality (study), which means that it reduces your chance of dying from everything—heart attack, cancer, loneliness, polar bear**, etc. 

The study found that having higher amounts of muscle mass and strength improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, reduces triglycerides, improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, and reduces the signs of aging. Part of this is because weightlifting improves cardiovascular / cardiorespiratory fitness, but even after that variable was controlled for, the added muscle mass and strength still significantly reduces your chances of dying from everything. This suggests that while cardio is certainly great for your health, for optimum health you’ll also want to be a strong dude.

This is the latest and greatest study, but these findings have been unanimously confirmed by dozens of studies, including these two: study, study. Hell, weightlifting is even being officially recommended by the American Heart Association (study) and the American College of Sports Medicine (study).

If that’s not enough to get you psyched to burly-up, it turns out that the “meathead” stereotype is actually dead backwards. Strenuous physical activity—like heavy weightlifting—stresses the brain and promotes adaptation and growth, improving brain function. Not only does weightlifting keep alive and healthy longer, it also improves your memory, concentration, mood and ability to learn (study).

*Building muscle is also a matter of nutrition, which is also strongly tied to health and longevity.
**We’re Canadian

6. Can I do the Program?

We have a full 100% refund policy within the first 60 days. There’s no fine print or conditions or anything. If you don’t like it, you get your money back.

As soon as you get into the community though, you’ll realize we’re the real deal. The Introductions & Progress section is full of guys all doing great. The average member gains 10+ pounds in the first phase (five weeks) and 20+ pounds by midway through the program (three months). The reason we can offer a no-fine-print refund is because, well, nobody asks for refunds—our members rock and get great results 🙂

But if you’re skeptical, don’t worry—this really is no risk. We fully guarantee the program.


Pretty advanced!

The main eBook covers the fundamentals but goes into quite a bit of depth. When it comes to actually putting this stuff into practice, we have a nutrition guide that’s ideal for beginners who are struggling to gain weight (here), and an advanced nutrition guide that’s more along the lines of what a professional fitness model would do (here).


Yeah, man. This is not a beginners program, this is a foundational science-based mass-building program, and we designed it to be thorough and thoroughly optimized.

We get guys who are total beginners, and we get guys who have been lifting for decades and have already gained dozens of pounds. We have two different workout streams—one for beginners (here), one for guys with a little more experience (here).

If you’ve already built a couple dozen pounds of muscle, you may not gain another 20-30 pound gains in just a couple months, like some of our skinnier guys do… or you might. I tested the beginner program after already having gained 35 pounds, and I gained another 25 over the course of the program (5 months). Either way, it will still be the most efficient muscle-building plan out there for you 🙂

Plus, we can work with you on an individual level to make sure you’re progressing optimally.


No lift is mandatory, and we teach many regressions, progressions and alternatives to each.

If you’re nervous about jumping right into advanced lifts, that’s understandable. We’ll start you off with simpler versions so that you can start lifting heavy (and building muscle) without being bogged down by a lack of experience.

If you’ve got a finicky back and your doctor has cautioned you against doing certain lifts, we can help you work within those limitations… and still build loads of muscle.


Training at home is totally cool. We aren’t fancy. You’ll just need some heavy dumbbells (like these) and an adjustable bench (something like this). That will let you lift heavy through all the movement patterns, and that’s all you need to gain the 20-30 pounds that we promise. We even took guys training from home into account when filming the videos and designing the workout sheets.

If you want our take on building a more advanced home gym, check this post out.


Marco’s incredibly qualified to teach people how to lift*, and he has a ton of experience doing it. When you see the videos you’ll realize that he’s already guessed all of the problems you’re probably going to run into. If you run into a problem we haven’t pre-prepared for, we can coach you through it in the community.

We also don’t just plunk you into a squat rack and expect you to be able to execute a back squat. If you’ve never done a back squat before, we’ll start by teaching you how to do a goblet squat. When you’ve got the technique down, we’ll transition you to a front squat. When you’ve mastered that, we’ll teach you the back squat. This is how you’d be taught to lift by a strength coach in person, although it’s relatively rare to find people doing this online.

This is one of the reasons our members are often able to build muscle so quickly—because they spend less time doing advanced lifts awkwardly, and more time doing simple lifts well. (This is also the safest way to learn to lift.)

*He has a degree in health sciences, he’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, he’s interned under some of the top strength and performance coaches in the world, and his day job is teaching people how to lift weights well.

As you likely already know, plant-based diets are pretty sweet. Most of the healthiest cultures around the world base their diets around fruits, vegetables and grains. Compared to your average dude, in many ways you’re already rocking a rad advantage. (Moreover, most people vastly overestimate the amount of protein they need to build muscle.)

When it comes to building muscle, the nutrition rules are the same for everyone. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to eat exactly the same diet. Everyone has different preferences, limitations, ideologies.

As far as our program goes, we practice something called “flexible dieting”, which allows people to eat in a way that best suits them on an individual level while still getting optimal results. It’s not like we’re trying to force feed all of our members tuna shakes at precisely 8am or anything. You’ll be making your diet your own, and we can help you with that.

So eating a plant-based diet is totally cool, and many of our members choose to go that route.


Then you’ve come to the right place, my slender friend. Rugged strength, athletic power and mobility is our specialty.

We don’t just isolate our muscles and try to stimulate growth, we use heavy compound free-weight lifts through the fundamental movement patterns. This is the best way to develop strength, coordination, power and performance. It may also improve your brain performance and increase your lifespan.


Muscle-building gurus are a dime a dozen. Not all of them know what they’re talking about. Here’s why we think you should trust us:

a) We aren’t just touting personal experience. Our program is based on sound peer-reviewed research, and Marco has a health sciences degree, a slew of certifications and, perhaps most impressively, he’s interned/studied with the best athletic performance specialists in the world: Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Mike Roberston, the Postural Restoration Institute, etc.

b) We aren’t just nerds, we also have first hand experience. All three of us started extremely skinny and we’ve all successfully put on 50+ pounds of muscle (each). We know what it’s like to do what you’re trying to do.

c) We’ve been able to reproduce these results in our members. Our personal successes weren’t a fluke. Everyone who joins the program is able to build muscle—many of them even faster than we did, since we’re better at this than we were back then.


Marco started at 16, I started at 20. By the time I gained my first pound, Marco had gained 63. If I could go back in time, I would have started even younger than Marco. It would have been amazing to be a stronger, healthier and burlier teenager… and the benefits of training during puberty are pretty amazing—especially in the longer term.

This isn’t just my personal opinion—the research unanimously agrees that weightlifting is amazing for kids and teenagers (study, study, study, study, study, study, study).

Here are a couple quotes from some of those studies:

“Although in the past resistance and high-intensity exercise training among young children was the subject of numerous controversies, it is now well-documented that this training mode is a safe and effective means of developing maximal strength, maximal power output and athletic performance in youth, provided that exercises are performed with appropriate supervision and precautions.”

“Several studies provide consistent findings supporting the benefits of repeated, intense physical efforts in young subjects. Improved motor skills and body composition, in terms of increased fat free mass, reduced fat mass and enhanced bone health, have been extensively documented, especially if sport practice began early, when the subjects were pubescent. It can be therefore concluded that strength training is a relatively safe and healthy practice for children and adolescents.”

“Not only is regular physical activity essential for normal growth and development, but also a physically active lifestyle during the pediatric years may help to reduce the risk of developing some chronic diseases later in life. In addition to aerobic activities such as swimming and bicycling, research increasingly indicates that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised.”

“These results emphasize that resistance training provides an effective way for enhancing motor performance in children and adolescents.”

The cool thing about starting young—before and during puberty—is that your body is still growing and adapting. By starting to train like a beast young, you can come out of puberty permanently adapted for the better. Better motor skills, greater bone density, greater muscle-building potential, more brainpower, more willpower, better health, etc.

But you need to do it right. None of those studies recommend just jumping in without any guidance. Here are some tips:

  1. Start with moderate rep ranges in order to give your tendons and ligaments time to adapt. If you’ve never lifted weights before, I wouldn’t go lower than 10 reps for a couple months. Bodybuilding and mobility work first, not straight up strength training. You’ll still build muscle size optimally, but the emphasis on strength will come along in the coming months. (We have introductory phases for beginners that do just this.)
  2. Use progressions. No need to back squat, barbell bench press and barbell deadlift on your first day. I’d recommend starting with simpler progressions, like goblet squats (or split squats), dumbbell bench presses (or push-ups) and dumbbell sumo deadlifts (or rack pulls). They’ll allow you to build muscle quickly and safely, while also developing the strength, mobility and stability to progress.
  3. Use mostly bodyweight and free weights, not machines. Barbells, dumbbells and your own bodyweight allow your body to distribute the load properly and move in a natural way. Machines can force unnatural movement patterns and weird load distributions, making them more dangerous. They aren’t “bad”, just not quite as good at building muscle and not quite as safe.
  4. Ask your parents and doctor.
  5. Choose a good program. I recommend ours 😉

I’ll leave you with Dallas, one of our now-burly high schoolers:

How Old Do You Need to be to Lift Weights / Build Muscle / Become a Beast?


That’s fine—just make sure your old folks’ home has a weight training room. More seriously, age doesn’t play that large a role here. A 2005 study by Hubal found no age-related differences in the ability to build muscle between the ages of 18 and 40—the oldest age they studied (study). They speculate that difficulties in building muscle mass wouldn’t occur until the age of 60.


The fundamentals of building muscle are more or less the same for both men and women. However, it’d sort of be like wearing a man’s clothes. I mean it’d work—you wouldn’t be naked anymore—but it might not produce quite the effect you’re going for.

I’d suggest our sister program, Bony to Bombshell—the weightlifting program for skinny women looking to gain weight and build muscle.


Absolutely. In fact, those sound like pretty ideal conditions.

The food might not all be organic and grass-fed and whatnot… but who cares? It’s not like that stuff has a noticeable impact on muscle growth anyway. There’s usually a certain amount of flexibility you have with your “rations”, and as a result all of the cafeteria guys we have still manage to do a killer job, even if they worry that they aren’t eating wholesomely enough.

Even in a dorm room you can usually manage to have some good snacks around, too. Trail mix, whey and a shaker cup, some peanut butter and fruit. Not gourmet, but certainly good enough to build a couple dozen pounds of muscle with.

Plus, the gyms that college kids have are often set up for a variety of different types of athletes. That means power cages, squat racks, benches, barbells and tons of dumbbells—perfect muscle-building gear for a skinny guy. And the gyms that guys in the military have are usually just as functional. These tend to make the best gyms, and the rates are usually pretty reasonable (if they aren’t free!).

Circumstances won’t ever be perfect, but I’d call these circumstances pretty damn sweet.


Hehe don’t worry—we aren’t a super fancy program. We’ll all about basic nutritious whole foods like potatoes, bananas, beans, rice, oats, whole grain bread, peanut butter, dairy, etc. (This varies depending on your culture, budget and preferences, of course.) You can bulk just as easily on peanut butter and banana sandwiches as you can on grass-fed organic beef.Supplements are optional, and your success won’t depend on them at all. If you decide to take creatine monohydrate though—the king of all muscle-building supplements—you can order a 5 month supply for around $20. That will get you through the entire program. But you don’t need it.

(You’re going to love this guide if you sign up, which is a very flexible nutrition plan optimized for budget, appetite, convenience and muscle.)


Most programs out there are made for chubby guys looking to lose weight and build a bit of muscle. The reason our program is so effective at helping skinny guys build muscle is because we actually focus exclusively on skinny guys trying to build muscle—an admittedly rare niche.

All three of us are ectomorphs to the bone, and that’s where the bulk of our expertise and experiences lies. We’ve been there, built muscle from that perspective, and can offer real-world advice based on both science and excessive amounts of personal experience.

We probably aren’t the best fit if you’re a naturally chubby guy. 

…Although if you’re an ectomorph with a belly, that’s a whole different story. Skinny-fat is very much up our alley, and with a good weightlifting and nutrition plan (like ours) you may be able to build muscle while burning fat (studystudy).


The best way to progress is to start now and do what you can with what you’ve got. If all you have is a wooden floor and a fridge with a beer in it, you better damnwell head to the corner store and buy some beans and potatoes so that you can recover from all the pushups, air squats and beer-bottle-curls you’ll be doing. Because who knows how long it’ll be until you can afford a personal chef and a state-of-the-art home gym. Besides, you aren’t a little princess… even if you can fit into her skinny jeans.

(We include a gymless workout with the program, and ideally you’d buy some weights or join a gym in the near-ish future, when circumstances permit.)


Yes, yes it will. We’re naturally skinny guys too, so believe me, we know! Among your friends you may be the odd one, but around here food is a problem for 90% of us. You’re going to find a community full of picky eaters, fragile digestive systems, unbelievably small stomachs, and people who already eat inhuman amounts and have even more superhuman metabolisms (study, study, study, study, study).

Our job is helping you come up with a solution. We’re good at that. Very very good.