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.

People normally do a whole slew of things to build muscle, so it’s very hard to root out what the actual source of it is. Is your muscular friend muscular because he goes to absolute muscular failure? Some guys claim that you need to lift hard. That only the last rep counts. That you’re wasting your workout if you aren’t going to absolute failure and beyond. They might even totally believe it. But is it the first 9 reps that are causing muscle growth, or that final really awkward looking 10th rep that made them red in the face?

Consider this story.

The Dynamic Resistance Fitness Course™. Back in the 1920’s Charles Atlas came up with a muscle-building program for skinny guys. This was back in the good old days when skinny guys didn’t even know that they could build muscle.

Atlas, buff man that he was, knew he could create an insatiable urge to build muscle in ectomorphs all over the world. So he came up with a system that he could market. He called it the Dynamic Resistance Fitness Course™, and he placed advertisements in magazines, reaching out to skinny guys who were eager to buff up and strut their bod’s on the beach. Ectomorphs all over the world began eagerly placing their orders, finally confident they could build up enough muscle to woo bikini babes.

Charles Atlas – How to lift to build muscle as a naturally skinny ectomorph

His theory was that you could “pit muscle against muscle” to create the tension needed to build muscle. You’d clench your triceps, say, and then contract your biceps against that tension. He claimed that the resistance you could create would would make it similar to lifting a weight. As your muscles became stronger the resistance you’d create would become more intense, allowing you to become stronger still. Best of all you could do it right from the privacy and comfort of you own home. No equipment required. And I mean, what skinny guy who’s new to building muscle doesn’t want to do it secretly? Brilliant.

In the 1940’s Charles Atlas was accused of false advertising in court, or so the legend goes. Bob Hoffman, founder of York Barbell™ and a veritable weightlifting legend, was fairly certain that calisthenics (aka bodyweight workouts) weren’t very good for building muscle. He suspected that Atlas was sneaking in weightlifting workouts to get his hearty manly man physique.

On the stand, Atlas insisted that he did his calisthenics program daily. When asked if he also used dumbbells or barbells, he remained adamant that his bodyweight workouts were how he maintained his burly physique … but he admitted that he used weights “on occasion” to test his strength. Pressed further, he admitted that he “tested his strength” three to four times per week …

Not surprisingly, the dynamic resistance style of training is relatively uncommon these days.

Even if Charles Atlas was maintaining his muscle just with bodyweight workouts, another thing to keep in mind is that maintaining or rebuilding muscle mass is a breeze compared to building it for the first time. If you see a muscular guy happily maintaining his muscle mass … that doesn’t have very much to do with what you need to do to build muscle. This is good news – once you have your muscle it will be easy to keep it or rebuild it – but it doesn’t help us if we’ve always been skinny.

Here’s another story.

The Colorado Experiment. Back in 1973 the famous bodybuilding equipment inventor Arthur Jones decided to test out his experimental approach to bodybuilding on his protégé, Casey Viator. Over the course of 28 days Viator trained using a series of very heavy lifts, largely done on machines, and often done using a very slow tempo. Over the course of those 28 days he gained an astounding 63 pounds of muscle. To make the story even more remarkable, Arthur Jones had Casey Viator following an extremely minimalistic workout routine. He was training just three times per week and each workout averaged about thirty minutes.

The Colorado Experiment – Is this a good way to build muscle as a skinny guy / ectomorph?

But there are other ways to tell the story. Arthur Jones was looking for the most incredibly transformation the world had ever seen so that he could promote his new line of Nautilus™ bodybuilding machines. Casey Viator would be the perfect candidate for this. He had a bodybuilding career full of steroid use, and a previous history of steroid use is known to make building muscle easier in the future. He had lost a couple dozen pounds of muscle mass over the course of the past year due to losing a finger and getting an infection. He had some of the best muscle-building genetics the world had ever seen (he had won the title of Mr. Universe at age 19); and he was extremely skilled when it came to training intensely and eating ludicrously enormous amounts of food.

In the two months leading up to the experiment, Viator then intentionally lost a couple dozen more pounds of muscle by following a strict starvation diet (800 calories per day) and by strictly avoiding heavy lifting. Casey Viator was being paid a tremendous amount for every pound he gained, and all of this was strategically designed to make his transformation as dramatic as possible. It worked. Viator gained 63 pounds of muscle in four weeks!

There are a few cases of people using a similar approach to rebuild muscle and doing very well. Arthur Jones followed the same protocol as Viator – starvation diet, detraining, recovering lost muscle – and managed to rebuild 17 pounds of lean mass in a month. Recently, best-selling author Tim Ferriss was detrained and underfed in the year leading up to his own experiment, and was able to rebuild 34 pounds of lost muscle mass in a month.

This is not to undersell their techniques or their results. These are people achieving otherworldly gains that deserve to make headlines, and their minimalist techniques, given their unusual circumstances, make a whole lot of sense. The stimulus required to rebuild muscle is small and they’re thus able to rebuild muscle mass with only an itty bit of training extremely quickly.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what actually builds muscle. Sometimes people build muscle by doing totally traditional weightlifting behind the scenes and then also do a very peculiar and marketable type of exercise on the side that they tell everyone about.

There are lots of very bizarre muscle-building techniques that have been marketed over the years, and, err, I feel like I’ve tried my fair share of them. These are novel ways to train and I understand the appeal. They make training easier and more accessible, and previously unheard of methods also bring about the excitement of maybe, just maybe, achieving previously unheard of results.

I’m not saying that you won’t get results using these programs – you might – but it turns out the that the very things that make these routines unique are also what make them a poor choice for your typical guy trying to build muscle. The results tend to come from the fundamentals, whereas the gimmicks might make the program less effective, but more interesting and marketable. They make the program sexy … at the expense of your results.

Some of these techniques make sense for nearly everyone. Viator lifted weights three times per week and he lifted heavy. This works well.

On the other hand, some of their techniques aren’t very effective at all. There have been a number of developments in the muscle-building world in the past several decades and we now know that slow lifting is ineffective compared to a more moderate lifting tempo (study, study, study). A new study that came out last month put another nail in the coffin – intentionally lifting slower reduces your ability to build muscle. (study) Moreover, low volume training is ineffective compared to higher volume training (meta-analysismore recent study).

Check out the results of a low volume squat routine compared with a higher volume squat routine (extrapolated for a 150 pound man):

One Set Squatters: 0 pounds muscle, 0 pounds fat. (Strength up by 36 pounds.)

Four Set Squatters: 0 pounds muscle, -3 pounds fat. (Strength up by 46 pounds.)

Eight Set Squatters:  5 pounds muscle, -2.5 pounds fat (Strength up by 82 pounds.)

Looking at the one set squatters, the average was a zero pound gain but that doesn’t mean that everyone gained zero pounds. Some guys gained weight, others lost weight. This is why you’ll see some guys succeed even when doing suboptimal training programs – because they naturally build muscle easily. The same is true the other way. Sometimes people do a halfway decent training program and get nothing out of it even though most other people do. (I would have been the guy losing muscle …)

This is a well studied phenomenon. In one study they put the participants on a 12 week arms-only weightlifting program (bicep curls and tricep extensions). The vast majority of people added around 2 inches to their arms, a few gifted participants were able to add 5.3 inches, and the few “non-responders” lost 0.1 inches. This can likely be explained by nutrition, which wasn’t monitored, but nevertheless some people naturally respond very favourably to weightlifting and others do not. (study)

We aren’t genetically cursed or anything – us skinny guys can build muscle wonderfully well – but we certainly shouldn’t be doing types of exercise that don’t even work well. We just aren’t the genetically elite that, against all odds, manage to build muscle when doing things that don’t reliably build muscle. We instead need to stack the odds in our favour (including nutrition). If you do this well enough, naturally skinny or not, your cleverness may soon have you seeming exceptionally genetically gifted.


Okay. So first things first, when evaluating different types of training it’s important to have a clear grasp of a few muscle-building fundamentals. A muscle will be encouraged to grow because of three things, in (probable) order of importance:

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 (studystudy, study), 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)

Metabolic stress. This is the “burn” or the “pump”. This will cause your body to produce local growth factors in the muscles you’re training, which can cause muscle growth. This is the second most important factor, and again it requires a fair amount of tension on the muscle in order to stimulate muscle growth. (study)

Muscle damage. This is how much damage you inflict on the muscle. The muscle soreness you feel the next day (or the day after that) is caused by inflammation as your body sends nutrients in to repair the damage. If the type of stress you placed on your muscle  is the type of stress that would cause your muscle to grow bigger and stronger, then your body will attempt to rebuild that muscle bigger and stronger. (study)

The more overall sets and reps you do the more growth you’ll be able to stimulate via these three factors, so long as you can recover fully from the workouts. (meta-analysis) As you saw in the squat example, this is very important. Similarly, the more often you hit a given muscle, the more your muscles will grow, again, so long as you can fully recover. Programming your workouts is thus a balancing act of trying to stimulate maximum amounts of mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage while still being able to properly recover.

So let’s look into some popular training styles and how they can help you accomplish your muscle-building goals. I’ve focused on the four most common ones that we get asked about and then included our own approach at the end.


Muscle-building programs for skinny guys – calisthenics versus p90x


My roommate in university was a muscular guy who naturally weighed in at a beefy 200 pounds. Over the course of a couple years he managed to lose twenty pounds by biking and doing bodyweight workouts (P90x and ab workouts) in our living room. Even though he probably lost a bit of muscle, he wound up looking pretty buff, since he had so much muscle to spare.

I was very different. Even though I would have been thrilled to look like the after shots, well, I didn’t have all the muscle (or fat) that the guys in the before shots had. My starting point was 130 pounds. I couldn’t do a conditioning program, lose some weight, and wind up looking ripped. Willem could. Here’s me after gaining my first 32 pounds (by lifting heavy), and Willem after losing his first 20 pounds (by lifting light):

Mesomorph vs Ectomorph – totally different approach needed to get an aesthetic physique

These programs are for him.

For fat loss. A twelve week study looking at body composition when losing weight found that all participants lost 21 pounds on average, regardless of whether they were doing no exercise, light workouts, or heavy workouts. Their body composition afterwards was quite different though. The ones who weren’t exercising lost 14 pounds of fat and 7 pounds of muscle, the ones who were doing light resistance training lost 16 pounds of fat and 5 pounds of muscle, and the ones who were doing heavy weightlifting lost 21 pounds of fat and 0 pounds of muscle. (study)

An even more recent study found that the lighter weightlifting group lost 13 pounds – 7 pounds of fat and 6 pounds of muscle. The heavier weightlifting group lost 18 pounds, losing 22 pounds of fat and gaining 4 pounds of muscle. (study)

For muscle-building. If you’re eating in a calorie surplus and gaining weight you can make slight improvements at first if and only if these workouts are relatively heavy for you. If you can’t do 10 push-ups, you will indeed need to build up muscle size and strength to be able to get there. As a result, in beginners these workouts can stimulate a little bit of muscle growth at first. (study) Beyond that very early stage though, it doesn’t matter how gruelling the workouts are, or how fearsomely your muscles burn with a hellish fire … if the stimulus isn’t heavy enough it won’t cause you to adapt by becoming bigger and stronger. (study, study, study, study, study) If you keep eating in a calorie surplus, at a certain point you will begin to gain fat.

Remember—sweat is your fat crying, not your body building muscle.

Yes, calisthenics can be progressed to be quite difficult. Planches and handstand pushups require a ton of stabilizer muscle strength and a ton of balance. This makes them rather impressive (and fun) … but the very thing that makes them impressive also makes them rather poor at building up muscle mass. Even with advanced progressions of bodyweight workouts the limiting factor will very rarely be mechanical tension in the targeted muscle, but rather stabilizer muscle strength and/or balance. As a result, your balance and stabilizer muscle strength will improve while your muscle size will remain more or less the same.

Summary. If your goal is building muscle or cutting, these workouts fail at the most important criteria for growth: they aren’t heavy enough. Combined with a calorie deficit you will lose weight (both muscle and fat). Combined with a calorie surplus you will gain weight (both muscle and fat).

These are general fitness workouts though, and they will indeed help make you fit and healthy. This will improve your energy levels, your mood and even your cognition (as will most other types of exercise). Moreover, they can also help you lose weight, as they will help create a calorie deficit by burning calories.


There are a lot of routines that involve doing weightlifting for the purposes of improving general fitness. These are common in Men’s Health, group weightlifting classes, and when doing sports specific training. Some of them are very advanced, too. CrossFit, for example, involves doing a lot of highly technical advanced lifts in a gruelling and competitive way. Part general fitness, part extreme sport. In fact, it’s a workout that’s so sport-like that people will sit on the couch and pay to watch CrossFit on TV.

CrossFit isn’t for sissies, and it’s actually pretty damn effective at what it’s designed to do – make you incredibly fit in a very versatile way. There are a lot of claims that CrossFit encourages poor lifting poor, but I think that’s a little harsh. There are people who practice poor lifting form in all styles of training, and it doesn’t seem to me like CrossFit is particularly problematic. Nevertheless, it has a debatably (very) high injury rate, given how advanced the lifts are and that you’re (oftentimes) supposed to do them well beyond the point of fatigue

… but the studies invariably also show that it will indeed make you wicked fit. I would say that the results of the studies looking into CrossFit are very positive, and like callisthenics programs I don’t think it’s a fad, nor should it be. (studystudy)

Is it good at building muscle? Well you’ll certainly build a whole hell of a lot more muscle by doing CrossFit than by reading blog posts. We have a few relatively advanced guys in our program who also do CrossFit, and, well, they tend to be pretty damn badass dudes. If they’ve got a good grasp of muscle-building nutrition they often come in having gained a decent amount of muscle mass too. Heavy-ish weightlifting, even when done for the purposes of general fitness, can be good for that. While it doesn’t rival other forms of exercise designed to build muscle, CrossFit can indeed make you bigger and stronger, especially if you’re relatively skinny starting out. (study)

With general fitness programs designed to make you fit in every way possible, it’s understandably hard to make consistent size/strength gains. After all, it’s a program designed very specifically to make you athletically fit, so any mass gains are more of a side effect rather than the intended outcome. You’ll usually fail with your central nervous system (aka overall fatigue) rather than with the muscle group that you’re trying to grow. When you do fail with the muscle group you’re training it’s often due to muscular endurance instead of muscular strength, which leads to endurance adaptations more so than muscle-building adaptions. The weight used, since it’s used so athletically and with such varied rep ranges, is only occasionally heavy enough to cause muscle growth, the volume and frequency for any one muscle group is sporadic, and most of the lifting is done in the sagittal plane (at the expense of the transverse and frontal planes). As a result your muscle development may not be that balanced. (study)

Summary. These are not programs designed specifically to build muscle, but you may build a bit of it anyway! As far as fitness oriented styles of training go this is by far the best way to go. It’s also very advanced, and probably something you’d want to do after you’ve built up a helluva lot of muscle.


Muscle-building programs for skinny guys – bodybuilding vs strength training

Alright so now we’re into the types of training that aren’t about fat loss or general fitness, but rather about building up more muscle mass and strength. Heavy weightlifting is without a doubt the easiest way to optimize all muscle-building factors, since you’re moving heavy objects by stretching and contracting your muscles. As a result, virtually every type of training designed to build muscle will involve lifting heavy weights. There are many ways to do this though. One of the more popular approaches is to focus on getting stronger (strength training/powerlifting) and the other popular approach is to focusing on getting bigger (bodybuilding).

There are some less common ways that people lift, like Olympic lifting. It’s a sport in and of itself, and it’s commonly used to train athletes to be explosive, and it’s used in sporty competitive training programs like CrossFit. The lifts are very difficult to learn, they require a lot of equipment, there’s only mechanical tension in the concentric part of the lift (since you drop the weight after lifting it), there’s no emphasis on metabolic stress, and they’re often done far away from failure in order to minimize muscle damage and reduce the risk of injury. This is well known in the muscle-building community, and you rarely see people doing them with the goal of building up muscle mass.


Now we’re at the heart of the “just lift heavy” argument. That’s what strength training is all about – damn heavy deadlifts, squats, bench presses, overhead presses, etc. This involves lifting very heavy weights through a large range of motion. This is excellent for stimulating mechanical tension, which is the most important factor when it comes to building muscle. Since your muscles will be so eager to grow (aka your muscle cells will be very insulin sensitive) this will mean that a caloric surplus will cause your body to preferentially build muscle instead of storing fat. Brilliant.

The lifts are compound lifts too, which means you’ll hit many muscle groups at once. The squat uses something like 200 muscles. Not all of these muscles will grow maximally, of course. Many are stabilizer muscles, and not even all of the prime movers will be limiting factors. (If your quads are the limiting factor, then it’s your quads that are getting the best stimulus for growth.) You’re going to see a decent amount of growth in many of the muscle groups worked though: your quads, butt, hamstrings, lower back, etc. As a result your workouts will be fairly efficient.

Classic strength training is also based around barbells. This means you’ll do a great job of building up stabilizer muscles, balance, tendon and ligament strength, etc. It’s safer too, since your body will be able to use natural movement patterns and distribute the stress in a biomechanically sound manner. (Counterintuitively, free weights tend to be safer than machines.) Furthermore, the strength that you build will transfer to virtually every other type of manly strength activity, whether that’s advanced callisthenics, CrossFit, carrying your wife over a threshold, flexing and unflexing your pecs to the rhythm of your favourite song, carrying an old woman out of a burning building, etc.

We get a lot of guys coming into our program who didn’t make any progress even when following a hearty strength training program. This is probably not a training problem, but rather a nutrition problem. If you’re trying to lift heavier and heavier weights each week but your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to build up more muscle mass, it will be forced to make neural adaptations, i.e., it will learn to use the muscle it already has more efficiently.* This isn’t always bad. This is how you’d get stronger while staying inside your weight class. This is bad when you’re a skinny dude trying to build muscle … because, err, well we don’t want to stay in the featherweight weight class.

*These are called “neural” gains because your  body will grow new neurons to allow you to optimize the unfamiliar movement patterns you’re practicing.

So this is indeed an effective way to build muscle mass… but this still isn’t a mass-building approach to training. This is a strength-building approach to training. If you’re a skinny guy trying to build muscle mass this a fairly poor approach. Here’s where the “just lift heavy” argument falters:

Volume is optimized for building up muscle strength. The weights are so heavy that it imposes a huuuge stress on our central nervous system. As a result we fatigue very quickly. We fatigue before we’ve maximally stimulated our muscles for growth. 

To illustrate this point, consider the deadlift. If you’re doing a heavy 5×5 with a deadlift you’re going to be absolutely destroyed by the end of it.  But you’ve only done 25 reps. That’s nowhere near the optimal amount if you’re trying to develop muscle size. Yes, you could do 10-15 sets of five reps and build maximal amounts of muscle… but it would take you hours to do your workouts and your central nervous system would be fried to a crisp by the end of it. Your risk of injury in those later sets would be very high, you’d very quickly become overtrained, and you’d grind your joints to the bone. (study)

Strength-building versus muscle-building lifts. A deadlift is an excellent exercise for strength. After every rep you set the weight on the ground, get back into a great position, and then lift the next rep. You’re essentially doing a series of single rep lifts. You also need to set the weight down relatively quickly, or you risk causing excessive damage / injury on the way down. This means that mechanical tension isn’t constant throughout the lift and the time under tension is quite small. Perhaps the best lift known to man for overall strength… but surprisingly mediocre for size.

Form is optimized for lifting more weight, not building more muscle. A common example is the bench press. If you’re powerlifting or strength training you’ll bring your elbows in right close to your body so that you can press with your triceps and shoulders, and you’ll create an arch in your back to limit the range of motion and improve your leverage. This will radically reduce your ability to grow your chest, but substantially increase the amount of weight you can lift in a competition. If you aren’t competing in a powerlifting competition that isn’t very helpful.

The accessory lifts are designed to improve strength. A good strength training program will use accessory lifts designed to blast you through plateaus on your big lifts. It’s common to do rack pulls to work on locking out a deadlift, or add chains to your bench press to even out the strength curve. These accessory lifts are designed to improve your strength on the big lifts, not designed to build muscle mass.

If you’re wondering if accessory lifts are needed at all (some minimalist 5×5 programs don’t really use them), a study that came out May 2014 looked into how doing just squats compared with doing squats, leg presses and leg extensions. The volume was equated, so both groups were doing the same amount of weightlifting overall. The multi-exercise group did far better than the squat-only group. They both grew the same overall amount of muscle, presumably because the weightlifting volume was equal, but the greater variety of exercises resulted in more balanced muscle growth – all heads of the quads grew proportionally. Surprisingly, it also resulted in a far greater increase in strength! (study)

Another example is a November 2014 study that found that including partial range of motion accessory lifts (like rack pulls) alongside full range of motion lifts (like deadlifts) was more effective at improving strength gains than just performing a greater volume of full range of motion lifts. (study)

So there’s a very strong case for including accessory lifts in pure strength programs.

You’re doing competition lifts instead of lifts that align with your goals. If you’re doing a minimalist powerlifting sort of program you’ll be doing lots of things designed to make you a better squatter, deadlifter and bench presser (and maybe barbell curler or rower). If you don’t like to squat, deadlifts aggravate your back, barbell rowing hurts your forearms or your goal is to get big and strong in general rather than compete in very specific lifts… then your program isn’t optimal.

Summary. Strength programs are ideal for developing badass strength in competition lifts. They’re also pretty damn decent when it comes to building muscle when gaining weight. Similarly, when losing weight these programs will help preserve your muscle mass. However, in the longer term these programs can be fatiguing and tough on your joints and the overuse / injury rates are somewhat high – comparable to CrossFit. (study, study, study) Because of how much stress very heavy lifting will put on your body, it may be wise to begin by bodybuilding to give your tendons and stabilizer muscles time to adapt to the stresses of lifting, and to give yourself an opportunity to practice your lifting technique with lighter loads.

If you aren’t interested in becoming a powerlifter, but rather you’re interested in building muscle size and strength, then this type of training probably isn’t for you.

Note: Make sure that if you’re jumping straight into strength training that you’re doing a program that’s appropriate for beginners. A proper strength training program will be, but these are not the ones you tend to find online. It’s extremely rare that someone can just put a barbell on their back and squat with anything close to decent form, it’s even rarer that someone can deadlift a barbell off the ground with decent form, and I’ve never even heard of anyone picking up a barbell and pressing it overhead with enough technique that it’s even remotely safe. Rushing right to doing these big compound lifts is often dangerous and ineffective – especially if you’re a naturally skinny guy, since our bodies are longer and thinner. More on that here.


A good bodybuilding program will be designed to make you muscular in a balanced, symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing way. If you’re bulking bodybuilding will build more muscle mass, and if you’re cutting bodybuilding will maintain all of your muscle mass so that you can exclusively burn fat. If you’re trying to optimize your body composition or aesthetics then this is the type of training you’re after.

Since muscle size and strength is so closely correlated, there are actually a lot of similarities between a good bodybuilding program and a good strength training program. Bodybuilders also tend to build their routines around compound free weight lifts like squats, chin-ups, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc.

However a bodybuilder isn’t limited to competition rules and lifts. A bodybuilder doesn’t have to squat below parallel, or include deadlifts in his program, or bench press to his chest. If he likes those lifts and handles them well then he probably should, but he doesn’t have to. He also doesn’t need to maximize his one rep max, so he can spend less time doing the hard-to-recover-from low rep training and more time stimulating muscle growth.

Bodybuilding tends to build more muscle for a few reasons:

More emphasis on the “pump” (metabolic stress). Powerlifters focuse on getting strong via mechanical tension, whereas bodybuilders focuses on getting big via metabolic stress. Instead of loading up the bar with as much weight as possible and lifting for 1-5 reps, a bodybuilder will focus on using perfect form for 6-12 reps. They’ll focus on building up a mind-muscle connection, feeling the burn, and working towards getting a pump.

Some lifters bash the pump, saying it’s meaningless when it comes to growth. That isn’t true. Metabolic stress is a real factor when it comes to muscle growth, and there’s lots of evidence to back this up (study).

Besides, when aesthetics and size are the goals it might not be enough to just do the right lifts, you also want to make sure you’re targeting the right muscles when doing those lifts. Want a big chest? The bench press is a great lift for most, however if you get a pump in your shoulders and triceps instead it’s a sure sign that you’re using other muscle groups to do the lift instead. You may need to work on your technique or use a different lift to target your chest.

Less central nervous system fatigue, more muscle damage. Strength training is very taxing on the central nervous system, since the rep ranges used are so low. Bodybuilders spend less time lifting maximally, which means less central nervous system fatigue, which leaves your body with more resources to build muscle. Because of this bodybuilders are able to do more sets, more reps, more lifts, and train more frequently.

More slow twitch fibre growth. Powerlifters tend to exclusively lift heavy weights. Even if you’re doing a 5×5 program, which is light as far as a powerlifting goes, you’re still just stimulating your fast twitch muscle fibres, and thus only growing your fast twitch muscle fibres. Bodybuilders maximally grow their fast twitch muscle fibres too, but by mixing in lighter rep ranges (12-30 reps) they also grow their slow twitch muscle fibres. While slow twitch muscle fibres have less potential for growth, they can add a significant amount of mass to your frame when properly developed. This may be especially true for us hardgainers, as we may have a higher proportion of slow twitch fibres compared to guys who are naturally very muscular.

Accessory lifts added in to improve aesthetics. Some argue that if you’re already doing compound lifts you don’t need accessory lifts. This is true. A strength training program might not include bicep curls because they won’t improve your big competition lifts. Moreover, strength training programs are so taxing on your ability to recover that you’d risk overtraining by adding in a bunch of superfluous accessory lifts.

But if you want burlier biceps, curls sure help. With a bicep curl you’ll load up your biceps with maximal mechanical tension, fail based on bicep strength, you’ll use a full range of motion with your biceps, etc. Adding in some bicep curls on top of your compound lifts is a no brainer if you want bigger biceps.

Chin-ups are good for building your biceps – probably the best lift for building your biceps – but they also have their limitations. Your biceps cross two joints (your shoulder joint and your elbow joint) so you aren’t getting a full stretch or full contraction. The range of motion is deceptively small. In addition to that, your biceps might not be what you’re lifting with, or they might not be your limiting factor. This is true for me – my back grows when doing chins, not my biceps.

Even the studies that people use to argue that compound lifts are all we need make me want to do curls. (study, study) Check this first one out:

Chin-ups are great for building your biceps, but bicep curls are pretty good too

The participants that did curls in addition to their chin-ups did indeed grow girthier guns even though they didn’t gain as much weight. I suspect that the differences in arm size would have been even more pronounced had both groups gained a similar amount of weight.

Note: the sample size was so small that this could very well be a coincidence at this point—we can’t say for sure.
Note: more recently, another study came out showing that doing 30 sets per muscle group per week with compound lifts (nearly twice as much as is considered optimal) was able to stimulate max muscle growth, even without the inclusion of isolation lifts. With isolation lifts added in, bringing the volume to 36 sets per muscle group per week, growth remained about the same. Obviously this is an extremely inefficient and overkill way to train though.

This is true with many lifts. In a bench press the long head of your triceps is working through such a ridiculously small range of motion that you won’t be stimulating it at all. Plus, for many guys it’s the shoulders and medial/lateral heads of the triceps that do most of the pushing, so the chest won’t be the limiting factor and thus won’t grow. As a result you’d want to include a few sets of overhead tricep extensions and pec flys. (study)

You’d also be adding in aesthetic and performance enhancing lifts like reverse flys or IYTs, which will build up the under stimulated and under developed back side of your shoulders, overhead tricep extensions so that you can finally target the long head of your triceps, etc. These aren’t very well stimulated with big compound lifts, but they can have a huge impact on your aesthetics (and posture!).

Summary. Hypertrophy programs are ideal for developing a buff physique, and also pretty decent when it comes to getting fearsomely strong. When losing weight these programs will preserve all of your muscle mass. These programs are also fairly appropriate for people just starting with weightlifting, since the rep ranges are more moderate.


Muscle-building programs for skinny guys – bodybuilding AND strength training

This is the approach that uses all the available techniques/research to create the burliest physique possible. You could think of it as the CrossFit of muscle-building. While CrossFit combines a bunch of different styles of training in an attempt to train for maximum fitness, this approach combines a few different techniques and approaches in an attempt to train for muscle.

You could just as easily call this a subset of bodybuilding, since it will maximally build size … but there are a few things that are common here that aren’t necessarily prevalent in the bodybuilding world. You could call it a subset of strength training too, since quite a few top powerlifters use it to build strength … but there are a few things that aren’t common in the strength training world. Some people realize this is the handsome child of both bodybuilding and powerlifting, so in some circles it’s called “Powerbuilding”.

It’s not new or revolutionary. Most old-time strongmen used a variety of different training styles, lifts and rep ranges to build their physiques. A hundred years ago, Eugen “the Father of Modern Bodybuilding” Sandow used a combination of heavy compound barbell lifts and lighter dumbbell lifts to build his muscle. The golden age lifters did it in the too – Arnold Schwarzenegger was a top level powerlifter and bodybuilder. And it’s still going on today. Ronnie Coleman is an untested world class bodybuilder and powerlifter. Perhaps more relevantly, Layne Norton is a top natural bodybuilder and record holding powerlifter. It’s not a controversial approach to training either. Good luck finding a study that doesn’t show that this is without a doubt the best way to build muscle.

This approach will usually involve:

Equal emphasis on mechanical tension and metabolic stress. A combined approach will focus on getting strong via mechanical tension while also focusing on getting big via metabolic stress. A wide variety of rep ranges will be used, typically ranging from 3-20, but perhaps going as wide as 1-30.

Lifts designed to get you fearsomely strong. Like strength training, you’d probably use heavy squats, deadlifts and bench presses. Unless you’re competing though, you have a lot of flexibility here.

You’d also use accessory lifts designed to improve your big lifts so that you can get consistently stronger and blast through strength plateaus. Building up more strength will also help you lift heavier weights in the higher rep ranges, which can improve your ability to build muscle mass in the longer term.

Lifts designed to build muscle mass. Like bodybuilding, you’d use lifts and rep ranges that optimally build muscle size, like moderately heavy romanian deadlifts, dumbbell bench presses, curls, and dumbbell rows. You’d also use accessory lifts to build mass in your goal areas and bring up lagging body parts.

This goes beyond just making you look bigger and better. Building up muscle size is very closely correlated with strength, and training with an emphasis on size can drastically help people improve their heavy lifts. One study found that powerlifting performance on a lift was strongly correlated with the size of the main movers. So, for example, how big your chest is fairly accurately predicts how strong you are at the bench press, at least once technique is mastered (study). Another study found that how much muscle powerlifters have can correctly predict how successful they are (study). So the bigger their muscles are overall, the stronger they’re likely to be overall. This explains why many of the top powerlifters these days also practice bodybuilding.

Maybe some fitness techniques. For example, it’s common to organize lifts into small circuits and/or supersets. You’ll build the most muscle if you’re able to lift heavy and with good form, after all, so it’s advantageous for the given muscle group to be fully rested before using it again. This can take several minutes, so oftentimes you can fit in another lift. This can improve your general fitness and work capacity, allowing you to recover better between sets/workouts in the future. It will also keep your workouts short and efficient. Plus, of all the types of exercise out there, this is perhaps the best bang for your buck as far as your health and longevity goes.

Bigger emphasis on periodization. You’ll be alternating periods of more intense volume with periods of more intense rest. This will yield the most muscular gains, prevent overtraining, and also build up your overall work capacity, which will allow you to better build muscle in the future. You’d also alternate periods where the emphasis is on bodybuilding with periods where the emphasis is on strength training. This will help keep you consistently progressing.

Summary. A combined approach to lifting is ideal for developing the burliest physique possible, both in terms of strength and size, and both in the shorter and longer term. When losing weight these programs will preserve all of your muscle mass. These programs are also fairly appropriate for people just starting with weightlifting, so long as the lifts and rep ranges are properly progressed and periodized.

This is the approach we use. We use every piece of research to find the optimal way to build muscle, and at this point there’s enough evidence that it’s pretty clear that the best way to build muscle is to strategically combine the best practices of both bodybuilding and powerlifting. As a result, this approach is common with the nerdier of muscle-builders, regardless of whether they’re aiming primarily for size or strength.

There are many ways to structure things. We train three times per week. Each workout takes about an hour. We hit every major muscle group each workout. And each workout we use a variety of lifts and rep ranges designed to make us both big and strong. This has us building size as quickly as possible, strength as quickly as possible … and even improving our posture, health and fitness.


This may or may not sound like good news. The fact that muscle-building programs are the best programs for building muscle is an awkward truth for us skinny guys. When you don’t have much muscle, it can be intimidating to start a style of training where the amount of muscle you have on your body is indicative of your success (or lack thereof). It would be much more pleasant if we could build up muscle mass as a by-product of doing something that we’re already good at. This is why I spent so long trying to get fitter and stronger doing things like swimming and martial arts – because I felt like I wouldn’t be judged as harshly based on my lack of muscle mass. Not surprisingly, this kept me skinny.

(People at the gym won’t actually judge you harshly, in fact they’ll probably be thrilled that they have someone they can pretend they aren’t flexing in front of. On that note, you can build a home gym if you prefer training at home. It’s not as difficult or expensive as you may think. Here’s what we recommend.)

The good news is that the better your training program, the more your muscle cells will be doing everything they can to grow as quickly as possible. They’ll be incredibly insulin sensitive, meaning that more of the food you eat will be invested in building muscle, and less will be invested in storing fat. The quality of your training will determine how quickly you can build muscle, and also to a large degree how resistant you’ll be to storing fat.

The further away you’ve been from training optimally, the more exciting this news is. You may think that your genetics are keeping you skinny, but by optimizing your training for muscle growth you may actually find that you can grow at an incredibly rapid pace.

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So, what'd you think? 171 responses below.


Great info. I’ve read your post on and off for a while and I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I’m a 36 year old skinny-guy and have gone through all the motions trying to gain weight. I like this article because it addresses an issue I noticed with strong-lifts 5×5. I recently watch a video of a guy who had been doing 5×5 for a year and weighing, I think he weighted 150lbs and was deadlifiting over 300lbs. It was incredible to see someone my size lifting that much weight. But I was left wondering why he wasn’t bigger. He had gained 20lbs, and looked great, but dead lifting 300+lbs I would have thought he would have been much bigger. I’m pretty sure this article explains why. I love doing 5×5, it simple and builds real strength, but being a skinny guy, I would like to max my size. Anyway, thanks for the great info again. Oh, also I believe your program is legit because of the photo’s of your members. There not huge, ripped dudes. Being a skinny guy for years, the before and after pictures are compelling because gaining 20lbs to guys like us is huge. Most program show guys with huge gains, and I know thats total bs.

Shane Duquette

Hey Justin, thanks for the kind words, man – glad you dug it!

Exactly. On one hand you could say that it’s super badass to be able to deadlift 2x bodyweight, and you’d be right. On the other hand, if the goal is to gain bodyweight, you’re right, might be best focusing on emphasizing building muscle mass a little more alongside your strength.

And I agree, I think 5×5’s are sweet. Simple and effective strength builders, and quite a bit of fun. I managed to add a lot to my bench press with 5×5’s, and was able to do what you describe – people were impressed I could bench press so much for such a little guy. The problem was I didn’t want to be a little guy …

It’s not like it went to waste though, and having all that chest strength helped me very quickly build up chest size.I think you’ll find that any strength gains you made lifting heavy will very much help you build up mass 🙂


Shane, great article, as usual: structurized and pleasant-to-read!
Got few questions!
So what is optimal overall volume per muscle group, if I train 3 times a week?
In lack of equipment, can I do only one exercise for muscle group for more sets, rather than doing couple of exercises for fewer sets?
Aaand the last one 🙂 If there any way to increase tension without increasing weight on the bar? For example, will it do the trick: to keep the time of lowering the weight the same, but to extend the lifting time up to 3-4 seconds? The same reps, same weight, staying in the “hypothrophy TUT zone”, but harder execution of exercise?
THANK YOU in advance!!! 🙂

Shane Duquette

Thanks Bogdan, I appreciate that!

Kreiger’s meta-analysis of all the relevant studies looking into training volume and hypertrophy found that muscle mass gains were optimized at 16 sets per muscle group per week if you’re lifting bodybuilder style.

it would likely depend on the muscle group, muscle fibre type, intensity, how much weight you’re lifting, etc:

If you were primarily doing strength training, for example, and lifting in very low rep ranges, you might need to reduce the volume to about half that. That would optimize strength gains at the expensive of hypertrophy.

Gav Holmes

Fantastic article, when I started my training last year I def fell into the hypertrophy category.

Shane Duquette

Thanks Gav. Starting with hypertrophy isn’t a bad place to start at all. Bodybuilding is fairly safe and from there it’s easy to work in some more strength lifts, if you wanted 🙂


Hey Shane,

Awesome article! I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while, haha 🙂
I have a few questions– firstly, above you mentioned doing pec flys in addition to bench pressing to stimulate the chest more– would you recommend supersetting those with the BP or doing them as a separate exercise?

Second, I am a member of the XC team at my high school from about September to late October. My goal right now is to weightlift consistently until the start of the XC season, because then I’ll be running almost every day. Is it possible to maintain the muscle I’ll have gained over the summer by lifting once a week in addition to all of that running? It seems like a lot of exercise… but can it be done?

I just want to say thank you for these awesome, free articles! You guys are awesome! God bless!

Shane Duquette

Hey Eli, glad you liked it!

Haha yeah, I’ve been saying I was going to post it for a while now, eh?

I think total volume would be more important than the timing of it, so I think supersets would work well, as would doing them later on in the workout. Which would be better? I’m not sure.

Have you seen our article on cardio?

Long story short, I think you would be able to maintain your muscle just fine, so long as you keep eating well, eat enough that you aren’t losing a significant amount of weight, and keep lifting heavy. Lifting once a week should be fine, so long as you hit each muscle group and maintain strength. Once you already have the muscle mass built up, it doesn’t take a very high training volume to maintain it. That would free up plenty of recovery ability to work on your XC 🙂

I hope that helps, and good luck man!


Hey Shane, thanks for the advice! I just have one more question– so as much as I’d like to use your program, I simply can’t afford it right now. I’ve been looking around for routines that are created for ectomorphs–would you recommend a two-workout program performed three times a week, with exercises like bench press,barbell rows, bicep curls for one workout and deadlifts, pull ups, etc for the second? Or a routine that has a chest/triceps day, back/biceps day, and a legs/shoulders day? or does it not really matter as long as my nutrition is in check?

your website rocks!!! thank you!!!

Shane Duquette

Quality of your workouts matters a ton, even if your nutrition is in check. Both components are very important, although you can certainly make good progress even if you aren’t training/eating perfectly well, especially at first!

We do full body workouts. That isn’t the only way to train optimally, just our preferred way. A triple split done twice per week can work equally well, for example. (push, pull, legs, push, pull, legs, rest.) An upper/lower split is also effective (and you’d probably train four times per week in that case). I prefer to train just three times per week though, so we make our workouts a little longer (about an hour) and we work each major muscle group each time.

Our program certainly isn’t the only rad one out there. I’d recommend finding a good program that you trust and actually following it how it’s programmed. Volume is a finicky thing, and if you take a program that’s already optimized and then start doing it more or less frequently than recommended you might run into issues there. So if you find an upper/lower split, do it the number of times the person who programmed that workout recommends, not more and not less. Does that make sense?


my questions are answered! thanks a ton!


Your claim that “low volume training is ineffective compared to higher volume training,” in particular that eight sets are better than four sets, seems unsupported by the quoted papers. Some of these papers’ conclusions say that three sets are better than one, and some say there is no difference between one and a greater number of sets (between three and twelve). While you may have found one data point for which eight sets was clearly better than less sets, none of papers’ authors make this claim more generally.

This is not to say your contention isn’t true, only that you should support it with more relevant evidence.

Shane Duquette

Hey MC, thanks for holding me accountable!

I tried my best not to cherry pick the data, but rather to post every study looking into volume, convenient or not. I’m not invested in high or low volume training – I’ll gladly do whichever works best.

This study looks at ALL the studies done into volume and came to the conclusion that higher volume training improves muscle growth by around 40%!

This meta-analysis looking into all relevant studies about the relationship between strength and volume found that higher volume let to 46% greater strength gains:

While some studies do show no statistical significance, this is perhaps due to the small subject size, short during of the studies, and the high variability in how well people respond to weightlifting. This makes it very easy for a study to prove statistical significance, but if you look at the actual results of the studies … I would very much prefer to be in the higher volume groups, because they tend to do better!

It’s like the bicep hypertrophy graph in the article, where the conclusion of the study is that no statistical significance was detected … yet the guys doing curls nevertheless made WAY better gains. It’s just that there weren’t many study participants, the duration of the study was relatively short given how long muscle growth takes, and there was a lot of variation between individuals.

As more studies come out, this seems to lend support to this … but I’m super excited to see new research come out on this topic. This paper by Schoenfeld was super fascinating, and raises some interesting questions about the relationship between how heavy you lift and ideal volume. It showed that if powerlifters began lifting with higher volume, they made size gains equivalent to a bodybuilder’s … but became much more fatigued, meanwhile the bodybuilders were feeling fresh and may have responded to even higher volume training!

I’m totally game to adjust my opinion based on new evidence though, so I’m stoked for more to become available! 🙂


Enjoyed the article… very informative. I’m not sure that the study you cite is conclusive, and it wasn’t very specific in terms of, how intensely each set of squats were performed. I have read guidance from other bodybuilding coaches and authors that suggest that hardgainers shouldn’t max out squats or deadlifts for more than 1 or 2 sets, with the other sets being low rep warm up sets.

Shane Duquette

Hmm, I would assume that guys who have a harder time gaining would want to do a HIGHER volume to better their chances of making consistent gains. If any signs of overtraining start to crop up though, we always tell guys to reduce volume and/or intensity, but that very very rarely happens – I can only think of a couple occasions.

With that said, we don’t “max out” on our lifts per say. In order to keep our volume high and recover well we don’t usually go to failure, especially on the bigger lifts with lower rep ranges (as those would be the ones that would most tax our recovery abilities).

As for intensity in the studies, these studies normally go VERY hard. Like … they have a researcher standing over you making sure that you very nearly die. They’re often performed to absolute failure, and the participants normally hate life. If anything, you can normally get away with training a little MORE than the people in the studies, since it’s very hard to go that hard in a realer life setting.

This is true in the squat study we used above – they used 80% of their 1RM and went to muscular failure. Three minute rest between sets.



¿What do you think about Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program? I dont have money to afford B2B program but i managed to get the 531 program for free and it focuses strength and hypertrophy. ¿Have you heard of it?

Shane Duquette

This would fit the description outlined in the strength training section. It’s a pretty textbook powerlifting strength program. So overall I think you would make great strength gains and probably decent size gains too (if you’ve got your nutrition dialled in). Whether it’s appropriate for you or not would depend on your goals and experience level 🙂


Hey Shane great article and website. By following your recommendations I have gained 10 pounds in 6 weeks (currently 5’10” 150pounds). Thanks for taking the time to write all of these articles. They are so informational and easy to read I actually didn’t realize you guys were selling a program till a couple days after discovering the site haha. I will be buying it soon! Thank you!

Shane Duquette

Ah that’s awesome John – that’s over a pound per week. Congratulations!

Stoked to see what you’ll be able to do with b2B, too. Hope to see you in the community soon!

In the meantime, good luck and keep it up 🙂


hey Shane thanks for the support! My only issue now is I’m having a hard time recovering post workout. For the past 1 1/2 weeks I’ve been sore for 2 days. Im pretty sure I’m eating enough and have been also drinking protien shakes post work out. it also feels like it could be tendon soreness mixed with muscle soreness. should I take a week off? I love working out and don’t want too, is doing a light workout for a week OK?

Shane Duquette

Soreness isn’t necessarily bad, especially if it’s only for a couple weeks, and not month after month after month. You might be overreaching though, and if you sustain that for a few months it can lead to overtraining.

It could be that your intensity is too high for what you’re doing (i.e. you’re going too close to failure), that you’re lifting too heavy too often (i.e. your rep ranges are very low and your volume is high), or just that your volume is too high in general (too many sets / reps per muscle group per week).

A light week could help! I would go easy on the volume maybe, not necessarily the heaviness. So for example instead of doing four sets of heavy bench press, you’d do just two sets of heavy bench press.


Thanks for the help! you guys have been awesome. I will tone down the sets for now. I typically do 4 sets for compound workouts. (1 warm up 12 reps.
2 moderate weight 10 reps, and 1 max load for 4-6reps. I do some accesorie workouts (fly’s and curls) and for those I do 2-3 sets for moderate weight. When I start the B2B I’m sure it will only get more efficient.
Thanks again for the reply!

Balmoral Hazard

Terrific article. Just found your site, and it’s the bomb BIGGY. Thanks for all the research and great advice, and for sharing your fitness-nerd love with us hardgainers.

I shudder at the years I’ve lost as a 42-year-old ectomorph beating my head against the wall on mesomorph-friendly workouts, and wish your site had been available way back when. Of course, you would’ve been in diapers when I started lifting, but still….

Anyway, I don’t want to seem creepy, but I love the way you guys’ clothes fit in the pictures. You must have advice on finding apparel for the guy who has a 32-ish inch waist and 50-ish inch shoulders (if I recall from an article, those are close to your measurements, Shane). I know this isn’t a style blog, but you guys seem to have found some good solutions to what I’m sure becomes a common problem for readers of this site. Dressin’ ain’t easy in a world of north american fatties.

PS no advice needed on cutoffs. They ugly yo (and I hear they get you thrown out of the gym 🙂 )

Shane Duquette

Hey Balm, glad you dig it! Thanks 🙂

Yep, those are indeed pretty much exactly my measurements!

I’m wearing a large Wings & Horns shirt in the “Who We Are” photo. Jared is wearing a Gitman Bros vintage fit button-down shirt. I’ve also tailored a few shirts, including t-shirts, to get the waist narrower. If I don’t tailor it in I have to tuck it in … otherwise I look like I’m wearing a baby doll dress.

For pants, most straight/slim/skinny pants seem to have an itty bitty butt because they’re made for skinny guys who haven’t much muscle yet. A good brand that doesn’t go too slim in the tush is Levi’s “Made & Crafted”.

These aren’t cheap, but if you’re going to the trouble of finding clothes that fit / tailoring clothes to make them fit, then I find it easiest to buy good quality stuff and just not have a lot of it. The girls I date probably assume I’m a superhero, given that I wear the same outfit on date one, two, three, four, etc.

I hope that helps!


Hey Shane,
First of all I’ve got to say I love your website and what you’re doing. I was training for a while but didn’t start to gain weight at all until I read your fantastic article on diet. However, I have to disagree with your take on bodyweight training. I’ve actually been training exclusively with progressive bodyweight exercises (wanted to avoid the gym if I could!) and have managed to go from 155 to 185lbs since February (I’m an ectomorph, 6’1, and have put on a few pounds of fat at most).

While I probably could have gained more (or faster) by lifting weights, and know that I will plateau at some point, I think that bodyweight training is grossly underestimated. Trust me when I say that going from regular pushups to one-armed pushups (through several different progressions) is going to do more than increase your stabiliser muscle strength! Same goes for one-armed pull up, one-legged squat etc.


Shane Duquette

That’s amazing! 30 pounds in just a few months is wildly badass. Really glad we could help! Congratulations, Mark 🙂

I think that many people, weightlifters especially, probably do underestimate it. I mean, we’re the first people to recommend bodyweight training if a gym (or home gym) isn’t an option – something is always a million times better than nothing – and our program even has some bodyweight workouts that we use to build muscle while people are traveling/busy/etc.

On the other hand, I think many of us naturally thin guys grossly overestimate bodyweight training. (I sure did.) We often get people writing to us who are doing bodyweight workouts and wondering why they lost so much muscle while cutting, or why they’re gaining so much fat when bulking.With that said, those people invariably come in far more fit than sedentary people, and have often made a lot of great progress! And I mean, you’ve certainly shown that without a doubt it can be VERY effective!

It sounds like you’re also doing it very cleverly. I mean, I would even call pull-ups heavy weightlifting! You need a piece of equipment for one, and for most people you can build a TON of muscle before you can do more than 15-20 full range of motion chin-ups or pull-ups (dead hang at the bottom, chest to bar at the top)! If you’re also gaining bodyweight while doing it, well, then the weight is getting heavier each week, too!

And you’re right – there are a ton of ways to progress bodyweight lifts. When I can’t make it to the gym I get my 130 pound (female) roommate to sit on my back and I’ll do push-ups. I can hold her in my arms and do front squats. And she can hold her cat if we need an extra few pounds 😉

With a little creativity you can make a bodyweight workout quite effective.

I didn’t mean to say that bodyweight training wouldn’t work on anyone and that it wouldn’t work at all. I think your opinion of it is correct – that it CAN work, and that it can even work quite well … but by lifting weights you can build even more muscle, build it even more consistently, and better avoid plateaus.

Thanks for the kind words,man, and let us know how you continue to progress! Sounds like you’re kicking some serious ass 😀


Thanks for the reply and the encouragement! I agree with you. Ultimately, I think resistance is resistance, whether it’s coming from weights or your own body. It’s definitely easier to progress by steadily adding weight to lifts instead of doing wacky bodyweight exercises, but I’m enjoying it!

I’ve got a lot of great information from your blog anyway, so if you want me to return the favour you can drop me an mail or something, I can tell you what kind of exercise I did or let you know when I plateau!


Great post (as always), since you guys started talking about clothing, will b2B crew consider making some official shirts?

Shane Duquette

Hmm. We worked up a design a little while back but never went into production. We’ll probably come out with SOMETHING, but it may not be t-shirts. Stay tuned! 🙂

Mike Willmot

Layne Norton is not natty, he takes tren.

These stats that you come up with are absolutely absurd, gaining 5 inches on their arms from tricep extensions and curls? That man gained 63 pounds of muscle in 4 weeks etc.

Utter bullshit.

Shane Duquette

Dr. Norton is very heavily tested, very adamantly natural and he recently (very successfully) defended himself against steroid charges in court. Anything is possible, but if I were to guess I would instead say he’s very clever, very genetically gifted, very hardworking and very consistent … not on drugs. Where is the tren accusation coming from?

I never said anyone gained 5 inches on their arms. I double checked to make sure I didn’t make a typo somewhere, but I don’t see it.

And I recounted a story of a man RECOVERING 63 pounds of lean mass in four weeks after having been starved. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but I could very well be wrong!


hey Shane,

great article! i was wondering if you have heard of anthony mychal–he used to be a “skinny fat” ectomorph but worked to get an awesome body (what he calls the x-physique). the one thing he encourages is tricking, which is basically a blend of kicks, flips and twists all put together to look cool. what are your thoughts on anthony and his website? ( can information for skinny fats apply to regular ectomorphs as well?

thanks for your awesome articles!

Shane Duquette

I’ve spoken to Anthony Mychal a few times! He seems like a great guy 🙂

I think he’ll be the first person to tell you that things are a little different depending on your body type and goals. He mentioned us in one article where he wrote about that, saying that our approach is great for skinny dudes trying to build muscle (get bigger and stronger), whereas his approach is targeted at skinny-fat guys trying to improve their body composition.

I’m a pretty classic (and extreme) ectomorph, but we get lots of skinny-fat guys coming into Bony to Beastly. He’s not wrong that we do indeed need to take a different approach there, although it depends on WHY they’re skinny-fat. Some skinny-fat guys don’t do any heavy lifting, don’t eat very well, eat a liiittle too much … and wind up gaining mostly fat when in a calorie surplus. If you don’t have rad genetics, you can wind up gaining a poor ratio of fat to muscle. Some skinny-fat guys don’t have much insulin sensitivity in their muscle cells (which good weightlifting would help address). Some might have lower levels of testosterone (which might at least in part be due to poor exercise or nutrition habits). Some might have naturally higher numbers of fat cells, which makes fat storage easier when eating in a calorie surplus. Tons of potential reasons, so each case is a little different. With great training your typical skinny-fat guy is able to build muscle at a slower pace if he wants to keep it lean … but on the bright side sometimes he’ll be able to lose fat simultaneously. (This is why he says he doesn’t bulk or cut – presumably he focuses instead on body recomposition.)

Similarly, there are lots of different reasons that a guy can end up skinny. Some guys have smaller appetites, some guys have faster metabolisms, some guys have smaller stomach capacities, some guys don’t eat when stressed, etc. I’m a textbook example of all of those things. (More on that here.) And that’s just the nutrition side of things! With great training and nutrition though a typical skinny guy is often able to leanly build up muscle at a pretty damn rapid pace, as you can see in all our transformation shots, both ours and our members’. A lot of us just alternate between maintenance and bulking. If we bulk leanly, after all, we may never need to cut ever. (Especially since in maintenance mode we often wind up getting leaner anyway.)

To highlight one difference, Anthony Michal says he can take in enough calories eating just one meal per day. That’s a physical impossibility for most ectomorphs. Our stomachs couldn’t handle enough food, our metabolisms are too high, and besides, limiting the number of meals that you eat is a trick designed to REDUCE overall calorie consumption.

So sometimes the skinny / skinny-fat situations overlap, sometimes they don’t. (That’s one reason why we pride ourselves on our community. We can handle each situation on a person-by-person basis.)

With all of this said, an evidence-based approach to things is still the best. In both cases you’d want to be eating a diet that encourages muscle growth while doing a form of exercise that encourages muscle growth. (Calorie intake may differ, since a skinny guy would want to get bigger, whereas a skinny-fat guy may want to get smaller in order to lose fat.)

I suspect the tricking is designed to burn calories? Probably not very helpful for an ectomorph trying to leanly build muscle … especially if you’re the kind of ectomorph that I am, where it’s already a struggle to eat enough when bulking. Might be helpful for a skinny-fat guy trying to burn fat / control their appetite / etc! Combined with lifting that could indeed help!

(I should also point out to anyone else reading this that Anthony Mychal lifts heavy free weights to build his muscle. I imagine the tricking is a great way to ENJOY the muscle and strength that he builds – and perhaps free up some extra calories so that he can eat some more food – but I don’t think he would rely on it to actually build muscle.)

Does that help?

And no problem – glad you dig our articles, ER!


Wow–I wasn’t expecting such an info-filled reply! That’s what I love about you guys, you’re so eager to help and all of your responses to comments are really supportive, which helps a lot!

Based off of his website, Anthony’s reason for tricking is to put the muscle gained to use. His way of putting it is something along the lines of “there’s no point in getting a lean, athletic musculature if you can’t do anything athletic,” so you’re right, it is a way to apply his muscle and it just looks pretty cool. I agree that if you’re pretty muscular, why not show off your strength in something like tricking? I dunno what you personally think about that, to me it just seems neat.

I have one more question– since going to a gym isn’t really an option for me, I’ve decided to invest in a bench/squat rack. Do you know of anything that costs between $200-250? I’m not looking for anything fancy, just something that can hold a few hundred pounds and do the job correctly.

Thanks again!

Shane Duquette

No problem, man. It was a really good question!

I think some types of callisthenics seem really cool, and I think that’ll be what I work on slowly outside of the gym now that I’m pretty happy with my size. Doing push-ups with my roommate on my back, shoulder pressing girlfriends, learning to do free-standing handstand push-ups and planches and stuff. If I could hold a girl overhead with one hand I think that’d be pretty badass.

Anyway, learning to do cool stuff with your body is rad indeed. I think I’m just such a nerd that in my free time you’re more likely to find me tinkering with illustrations, doing research or writing music, not outside being a badass doing flips. But now that I’ve got all this energy, I do indeed need outlets for it 🙂

My main goals these days though are to continue improving my big three lifts. Right now I’m working on form and mostly just maintaining strength, but I hope to get that rock solid and then work on moving those numbers up again!

For your rack – I’d check to see what you can find secondhand! If your budget is small, oftentimes it’s best to get something high quality secondhand instead of something brand new that’s cheap. Just my two cents.


Hey, dope article, had been expecting it for a long time but it was worth the wait 🙂

quick question about volume, when you speak about doing BB style routines with higher rep ranges, doesn’t it mean that all-in-all the total tonnage must go up ? if I do 5×5@190lb (total tonnage 4750lbs) easily,with tucked-in elbows and kind of an arched back, shall I prefer doing something like 3×10@160lb bodybuilding style to begin with (total 4800lb)?

seems counter intuitive if we think about 1RM% and hypertrophy (i.e too light?)

I actually do the “texas method” with some added volume with 2 drop sets at the end of the 5×5, and dips, chin ups, or sometimes dips+chin ups supersets at the end of each workout, pretty good at building size and strength mixing it up like you write it at the end, but I still find the 5×5 part too hard on my sh*tty fragile joints.
Even when you consider yourself an intermediate lifter after 2 years of dedication, good nutrition, there’s still so much work to do, gotta love it.

Shane Duquette

That’s a tricky question and up until recently we really would have had no idea. A recent study comparing bodybuilding style training with powerlifting style training kind of sheds some light on it though. It looks like there might be a certain mechanical tension threshold where, once crossed, it stops being beneficial. That could (maybe) mean that even though the lighter bodybuilding routine wouldn’t be as heavy, you’d still get optimal growth with less stress on your joints (and have more recovery ability to use elsewhere). That’s pretty helpful for us skinny guys, as our ectomorph bone structures aren’t always the sturdiest, especially when we’re relatively new to this stuff. The study used 7 sets x 3RM compared with 3 sets x10RM, but I imagine the results would be similar to 5×5 vs 3×10 using a weight you’re comfortable with.

(Note that in this study the total tonnage would have been MUCH higher in the powerlifting group.)

As for what form you’d use … that’s a totally different question. A bodybuilder bench press and a powerlifting bench press have very different goals. We favour more of a powerlifting bench press, but we also use lots of other accessory lifts (and dumbbell bench presses) to get the pecs growing. I wouldn’t rely on just a powerlifting style bench to grow a great chest unless you’ve got a really dominant chest when pressing. (My pecs are so dominant that I managed to get away with it – I built my chest using pretty much exclusively with heavy powerlifting style barbel bench presses – but most guys probably couldn’t. Jared needs to build his chest a much different way.)

Congrats on all the strength you’ve built already. Good luck with year #3!


Wow, awesome answer, that study is nuts for us. Will certainly stop pushing forward with heavier 5×5 @ bench and squat, and try to do longer series+ some more accessory lift to end my sessions.
Thanks a lot !

Shane Duquette

Hope it goes well, Ben! 🙂


Hey, great article!
I don’t understand though how this translates to sets and exercises per muscle group
So you said 16 sets weekly is the best thing to train a muscle group, do you follow this number? If so how do you get to it with 3 full-body workout a week?
1 exercise per muscle group and 5 sets per exercise? Or 2 exercises per muscle group and 3 sets per exercise?

Overall, I thought on a full-body you only need 1 exercise per muscle group otherwise there would be too much stuff to do. But it seems like 2 exercises per muscle group are the minimum to get an adequate volume? Do you think 1 compound exercise and 1 accessory exercise for each muscle group is a good balance on a full-body?

Shane Duquette

Hey Jared, there are lots of ways to structure a workout program! It depends on how heavy you’re going, how close to failure you’re going, how experienced you are, etc. You’d probably spend some months working a particular muscle group with a high volume like 16 / group, and other times working it a little less.

We follow this number sometimes. It depends on the goal of the phase. Sometimes it will be lower and heavier, to emphasize strength, and sometimes it will be temporarily even higher!

On the first day of week in the first phase of our program, for example, we have three exercises that hit the chest (for a total of 7-10 sets depending on the week), but on the second workout of the week we only have one chest exercise (3-4 sets). Nothing says you need to have an equal volume on each muscle group each workout. Each day will have a certain emphasis.

That’s why triple split workouts are a valid alternative. While I don’t feel (and I don’t think the research supports) that they’re optimal, you can very easily put 4-5 exercises in a single day that target a single muscle group and get your weekly volume optimized that way!

One main exercise and one accessory lift is probably good, yep! The biceps study we talk about above used just chin-ups and curls and saw good results! Better results than just chin-ups, but just chin-ups also worked.


Shane, thanks for your thoughtful answer!
You said you don’t need to have an equal volume on each muscle group each workout but you do need to have an equal volume on each muscle group at the end of the week, right?
I mean the day you just do 1 exercise for chest you must compensate with 3 exercises for back or legs, is that right? Otherwise I think one muscle group could develop more than another and create an unbalanced physique.
I guess this is different thought for small muscles like arms and shoulders and they need would need an equal low volume at each workout. Am I wrong?

Shane Duquette

No problem, man 🙂

That depends on your goals! Sometimes people need to pull (i.e. train their back) with twice as much volume as they push (i.e. train their chest) in order to fix imbalances. I mean, not everyone starts of balanced, so sometimes adjusting volume makes a lot of sense. Different people have different muscle-building / strength / aesthetics goals as well.

Your arms and shoulders will get plenty of stimulation with the big compound lifts, so if anything, especially if you’re adding in arm isolation lifts, they’ll often get a very HIGH volume. If you’re talking about accessory lifts though, then yeah, they wouldn’t need much since they’re already getting a lot of work elsewhere.


Hi Shaun, VJ from India here, a few questions.

About 10 days I started working out an hour a day. After 10 days of regular weights, I went from 59 kg to around 61.5/61.7. But my arms, chest and even shoulders look different now :). My arms are now visibly slightly bigger, esp forearms and biceps. My shirt is filling up. But at the same time, I am 6ft 1 in height and had a weight of 132 pounds. My chest and stomach was absolutely fatless. :D. I mean there was NO excess fat. Not even skinny fat. My friends were like I is a bikini model. Nothing, no man breasts. Now I have gained some fat on my belly and my pecs have started emerging. How can I keep my fat to low levels? My gym instructor here claims that some fat gain when you do regular weight training is inevitable, and that you cannot avoid IF your are underweight. He said if you are underweight by 10-20 pounds, fat gain is inevitable. How can I continue gaining muscle and strength while keeping body fat as low as possible? Or burn off the body fat on my tummy? By tummy, I dont mean I have a paunch. Just that there are some rolls of fat I want to get rid of.
2. Is it possible to get stronger and more muscular while keeping your weight low? In other words, can you be a very strong and muscular 65-66 kg as opposed to a weak 61, but at the same time not gain much weight? If so how do you achieve that? I am talking of gaining muscle and strength without much weight gain? IF that is my objective. Both in terms of diet and weight gain-what tips do you have?
3. Though muscle gaining is a good thing and being healthy is great, isn’t it all neccessary to be happy with us the way we are? I feel we should also try to be happy with our bodies as they are, and not to let our physiques affect our chances of happiness in life in general. I mean, we shouldn’t say that we must be happy ONLY when we become strong but instead never let our physiques or our complexes about our physiques ever limit us from having fun in the fear that only if we become stronger, we can have fun or enjoy life. Should we not happy and cool with what we are too, while getting stronger? Your site is a great place, but I just felt that once in a while, you must remind people being fat or very thin is not a curse of any kind, and that it need not stop you from anything in your life.
4. As I am 6ft 1 and 61.7 kg, measured today :D, what would be a healthy weight for me?


Hi Vj
I wanted to answer on your point 3, if you don’t mind.
I think happiness, in this life, is 90% about feeling good in your body.
You know those days when you wake up and feel bloated, tired, sore? Those days you don’t feel okay whenever you go. You could have a beautiful house, be on an esotic place on vacation, having a beutiful family, going on trip to see beautiful things but you won’t feel happy or okay no matter what situation. On the other hand when you wake up feeling strong, fit, full of energy you can sit on a grassland all alone the whole day and you will feel happy and fulfilled anyway. That’s how feeling good in your own body is important.

Some skinny people are too weak, sore, tired to feel really happy. They have far less opportunities they could have had because of this. Same for overweight and obese people.

Shane Duquette

Hey VJ, I wouldn’t say that building muscle means that you need to gain fat, although it depends on your priorities and how you approach it. If you’re determined to build muscle as rapidly as possible to makes sense to overshoot your calorie goals, not undershoot them. When you notice that you’re gaining fat you scale back the calories until the gains are lean. If you wanted to emphasize staying as lean as possible you’d just do the opposite – you’d gradually increase your calories until your weight starts moving up slowly and leanly.

Worst case scenario though you accidentally gain a bit of fat and then you spend a couple/few weeks burning it off. So long as you don’t let your fat gain get out of control it’s very easy to get rid of … so I don’t think it’s anything really to be scared of. As soon as you notice that you’re gaining some though I’d say it’s time to adjust what you’re doing!

Obviously your training and nutrition can affect the amount of muscle you can build, of course. The better your weightlifting program the more insulin sensitive your muscle cells will be and the more inclined to build muscle your body will be. The same is true with nutrition – you need to get your nutrition handled if you want to keep your gains as lean as possible. The affects of both of these things are huuuge.

With a good weightlifting and nutrition program though … it’s often just a matter of adjusting calories 🙂

And of course you should be happy with yourself the way you are now! You make a very good point. It’s much more enjoyable to lift weights, be active, eat well, etc when you love your body and want to treat it well. Mind you, when I first started this stuff I was quite unsatisfied with my skinny body and pretty desperate to build muscle / gain weight. Sometimes being satisfied with where you are now is easier said than done. I encourage you to work towards both goals though! Improve your health/strength/physique AND improve your confidence/satisfaction. Oftentimes they work well when done together, too.

For your last question I’d ask your doctor. That would depend on a variety of things. I’m 6’2, started at 125-130, and feel/look my healthiest between 180-190. That’s just me though!

I hope that helps!


Hi Shaun thanks for the answer, if I get you correctly:

Currently I am doing about an hour of weights+cardio every day six days of the week. I also do light cardio on the seventh day MAINLY to ensure that exercise becomes a habit for me. 🙂 Now, my weight is around 61.3, up from 59 11 days ago. but I want to ensure that the gains are mostly lean muscle and NOT fat. If I am to do this, should I continue with my regular exercise and simply reduce my diet or reduce what I eat in general? Should I eat more protein and less carbs and fats? What sort of diet should you eat if you want to keep the fat to as low as possible while building your physique? Or should you just generally eat less, esp for lunch and dinner? How do you balance your body’s need for extra nutrition given your exercise versus the desire to keep the fat levels to as low as possible?
Second, currently I am doing my workout before breakfast on an empty stomach. Is this conducive to fat gain or muscle gain? Should I eat before my workout? Or is it fine the way it is? Is it ok to workout on an empty stomach or just drink/lemon juice etc and then work out?

Third, to give a perspective I am around 6ft 0 (not 1), weight 132 and have a waist of 32-33 inches. I am 26 years old, dont smoke or drink.

Shane Duquette

Hehe I could write a dozen pages to answer just one of those questions! And it seems like you have a lot. I would find a program to follow that will give you a clear idea of how all this stuff works, and if you really like to master every single variable, perhaps a program that includes support/coaching. I’d recommend ours, of course, but there are others, too. With a good understanding of the muscle-building fundamentals it will all make sense.

If you don’t want to buy a program, we’ll be coming out with a ton of new articles on the blog and hopefully we can answer a lot of those questions in some depth 🙂


Hey Shane!

What’s the optimal number of sets per week per large and small musclegroups if you do both strength and bodybuilding rep ranges?
How much rest days are needed in this case? 5 would be enough?

The blog is amazing and very informative, keep up the good work! Can’t wait for the new articles!

Shane Duquette

Hey Ben, thanks!

That depends on your goals, intensity, strength, rep ranges, heaviness of the lifts, etc. Probably a maximum of 16 total as a general rule if building muscle size, aka hypertrophy, is your goal (this would vary depending on the muscle group and emphasis of your program), although I’d also recommend periodizing things. You’d want about half that if strength were your goal, and alternating between strength and hypertrophy will often lead to the best gains in both.

How many rest days? We use just one rest day haha, so yes, five would be enough! Again, that depends on many other factors, notably intensity (aka how close to failure you’re training).

I hope that helps!


This article has me completely puzzled.

I always thought the consensus was: If you have a skinny bone structure / are a hardgainer / genetically disadvantaged, then the bodybuilding routines with lots of sets and lots of reps will do nothing for you.

I can see the point in adding one or two isolation exercises with a higher rep range. But are you actually recommending high volume for the big compound lifts? I think we skinny guys are really disadvantaged when it comes to recovery. So if I wanted to increase my reps & sets, I’d have to use considerably lighter weight … it just doesn’t feel right 😀


Same here, i thought lifting for strength was the best option for ectos. What if we alternate between bodybuilding and powerlifting style workouts every week, would it be good or we would sacrifice mass?

Shane Duquette

There are different ways to periodize a program and get the best of both worlds, but I’ve never heard of alternating week by week like that. I imagine you’d have better luck doing both every week … but I can’t say for sure! I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to that question (yet).

Shane Duquette

We’re saying that the research shows that there’s a certain optimal volume that most people respond best to. In the squat study that we used as an example above, only the low volume group had participants who didn’t respond at all to the training. It was the LOW volume training that the hardgainers didn’t respond well to.

Obviously some people need to adjust the volume to suit them on an individual level, but oftentimes with guys who are genetically disadvantaged you’d want more, not less.

And we aren’t recommending “high” volume per say, we’re recommending “optimal” volume. If the volume is too low OR too high results will suffer. As with most things in life, volume is an inverse U curve – the best results are seen in the middle. The challenging part is figuring out where that optimal middle zone is!


I have a follow-up question/comment. 😀

I am completely open-minded, but I’m not convinced just yet. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on the optimal volume of heavy compound lifts (squats or deadlifts). You cite one meta-analysis and 7 studies to prove your point that high volume is better while low volume is ineffective. Unfortunately, I only have access to the abstracts, so my judgement is purely based on those.
– I cannot see what kinds of exercises the meta-analysis is looking at, so I’ll just consider the other studies.
– One of the studies is only looking at older adults aged 65 to 78, and another one is only looking at biceps curls.
– Of the remaining 5 studies, two come to the conclusion that higher volume is better for leg exercises when it comes to strength and muscle mass … while three come to the conclusion that there are no differences between low and high volume training (again, only for the leg exercise!).

So I’ll say the evidence is not quite so clear. My hardgainer-biased opinion would be: In dubio pro low volume 😀 … (placing my bets on long-term benefits when it comes to recovery). Then again, I realize “volume” is a loaded term and the whole situation is probably overdetermined by too many variables (reps, sets, load, weekly workouts). Does that make any sense?

Interested in hearing your take on this!

Shane Duquette

Hey MJ, it’s really the meta-analysis that you want to look at, since that’s the analysis that takes into account ALL of the studies. I tried to include potentially relevant studies that weren’t included in the meta-analysis as well, but it’s the meta-analysis that will draw the most accurate conclusion.

I’m also not claiming that lower volume is ineffective, just LESS effective.

Also keep in mind that if you’re reading the abstracts you’re missing out on a lot of the relevant details. For example,if you look further down in the post you’ll see the study finding “no statistically significant differences” between chin-ups and chin-ups + bicep curls (I think there were bench presses and triceps extensions too). Even though the study failed to find a statistically significant difference you can see that the chins+curls produced FAR better results. It’s just that the study was short and the sample size was small. Over longer time periods (more than 8-12 weeks) this can lead to huge differences in results.

This is common in weightlifting studies, so you really need to go further than just the abstracts. (And you of course always need to be mindful of drawing “conclusions” based on statistically insignificant studies as well!)

Volume currently seems to be one the factors most associated with growth, so if it were me I would err on the side of doing what the meta-analysis suggests … but obviously even doing a lower volume plan may indeed produce good results if enough of your other factors are optimized! (Intensity, nutrition, exercise selection, form, etc.)


Hello 🙂
I have a question about busy workput schedule. I was wondering if your e book was also for busy people who can only work let us say 3 to 4 times a week only. If not can you help me out with a few questions?

First of all I believe I can only do each muscle group once a week because of my busy schedule. Here is a typical workout routine for my busy schedule –

Ex) Monday – Chest/Triceps (includes bench press)
Wednesday – Legs/Shoulder (includes squats)
Friday – Back/Bicep (includes deadlifts)

As you can see here, I have pretty much all the compound lifts but I only have once a week.for each Would this be problem in terms of growth RATE? Any suggestions would be fantastic.Oh and one last thing, I split the three so I can maximize my busy schedule and resting times as well. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!! Buying this book if it matches my schedule needs

Shane Duquette

You might be able to improve the rate that you can build muscle by turning those into full body workouts. Most studies show that a higher training frequency is optimal for muscle growth, so with a triple split like yours you’d split each workout into two. Chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, chest on Thursday, legs on Friday, back on Saturday, rest on Sunday. For guys who like to do short workouts every day that works well.

If you wanted to train four days a week then upper, lower, rest, upper, lower, rest, rest works well.

With three days per week I’d do what we do – three full body workouts. With smart exercise selection that’s more than enough to build muscle as effectively/efficiently as possible.

All options are equally effective, since each muscle group is being hit 2-3 times per week, which is optimal. It’s a matter of preference. If time is a factor, however, the most efficient option is to train three times per week.

Does that help / make sense?

And I hope you decide to join us, man – I think you’d dig it!


Thanks for the reply! I can tell your replies are so time consuming 🙁
Anyways! I guess I get what you’re saying, somewhat. So are you implying that doing full body workouts on a three day split routine is the best possible way (for me) since you are hitting a lot of muscle groups; which in return, will help grow muscle in the most efficient way? If doing, per se, a 3 day full body workout, what would one routine look like? I’ve looked online and I saw that full body workout recommends, like, doing squats, bench presses, shoulders, leg curls, ETC. on the same day – of course switching off a few exercises for a more focus on certain muscle groups. But more or less, I get what you’re saying about full body exercises in terms of compound lifts, but the main question is – what about the sub muscle groups such AS the triceps, biceps, and etc.? Will those just come naturally through good form of other compound exercises?

And also, I will be able to workout a lot during the summer. With your recommendation of higher training frequency, just doing Chest on Monday, legs on Tuesday, etc., etc., are you saying this is the BEST of the BEST? And is my workout routine that I mentioned bad, in any way? 🙁 THANKS so much.

Shane Duquette

I reworded my first response to make it a little clearer and more detailed 🙂

I meant to say that there are many ways to properly structure your weightlifting workouts. There’s a certain optimal volume and frequency per muscle group, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make different routines out of that information.

If you were training 4 times per week you could do an upper/lower split to hit each muscle group twice per week. If you were training 6 times per week you could do a triple split to hit each muscle group twice. If you’re training just three times per week though you’d probably want to do full body workouts so that your training frequency is still optimal (2-3 times per week is optimal). ALL of these options are the best of the best as far as results go. Three times per week is the best of the best as far as EFFICIENCY goes, since you’re training less and still building maximal amounts of muscle.

You will probably see the best growth if you include some accessory lifts. We include accessory lifts in our full body workouts. (Check out the chin-ups/curl study in the article.)

Your routine isn’t bad, it’s just not entirely optimal. The most important thing is that you lift though, not that every factor is totally 100% optimized. You’ll still get great results so long as you actually do it 🙂


Hey, Shane. I have a question for you. I’ve been training for about three weeks and I’m already experiencing a steady gain in weight. About 5 kg, to be precise. I’m eating a lot, sleeping a lot and training 3 times a week. I’ve been doing mostly heavy lifting, with a bit of cardio as well. My legs grew, my arms grew and to my horror, so is my lower tummy!! FYI, I don’t do any sort of sit-ups or core crunching (not sure if this is acceptable, please let me know if it’s not!!). It seems like my lower abdominal region is bulging (not by much but it is noticeable) and felt firm.

Now it’s only three weeks since I started this new lifestyle and I shouldn’t really worry a lot but this is bothering me. I did some research and I thought I was getting hernia!! It could due to heavylifting according to some websites. I want to know if you experience anything like this when you first started your incredible journey to 185 pounds!!

Is this ‘bulge’ a normal thing or am I not paying attention to my abdomen? Currently, I’m really focused on my arms, back and legs as a start.


Shane, I have had exactly the same experience in the last 4 weeks as Edmund! My weight is up 4 kg in almost 4 weeks. Here too my lower tummy has actually grown a bit. But thanks to pull ups, it has also become firmer-not a lot-but perceptibly so. It has kind of spilled out.
One point: when I do cardio, I notice that my feet, especially just above my ankles pains when I run on the treadmill but as soon as I stop, within minutes it vanishes. In day to day course it doesn’t pain. But it does pain when I jog. Any idea what could be the cause?


I wonder if this could also be caused by sitting too long or sitting with a bad posture or maybe both. I do slouch once in a while sitting in front of the PC, during class lectures and tutorials (which could last hours and hours!!). Sitting for too long may not be so easily avoidable because I’m a student but I will try my best to maintain my posture (although I should do it anyways whether or not this is the cause!!).

Do you sit like a ‘good girl’ all the time, Shane? Do you even sit longer than 10 minutes??!!! I t could be one of the factors as well.

In the end, I’m very frustrated with this ‘bulge’ and I want it gone!! Please tell what I could be doing wrong and how I could possibly fix it!! Thanks!

Shane Duquette

Sounds like you’re gaining weight more quickly than your body is building muscle, so some of the surplus calories are spilling over into fat gains. The lower stomach is where men tend to store fat the most readily, so noticing the first signs there is very normal.

It’s good that you’ve noticed. You can trim back the calories and go for a slower rate of weight gain before you accumulate too much fat 🙂


Thanks for the reply! Might want to cut back a little on my nutrition if that’s the case. But if I don’t, will sit-ups or core workouts solve the problem like elevated leg crunching?

Shane Duquette

Core workouts will just make the muscles in your core bigger and stronger, in turn making your waist bigger.

It may help with your posture though, depending on how you do it. However, you’ll probably have better luck improving your posture with core stability exercises (like planks) rather than core flexion exercises (like crunches).


what’s up Shane,

I train my back twice for every time I train my chest, as you recommended in your ectomorph aesthetics article. I have a question about volume and frequency though. I have two workouts, one has rows for my back and the other has heavy weighted pull ups. Do you think I could substitute the rows for weighted chin ups (not pull ups) an still see muscle gain? or is it better to stick with the rows? I’m doing about 3 sets of 8 reps for each.

thanks man

Shane Duquette

Better to stick with the rows! Rows are a horizontal pull, whereas pull-ups are a vertical pull. It’s best to have both, just like it’s best to have some variation of both bench presses (horizontal press) and overhead presses (vertical press).

I’d replace the pull-ups with the chin-ups – you’ll hit your lats just as well and also get some other muscle groups (like your biceps) going a little better.


thanks! I have another question about training– do you guys at B2B recommend a 3 day split, for example, pressing movements/pulling movements/legs? or two different workout that each have different exercises for each body part? that’s what I’m doing right now so I can hit each body part twice a week.

thanks man!

Shane Duquette

We do three full body workouts per week, as most studies indicate that a frequency of 3x per week per muscle group is optimal for most situations, and we program the volume per workout / per muscle group accordingly.

But what you’re describing is also fine.


Is this any good? (i dont normally trust but this one looks nice)

Shane Duquette

At a glance it looks good, yeah 🙂


Hi, Shane. I’ve been working out quite a lot and eating well. So far, my body is showing progress (in terms of weight) and I am gaining muscles here and there. But the one part about the body that isn’t showing progress is my chest. It still looks kinda flat-ish and I’m wondering if I’ll ever build a nice chest. Sometimes I wonder if there’s actually muscles there because initially, I could almost see the rib bones.

Why is the chest such a difficult part to build? I’ve been doing my fair share of bench presses but it only seems to be helping my back and arms. I don’t even know what to do next. Help?

Shane Duquette

Barbell bench press? That won’t grow the pecs of many people, and us long and lanky-limbed ectomorphs often struggle with that the most.

Pec genetics certainly play a role in how your pecs will be shaped when fully developed, but as far as SIZE goes you should be able to have a fair amount of control over making them larger.

First of all, you may benefit more from learning how do rock a really mean dumbbell bench press instead of barbell bench press. Second of all you’ll want to incorporate some assistance lifts for your pecs, since you may be lifting primarily with your arms and shoulders instead of your chest. Flys usually work well.

For learning how to use your pecs when doing compound presses, we often have a lot of success by teaching guys how to do great push-ups, and then loading those push-ups heavier and heavier. It translates pretty well into a good barbell bench press a lot of the time. Push-ups are great too, so you’ll probably like what they do for your posture, core, triceps, shoulders, pecs, etc. If you aren’t doing ’em, I’d add them in!

(It’s a little strange that your back is growing with your bench press, but not totally abnormal. With more of a powerlifting bench press style your lats can play a bigger role. Your upper mid back is used isometrically too, to help maintain a good lifting platform to push from.)


Thanks for the tips! I do struggle with push ups sometimes but I got the form right and I was able to maintain it so yeah, I would definitely pay more attention to it from now on.. You the man!!


Hey man, I’m 130 pounds ,18 years old, and I train in basketball and muay Thai, I consider Myself to be fairly fit , I can do 50 push ups easily, but I want to gain around 40 pounds this year, it sounds very difficult especially cause I do insane cardio, Im leaving muay Thai and focussing on basketball. and really being 130 pound point guard, well I get bullied alot, the coach says I need to gain muscle fast,I’m getting desperate. What do you recommend.

Shane Duquette

Hehe well, and admittedly I’m biased here, I recommend a program like ours! A good weightlifting and nutrition plan designed to build as much muscle mass as possible onto a naturally skinny frame is exactly what you need.

Our stuff translates pretty well into athletics, too. That’s a big passion of Marco’s, so you should be coming out with better mobility and strength, too 🙂

With that said, 40 pounds is a lot to gain in a year! We see it happen all the time, and some of our members are able to do it … but it’s no walk in the park!


I understand all that, but do you really believe I can gain around 40 pounds in one year even though I’m burning so many calories. I mean on an average day I spend around 1 hour in intense basketball training. And then go to this club where I play around 2-3 hours of more basketball, and usually I don’t stop there. And I do that at least 3 days a week,
My point is it even possible. Please note that my nutrition is basically terrible . I eat very little , and drink tons of energy drinks,
I did lift some weights, but only gained 10 pounds in the last 2 years, and that was probably from growing


It is TOTALLY possible.. If you’re not getting results, you are doing it wrong. I gained 20 pounds in just a month of eating, sleeping and good ol’weightlifting. I’m not joking. 20 POUNDS in ONE MONTH, not one year.

If you are really serious about gaining weight, you may have make some sacrifices (talking about your basketball) and be super disciplined. I currently weigh 142 pounds and I’m 6’2. I’m more confident now than ever and this is just the beginning!! If I can do it, so can you (Asian here).

What I did was to train 3 days a week (no excuse) for no less than an hour. It usually involves a lot of lifting with some cardio to make sure you don’t end up skinny fat (worse than being skinny). My cardio don’t usually take more than 10-12 minutes per session. I mean, I’ve eaten a lot before and after training. Why do serious cardio for 2-3 hours to burn the very thing that’s gonna build your muscles?? I know you love your basketball but you have to set your priorities straight, you want to play or you want to build muscles? In your case, you can’t really do both. But sure, you can still play during rest days but be moderate.

You have to eat a lot. Sleep a lot. Train 3 days a week. Do some basketball. Simple.

To make it even simpler, join the Beastly program. Frankly, I don’t have the money to afford the program but I’m making progress and there’s nothing to complain about. You can even read some of the articles here to help you along the way. I wish you luck!


Hey Shane, Marco and Jared,
I’m 16 years old (in a month) and from Germany.
I wanna know, if it would be wise to do this training, because I’m still growing. My second problem is, that I don’t have the time to go to a gym.
So, should I still buy the program?
Hope you guys can help me

Shane Duquette

Hey Jamin,

For sure! I remember hearing rumours back when I was younger that lifting heavy weights would stunt growth and stuff, but those were just old wives’ tales. I’m not sure what rumours are circulating these days, but most research actually shows that it’s safer than most sports (like soccer) and offers the high intensity heavy lifting causes wicked brain adaptations in young guys. Marco started at your age, and I wish I had too. By the time I started he’d already gained 63 pounds!

Here’s a good article on the New York Times blog if you want to read up on it a little more. They recommend starting as early as 7!

You should definitely get permission from your parents though. Even though it’s quite safe comparatively, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any risks at all.

And if you don’t want to go to the gym check this article out.

We do have a bodyweight workout, but you’d rather quickly grow too strong for it and need some heavier things.


Are you guys aware of hypertrophy specific training?

Is this more or less what you program dictates; gradually decreasing volume with gradually increasing intensity – working out at sub-maximal loads, hitting a peak in each volume range every 2 weeks (so in this case, they go from 15×1 – 10 x 2 – 5 x 3 – though it can be taken to the extremes, starting at 20 reps)…

Without asking you to give everything away, some idea about the overall structure of your training program would be appreciated. I think the program above is the way forward for me, but i’m curious to understand the differences you might have come up with.

I’m at the extreme end of ecto, short muscle bellies, lanky frame, poor appetite under stress – many of the things you talk about. I appear to have an intolerance for low volume training over a medium – long period of time: I’ve trained heavy (5×5, Starting S routines and others farily simm, low volume strength training essentially) and did well over a period of 3 months. However, I eventually burnt out psychologically; the constant cramming of food and load on my joints resulted in general bloat, constant tiredness and pain/injury that eventually causes the mind to give up – back we go to ectomorph. I wonder if you know what i mean – whilst the effect on my body was positive, it wasn’t sustainable. So, what i’m looking for is something that i can keep to long term – something that makes the mind feel good too!

It’s a tricky process but what you guys have apparently taught me is that there are certain adaptations to be made that i had not considered (tricking the appetite with the right food and inhibiting that fairly understandable desire to lift HEAVY all the damn time).

Shane Duquette

Hey MJB,

I wasn’t aware of it, but I’m aware of the principles they’re describing. There are some similarities between our program and theirs, although there are also a lot of differences. We both use compound lifts and full body workouts though with a similar frequency, we both pay a lot of attention to volume and intensity, we both focus on getting progressively stronger, we both have ways of periodizing and progressing our training, etc. We gradually increase volume and have scheduled periods of deload/recovery. Our volume is (usually) higher overall as well, as research shows this to be more conducive to muscle growth. I’m not impressed with the research being done into eccentric-only training either.

Eccentric emphasis training makes sense theoretically as it recruits more fast twitch fibres and places them under greater mechanical tension (study, study) and it works FAR better than training emphasizing just the concentric … but in practice doesn’t seem to work as well as more traditional tempos where both are emphasized (study). This is an interesting area of research though.

Mm, that’s a common issue with sustained powerlifting style training. The wear and tear on joints accumulates. You can ease back on the heavy stuff, work in some lighter stuff, recover, and then ease back into the heavy stuff again. (We usually try to schedule those periods so that we’re easing back before people feel too beat up.) You can do interesting stuff like that with your calories, too!

Hehe yeah it’s tough to stay away from the really heavy lifting sometimes. I find it the most fun. Three rep front squats are one of my favourite lifts ever, whereas higher rep squats are a painful nightmare!



It’s been some time since i’ve had to use all this terminology – the HST guys would probably say i’ve done a bad job of it (they would be correct). Anyway, they are also utilizing a period of rest “strategic deconditioning” as they call it, which actually involves no training at all for at least a week! As far as eccentrics (‘negatives’) go – although they are rather interested in it, it’s an optional extra and i gather most people who opt for the routine just transition into a 2 week period of 5 x 5, thus for the majority HST actually transitions into SST for a little while.


Hey, Shane, I wonder if it’s okay to not workout for a week or more. I’ve made good progress and I worry this long break will slow it down or bring me back to square one. I usually workout on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. But there was one week where I only did Thursday and Friday and didn’t workout till the next Saturday. Today it’s Tuesday and I’ll be hitting the gym again on Thursday as usual. In short, I didn’t workout for 7 days until Saturday and another 4 days till this coming Thursday.

Is this not a good thing to do? I have my reasons though (studies, exams) for skipping and gosh, it felt awful.. It’s more like guilt for not doing it and I hate it.

Just how long does it take for an ectomorph to start losing his gains if he does not workout? And what can I do about it? I’m trying my best to make time for workouts but sometimes life takes over and you can’t do nothing about it..

Shane Duquette

Hey Red, it would take quite a while to lose your gains. Generally you lose them when you combine detraining with shoddy nutrition and weight loss. If you’ve got a good lifestyle as far as nutrition goes then taking a week (or three) off from the gym should be just fine.

The tricky thing is that oftentimes when we’re busy (or sick or on vacation) these things do tend to happen all at once, and we do lose some muscle. It comes back relatively rapidly though when you get back into the swing of things. Muscle memory is a real thing. The nuclei you develop in your muscles cells will stick around, and this will make it easy to rebuild lost muscle. So don’t stress too much.

If you’re busy with studies and exams though I’d encourage you to keep training! Training should positively affect your energy levels, mental focus/clarity and willpower. That’s the last time I’d be cutting out training, although you may want to reduce the length, volume and intensity of it to free up some time and energy!


Generally it takes at least 2 weeks to start losing your muscle gains, you can expedite this by not providing your body with enough protein, and you can add fat over top of your muscle when your caloric intake shoots through the roof on your “off weeks”


And to add to Shane’s advice about not giving up training during studies/exam, there’s studies that show that exercising help decreases stress.

I’m in the working world now and eventhough there have been days whereby I’d be too tired or stressed out I’d still make an effort to hit the gym to sweat it all out. Personally it helped a lot and I’d be able to sleep thru the night and start fresh again the next day.

Shane Duquette

I couldn’t agree more 🙂


Hi Shane,
Thanks for answerimg all these questions for us. I have one more 😀 . Since its summer and schools out, i have all the time for working out and eating. Would it be ok to workout 6 times per week (2-3 x week for every body part) or i would be overtrained?

Shane Duquette

You could train six times per week, yep! Your workouts would either be rather short or made up primarily of smaller isolation exercises though. Keep in mind that the optimal training volume (total number of sets/reps per muscle group per week) for muscle growth is the same whether you’re training six times per week or three times per week. And you’re correct that you’d want to keep the frequency per muscle group at 2-3x per week.

john versoza

Can I help me , Please ..


Hey Shane quick question I feel you could help me with.
I’m 6’3″ and 200lbs and I have recently put on some size (used to be about 190 since I started working out regularly), but it isn’t completely noticeable. I’m long and lanky and want to put size into my legs, chest, shoulders, forearms, arms and back. What type of workout would you recommend I do in order to get up to 215lbs and look generally bigger and wider in the those areas?

Shane Duquette

Hey Cole, props on the 10 pounds, man!

You aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong. I find for guys around our height that 12-15 pounds of lean mass seems to be the magic number. That’s when you look at before/after photos and really see some swell progress. If you check out the photos in the sidebar you’ll see that 20-30 pounds of muscle is where things REALLY get crazy. So it may just be that things are going perfectly and you just need to keep pushing onward to 215!

With that said, you’re 6’3 and 200 pounds, so there are a couple more questions worth asking. First, how lean are you? Second, are you starting to hit all kinds of plateaus with your training?

If you’re an ectomorph who’s a lean 200 and gunning for a lean 215 that’s when things start becoming complicated as far as training goes. You really need to work hard to progressively increase muscle strength and work capacity (the amount of sets/reps you can handle), and that can take some cleverness.

For example, for your legs: heavy squats and deadlifts (5 or fewer reps), assistance lifts like romanian deadlifts and goblet squats in a moderate rep range (6-12), then maybe some finishers like leg presses, leg extensions, hamstring curls and calf raises in a slightly higher rep range (12-20). The heavy stuff will make you strong, the moderate and lighter stuff will add size, the wide variety of lifts will result in more balanced and consistent growth.

Then you’d gradually work to lift heavier and heavier, more and more sets, etc. Each week you’d want to lift more pounds than the week before, but not so much that you can’t recover from it.

Does that help / make sense?


Thanks! This helped a lot! And to answer your questions,
1. I am about 140-150lbs of lean mass
2. I am hitting some plateaus, but feel as though I can hit more
Another question, do you feel that full body workouts or split workouts are better and if so, how many days a week? I play basketball too so I get a lot of cardio in

Shane Duquette

There isn’t enough research right now for me to say confidently which approach is superior, and the best answer at this point is probably “it depends”. However most evidence points to a training frequency of 2-3 weightlifting sessions per muscle group per week, so three full body workouts per week and upper/lower splits (upper, lower, rest, upper, lower, rest, rest) seem to be pretty ideal. Fully body workouts also mean less fatigue per muscle group per workout, which means the training quality / amount lifted tends to be higher per muscle group per week. (If you were doing a “chest” day your chest would fatigue after a couple exercises, making you weaker for the rest of the workout. It would burn and cause a lot of muscle damage, but the quality/heaviness of your lifts would suffer.) This further supports the idea that working more muscle groups per workout is ideal, but admittedly that’s mainly theoretical at this point.

There are some studies that have just been approved for the fall from some of my favourite strength and hypertrophy researchers. One of them will directly compare full body workouts with bodybuilder triple splits. I’m excited to see the results!

If you’re a serious basketball player you may want to drop the frequency of your muscle-building training to put more emphasis on your sports specific training and athletic performance on the court—perhaps just two full body workouts per week and with a slightly lower intensity (staying a little further away from failure). In the off season you can rev back up your weightlifting to pack on some muscle/strength/power for the next season 🙂


Hey, another great article, love the site. Have you got any new articles on the way?

Shane Duquette

We’ve got a couple in the works! Next is a skinny-fat article 🙂

We regularly write articles on the member side of the site now, sort of like a magazine. We also try to really put a lot of effort into all of our articles, so we don’t release them all that often. We figure quality > quantity, since there are plenty of blogs already doing the opposite.

Stay tuned!


An article about skinny-fat ?!?
When? Where?

Shane Duquette

It’ll be here on the blog. As for when, it’s hard to say. We don’t publish articles that often. But the article is already partly written and it’ll be the next one we publish 🙂


Hi Shane!

This might be a long shot but here’s to hoping there’s hope for me!
I’ve been skinny all my life and lately I find myself gaining a gut… I’m about 125-130lbs and about 5’7″.
I’m currently a student so not much luck in the financial department.. I only have dumbbells and can probably scavenge my loose coins to afford a pull up bar for my doorway. The good news is the gym at school is free! 🙂
Food wise, I don’t think I can fork out $300 a month. I’m just really tired of feeling tired and unhealthy, not fitting into most of my clothes or being called skinny. It’s so insulting and I’m just so frustrated. Any help would be appreciated, I just don’t know if I can afford to pay you upfront for the program and the knowledge but once I save up enough I will do just that! Please tell me there’s hope for this skinny dreamer.

A desperate bro

Shane Duquette

There’s always hope, Don! We specialize in guys who have tried many times and failed. (We also deal with quite a few guys who have accidentally grown a gut. Our next article will be on what to do when you’re “skinny-fat”!)

The nutrition side of things doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. Don’t underestimate beans, peas, whole grain bread, potatoes, bananas, rice, etc. There are tons of ridiculously cheap nutritious (and delicious) whole foods out there 🙂

I hope you decide to join us one day!


Hey there nice website, I’ve read and been on so many sites and this would be the best one by far especially for us ectomorphs. I’ve got one question for now I am currently doing the 5×5 I had been doing flat bench with a wide grip but my shoulder would ache how do you recommend on doing the bench. I am trying the incline close grip with my elbows coming down beside my body, thanks

Shane Duquette

Thanks, May—really glad you liked it!

Body aches are pretty common when you blast away with 5×5 style routines, since you’re always going so heavy. Perhaps scaling back the volume of the super heavy lifting and adding in some lighter rep ranges would reduce your joint pain.

Also, I’d consider switching to dumbbells! The dumbbell bench press may (eventually) solve all of your problems, and may yield even greater growth in your chest.

And oftentimes shoulder joint soreness is due to muscle imbalances. I’d make sure you’re training your back adequately. Many experts recommend two back lifts for every chest lift in order to prevent shoulder pain, alignment issues, muscle imbalances, etc.

For now, you might want to take a break from the benching until the aches go away.

I hope that helps!


Thanks my workout consists of day A and day B, day A is Squats, Bench, Barbell Rows and day B is Deadlifts and Military Press. I try not to train for to long as I’ve heard ectomorphs are pretty easy to overtrain so I like to try keep it to 40mins max especially doing the big compound moves that burn more calories, correct me if I’m wrong. So it’s day A rest day B rest then back to A again. I’m actually trying to gain mass am I going the right way about it? Or is the 5×5 mainly for strength. I would love to join yous but as I don’t know how to use pay pal I cannot pay for it . But in time I will grow enough to ask my G.F how to do it but for now any advice would be helpful thanks.

Shane Duquette

5×5’s are a simplified way of emphasizing just strength, yeah. If you check out the strength training and powerlifting section above you’ll see the pros and cons of that.

You’re trying to gain mass, but you’re also trying to emphasize burning more calories? Even if your goal were fat loss I wouldn’t really worry about how many calories you’re burning with your weightlifting workouts. It’s usually much easier and more effective to create a calorie deficit by eating less, walking more, etc.

Ahh I don’t know if us ectomorphs are easier to overtrain. We seem to respond pretty fantastically to the research proven “optimal” volume range. In this 2005 study looking into muscle-building genetics (the most thorough study of its kind), the naturally skinny guys saw the greatest muscle gains, and they were following a fairly high volume per muscle group program! (Mind you they were studying just arm growth.)

You will want to be careful with jumping right into doing solely heavy compound lifts though, as the risk of injury is higher with that approach:

I hope that helps!


No sorry what I meant was I try not to train to long as I’ve heard doing these big compound moves burn a lot of calories which I don’t want, just read all of it very good info. Thinking of lowering my weights going to 4 of 8 reps and superseting them with some isolation movements to get that burn for a couple of weeks and see how that goes. Thanks for the info Shane your the man, ohh and are there any new pics of your transformation would like to see some. Cheers

Shane Duquette

I wouldn’t worry too much about burning calories with your weightlifting. You could reduce weightlifting volume (total sets/reps per muscle group), yes, but the factor more related to muscle hypertrophy is volume… so you’d be drastically reducing the pace that you build muscle! I’d say optimize volume and then have an extra glass of milk or whatever if you need to. The calorie burn wouldn’t be significant, after all. An extra couple hundred calories per workout, perhaps.

(We got an article on how to eat more as a skinny guy trying to build muscle, and an article that deals with consuming calories while weightlifting.)

I think the most recent photo of us is the one on our “who we are” page. We can take more soon 🙂

Good luck!


Hey Shane,

Loved the article. But how you’re supposed to BUILD muscle in fact? We should focus on slightly higher volume than 5×5, do some accessory work, focus on big lifts, go slightly higher on reps… but how do we actually apply more tension over time, how do we BUILD muscle?

We do straight sets and add 2-5lb on the bar when we can do all prescribed reps on straight sets (say, we lift 100 lb for 10 reps all 4 sets)? We use a rep range (8-10) and add another 2-5 lbs to the bar when we can do the higher end reps? Who do you systematically apply more tension in order to promote muscle growth?


Oops, I meant “How you’re supposed to to systematically (…)”*

Shane Duquette

You’d try to add weight to the bar, yeah, or increase reps using the same weight (up to a point), or increase training volume per week. If you’re following a proper program all of the strategies to optimize adaptations will be taken care of for you. If you want to design it yourself, that’s where things get extremely complex. You could get a whole university degree on that and still have a lot to learn! However, it’s not like things need to be perfect in order to progress well, so if you enjoy the process of putting together your own plans, just do your best and learn as you go 🙂


Hi, I see that most people who start or comment on here are the 130pounds + range. I’m 5’11 and 115 pounds and I haven’t seen anyone as skinny as me on here. So I was wondering if you’d think the program would work for me?

Shane Duquette

Absolutely! We get very skinny guys coming in. Hell, Jared and I were very skinny guys coming in. I was 6’2 and 125-130, which is quite similar to you given the slight difference in height.

If anything the program will work even better on you. This isn’t just speculation, studies into muscle growth have come to the same conclusion (study). You’ll be able to build muscle more rapidly than a genetically gifted mesomorph. You’ll be the guy gaining 30+ pounds instead of 20+ 🙂


Love this post.
I think there are some important aspects to lifting heavy that most guys don’t know about, mainly the science that goes behind everything. Great post


Hey guys love the site, I’ve got a real problem with all the things I’ve read and heard I can’t seem to make my mind up on what kind of workout to do either a full body workout a upper lower split or what I’m so confused and I’ve actually been training for awile now and can’t seem to write me up or find a decent enough workout to stick to, would you be able to recommend a workout preferably one with a rest day between workouts as my rest days are my family time thank you oh and I want to train for mass not strength thank yous, yours truly another skinny bloke

Shane Duquette

Hey May,

Both approaches are valid, so long as the volume takes into consideration what kind of structure you’re following. If you aren’t seeing results, I don’t think that has anything to do with your doing full body or split weightlifting routines.

As for what workout program we recommend… ours of course! 🙂


Hi Shane,

First let me thank for your website. Its so nice to see all this information in the ectomorph point of view.

I am 39 years old. I am a pure ectomorph. 193cm and just 4 months back 65kg.

I tried to gain weight and bodybuilding in the past, but I never had the focus and before the internet it was all very difficult to get info and specially the correct nutrition. On the last 4 months I started weight lifting first at home and then at the gym. I gain 11kg. I am very happy and I would like to continue probably to get the 20kg total. I am not sure my weight gain rhythm will continue like this.

I train always 4x a week. I started top/legs/rest/top/legs/rest/rest and 2 months ago I changed to pec + tricipes/legs/rest/back/shoulders. I just got a new plan from the gym trainer, and I have a lot of sets like for Monday ( 4x machine incline press + 4 bench press + 4 dumbbell inclined press + 4 flies + 4 cable curls + 6 dumbbell curls + 4 preacher curls). With all this sets if I rest 3min I get 90min of training. Before I had 8 sets of pec now I have 16. All of the sets are with 12 repetitions.

My main question is: Is this too much?
I have a lot of commitment and I need to know if I can trust the plan and of course the gym coach.


Shane Duquette

Congrats on the 11 kilos, Pedro—that’s awesome!

It doesn’t sound like the most scientific approach to lifting. I don’t know why you’re using just one rep range. I don’t know why the workouts are divided like that. And the volume seems a little weird. Whether it’s too much depends on a variety of factors though—how close to failure you’re lifting, for example.

I’d say it’s a little intense… but it’s hard to say. It’s not what Marco or I would program but it’s not THAT unreasonable.


Sorry I did a mistake. The train is:
pec + biceps/legs/rest/back/shoulders + triceps


The links to the studies aren’t working. Otherwise, awesome article! I can see you’ve done quite a bit of research and I’m looking forward to applying it in my quest to get bigger.

Shane Duquette

Hey Paul, thanks for the kind words, man.

The links are working for me. Which ones are giving you trouble? I’ll see what I can do about fixing ’em up 🙂


Under “For Muscle Building”: The third and fourth study links don’t work. However, the other ones that weren’t working are working now. I think it was just a temporary glitch.

Shane Duquette

Thanks for the catch, Paul—I’ll fix those up pronto 🙂


Do i have to check all of your sources? You claim that low volume training is ineffective compared to higher volume training . But the second last study you cite there concluded exactly the opposite: “All 3 training volumes significantly (p < 0.05) increased muscle size, strength, and upper body power, with no significant between-group differences. There were no significant changes in hormonal concentrations. The results support the use of low volume training for muscular development over a 10-wk period."Hmmmmm….

Shane Duquette

Hey Jay, we try to look at the overall body of evidence before coming to a conclusion. The studies you see on our site aren’t cherry picked to support our views, rather our views are based on all of those studies.

We included that study because you’re right—not all studies are unanimous. However when ALL studies were considered in a meta-analysis (including that one) you’ll see 40% greater hypertrophy with high volume. Because the overall body of evidence showing 40% greater size gains (and 46% greater strength gains, I think) with higher volume training, that’s what we go for 🙂


Cool. Thanks for the reply. I’m just starting out (I’m 44!) & so glad I found your blog. Very informative & fun to read. Great work!

Shane Duquette

No problem, man—my pleasure! Good luck, and I hope your holidays are going wonderfully well!

Shane Duquette

A new (December 24th 2014) study just came out showing a large benefit to higher volume training. Check this study out.


Hey Shane, thanks for the info! I need some help here. I am 17,6’3 very skinny. I am a Sprinter and despite my scrawniness, and weakness I am quite fast (could be due to my West African genetics) I want to sprint at a higher level and would benefit from strength gains. I want to start off by doing calisthenics ( pushups, bodyweight squats etc.) however, I have no clue how to start, in regards to repetition, frequency, and progression eventually to a weight training program for size and speed gains.

Shane Duquette

Hey Chidi,

We have a very simply callisthenics program included with our program, since some guys can’t sign up for a gym right away, some guys travel and can’t always make it to the gym, some guys want to master the movement patterns with bodyweight before loading up, etc… but why are you keen on starting with callisthenics? If your goal is to get strong and fast, why not progress to a weight training program by starting with a weight training program that’s appropriate for beginners (and ours is, although we also have a more advanced version included for more experienced guys).

If you start with simpler progressions—goblet squats instead of back squats, for example—then you’ll be able to smoothly transition up to the beastly stuff, gaining size and strength (and speed/power) along the way 🙂

If you want to learn more about movement patterns, check this post out.

And this post talks a bit about the benefits of progressions in weightlifting, and how they work.

I hope that helps!

(And of course, our program would teach you all of this in a step-by-step way, and we’d be helping you accomplish your goals on a personal level.)

Bradley Werritt

Hi Shane, I’m 17 years old and joined a local gym just over 5 months ago.

For the first couple of months, I just followed a fairly basic ‘Beginner’s’ workout routine that I found online – a three-day split of full body workouts.

After spending many hours researching online as to what programme to advance onto, I finally decided that I would be better off spending a long period of time focusing solely on strength training, as this would prepare and benefit me better for the future. Eventually, I want to get bigger, more defined muscles, with a lean look and very visible six-pack.

For the past two months I have been following the Stronglifts 5×5 workout (although I have missed last week due to illness, and this set me back at least two weeks). I managed to gain 4kg bodyweight over the first four weeks, and despite my worries of some of this being fat, I’ve been surprised to see that I am beginning to look much more athletic (bigger upper body, in particular) and still have fairly visible abs.

During the week in which I was poorly (and hardly eating) I lost most of this weight. The next gym session I did I was really struggling to lift the weights that I was supposed to be progressing onto, and even weights that I could lift easily enough before. I decided to drop roughly 15% weight on all of my lifts. To make matter worse, I hurt my lower back squatting 70kg with poor form, so it may be at least another week until I can do my squats/deadlifts again.

Almost every day I wish that I could just do a bodybuilding programme that would make me look more aesthetically pleasing at a better rate (even though the 5×5 is doing a pretty good job of this), but I still plan to do the 5×5 routine for as long as I possible can (including the transitions down to 3×5, 3×3 etc when I begin to plateau), and only once I max myself out on this will I switch to a different programme…

…which takes me to my last point… When I do change routine, what would be best for me? I assume by then that I’ll have gained quite a bit of weight, and huge amounts of strength, and that my new goal would be to get bigger AND leaner. Is this practically possible? I read in this article that strength training is the best way to lose fat whilst conserving muscle mass, but then this wouldn’t fit in with my size goals? A bodybuilding programme would yield the best rate of muscle hypertrophy, but can I get leaner at the same time, or would I have to do this later on (after doing some bodybuilding for a while) by adding in cardio or maybe doing more reps, for example?

Sorry for the long read – hope to hear from you soon!


Shane Duquette

That’s awesome, Bradley! Congrats on the four kilos 😀

Sorry to hear about your recent struggles, and that your strength and weight dipped a little bit. Don’t fret, it will spring back quickly. Rebuilding muscle / re-inflating after time off is always a breeze compared to doing it the first time around.

When is the best time to start incorporating more exercise and rep range variety? I would say always! Even if your goal is developing maximal strength, there’s a huge benefit to using a variety of assistance exercises with lighter rep ranges. When do you need to switch routines? Well you don’t ever need to. If you’re seeing great results right now, you can ride those out for as long as you would like. One day you’ll plateau, and at that point it might be worthwhile mixing things up a little (strategically) to keep things moving. We have a lot of guys come into our program from Stronglifts and they do really well 🙂

Can you be bigger and leaner? Of course! Being more muscular actually makes it easier to be leaner. More muscle mass means you’ll be more insulin sensitive. More of what you eat will feed your muscles, less will get stored as fat. This is one of the many reasons that building muscle is so great for longterm health!

Strength training is the best for developing strength. Bodybuilding is good for developing size. A mixed approach to training (strength+bodybuilding) would be as good as bodybuilding for size, as good as strength training for developing strength, and the best approach for conserving muscle mass while losing fat. It would help you accomplish all three of your goals—strength, muscle mass, leanness.

Does that help / make sense?

Bradley Werritt

Thank you Shane! You’re advice sounds great 🙂

The only assistance exercises that I am currently incorporating are Chin-ups, Pull-ups, and Tricep Dips (each once per week), for 3 sets until failure. I’ll start adding weight to each one once I can do 3 sets of at least 10 reps on it.

My back is recovering quickly, so I’ll be getting back to my Stronglifts 5×5 soon, but I am tempted to make some deloads on each workout so that I can ‘start again’ following the last three weeks in which my workouts have been very inconsistent. This will also help me to improve my form to hopefully prevent further injury when I do get back up to the weights I’m currently doing.

When I do get to the cutting stage, and move onto a Strength Training / Bodybuilding (+ Calisthenics) programme like you have suggested, how would I need to adjust my daily calories from my current surplus? Do building muscle size and getting leaner contradict in terms of diet?

Thanks, again.
Brad 🙂

Shane Duquette

No problem, Bradley!

Gaining weight (e.g. building muscle) requires a calorie surplus whereas losing weight (e.g. losing fat) requires a calorie surplus. Guys can shift in and out of surpluses and deficits even over the course of a day (e.g. surplus surrounding meals, deficit while sleeping) so it’s possible to build muscle while in the surpluses and lose fat while in the deficits. Good training and nutrition really helps with this. Still, I’d recommend focusing on just one goal at a time, and maybe you’ll see a bit of progress in the other as a bonus. (You normally see simultaneous fat loss and muscle gain in guys who are either untrained or detrained.)

You can cut and bulk with various degrees of surpluses and deficits. You might be bulking at 500 calories over your baseline, you might want to cut at 500 calories under your baseline. I’d try to eat as much as you can while cutting though, so starting modest with your deficit is probably wise. Maybe drop 750 calories to go from a bulk to a cut, and then drop further each week as needed (based on the rate that your weight is changing).

I hope that helps 🙂


Great website with good information and well-written posts Shane!

Because of a very tight schedule I only manage to train 2 x week… Do you guys make any special recommendations for that particular sort of situation?

Shane Duquette

We include coaching with the program because everyone is a little different. We can help you figure that out for sure 🙂


Hey, great website. I gained quite a lot of knowledge from reading up on everything, but I’m still confused as to a couple of things.
I’m an ectomorph who has recently started going to the gym, I am trying to build muscle and gain weight, currently at 60 kg’s.I start my exercises everyday with pushup’s and pull’ups in sets of 4 and then hitting the weight’s. Over the week I exercise for 4 days focusing on 2 major muscle groups per day. Is that approach correct, me being an ecto or should I concentrate on more muscle groups per day so that I end up working the groups several times over the week? Also, are push’ups and pull’ups an advisable way to start off a day in the gym considering that they would fatigue me in the very beginning and weaken my nervous system before I start with the machines and weights , thus leading to lesser energy required for the ‘pump’?

Shane Duquette

Hey Sunny,

There are a lot of correct ways to train. You could split up by muscle groups or do a split. Both work well. Most research shows that full body workouts done three times per week should be the ideal, but what matters far more is volume per week (total sets / reps) and intensity (how close you go to failure).

I would organize your workout so that you can lift the most weight properly. If the push-ups are getting in the way of that, toss ’em onto the end of your workout instead. Chin-ups are a great way to start though, since that’s a big heavy compound lift that’s hitting a ton of major muscle groups.

I hope that helps!


hey!! thanks for the great reply.
A couple more questions. As an ecto, are you advocating that one should go nearer to failure every wrokout with every exercise or otherwise? and by a full body workout, 3 times a week, do you mean every muscle group of the body worked every alternate day? Wouldn’t that be too taxing? basically, I’m getting confused as to how much exercise would trigger growth and not the opposite cause I feel sometimes I start losing whatever muscle I have, also I dont want to train too less, because that’s just being stupid.

Shane Duquette

It would be very hard to do so much lifting that you cause your body to lose muscle. I’m not sure if that happens. You just wouldn’t build it as quickly or you’d get sick or lose motivation to train and such.

How close you go to failure and what muscle groups you stimulate each workout really depends on your program. There are a lot of variables and a lot of ways to arrange those variables. If you go to failure you need to less volume, if you train more body parts each workout then you need less volume per body part per workout. We train every muscle group three times per week, and there’s a lot of evidence to show that this is the best way. We also make sure that everything in the program is designed for full body workouts done three times per week.

I know it’s pretty complicated. I think that’s why there’s such a benefit to having a professional program the workouts if you’re looking for remarkable results. I still don’t design my own training program, I let Marco—the guy with the university degree and the training—handle that stuff. However if that isn’t up your alley, you’ll still make progress if you just do the best that you can do, keep track of your progress as you go, and learn along the way 🙂


Hey Shane, like the guys shown above I’m pretty much banging my head against the wall with my attempts to gain muscle. I’ve been working out for almost 3 years now and I have not seen anywhere near the results I was expecting. I’m 32, 6ft 2″ and 12 stone.

I’m full of energy and would workout everyday if I could. I also find I gain some fat around my waist if I’m not careful (currently about 15% bf).

My routine is shown below:
Monday: bench 5×5, neg chins, weighted dips 3×5, deadlifts 3×8
Tuesday: db bench 3×8-12, db rows 3×8-12, db military 3×8-12, neg chins
Weds: squats plus other legs exercises
Thursday: military 5×5, neg chins, bw dips to failure, deadlifts 3×8
Friday: repeat Tuesday

I’m really disappointment with my progress since finishing my first year (2 years ago!). I seem to be building no mass and continue to be poor at chins. I’ve looked into Anthony mychall’s website about the whole skinny fat thing and am wondering if this relates to me or does your approach suit my needs more (and does it really matter). Any advice would be welcome because I’ve been going in circles and it’s starting to get my down.

I love gaining strength but I really would like to build some mass on my upper body. My legs (excluding calves) and arse seem to get bigger much easier which is why I swapped a leg day for another upper body day as I was becoming disproportioned and didn’t want to look like a wolly.

I’ve been following the leangains diet for a while as another aid to help me but I find it very difficult to put so much food away in such a short window. Any advice appreciated!

Shane Duquette

Hey Pete,

Anthony Mychal seems like a cool dude! We’ve spoken a bit and he certainly knows his stuff.

Do you need to be taking advice specifically for skinny-fat guys? People don’t usually fit in a body type perfectly, it’s about learning how your body responds and adjusting accordingly. You could have a greater tendency to store fat than other ectomorphs, so your approach may be a little bit different. Maybe you need to build muscle a little more slowly, or you need slightly different macros, or you need a little cardio on the side. 15% is actually quite lean though! You can certainly get leaner, but it sounds like you’re far from skinny-fat.

(We help all types of skinny guys—skinny skinny, skinny guys who have already built some muscle, skinny-fat guys, etc.)

I’d recommend following a program that involves both weightlifting and nutrition, and then getting help to customize it as you see how you respond to it. I’m not sure what factor is holding you back. Perhaps too little emphasis on recovery, perhaps too little periodization—it’s hard to say. I think you’d really like our program, and we can help you get to the bottom of it on an individual level 🙂

LeanGains is an evidence-based approach to nutrition that works well for naturally chubby guys with huge appetites and stomach capacities who are looking to lose weight and retain muscle mass. However, it doesn’t match up with your goals at all. Not only will it be hard to get your calories/macros in, the small feeding window doesn’t allow you to stimulate muscle protein synthesis very well. Even if you’re able to progress, which will be difficult, you’ll be progressing much more slowly than you could be!

I hope that helps, and I hope you decide to join us! You sound like a really good fit 🙂


So, I need this, but for girls… hahha

Shane Duquette

Muahaha, check out Bony to Bombshell 😀


What the… OMG thank you, definitely gonna
check it out! Thanks.

Shane Duquette

Our pleasure! 🙂


A little late to the party.

Good stuff. But I had to add that there is a lot to be said for just focusing on a few very potent movements, particularly the full squat, the bench press, the one-arm row, and the deadlift. I was a skinny/skinny bastard, 125 lbs and 5’10”. I didn’t start filling out till I dropped all my “bodybuilding” nonsense and just focused on becoming as strong as possible. Now I’m usually around 180 lbs and have full squatted double bodyweight, power squatted 420 lbs in USAPL with just a belt, and deadlifted over 500 lbs in the same meet. This is all with just doing the competition lifts. The only variation I do is Olympic style (high bar squat, conventional deadlift) clversus Powerlifting style (low bar squat with belt, sumo deadlift with belt). I find that the Olympic style better builds strength for me to maximize the Powerlifiting style in competition.

I maximized my muscular bodyweight by doing just four or five basic movements and programming intelligently. I learned the hard way to allow for enough healing and recovery between bouts of sensibly low volume and high intensity. I relied on much higher volume with squats and benches in the past, but I kept getting hurt. Now I just do 1-3 sets of triples at my top set and I keep progressing. That progress is very slow now because I’m near my natural potential in terms of muscle mass and strength, and I’m just plain getting old. But it is still coming.

These articles are good. But I had to share my experience. I started as a 125-lb adult and became a 185-lb adult who was much, much stronger thanks to shooting for strength goals in the basics.

Admittedly when I’m trying to be my strongest I cannot afford to worry about bodyfat levels and muscular definition. But I can get into beach mode in just six weeks if I’m willing to lose a few pounds of muscle and fat. I rather be strong most of the time, and I only have to be shirtless in public a handful of times each year.

Shane Duquette

+55 pounds?! Nice. That’s sweet, Gary—congratulations 🙂

I’m not saying that straight up strength training—focusing just on a few big powerlifting lifts—won’t work. All I’m saying is that the research unequivocally shows that it’s not the quickest, safest or most balanced way to build muscle mass (or even to develop strength).

“Less is more” sounds really good. I even have a t-shirt with that written on it. However with weightlifting, oftentimes “more is more.” More exercise variety leads to greater strength gains on the big lifts and more balanced muscular development. More bodybuilding style training added to strength training leads to greater volume without much increasing recovery time (since it’s lighter and less stressful on the central nervous system, joints, etc), which increases muscle size and leads to greater strength. (Adding strength training to bodybuilding improves results as well.) The links to all of the studies that show this are in the article in their respective sections.

(This can be done without making things super complicated or super time consuming, either. Doing 3 sets of chin-ups and 3 sets of biceps curls isn’t much more complicated than doing 5 sets of chin-ups but far more effective at developing the biceps. And since curls require less rest between sets, those 3+3 sets could be finished more quickly than the 5 sets of straight up chin-ups.)

However that doesn’t mean that amazing progress can’t be made by using another approach, as you’ve discovered first hand. I didn’t mean to imply that there was just one way to make progress. Rather, I was trying to discuss a way to optimize all the variables that we can to make things quicker, easier, safer, better, etc.

I hope that makes sense.

And congrats again on your progress! I’m still just a couple years into lifting and have a long way to go yet, but I hope to get a 500 pound deadlift one day 🙂


Thanks for the response. Instead of arguing I tooled around to find stuff to expand my point of view. I found this blog post through Anthony Mychal’s blog.

I am biased toward believing that for completely natural hobbyists (i.e. enthusiasts who don’t get paid for their endeavors) with light frames a strength-focused program is plenty. I probably looked a tiny bit better naked when I was “bodybuilding”, but that was because of lower bodyfat levels, not because of the etchings I made in my toothpick body with a variety of movements 🙂

But I concede your point! I think for those who don’t get bitten by the strength maximization bug you provide a breezily written, easily digestible alternative.

I would just add, however, that to hit a 500-lb deadlift you will have to put in a stretch of strength specialization! You won’t less squat strength to power such a deadlift if like a lot of ectos your build is deadlift-favored. But conservatively you are going to need to squat mid-300’s Olympic style and low-400’s powerlifting style to get there. However you get there, best of luck!

Shane Duquette

No problem, Gary. Thank you for the comment! And damn, dude—what a thoughtful response! You’re the exact opposite of a troll 🙂

Bret “The Glute Guy” Contreras is a wickedly smart and well-researched dude. I make sure to read all of his stuff (especially for our sister program, Bony to Bombshell, which focuses more on the glutes). That’s a great source to reference.

For the sake of argument here (because I think that’s a way for everyone to learn more)…

One of the things he mentions in that article is volume. (He calls it time under tension.) When volume is matched bodybuilders and powerlifters grow the same amount, so I think it’s a good point to focus on. Bodybuilders will often do a lot more sets and reps than powerlifters overall, since they require less rest time between sets, the lifting is easier on the joints, it’s easier to recover from, etc. It seems like you ran into this issue as well, saying that you needed to reduce your lifting volume when you switched to powerlifting in order to stay healthy.

Studies have confirmed this. For example, last year Dr. Schoenfeld put experienced lifters on a volume-matched powerlifting or bodybuilding program. The powerlifting group would do 10 sets of 3 reps for all the lifts. The bodybuilders would do 3 sets of 10 for all the lifts. Same total reps overall. Both the powerlifters and bodybuilders built the same amount of muscle, since volume was matched, and volume is the most important growth factor. However, the powerlifters spent twice as long training, felt chronically lethargic, and were wearing down their joints, whereas the bodybuilders felt fresh and ready for more. Schoenfeld speculated that the powerlifters were already lifting beyond their ability to recover, while the bodybuilders could have handled more volume… and could thus gotten even more growth.

This means that for the natural muscle-building hobbyists, they could get better aesthetic, size and health results by bodybuilding. The strength training group did develop more max strength, so if absolute 1-rep-max strength is the goal, then in that case powerlifting training was superior. Keep in mind that for anything above a few reps though, the bodybuilders probably would have been stronger. In the case of picking up and moving a couch, say, or picking up and moving a girlfriend, the bodybuilder would probably do better. In the case of picking up a fridge and then quickly dropping it, the powerlifter would probably do better.

However thinking in terms of bodybuilding versus powerlifting is creating a false dichotomy. Both can easily be incorporated into a lifting program to get the best of all worlds. You can gain strength without wearing yourself down by keeping the powerlifting training to a reasonable volume, then add more muscle size by adding in bodybuilding lifts.

Lots of research has shown that this not only gives you a balance of both size and strength, but that the bodybuilding added to the strength training improves strength gains, and that the strength training added to the bodybuilding improves size gains. They work together synergistically 🙂

It’s worked well for me. Starting at 6’2 and 130 pounds with a 135 pound raised deadlift, over the course of three years I added 50-60 pounds to my body and nearly 300 pounds to my deadlift. Scientifically most research seems to be showing that a mix is best for both size and strength goals. And as far as experts go, it’s also the approach adopted by all of the modern drug-free world-record-holding powerlifters that I know of—Layne Norton, Jordan Syatt, Greg Nuckols, etc.

It also seems to have worked for you! From the sounds of it, you’ve developed a great amount of size with bodybuilding, a great amount of strength with powerlifting. The powerlifting has also made you bigger. Surely the bodybuilding helped make you stronger. While currently you might not be doing both, many of the benefits of both powerlifting and bodybuilding are fairly permanent. You’re a good example of both being great, no?

Admittedly one thing we aren’t mentioning is personal preference. If someone prefers strength training for whatever reason (it’s less painful for one), then why not just do strength training? If someone prefers bodybuilding for whatever reason (perhaps because it’s quicker and safer), then why not just do bodybuilding?

I’m just saying that if someone prefers getting optimal results, then a mix is ideal. But once they build a body they’re stoked with, as you have, then going back to pursuing goals simply for the purposes of fun and athleticism makes a lot of sense 🙂




Hi Shane
I keep wondering what’s the best way to maintain a rep range is?
For example in doing a 4×8 should I do something like 1×8 first set, 1×7 second set, 1×6 thrid set…
Or maybe it’s better to choose a smaller weight I can lift for 10 reps so as to lift it exactly 8 times at each set without failure?
Or maybe it’s better to pyramid the set 4×8 then removing some weight and doing 1×8, 1×9, 1×10.

What’s your thought?

Shane Duquette

Hey Jared,

Let’s say you’re lifting 225 pounds and aiming for 8 reps. You lift 8×225, you show up to your next set weaker and get 7×225, then 6×225, then 5×225. That’s 26 reps with 225. Instead of squeezing that extra rep in that first set just to hit your 8 rep target, you’d get more total volume by leaving a rep (or two) in the tank and doing 7×225, 7×225, 7×225, 7×225 (28 reps total with 225). That’s not a huge difference, but over time that extra volume could lead to extra muscle growth.

In your case, if you want to get 8 reps in all sets, you’d need to lower the weight a little. Maybe 215 pounds. And maybe the opposite happens. In your first set you realize you get to 8 reps and still have 2-3 reps in the tank, so you do 9 reps. Then another 9, and another 9, and another 9. Next week you go heavier, since you’ve exceeded your rep goal.

The goal is to get more reps overall with the heaviest weight you can manage, and thus more volume, and thus more growth. It doesn’t need to be perfect though. Doing 8,7,6,5 one week isn’t the end of the world, you just don’t go up in weight next week. And then maybe next week you get 8,8,7,6 or whatever—increasing your total volume 🙂

Does that help / make sense?


Today I was talking with a friend who is all about 5×5 and minimalist routine.
He if a fan of Starting Strenght which is very simple: squat, bench/press, deadlift/clean 3 times a week. That’s it

I was trying to explain that some muscles are going to be negleted, that the rep range is not the best for hypertrophy and there’s too much leg work compared to upper body.
So he eventually asked “how would you tweak it this scheme so make it better for hypertrophy”?

And I was wondering what would you answer to this question.
I know that it’s better to use a better program that tweaking this one, but it’s just a game of sort. How would you maintain the scheme while adding things or changing reps, sets in order to make it more complete and hypertrophic?

Shane Duquette

I’m not that familiar with Starting Strength programming. I know the idea behind it and I’ve read the book, but it’s never really lined up with my goals, so I’ve never actually done the program. I think you’re exactly right with your evaluation of it. It’s putting simplicity over results, strength over size.

I think you could even make better strength gains if you put a bit more emphasis on size/variety too, as several studies have shown. However you’d lose the minimalist simplicity, which I think a lot of people really love.

To make it better for hypertrophy you’re on exactly the right track. You’d add in more upper body volume, vary the rep ranges more, add in some assistance/isolation lifts.

Instead of 5×5, could do 3 sets of 5 reps, then 2 sets of 10 reps of an assistance lift. Three sets of bench press + two sets of flys. On another day you do 3 sets of overhead presses + 2 sets of lighter lateral raises.

Those lighter sets should be less stressful on your body and require less rest between sets. That frees up more time and energy for isolation lifts for the areas you’re eager to grow. So you bring in some bicep curls and tricep extensions or something.

I think that would be a fairly simple way to do it. What do you think?

(There are no upper back exercises? For bicep/back growth you might want some vertical and horizontal pulls. Chin-ups and rows, for example.)


Make sense and yes it’s still the same scheme but very easy to figure out how to add extra hypertrophy work. Great reply as always!
What do you think about the frequency though? Isn’t squatting 3 times a week a bit too much even with less sets and the added lighter work?
Also I see 10 reps is considered light but how come a weight that I can lift 10 times seems actually pretty heavy for me? Maybe I’m using not a real 10, maybe it’s a real 8-9 where I grind that last rep with less control, bad form and breathless? Could it be?

Shane Duquette

Nah, squatting three times per week is totally fine, so long as your intensity is okay. If you’re doing heavy 5×5 sets and going all the way to failure then yeah, maybe it will be too much. But if you’re leaving a rep or two in the tank and/or including some higher rep stuff, then you should be just fine.

However I should also point out that the most we back squat (or deadlift, chin-up, barbell bench press, etc) in our program is twice per week. We like to hit our muscles with more variety, so maybe we do heavy bench presses and chin-ups on Monday, push-ups and rows on Wednesday, then higher rep bench presses and chin-ups on Friday.

In the early phases though we like getting guys practicing goblet squats 2-3 times per week with moderate reps (8-12) just to develop a mastery of that movement pattern though. The better you get at a movement pattern, the more you can get out of a lift. While more variety would technically be better for muscle growth, the extra specific practice early on can be helpful. Then once you’re proficient at the lift you start adding more variations into your arsenal, building it up bigger and bigger.

That’s not the only way to do it, but it works very well.

Why do reps of 10 feel heavy? Because that’s the heaviest you can lift for 10 reps! The reason we call them light sets is because the weight will be lighter than what you would use for lower reps. If you can do 1 rep with 315 pounds on the deadlift, you might be able to get 10 reps with 225 pounds. The 225 pounds is lighter, even though that 10 rep set will be bloody murder to finish.

And yep, depending on your program, you may or may not want to go to failure. All depends on how intensity and volume are balanced. If you’re squatting heavy 3x per week I imagine that volume/frequency is prioritized over intensity, so you’d probably want to stay away from failure.


Great stuff. I really appreciate all the effort you have poured into this program. I think there is something missing. I think you should include a chapter in your program –I have read the chapter index, or an article on your site about steroids usage. Too many YouTube videos, muscle magazines, etc. recommend workout programs that only work optimally if you are on the juice –but there are no disclaimers.

People need to know what a natural body looks like at full potential, and what someone on steroids looks like. For example, Joe Manganiello looks about as good as you can get naturally. However, Kane Sumabat uses (and denies it), but he just doesn’t look as obvious as someone like Jay Cutler.

Anyway, my point is, I think you would be doing everyone a huge favor by informing them on how common steroid usage is, and educating them on what realistic goals are for steroid-free lifting. I think many people, including myself, can get discouraged when they compare their results to all these super ripped, generically enhanced builders that won’t openly admit that they use. Know your limits.

Shane Duquette

Thanks for the kind words, man 🙂

As you may have guessed, none of us are steroid users. Jared and I are computer nerds who love doing research online. We don’t even know people who use steroids. Marco may, but he’s pretty far removed from that circle too.

We do make sure to only reference studies done on natural guys though. You’re right—a lot of programs are based on anecdotal evidence from professional bodybuilders with great genetics and great pharmaceuticals. Ours is not one of those programs. Our program is based on exercise science and copious amounts of research. Moreover, all of our anecdotes and personal experience are from the perspective of guys with fairly meh genetics—we’re not just natural, but also naturally extremely skinny! 😉

There are a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, Kane Sumabat has decades of lifting under his belt and might have world class genetics. The photos you’re looking at aren’t representative of how he normally looks, either. He probably looks that way for just long enough to snap a photo or to shoot a video. 15 minutes, maybe—while he’s dieted down to an extremely lean level + pumped up. It’s not totally impossible that he’s natural.

Second, Joe Manganiello might be using steroids! Just because someone isn’t super ripped or enormous, that doesn’t mean they aren’t using steroids. Someone may take steroids and wind up much smaller than a natural with a more strategic approach to training and nutrition, more consistency or better genetics.

You could say that looking at old school bodybuilders from the 40’s would be a good idea of what some people can achieve naturally. Steroids didn’t exist yet, so they were all natural. Mind you, they had the best genetics in the world.

What can regular people achieve? Far less. What can people with poor genetics achieve? Far less still.

Looking like Ryan Gosling might be the best that someone can do. That’s a whole helluva lot smaller and fatter than Kane Sumabat and Joe Manganiello, but still leaner and more muscular than you need to be to look optimally attractive and be optimally healthy 🙂

Shane Duquette

I’ve been thinking about this for the past hour and I think you’re right. I think we should make it free information too. We’ll put it up on the blog.

There’s a lot of information up online about what can be achieved naturally, but most of it is written for professional or aspiring bodybuilders and athletes—people who are trying to figure out what’s achievable by the most genetically blessed people in the world.

I think we should write a post focusing on what’s achievable by naturally skinny guys.

I’m going to get to work on this.


That’s great news. I see I didn’t adequately make my point very clear in my first comment, but I think you got the gist.

I don’t know if Joe M. ever did roids. I just meant that his body is, in my opinion, about the best you could expect.

As for Kane, who knows? In my opinion it is very unlikely that he is juice-free. If he is, then he really is a rare snowflake.

BTW, I think Eugen Sandow is a great example of full natural potential.

My point was, with all these questions about the right workout, people should know that the success of many or most muscle mag routines assumes the use of steroids. Plus, you need realistic goals and expectations. Steroid and hormone injection is so common now days that yes, even movie stars use them to boost their results.

I am a very tall ectomorph. Every time I go to the gym, I see either other ecto’s following the advice and routines of non ecto’s, or worse yet I see them following the advice and routines of steroid users. It makes me so sad because I know from my own experience his things are going to end for them: disappointed and defeated.

Shane Duquette

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. You get Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies experimenting in the gym to figure out the best ways to build muscle, these techniques get written about in bodybuilding magazines, amateur bodybuilders and personal trainers read about them and bring them to commercial gyms, and bam—you’ve got everyday dudes doing routines designed around the personal experimentation of extremely genetically gifted pharmaceutically enhanced bodybuilders who have been lifting for decades. Those routines are pretty much the exact opposite of what’s appropriate for a skinny guy trying to build some muscle.

Whether or not Kane Sumabat is natural, you’re right, it’s not a physique that’s realistically attainable by 99.9% of the population. However, I think giving the benefit of the doubt helps—and not just because he lives here in Toronto and has a killer hairdo 😉

Eugen Sandow is a great example of what’s achievable naturally by the genetic elite given a lifetime of dedicated training.


Hello! Great post, as always. I have a question regarding my workout routine and I’d love to get your expertise. I’m at the moment doing 5×5 mon, wed, fri that includes squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, bench press and overhead press. After I read this article I’m curious to try adding some accessory lifts also, but the gym I’m training at doesn’t have enough equipment for it. Or at least the dumbbells aren’t heavy enough, and the machines are ancient. Are there other solutions to do this? Can I use the barbell to do enough accessory lifts as a complement? Take care 🙂

Shane Duquette

Hey Marcus, glad you liked it! Thanks 🙂

you can use barbells to do accessory movements for sure. Close-grip bench press for the triceps, and barbell curls for the biceps, for a couple examples. Some accessory movements don’t require very heavy dumbbells either. Most guys can’t do lateral raises with more than 30 pounds, for example.

Alex - Anabolic Health

Nice article!

Agreed and muscle building can be simple! For some people even 2 times a week is enough as long as you lift heavy and keep trying to increase your weights.

But as famous bodybuilding legend Vince Gironda said, 85% is nutrition. Diet is key to gaining, maintaining as well as losing fat!

Shane Duquette

Well said, Alex! I agree 🙂

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