Illustration showing a skinny ectomorph flexing his lanky arms.

Is “ectomorph” a real term? Is it a real thing? Is that an accurate way of describing a naturally skinny person with a small bone structure? These are surprisingly controversial questions, it’s a controversial word, and over the past ten years, we’ve gotten a lot of flack for using it. And I understand why, too.

It’s true that the word “ectomorph” is rooted in the bogus science of William Sheldon. But it’s also clear that different people have different struggles, and those struggles are often rooted in their genetics. Some people find themselves gradually growing overweight, whereas other people find themselves thin as rakes. Why is that?

You’ll also find a lot of questionable ads advertising “the ectomorph diet” or the “ectomorph workout.” They might claim that endomorphs need intermittent fasting, whereas ectomorphs need to eat more carbohydrates. Or that endomorphs need more cardio, but ectomorphs should avoid cardio at all costs. All of that stuff is questionable. But at the same time, should we really be telling the skinny guy who’s trying to gain fifty pounds of muscle to eat the same diet as the overweight person who’s trying to lose a hundred pounds of fat?

So, what is an ectomorph? Is it even a real term? Is there a better word to describe naturally skinny guys? And how should we be eating and training to accomplish our rather rare goal of bulking up?

Before and after illustration of an ectomorph's progress as he gains muscle.

Introduction

There’s a funny thing going on in the fitness industry. Even with weight training, there are different lifting niches, right? There are the CrossFitters, the powerlifters, and the bodybuilders. But there’s also a rift within those niches. Some guys like classic, time-proven methods, whereas other guys like data-driven, evidence-based guidelines. You can hear it in how they talk. “Steve Reeves used this routine” and “5×5 routines have been around for decades” are the classic group. These are the programs like Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5.

“The most comprehensive meta-analysis to date shows that this method is better” and “biomechanically, this lift does a better job of stimulating the chest” are the research-driven group. These are the programs like… well… ours, I suppose. Our methods are fairly conventional and classic, but we also go to great lengths to keep abreast of the hypertrophy research and evolve our methods along with it. In this same niche, there’s also Stronger by Science for powerlifters and Built With Science for the average person trying to build muscle.

That’s where the rift comes about. People have been colloquially talking about “ectomorphs” ever since the 1940s. They use it as an easy way to refer to someone with a small bone structure who’s naturally skinny. But it isn’t a scientific term. At least not anymore. You won’t find it in hypertrophy studies. Yes, you might hear published hypertrophy researchers talking about “ectomorphs” and “endomorphs” when they’re talking casually. For instance, in this article, the leading hypertrophy researcher Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, talks about how ectomorphs often need to eat more calories. But it’s not like you’ll find him referring to ectomorphs in his research papers. It’s just a colloquial term he uses.

As a result, we’ve dunked ourselves in a boiling pot of water. We talk as if we value science, but then we also use unscientific slang like “ectomorph” to talk about ourselves. That confuses some people. It can sound like we believe in somatotype psychology research or something. And we don’t. So let’s talk about that research for a second.

What is An Ectomorph?

The term “ectomorph” was coined by William Herbert Sheldon. It was part of his somatotype taxonomy that he used to divide men into three distinct body types: mesomorphs, endomorphs, and ectomorphs. What’s kind of cool is that the word “ectomorph” is named for the ectoderm—our skin. So “ectomorph” literally means “skinny.”

These three body types go like so:

  • Mesomorphs are muscular and athletic.
  • Endomorphs are squatter and more overweight.
  • Ectomorphs are taller, narrower, and skinnier.

Looking at that, I mean, there’s nothing much to argue with. Some people are naturally more muscular, others are naturally more overweight, and others are naturally thinner. Most people are some combination, and that’s fine—his system accounts for that. People can be 30% mesomorph, 50% endomorph, and 20% ectomorph.

Illustration of the skinny ectomorph hardgainer body type.

So very simply, an ectomorph is a naturally skinny guy with a smaller bone structure. We do exist. And I know that ectomorphs exist with 100% certainty because the term describes me absolutely perfectly. So at the very least, there’s one of us.

But this whole somatotype thing gets weirder.

The Somatotypes Were Indeed Debunked

Some people are naturally more overweight, some are naturally more muscular, some are naturally thinner. That makes sense. There’s no problem yet. Different body types. Fine. But Sheldon wasn’t just trying to divide people into three body types, he was also trying to prove that each body type had its own distinct personality type:

  • Mesomorphs are purportedly bold and adventurous.
  • Endomorphs are friendly and lazy.
  • Ectomorphs are introverted and anxious.

As you can probably guess, this didn’t wind up being true. He tried to advance this idea, but his psychology research was eventually disproven and has fallen out of use. Nobody is really pursuing this idea anymore.

So does that mean that “ectomorph” is a bunk term? Yes and no. It depends what you mean when you use it. Are you talking about someone with a thin bone structure who has trouble gaining weight? That’s fine. In that case, it’s just a slang term for a skinny person.

But if you’re talking about how skinny people are introverted and anxious, well, then, yeah, that’s a problem. There’s no good science to back that up. It’s just a common stereotype.

Are “Ectomorphs” Real?

Now, it just so happens that I’m a tall (6’2), have narrow bones (wrist size of a 5’4 man), and I’m a naturally skinny guy. In my early twenties I weighed 130 pounds, giving me a BMI of 16.7, which is severely underweight. And when I tried to bulk up, I had a lot of trouble. I found it almost impossible to gain weight. I’m what you might call a naturally skinny guy with a slender bone structure. But that’s a mouthful. So I wouldn’t blame you for using a much simpler term: ectomorph.

In fact, when I first started trying to build muscle, learning the term “ectomorph” was one of my greatest discoveries. I spent years of my life being confused about how to gain weight. But as soon as I started looking into advice for ectomorphs, I started finding advice written specifically for people who were underweight and struggling to bulk up.

Before/after photo of Shane Duquette starting skinny, bulking up, and building muscle.
Left: me at 129 pounds. Right: me at 193 pounds.

As I was gaining weight, I blogged about it, and I used the term “ectomorph” to describe myself. I wasn’t talking about how I was anxious or introverted. I mean, I was anxious and introverted, but that was just a coincidence.

This was ten years ago, back before the online fitness community had really taken off. Seeing a skinny guy blogging about gaining weight was still quite rare. The blog took off, and I started spending my evenings helping my readers build muscle.

Jared's before and after progress photos showing him going from being a skinny ectomorph to being muscular.

That was around the time I helped my skinny roommate bulk up. Jared was 6′ and 130 pounds—very similar to my starting height and weight. And he was almost as underweight as I was. He was running into a number of health issues, too, such as having tendonitis in both arms and a rapidly declining posture.

After we both succeeded at gaining weight, we realized that we could really help a lot of people by blogging about building muscle from a skinny “ectomorph” perspective. That was about the time we teamed up with a world-class strength coach, Marco Walker-Ng:

Before and after photos of a skinny guy bulking up and becoming muscular

Marco had already gained over sixty pounds at under 10% body fat (naturally). But he’d also gotten a degree in health sciences (BHSc), all of his personal training (PTS) and nutrition (PN) certs, and he’d interned with Eric Cressey (the strength coach for the Yankees). When we got into touch with him, he was helping his university football team bulk up, he was coaching a few professional athletes, and he was training our Canadian Olympic rugby team.

The three of us teamed up to create our Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell programs, and we got to work helping skinny people bulk up, both through our blog and through our programs. Using our own experience, training, and research, we were able to consistently help skinny guys build muscle:

Photo showing a skinny ectomorph bulking up and becoming muscular from doing the Bony to Beastly Program.

And then with our Bony to Bombshell program, we were helping naturally skinny women build muscle. Naturally thin women are often called “bananas” instead of ectomorphs, but the idea is the same.

Before and after photo of a woman gaining weight.

That was when a funny thing started happening. People would come to our blog, see that we were using the word “ectomorph,” and then say that we were a bogus site because we were using debunked terminology to describe skinny guys. That confused us.

Should we stop saying ectomorph? Should we start saying “skinny” instead? But that came with its own problems.

The Difference Between Ectomorphs & Skinny Guys

We could call ourselves “skinny,” but not for long. As soon as a so-called “ectomorph” starts building muscle, he isn’t skinny anymore. He’s a “naturally skinny guy with a thin bone structure who has trouble gaining weight,” but he isn’t “skinny” anymore.

When someone gains weight quickly, is it muscle or fat?

That’s where the term ectomorph comes in handy. Even after gaining 65 pounds, even after filling out the sleeves of large t-shirts, I’m still an ectomorph. I still have trouble gaining weight. I still lose weight if I get stressed, sick, or go on vacation.

The same is true in reverse. Some guys are naturally overweight, and then they diet down to become skinny. They aren’t naturally skinny, they don’t have meagre appetites, and they don’t have trouble gaining weight. No, it took a lot of work for them to lose that weight. They’re skinny, yes, but for a completely different reason, and so their struggles and goals are almost the exact opposite of ours.

And then when it comes to the fitness industry, I mean, from an ectomorph’s perspective, it’s totally different. Intermittent fasting to help us eat fewer calories? Yeah right. Keto diets because carbs are making us fat? Nope. Strength training instead of hypertrophy training because we don’t want to get too “bulky?” No way! Bring on the muscle, baby!

So again, it’s useful to be able to talk about being ectomorphs. Most of us share a common goal. We want to build a ton of lean muscle, gain a bunch of weight, and avoid becoming skinny-fat.

Over the past few years, we’ve tried to say “naturally skinny” instead of “ectomorph.” It communicates the same thing but with less baggage, and we’ve found that fewer people get confused by it. But at the same time, it’s really handy to have a term that’s for us, that encompasses our struggles. It’s hard to abandon that ectomorph term, especially it’s still the dominant term for naturally skinny guys in a lot of bodybuilding and fitness circles.

Hardgainers, Non-Responders & the Dreaded Skinny-Fat

There are a few other terms that are useful for a naturally skinny guy to know, each describing a slightly different struggle that we tend to run into:

  • Hardgainer: someone who has a hard time eating enough calories to gain weight. This is the skinny guy who tries to bulk up but can’t budge the scale. We’ve written about hardgainers here.
  • Non-responder: this is someone who tries lifting weights but fails to make much progress. A lot of the time that’s because they’re a hardgainer, in which case learning how to eat more calories solves the problem. But some people respond better to lifting than others, and for a variety of reasons. With that said, at least in our experience, there’s very little overlap between non-responders and skinny guys. Most skinny guys build muscle very fast.
  • Skinny-fat: this is someone who doesn’t have much muscle mass (arms under 13″) but also quite a lot of body fat (body-fat percentage over 20%). This isn’t a body type. It’s like saying someone is “out of shape.” But with that said, it’s harder for some people than others to become muscular and lean, and sometimes being skinny-fat can call for a less aggressive approach to bulking up. We’ve written an article for skinny-fat guys here.
  • Bulking: this is the concept of facilitating muscle growth by gaining weight. It’s somewhat of a controversial term among guys who aren’t naturally. After all, the average person is overweight. They want to lose a ton of fat and build a bit of muscle. We want the opposite: to gain a bunch of muscle and lose a tidbit of fat. For us, where we want to gain weight, we build muscle by “bulking.”
  • Dreamer Bulking: this is what happens when guys bulk too aggressively or ineffectually and wind up gaining a bunch of fat, becoming either chubby or skinny-fat.
  • Dirty Bulking: this when people bulk up by eating “dirty” foods, and it’s another one of those pseudoscientific sorts of terms. It’s true that bulking up on junk food doesn’t tend to work as well, but it’s not as simple as dividing everything into “clean” and “dirty” foods. Regardless, building a diet made up mostly of whole foods—around 80% or so—is still best.
  • Lean Bulking: lean bulking is when people bulk more slowly in an effort to build muscle more leanly. In our opinion, almost every bulk should be done with the goal of gaining mostly muscle. The rate that we bulk should depend on how quickly we can expect to build muscle leanly.

Now, you don’t need to use any of these terms, just like you don’t ever need to say “ectomorph.” And some of them are slang. You won’t find “bulking” in hypertrophy research, either. But even so, it’s a handy word to throw around when you’re talking about trying to build muscle as a naturally skinny guy.

Is There an Ectomorph Diet?

Okay, so here is where the terrain starts to get treacherous. As soon as we start talking about an “ectomorph diet,” people might assume that we’re saying that all naturally skinny guys benefit from eating the same foods, have the exact same goals, or have a unique physiology that requires a different approach to nutrition. That’s not true.

Illustration of a bowl of rice.

With that said, though, a lot of us share the goal of wanting to build muscle, which means that we need to eat enough protein. And most of us want to gain weight, which means that we need to eat enough calories to gain weight. And most of us have a hard time eating enough calories to gain weight. So that does mean that most of us ectomorphs want to eat in a different way from the average person:

  • More protein: we want to eat at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day to allow for a maximal rate of muscle growth.
  • More calories: When we’re actively bulking, we want to eat about 250–500 calories more than we typically do, allowing us to gain 0.5–1 pound per week. That can be as simple as adding a glass of milk along with our meals or a snack of trail mix between meals, but it can also mean full calorie counting and macro counting. Then, it’s important to keep track of our weight gain over time, adjusting our calorie intake accordingly (which often means adding more calories into our diets over time).
  • More carbs: a lot of naturally overweight people find it easier to control their weight when they restrict their carb intake, sometimes even going so far as trying ketogenic diets. To build muscle, though, it usually helps to eat more carbs. And leaner guys who lift weights tend to respond particularly well to higher-carb diets. This is true for athletes, for bodybuilders, and for many (but not all) of us.
  • Eating more often: there’s nothing wrong with eating 2–3 meals per day for our general health or fat loss, and intermittent fasting is fine. But when we’re trying to build muscle, it helps to stimulate muscle-protein synthesis more often, and so it can help to eat 4–7 meals per day (including snacks). That can also make it easier to fit more calories into our smaller stomachs.
  • More liquid calories: when we drink our calories, they aren’t as filling and they digest more quickly, making it easier to gain weight. That’s the opposite of what the average person wants. But for us, it’s great. That’s where milk, smoothies, protein shakes, and mass gainers comes in.
  • Bulking foods: some foods are denser sources of calories than others. For people who are struggling to eating enough calories, it can really help to lean into common bulking foods, such as trail mix, white rice, ground meat, and smoothies.

We could go on forever, but you get the idea. Most people are trying to find ways to lose fat without going crazy from cravings, whereas we’re trying to build muscle without feeling perpetually full. These goals are opposite of one another.

Illustration of a skinny hardgainer eating a feast in his attempt to bulk up, gain weight. and build muscle.

So do ectomorphs have a unique physiology that benefits from some trendy diet? No. But if we’re trying to build muscle and being limited by our inability to eat enough calories to gain weight, then, yeah, it can help to eat a so-called “ectomorph bulking diet.” But it depends on your situation and goals, not just on your bone structure.

Is There an Ectomorph Workout?

Just like with our diets, the type of workout we should do depends on our struggles and goals. Most men want to be strong and muscular, but most of them are coming at it from the other side: being overweight and wanting to chisel out their muscles. For us, we’re starting off skinny and trying to build that muscle mass from scratch. To do that, we should work out in a way that’s designed to stimulate maximal amounts of muscle growth.

Most people know that to best build muscle, we should do resistance training. And although both bodyweight training and resistance bands are fairly popular, most people realize that it’s easier to build muscle with weight training. Even then, though, it can get a bit confusing.

Illustration of a man doing a low-bar barbell back squat.
The main strength training lift: the low-bar back squat.

Most beginner programs are best defined as strength training programs. This includes Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, GreySkull LP, and almost all of the popular beginner weight training programs. They tend to be rooted in the sport of powerlifting, use lower rep ranges, and focus primarily on getting stronger at the back squat. We get a lot of people coming to us after doing these programs, confused about why most of their gains are in their thighs and hips. It’s because in most of these programs, squats are done twice as often as any other lift.

There’s a whole mythology surrounding strength training, too. About how training for strength is more practical, that bodybuilders are just big and fluffy, and that lower rep ranges build harder, denser muscles. None of that is true. The muscles we build with strength training and hypertrophy training look and feel exactly the same. The difference is that hypertrophy training makes it easier to build more muscle mass, whereas strength training is optimized for making neural gains, improving our coordination and thus making us stronger for our size.

Even when it comes to “being strong” the difference between strength and hypertrophy training is nebulous. It’s just the difference between favouring maximal strength vs strength endurance. The powerlifter who can bench 315 pounds for a single and 225 for 10 reps is comparably “strong” to the bodybuilder who can bench 300 for a single and 225 for 15 reps. Yes, the powerlifter can bench more for a single, but the bodybuilder can get more reps. But both of them have a big 1-rep max and can get a lot of reps with 225. They’re both strong, just with slightly different specialties.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing the bench press with long arms and a thin ribcage.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that most weight training programs aren’t designed to make people bigger and more muscular. And the ones that are—the bodybuilding programs—are often designed for people who are already quite big. So what makes an “ectomorph workout” unique is that it might be a hypertrophy training program for a guy who’s still fairly skinny and new to lifting.

And in our experience, most skinny guys don’t come to us wanting to pack most of their muscle mass into their thighs, hips, and lower back so that they can improve their 1-rep max on the low-bar back squat as quickly as possible. Most of us are eager to build broader shoulders, bigger chests, bigger upper backs, and to bulk up our skinny arms. Does that mean that we shouldn’t include squats or deadlifts in our workout routines? Of course not! Those are great lifts. And it’s not like we want our legs to stay skinny.

Illustration of a skinny ectomorph doing a deep dumbbell goblet squat.

But we might not start every single workout with squats. And when we do squat, we might choose different variations, such as choosing goblet squats for beginners, and then progressing to front squats. Not only are those better lifts for stimulating lower-body muscle growth, but they’re also easier on our joints over time, and they’re great for building muscle in our upper bodies.

Before and after illustration of a man with a skinny neck building a muscular neck.

So is there such a thing as an ectomorph workout? Kind of. But it’s not that we have a unique physiology that demands we lift weights in a bizarre way. It’s more that skinny guys are eager to build muscle, gain weight, bulk up lanky arms, and build thicker necks. It’s a difference of goals and struggles. But even for us, the best way to build muscle is fairly conventional hypertrophy training:

  • Big compound lifts for your bigger muscles, such as your chest, upper back, butt, and shoulders. Think of the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, chin-up, and row. And if you’re still a beginner, start with beginner variations.
  • Isolation lifts for the smaller muscles, such as biceps curls for your biceps, skullcrushers for your triceps, curls and extensions for your neck, and perhaps some crunches or planks for your abs.
  • Long enough rest periods that we’re limited by our muscles more than our cardiovascular systems. Resting 2–5 minutes between sets often works well. (And then you can do cardio on the side, if you want. It’s great for your health, and there’s no reason ectomorphs shouldn’t do cardio. In fact, we’re often quite good at it.)
  • Lifting close enough to failure to truly challenge your muscles, provoking muscle growth. That often means taking some sets to failure so that you learn what failure feels like, and so that you see how far away from it you’ve been stopping.
  • Doing enough challenging sets per muscle, per workout, and per week. For skinny beginners, 3 full-body workouts per week tends to work well, doing a few sets for each major muscle group each workout. Then, as you get more advanced, you can divide up your training over more days if you want to (although I’ve gained 65 pounds without ever needing to).
  • Do most of your lifting in the so-called “hypertrophy rep range,” somewhere between 6–20 reps per set. That might mean 6–10 reps for your bigger compound lifts, such as squats and deadlifts, 8–15 reps for your secondary lifts, such as biceps curls and triceps extensions, and 12–20 reps for smaller lifts, such as neck curls and lateral raises.

If you want a program that puts all of this together—a 5-month workout routine, video tutorials teaching all of the lifts, a full diet guide, a recipe book, and a yearlong membership in our coaching community—I think you’d like our Bony to Beastly Program.

But whatever program you use, just remember that the main thing is getting started, being consistent, always striving to outlift yourself, and pivoting whenever something isn’t working. Even with bodyweight training or strength training, you can still build muscle, it’s just a bit harder and/or slower. The most important thing is getting started and building good habits.

Summary

The somatotypes, as defined by William Sheldon, are bogus. His hypotheses were disproven. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t refer to ourselves as ectomorphs when we’re talking about being naturally skinny guys with thin bone structures. In that case, we’re not using it as a scientific term, we’re just using it as a slang term to describe our situations, struggles, and goals.

Illustration showing an ectomorph as he builds muscle, going from skinny to muscular.

And, of course, it’s always good to point out that not everyone is exactly the same. Some ectomorphs have broader shoulders, naturally higher body-fat percentages, barrel-shaped rib cages, bigger appetites, or are shorter. It’s a very loose term. I just so happen to be an ectomorph in almost every sense, but most people only have a few of the traits.

Finally, if you want to learn from our experience, you might have better luck calling yourself “naturally skinny” when you talk about this stuff with other people. If you use the term “ectomorph,” you might get people saying: “no, no, that term is stupid. Don’t you realize that not all skinny people are anxious and introverted? And just because I’m fat that doesn’t mean I’m lazy!” And they’d be right. But that probably wasn’t what you were trying to say.

Anyway, what do you guys think? How do you, as a naturally skinny guy, feel about us using the term “ectomorph”?

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping nearly ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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45 Comments

  1. Michael Ottinger on October 20, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Interesting! I really appreciate learning that the TERMS may have come from a dubious scientist, but the body types are real. I understand the skepticism though. But bros coming on here saying this website is bogus is kinda like if people said, “What?! The science behind healing magnets has been disproven!! There’s no such THING as magnets!!”

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 12:41 pm

      Ahaha, yes! That’s the perfect analogy!

  2. alex on October 20, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Ectomorph has been a very useful term for me. It has provided a way for me to understand my condition, and what I can do to work with, rather than against it. It has helped me to see what my qualities are, rather than trying to figure out whats ‘wrong’ with me.

    The Term “naturally skinny” implies that I have the same strengths, weaknesses, and qualities as someone with another body type, that what works for them will work for me. My experience tells me this is not the case. It only describes my skinniness, not the particular quirks of my metabolism, or my bone structure, that is not going to significantly transform by eating and lifting more. So “naturally skinny” doesn’t work for me. Hardgainer is ok, but less descriptive. My own experience has proven out that using ectomorph as a body type has value, at least for me.

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 12:47 pm

      I hear ya, Alex. It was the same for me, a very valuable term to learn. When I finally found information for ectomorphs, that was when I realized that there were other people out there struggling with the same issues, and then learning how to overcome those common issues is what helped me finally build muscle. It’s not that I needed a totally atypical approach to training or anything, it’s just that I needed to focus a little harder on hypertrophy training, and I needed a diet that made it easier to eat more calories.

      That’s interesting about how “naturally skinny” resonates with you less. I see what you mean. It doesn’t imply that we have a thinner bone structure or might struggle with higher non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), or have a more adaptive metabolism, or anything along those lines. And hardgainer describes the difficulty with gaining weight, but it doesn’t describe the thinner bone structure. It’s less complete as a term.

  3. André Nielsen on October 20, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    As per your email questions, I think it’s good to stick to “ectomorph” vs something like “hardgainer.” “Hardgainer” is more on the side of labelling oneself as having a weakness, which this body type is not. Your article does suggest other weaknesses that people may associate with “ectomorph,” but hell, I guess it’s impossible to find a term that will make everyone happy…

    Now, when it comes to marketing efforts in things like Google Ads and Facebook Ads, I would on the other hands probably use “hardgainer” as I imagine it’s likely to actually either be a term ectomorphs search for or will quickly understand. But you know that way better than I do, just my copywriting mind drifting off.

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you, André. This is really helpful 🙂

      The way I use the word, I don’t see being a hardgainer has being a bad thing. But I think we’re using different definitions of the word, and your definition is correct, too. I normally use “hardgainer” to mean someone who has a hard time gaining weight, even when intentionally adding calories into their diets. So it’s someone with a fast or adaptive metabolism. For instance, someone with higher non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) driving their metabolism up whenever they try to eat a bulking diet. Or maybe someone whose appetite completely turns off as soon as they gain a bit of weight, making it hard to keep eating in a calorie surplus. But they often build muscle just fine once they get into a surplus.

      I think you’re using hardgainer to mean a sort of non-responder. Someone who has trouble building muscle even when they’re doing everything correctly. Sort of a genetic disadvantage for building muscle, maybe having a harder time pushing themselves during their workouts, having stubborn muscles, or requiring higher training volumes to stimulate muscle growth. For that, I’d say “non-responder,” but it’s not a word I really use at all, I normally just prefer finding the limiting factor and addressing it. Everyone can grow, some just have it easier than others.

      But, yeah, being a non-responder has nothing to do with being naturally thin, an ectomorph, or a hardgainer. In fact, it seems like skinny guys are often able to build muscle much faster than the average person, and often more leanly, too. Especially while they’re still relatively thin. We’re just so far away from our genetic ceiling. We can explode into size.

      So you’ve brought up a really good point. If I talk about hardgainers, different people view that word differently. There are multiple definitions that are widely used. To a lot of people, it will sound like I’m talking about a genetic disadvantage.

      • André Nielsen on October 20, 2020 at 2:39 pm

        Shane, I do agree with how you view hardgainers – it’s sort of what I think myself, probably because of having been educated by you three (I joined b2B back in 2011 or 2012).

        And also, after thinking it through a little more, I concluded that I actually don’t agree at all with my previous point.

        I almost started down the dark and twisted rabbit hole of declaring an innocent word of being loaded with some secret, negative meaning. We could use a little less of that.

        So I gracefully concede 🙂

        Cool article, though. I agree with Lautaro. As always, you demonstrate that b2B has a lot of brain-powered effort behind what you guys do, which is still so ridiculously amiss in the health & fitness industry.

        • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 3:15 pm

          Thank you so much, man 🙂

          Back in 2011–2012! A true original member! That’s so cool!

        • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 3:18 pm

          Also, I clicked your name and read the sales page on your website. You’re a sweet copywriter!

  4. Lautaro on October 20, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. This is the best science-based content for skinny guys that there is. Period. Don’t let haters tell you otherwise. Nowhere else you can find articles so deep and so well-referenced with both studies and meta-analyses. You even take the extra steps of mentioning the limitations of certain studies when you cite them.

    Haters/the misinformed always gonna hate, even if you are the best (in fact, especially if you are the best, because you are more exposed). You are right in not caring about it.

    Thanks for existing and can’t wait for my gym to open up to properly continue the Outlift program. (I’ve been continuing it at home but it’s not the same :P)

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you so much, Lautaro! That means a lot 😀

      Yeah, training at home can be tough. I mean, I train at home, but I’ve got my barbell home gym. Hard to train at home when you don’t have the equipment or space for it. You’ve seen our bodyweight hypertrophy training article, right? It’s definitely not the same as weight training. It’s harder, more painful. But it works.

      Stoked to hear you’re liking the Outlift program 😀

  5. Jude Corina on October 20, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    Honestly, I found you guys using the terms “hardgainer” and “ectomorph”. That’s how I described myself. I personally don’t find them at all disparaging. When I discovered that there was a scientific name for my situation, I was floored. Once I understood what my body was doing, I knew where and how to look for solutions. Long story short, I found B2B. Keep doing what you’ve been doing!

  6. Sam G on October 20, 2020 at 1:35 pm

    Personally, I’m not sure I believe in the strict 3 body types as I’m sure even among ectomorphs there are people who gain muscle easier than others or are naturally leaner than others. Different bone size/stomach size/hormone balance also creating different muscular potential for different ectomorphs. I think it’s an important distinction though to really get that personalized workout plan that works optimally for you. For example, I would do all my workouts based on Jeff Nippard’s videos for the last 1.5 years and I only went from 135lb–141lb. After trying b2B these past 6 months though, I’ve gone up to 163lb! And with a much simpler gym, too, so I think the body type distinctions are important 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      Hey Sam, that’s awesome! Congratulations on those 28 pounds! 😀

      You’re totally right. There are no three strict body types. The idea isn’t that someone is a pure ectomorph or endomorph, but rather that they might be 60% ectomorph and 40% endomorph, you know? I just so happen to be a fairly pure ectomorph, but the vast majority of people are some sort of blend of all three body types. And even then, it’s just a slang term. And you’re totally right. There are a bunch of genetic factors outside of being a so-called ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph.

      Jeff Nippard is a true genetic beast. He talks about it himself. I think of all the naturals I’ve ever seen, his physique is raddest. He’s the top 0.01% of muscle-building genetics. What’s amazing, though, is that his content is absolutely amazing, too—completely evidence-based. He’s just an all-around badass. But I can see how his programs, which aren’t as directed at helping naturally thinner people bulk up, might not help you build muscle or gain weight as quickly. As you said, that’s where we excel 🙂

  7. Miranda on October 20, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    I do like the term ectomorph—I am definitely one. Always the skinny girl—didn’t play sports, ate whatever I wanted, etc. I currently receive the emails directed towards men. Is there one specific to women?

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      Yes! We’ve got a whole women’s site: Bony to Bombshell. That’s not to say you can’t hang out on this site, too, though. And at the moment, we send out more newsletter to the men’s newsletter. The programs and coaching communities are similarly developed/active for both programs, though 🙂

  8. Douglas Hobbs on October 20, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    I am a physician. In medical school we used the term ectomorph. You are very correct, the term was coined by a quack doctor, but the truth is most medical terms were coined by quack doctors. Medicine today relies heavily on science, but medical science is relatively new, and many medical names were coined long ago. I have no personal preference for the terms. I just want to understand what is being said. I enjoy your blog, and find it to be inspirational and educational.

    • Shane Duquette on October 20, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      Hah, no way! I had no idea that the term was used in medical school, too.

      That’s a really neat point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Science evolves over time. Makes sense that when terms are first coined, we still don’t know very much, and the ideas are often wrong.

  9. Doug on October 20, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Great comments, everyone.

    I think the term ‘ectomorph’ gets the job done. And I find that this term helps get the point across when I’m talking with someone about the topic. A lot of people either haven’t heard this term before or don’t know much about it anyway, and, if ever, they’ll use the term casually. That means I will likely never have to clarify that I’m not applying the term as it was originally coined by the quack doctor.

    However, an older friend of mine who’s a psychotherapist, the other day, told me that he did study the theory about body types/personality in college, a long time ago.

    The thing I think it is important is that we have clarity of what we have in mind, what we mean, when using the term ‘ectomorph’, or any other terms really. Once that part is covered, we should be fine. And this article is very informative on that very aspect.

    Thanks for posting this and for all the work you guys have been doing into empowering and helping ectomorph guys develop their physical potentials.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:40 am

      Thank you, Doug! 😀

      I’ve found it a really helpful term in my own life, too 🙂

  10. Lena on October 20, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Body types are definitely real. All you need to have to see facts is your eyes. I can easily see differences between different body types and can immediately spot one of us in a crowd. How can some people not see this is beyond me.

    A month ago I’ve decided to track my calories (in surplus) and my protein intake (1g/lb) to see how much weight I would gain in 30 days. The struggle was real and I’ve never ate this much food. Well, guess what? I did NOT gain a single pound. If my endomorphic friend ate like this she would probably gain 20-30lbs in the same time frame.

    Body types are different and you gotta know yours. I am adding another 300 calories and see what happens.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:38 am

      Ahaha yeah, I hear you. Simply looking around shows that different people have different shapes, trend towards different body weights, have tendencies to overeat or under-eat, can eat different amounts at meals, and struggle to have a healthy body composition for vastly different reasons.

      And yep, good plan. Adding 300 calories sounds like a great idea. Keep weighing yourself every week and adding (or removing) calories as needed. Your metabolism adapts, and we tend to have especially adaptive metabolisms, so our calorie goals are always a moving target.

  11. Rob Mayo on October 20, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    If ectomorph means skinny with belly fat and struggles to build muscle – then ectomorph it should be called!

    Nothing wrong with that word to me.

  12. Anthony Moulesong on October 20, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    My advice would be not to use the terminology if it’s giving people fits. You can’t change people and their perceptions, so change the terminology. You don’t even need a nomenclature per se, just “guys who have to work overtime to gain muscle”, or something along those lines. As long as your terms are defined, I myself couldn’t care less what you use, but if ‘ectomorph’ and such has negative connotations, you won’t get rid of those, so get rid of the word.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:35 am

      I hear ya, Anthony, and I think that’s wise advice. Better to find a better word than to redefine a word that carries a ton of baggage along with it.

      With that said, I do think ectomorph has some negative connotations, but perhaps not among the people it describes. It seems to be the bigger and more naturally athletic people that want to simplify things: just do sets of 5 reps on the squat, bench, deadlift (and maybe row and overhead press), eat a ton of food, and bulking up will be no problem. They seem to hate the term, for whatever reason.

      But judging by the other comments, it seems like self-described skinny guys have no issue with the ectomorph term. And I never did, either. I always found it really useful, especially when I was at my skinniest. It helped me find information that was more tailored to my specific goals and struggles.

      On the other hand, for whatever reason, the word bodybuilding seems to carry a ton of negative connotations. We’re technically a bodybuilding site, in the sense that we help people bulk up, build bigger muscles, get leaner, and improve their appearance. But when people think of bodybuilders, they think of bodybuilding culture—steroids, thongs, millions of isolation lifts, training 10 times per week, doing fasted cardio in the morning, being big but weak, being vain, etc. So we don’t really use the term very much. Too much baggage.

      • Anthony Moulesong on October 21, 2020 at 9:37 am

        Thongs. Egads!

        • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:41 am

          Yessir. And nothing but an orange spray tan underneath.

  13. Speed on October 20, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    As a guy who has been through high school and seen first hand the morphing of almost everyone into a healthy weight/height ratio … except myself, it’s nice to know that there is a term for those like me. And to top it off, now I can describe someone who appears to have been bitten by a ‘radio-active spider’ during summer break.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:29 am

      Ahaha that’s when I noticed, too—in high school when puberty was making all of my friends bigger, but I was only being stretched thinner. I think it was at around 16 that I first became underweight, and then it peaked at around 21, when I reached my full height without having gained any weight.

  14. Kevin on October 20, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    I think “naturally skinny” is the most useful term. It’s immediately identifiable by those with no exercise background where “ectomorph” may be a foreign term. It’s no more or less accurate than ectomorph either.

    FWIW, several years ago I treated content from this site as “additional info” alongside my “primary sources” of SS, GSLP, LeanGains, and others. Over time that has inverted, where this is now my first stop for info about training and eating that will actually work for me, and I pull in bits of additional info from elsewhere as needed. Keep up the excellent work! I’m sure it’s satisfying seeing the work you do really making an impact in people’s lives.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:22 am

      Thank you, man! That means a lot 🙂

      And that’s a good point. People who already know the ectomorph term might find us by searching for it, but there are plenty of skinny guys who haven’t heard it yet.

  15. Clifford Briggs on October 21, 2020 at 12:37 am

    Hey everyone,

    The term ectomorph doesn’t bother me even a bit. I’ve been referred to as a hard gainer as well and these terms fit my situation.

    It has always been a challenge to maintain weight and muscle and it seems like the older I get and less active it’s even more a challenge. I don’t know why I always thought that as I would get older my metabolism would slow down so that I could possibly hold onto more weight for longer periods of time. But I was wrong. I’m currently 170 and fluctuate in a day from 170-175 just by eating a heaping of food and water.

    My main issue that i like to voice and hopefully receive some help is the nutritional diet part (like exactly what to eat at what time of day and all). I don’t know what to eat to help me with continuing to gain muscle and weight. I’m so discouraged at times and depressed every time I step on a scale to see I’ve lost 2 pounds in my sleep. Any advice will be much appreciated and thank you for creating a platform for us all. Peace bros

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:17 am

      Hey Clifford,

      There’s this idea that as people get older, their metabolism slows and they gradually gain weight. Oftentimes, like you said, that’s because they stop being as active, spending more time at the desk or on the couch, less time on their feet, less time playing sports and exercising. That’s more of what happens to the average person, though. We see a mix. A lot of naturally skinny people remain skinny indefinitely. Some gradually gain fat, becoming skinny-fat. And then, of course, the skinny guys who get into the habit of lifting weights and eating a good diet can become lean and muscular, and it tends to last until they’re well past 60.

      It sounds like you already lift weights, though, yeah? And you’re already trying to eat a good diet, just confused about exactly how to do that? We include some examples of how to eat a bulking diet in our program, and you’re welcome to imitate those examples as closely as you like, but we can’t really tell you exactly what to eat. Different people have different preferences, come from different cultures, and have different budgets and interests.

      One guy might enjoy cooking dinner every day, another might only want to cook up a big vat of chili on Sunday. A third might not like chili, so he makes a stew instead. And a fourth might prefer to make curries. Or eat tacos. And then there are people eating plant-based diets. People who eat lunch at work, or use a cafeteria, or in a mess hall, etc. So what we prefer to do is teach people the principles, give plenty of examples, give a big book of recipes, and then let people assemble the diet themselves.

      What do you need to eat? Mostly real food. And it helps to make your main meals balanced, with some protein, carbs, and fat. That might be some salmon, peas, and roast potatoes. Or a chili, chicken curry, beef stew, stir fry, tacos al pastor, oatmeal with berries, hamburger with onions and tomatoes, trail mix, smoothie, etc. Totally up to you what you decide to eat.

      As for when to eat, it helps to eat a few main meals per day. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner is common. But you might want to add in some snacks between meal and another snack before bed. So, for a random example, here’s what a deskworker dad might eat:

      8AM, breakfast: smoothie (with protein, fruit, oats, yoghurt, nuts, spinach)
      10AM, snack: Quest bar and some fruit
      12PM, lunch: leftover chili
      3PM, snack: protein shake and some trail mix
      7PM, dinner: homemade hamburgers with the family
      10PM, snack: oatmeal with casein and mixed berries

      You don’t need that many meals or snacks. You could eat 3–4 times per day and have no issues. But if you’re having trouble eating enough calories to gain weight, it often helps to eat smaller meals more frequently, and snacks are an easy way to do that.

      You’ll probably look at this and want to make changes, and that’s perfect. Change it up as much as you want. That’s why we include a full recipe book along with the program, and even then, we encourage people to keep eating what they love, build a diet that they like. The important thing is having meals with protein in them a few times per day, to eat mostly whole foods, and to eat enough calories to gain weight, adding in more calories whenever weight gain stalls.

      Now, as for for to regain the weight you lose every night, just have a glass of water in the morning to rehydrate 🙂

      And for maintaining a higher body weight, just bulk a bit past your target. So if you want to effortlessly maintain your weight at 185 pounds, bulk up to 195, maintain that weight for a few months, and then go back to eating according to your appetite. Your appetite will naturally help you maintain almost all of that weight. But you might lose a few pounds as you settle back into a more comfortable diet. That’s why it helps to have that 5–10 pound buffer.

  16. Jonny T on October 21, 2020 at 1:45 am

    It was literally the term “ectomorph” that led me to B2B and to finally understand my body type for the first time in my life. It was such a refreshing feeling finding a community of people just like me, and I never would’ve done so without the word “ectomorph”. I’m actually super proud to rep that title.

    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 8:59 am

      It was the same for me. Learning the term helped me find better information. That’s why we’ve leaned into it. I’m glad it helped 😀

  17. db on October 22, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    I first heard the term ectomorph as a kid visiting a science museum. There was a display explaining the 3 somatotypes. Ectomorphs were supposed to be good at cardio but bad at building muscle.

    It’s a helpful term because it describes a particular group of people who share certain physical attributes, strengths and challenges. I first came across B2B because I wanted to know if it was possible for ectomorphs to gain muscle, and what that would even look like. Very glad I did, thanks guys!

  18. Josh on October 26, 2020 at 2:05 am

    I have always taken at face value the descriptors of Ecto / Meso / Endo I learned at high school as indicators of body type.

    What drew me to your program specifically was this focus on the Ectomorph body type, which helped me clearly aim towards the program that was right for me and suited my body type.

    Not once have I ever considered, let alone heard anyone else, refer to this as being linked to personality type.

    So I would say to whoever has commented on that has willfully ignored the decades since the re-appropriated definition. b2B didn’t reinvent the wheel. Medical science as a collective took the term and re-categorized it, of which B2B made it accessible, and understood, and put in to context.

  19. Mr Zen on October 26, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    I was not aware of the association of these body types to debunked personality types either.

    Hardgainer is ok I guess – sounds like something an ectomorph came up to sound a little tougher/cooler though.

    That being said, I am working on some biohacking content for ectomorphs and went with the title, “EctoMega” – I think I am going to stick with it.

    Cuz you know, Bony to Beastly was taken

  20. Jean-Baptiste on November 1, 2020 at 1:00 am

    Hey Shane, if the somatypes theory is even halfway relevant we should use the term ectomorph to describe our body frames (but not our personalities). If it’s not then just give it up.

  21. Jean-Baptiste on November 3, 2020 at 4:32 am

    I kind of like this term anyway, it supports the fact that we are different and we exist. From what I read in your articles and IIRC it implies a smaller stomach along with many other characteristics so it’s valid because we find them in many of us. The part of Sheldon’s theory regarding personalities or behavior should just be ignored. Let’s just keep the physical characteristics part.

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